Christmas in the Psalms

psalm

This morning in my devotional time, I read Psalm 22.  Not your traditional Christmas reading.  In fact, it seems much more suited to Good Friday.

In this psalm, David laments the suffering he is experiencing and cries out for God to hear and help him.  The opening words of the Psalm set the tone:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).

Jesus takes these words as his own when dying on the cross:  “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Psalm 22 foreshadows what Jesus would experience on the cross. Listen to these lines from the psalm:

“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him for he delights in him” (7-8; compare Matt. 27:39-44).

“I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint” (14).

“they have pierced my hands and feet” (16).

“they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (18; Matt. 27:35).

So why read this psalm at Christmas time?

Precisely because you cannot understand Christmas without understanding Good Friday.  Christmas is filled with glory, but it’s also shadowed by the cross.  Jesus was born to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2).  That’s why John the Baptist could cry out, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Several years ago, Andrew Peterson released a Christmas CD entitled, Behold the Lamb of God.  It puts Christmas in its larger context.  One of my favourite songs on the CD is the one below.  It reminds me why Jesus was born in Bethlehem:  “to save his people from their sin” (Matt. 1:21)

 

 

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 32)

32In the midst of the Book of Consolation, we have the record of a land purchase that Jeremiah made from his cousin Hanamel.  But this is more than a historical tidbit about Jeremiah’s purchase of a plot of land in his hometown of Anathoth for seventeen shekels (8-9). This is a symbolic act in which Jeremiah proclaims his confidence in God’s promise of restoration as the very time when hope seems gone.

The setting for this chapter is given in the opening two verses:  Jeremiah is imprisoned in the courtyard of the royal palace for his pronouncements of impending destruction of the city and deportation of the king, words perceived as unpatriotic by the Zedekiah (3-5). Verse 1 sets the chronology for this chapter as the “tenth year of Zedekiah.”  The Babylonians are literally at the gates; they have laid siege to Jerusalem and will overrun and destroy the city in the eleventh year of Zedekiah (52:4-5).

anatothWhile imprisoned, Jeremiah receives a word from the Lord that his cousin Hanamel will come to visit him and urge him to purchase a piece of land in Anathoth, according to Jewish custom where the “nearest relative” gets first right of refusal on family land sales (8). Anathoth in no longer a friendly place for Jeremiah; it’s the town where those who plotted to take his life live (12:18-23).

Humanly speaking, this is not a good time to invest in property in Judah.  The Babylonians have surrounded the city. Anathoth, which lies several kilometers north of Jerusalem, is already under their control.  God has revealed to Jeremiah that the Babylonian armies will capture the Jerusalem (3) and will carry the survivors into exile for the next seventy years (25:12). So Jeremiah is going to be asked to buy property that will be of no use to him. He will not outlive the exile and he has no children to inherit it (16:1).  On top of this, Jeremiah may need any money he has left to help him survive while imprisoned in the courtyard of the palace.  Buying this property at this time seems like a foolish idea from every angle.

But Jeremiah buys the field as God told him to do (25).

for saleAs he seals the deal with two copies of the signed deed (one private and the other public–11), he gives them to Baruch in the presence of the witnesses.  He instructs Baruch to put them in a clay jar for long-term storage.  The deeds will be needed in the future (70+ years later) as Jeremiah announces: “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land”(15).

After the transaction is complete, Jeremiah prays (16-25).  It’s not stated whether he is alone or still in the presence of Baruch and the witnesses. Jeremiah worships God, declaring his confidence in God’s power:  “Nothing is too hard for you” (17).  He recounts evidence that bolsters his faith in his “great and powerful God” (19)—the creation of the heavens and earth (17); the redemption of the nation from Egypt (20-21); the giving of the good land of Canaan to Israel (22); the sending of the Babylonian armies to destroy the city (24).  Jeremiah acknowledges God’s faithfulness to His word (“You gave them this land you had sworn to give their forefathers”—22; “What you said has happened”—24).  He praises God, saying, “great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds” (19).

Jeremiah ends his prayer ends reminding God that buying this property in Anathoth was His idea (25).  The implied message Jeremiah is sending is that he is trusting God’s great power and great faithfulness to fulfill the promise that houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought and sold by Israelites.  There will be a future and a hope.  Jeremiah didn’t just throw away his silver; he invested it in God’s future.

God responds to Jeremiah’s prayer with another message to the prophet (26-44). The Lord begins by affirming Jeremiah’s confidence in His great power; He is the “God of all mankind” (not just Israel and Judah) so nothing is too hard for Him (27). God’s word to Jeremiah can be divided into three sections:  1.  Jerusalem will be handed over to the Babylonians because of the persistent rebellion of the people (28-35); God will restore His disobedient people to the land, making a new covenant with them that changes their hearts to obey Him (36-41); property in Israel will again be bought and sold—making Jeremiah’s investment a wise one (42-44).

The emotional highpoint of God’s reply to Jeremiah is found in verses 37-41. Though He has been furious with them, God will graciously restore to their land to live in safety.  They will be His people and He will be their God. He will give them “singleness of heart and action” [literally, “I will give them one, one heart and way”] so they will fear and follow Him.  He will make an “everlasting covenant” [the “new covenant”—31:31-34] with them and “inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.”  He will rejoice to do them good with all His heart!

The stark contrast between Israel’s relentless rebellion (“done nothing but evil from their youth”—30) and God’s lavish goodness is stunning.  Here is grace. Here is God’s own fidelity to His covenant.  Here is love that is sourced in the Lover not the beloved.  Here is cause for rejoicing for all of us who have sinned and been spotty in our devotion.  Here is cause to worship God for His goodness.  “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.  His faithful love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:32).

investI’m impacted by Jeremiah’s sturdy faith in the face of personal suffering.  He was in prison for courageously proclaiming God’s message of judgment (3-7).  He knew he was about to witness the capture and demolition of Jerusalem, not for his own sins but due to the sins of the people he served.  He believed God would “reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve” (19).  But he didn’t expect God to provide him with protection from persecution or give exemption from suffering.  Personal pain did not shake his confidence in God’s power or goodness.  He was not seeking great things for himself (45:5). He still invests in God’s future by buying the field in Anathoth as God directed him to do.  He is a faithful servant of God.  May I be too.

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Prayer Update December 14, 2018

finishYesterday I (Rick) taught the final preaching class for this semester.  My heart rejoices in knowing these students have a great confidence in God’s Word and a growing competence with God’s Word.  I believe they will serve the Church well in the coming years.  This week, Linda also finished up her final class in Teaching ESL.  Again, we rejoice that these students are better equipped for effective ministry here in Canada and around the world (one student is headed for Italy to teach ESL with a missions agency).

Thank you for praying for us and for the ministry of Heritage College and Seminary.  It’s been a very rigorous but rich semester.  Our profs and students are ready for a break!

Here are several requests for the coming weeks.home

Pray that our students as they return to their families and churches for Christmas.  Pray they will be refreshed and also refresh others through what they’ve learned over the past months.

Today, I meet with our executive leadership team for a day of prayer and planning.  Ask the Lord to guide us as we seek to follow His lead into the future. The passage of Scripture that I’ve been focusing on these days is from 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12:  “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Please ask the Lord to accomplish His purposes through Heritage for the glory of His name.

hAsk the Lord to meet our financial needs as we finish the year.  Pray that many would be prompted to invest in this ministry that has such a multiplication effect for good! (If you desire to donate to the ministry of Heritage, you can do so here).

May each of you have a joyous Christmas!

 

 

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 31)

31This chapter is the high-watermark of the “Book of Consolation” (30-33) and the book of Jeremiah. It could be the high point of the entire Old Testament!  It contains an extended description of the joyful re-gathering and resettlement in the land after the exile.  Beyond that, it gives the promise of a coming New Covenant—a covenant later instituted by Jesus and applied to Gentiles as well as to “the house of Israel and . . . the house of Israel” (31).

new cov 2God’s abiding purpose in all this is reiterated in the opening verse:  “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people.”  Here is another instance of the refrain the plays through the symphony of Scripture: God is seeking a people for Himself. The final chapters of the book of Revelation indicate how that, in the New Jerusalem, this ancient desire is finally, and fully fulfilled (Revelation 21:3).

The realization of this divine desire requires God’s enduring commitment to His own purposes.  Fueling that faithfulness is His “everlasting love” (“I have loved you with an everlasting love”—3).  This everlasting love is grounded in His glorious nature not the goodness of His people. Jeremiah has chronicled the spiritual defection of Israel in graphic and jarring words.  Certainly, God had every right to reject and destroy this wayward, rebellious nation.  But because He does not change, His compassions never fail and His people are not consumed (Lamentations 3:22). After uprooting and tearing them down (1:10; 31:4, 27-28), He still pledges “to build and to plant” (28).  His love, though not undiscerning, is unfailing and everlasting.

The blessings of God are pictured in physical and spiritual terms.  God gathers the people He has scattered among the nations (10). He strengthens and supports them as they stream, weeping, back into the land (9).  Once returned, they dance and sing for joy, rejoicing in the crops and herds that God has given (12-14).  Realizing that all this goodness is the blessing of God, they praise Him (7) and speak blessings in His name (23).  They enjoy His gifts without forgetting the Giver (see Deut. 8:11).  They are His people and He is their God (1, 33).

The nation is pictured as God’s “firstborn son” (9).  Though Israel is “the child in whom I [God] delight” (20), the nation admits it was “disciplined” for acting like an “unruly calf” (18). God also refers to His people His “daughter” (a “Virgin” daughter and “unfaithful” daughter—21-22).  As Israel’s father (9), the Lord “often speaks against” His wayward nation, but “still remembers him” (20).  His heart “yearns” with “great compassion” for Israel (20).  Here we see what the Fatherly love of God is like:  it does not condone disobedience but denounces and disciplines it severely.  However, God’s heart of compassion does not change.  He loves Israel with a covenantal love and stays faithful to them in spite of their infidelity towards Him.

The promised blessings of a national return to a peaceful, prosperous land produce singing, dancing and great joy.  Still, these are not the greatest promises made in this chapter.  The summit of God’s grace and goodness is reached in verses 31-40 where the Lord promises He will “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (31).  A covenant with Israel that will endure forever (35-37).This New Covenant will “not be like” the Mosaic covenant which Israel had broken in spite of God’s loving care (“though I was a husband to them”—32).  This new covenant will accomplish God’s relational goal:  “I will be their God and they will be my people” (33).

The New Covenant, like Israel’s return from exile and rise to international prominence (“foremost of the nations”—7), will be God’s doing.  Five times in verses 31-34 the phrase “I will” is used:  I will make a new covenant; I will make; I will put my law in their minds; I will be their God; I will forgive their wickedness. The Lord Almighty is the initiator and source of all these blessings.  God’s incredible grace is revealed in the New Covenant as it is made with a people who have broken His former covenant and His heart.  The first two “I will” statements promise a new covenant; the final three explain three key blessings of it:  a new heart for God (33a), true knowledge of God (33b-34a); full forgiveness from God (34b).

new covThe heart of the New Covenant is a new heart for God (33a). Whereas the Old Covenant was external, written on tablets of stone, the New Covenant is written on “minds” (literally “inward parts”) and “hearts” (33).  This does not mean God’s people no longer need to study or learn His Word, but that there will be an inner inclination to obey!  Ezekiel adds that God removes the old, stony heart and replaces it with one made of flesh, a heart shaped by His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The New Testament expands on this distinctive feature of the New Covenant—the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to enable closeness with God and empower obedience to Him (John 14; 16).

The result of the New Covenant is a true knowledge of God (33b-34a). God’s long-standing desire (“I will be their God and they will be my people”) is realized as a result of the New Covenant.  This relationship is characterized by a true knowledge:  “they will all know me from the least to the greatest”(34).  New hearts have a true desire to know God, a desire that is internally produced not externally enforced (“No longer will a man teach his neighbor . . . saying, ‘Know the Lord’”—34).

new cov 3The basis of the New Covenant is full forgiveness from God (34b).  The Lord promises to “forgive” sins and “remember their sins no more.”  While there was a kind of forgiveness under the Old Covenant (a covering for sin), full forgiveness comes under the New Covenant that was inaugurated by Jesus’ death. At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).  His death makes possible full forgiveness for our sin (1 John 2:2).

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Prayer Update December 7, 2018

I’m writing this update from the Hespeler Library.  Linda and a group of Heritage students are downstairs leading an ESL (English as a Second Language) class for new Canadians.  It’s been a wonderful way for Heritage students to serve the community as part of our Love Hespeler initiative.

carolers cbLast night groups of Heritage students went carolling throughout the neighbourhoods around Hespeler village.  One group stopped by our home so Linda invited them all in for hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies. It was a grand time.

As the fall semester comes to a close, I have a deep sense of gratitude in my heart to God. He has given us the privilege of investing our lives in students who will serve Him in communities across Canada and in other parts of the world.  What a joy!

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

Pray for our students and faculty as we finish the semester.  The next few weeks will be filled with papers, final projects and exams.  Ask God to supply us with the strength to finish well. Pray that students would be deeply impacted by what they have learned this semester.

Pray the relationships our students have formed through ESL classes and our Love Hespeler initiative will open doors for us to share the love and light of Christ.

Pray for the financial resources need to sustain and grow the school.  This week I sent out a letter giving an encouraging update on the school and inviting people to partner with us financially. Ask God to move many people to invest in this ministry that impacts so many churches and communities.  (You can read a copy of my letter here:  Letter from President Rick Reed).  If you would like to donate to the work of Heritage College and Seminary, you can do that here)

Those of you who regularly pray for us play a vital part in all God is doing in and through the students at Heritage.  Thank you so much.

 

 

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Leaders are Readers

Here’s a  post I recently wrote for the Heritage Seminary Blog.

hendricks

One of my seminary profs, Dr. Howard Hendricks, was known for his pithy, memorable statements.  Here’s one of my favourites: “Leaders and readers.”  I’m convinced Dr. Hendricks had it right.  To be effective in ministry we must become life-long learners.  That means, among other things, remaining life-long readers.

At this point in the semester, I realize many seminary students are feeling buried by the reading load that comes with their courses.  If that’s your situation, pray for grace—not only to get through it but to get the most from it.  Our professors seek to select books that will shape students for Christ’s service.

Also, remember there will come a time when courses are finished, when assigned reading gives way to discretionary reading.  What should you be reading when the choice is up to you?

At the top of our reading lists, one Book should tower above all others.  For the rest of our lives, our primary, go-to book must be God’s Word.  Each day we should make time to read Scripture, communing with the God who reveals Himself in His Word.  Like Jeremiah, we should be able to say, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16).

bioWhat else should we read as we seek to lead? I would commend to you the biographies of Christian leaders.  As I reviewed the books I’ve read in 2018, I realized a good percentage of them were biographies of effective leaders.  These leaders served as pastors (Martin Luther), seminary presidents (J.P. Boyce), politicians (William Wilberforce), and missionaries (Jonathan Goforth).  Some of these leaders are still well-known today (D.L. Moody); others are often overlooked (John Broadus; Ernie Keefe).  Some of the biographies were short, easy reads; some were long and detailed.  But all of them inspired and instructed me on being a better leader.

John Piper, a champion for reading both the Bible and biographies, says it well:

Christian biography, well chosen, combines all sorts of things pastors [and other Christians] need but have so little time to pursue. Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C.S. Lewis calls it). It is also theology—the most powerful kind—because it bursts forth from the lives of people. It is also adventure and suspense, for which we have a natural hunger. It is psychology and personal experience, which deepen our understanding of human nature (especially ourselves). Good biographies of great Christians make for remarkably efficient reading. [1]

As I write this post, we are heading into the Christmas season.  So here’s a suggestion for your gift giving this year.  Why not give a well-chosen biography to someone you love?  While you’re at it, do yourself a favour and pick up a good biography for yourself as well. Remember:  Leaders are readers.

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/brothers-read-christian-biography.  Accessed November 21, 20

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List of biographies referenced (most are in the Heritage library!):

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas.
A Gentleman and a Scholar: Memoir of James P. Boyce, by John A. Broadus
William Wilberforce, by Stephen Tomkins
Jonathan Goforth, by Rosalind Goforth
Moody: The Biography, by John Pollock
Life and Letter of John Albert Broadus, by A.T. Robertson
God in the Midst of the Events that Shook Quebec; The Autobiography of Ernest Keefe, by Ernie Keefe

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 30)

30Chapters 30-33 are sometimes called “the Book of Consolation,” a unit within the larger book that shines with hope for the Israel’s future. Given the fact that most of Jeremiah’s prophecies are dark and dire, these four chapters are especially bright. The grouping of chapters 30-33 is due to the theme of restoration that begins in 30:3 and runs to the start of Jeremiah 34.  These chapters can be seen as a “book within a book,” especially if the command in 30:2 (“Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you”) refers specifically to “all the words” about God’s plans the nation back to their land and back to Himself.

consolationChapter 30 does not deal exclusively with the future blessing promised to Israel but contains many references to their present pain. It’s clear the Lord is aware of the distress of His people, their “cries of fear” and “terror” (5).  He speaks of Israel’s fatal wounding (“your wound is incurable; you injury beyond healing”—12) and abandonment by the nations they thought would help them (“All your allies have forgotten you; they care nothing for you”—14).  Though Israel has been brutalized by foreign powers, the Lord asserts that He is behind their pain:  “I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel” (14). He has dealt with them harshly because their “guilt is so great” and “sins so many” (15).  Because God is just, He tells His people, “I will discipline you but only with justice” (11).  Though He may completely destroy nations around them, He promises not to “completely destroy” them.

In spite of their past apostasy and present desolation, God had “plans to prosper” them to give them “hope and a future” (29:11). Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles indicated the exile in Babylon would last seventy years (29:10).  In chapter 30, we see what God has planned on the far side of those seventy years.  Jeremiah’s description of God’s severe discipline (striking, punishing and wounding them—14-15) followed by His gracious restoration and blessing (“I will restore you to health and heal your wounds”—17) echoes the words of the prophet Hosea:  “Come let us return to the Lord.  He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (6:1).

The promised blessings contained in chapters 30-34 are all presented as coming in the future:  “The days are coming” (30:3); “in that day” (30:8); “At that time” (31:1); “The time is coming” (31:31); “The days are coming” (34:14); “In those days and at that time” (34:15). These references to a coming “day” (8) are a shorthand way of pointing to the “Day of the Lord.” This “Day” is a major theme in O.T. prophetic writings.  It speaks of a time when God intervenes to purify and refine His people (“time of trouble for Jacob”—7), punish the nations and establish His kingdom rule. The ultimate “Day of the Lord” awaits the finale of history when God dramatically intervenes to bring in His eternal kingdom. The New Testament continues the anticipation for this coming Day, linking it to Christ’s return and the establishing of His visible, eternal reign.

The language of the “day of the Lord” is used of precursors or foreshadowings of the final Day.  So the refining and rescuing of Jacob from Babylon after the seventy-year exile can be described in “day of the Lord” terminology.  As is often the case, Jeremiah 30-34 combines elements of a near-term preview as well as elements of the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of the Lord.

covenantWhile the original readers may have assumed that all these promises would be fulfilled at the end of the seventy-year exile, the rest of Scripture and the results of history indicate otherwise.  For example, the promised “new covenant” (31:31) is not inaugurated until the time of Christ’s death (Luke 22:20).  Further, the promise that Jerusalem will “never again be uprooted or demolished” (31:40) is still awaiting fulfillment.  Thus, it seems the promises in these chapters, as is normative in prophetic writings, compress blessings from different future time periods into the same prophetic vision. Some of the promised blessings in these chapters were fulfilled in the return from Babylon; some of the blessings await the final consummation.

The blessings spoken of are birthed in travail. Deliverance from their enemies comes through “a time of trouble for Jacob” (7) and a time of turmoil for the nations (23).  Israel is not pictured as valiantly winning their own deliverance but being rescued from the “storm” of God’s wrath on the nations (23-24).  God is the warrior who breaks the “yoke off their necks” (8). He is the physician who restores them to health and heals their wounds (17).  He is the benefactor who restores their fortunes (18) and increases their numbers (19).  Deliverance and blessing are God’s doing; glory goes to Him alone.

Throughout the “Book of Consolation” God refers to His people by several names.  Here in chapter 30 He begins by talking about “my people Israel and Judah” (3).  In the remainder of the chapter, God sometimes refers to the nation as “Jacob” (7, 10 [twice], 18).  In chapter 31 Israel is sometimes called “Ephraim” (31:9, 18, 20). The name Jacob reminds the people of their patriarchal past and, perhaps, their struggle and toil on the way to blessing.  Just as Jacob had to be wrestled to the point of dependence, so the nation of Israel has to be “disciplined” (11) before it will enjoy “peace and security” (10).  The name Ephraim is a reminder of God’s sovereign choice and “cross-handed” blessing; as Jacob crossed his hands and blessed Ephraim first instead of his older brother Manasseh, so God has chosen to bless the nation far more than they could naturally expect or hope.

A central reason for the nation’s consolation is the promise of a restored Davidic rule.  God promises to liberate His people from foreign rulers.  “In that day” they will “serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (9).  Their king will be “one of their own” and will “devote himself to be close to me” (21). God will keep the promise made to King David that “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).

This promise will be fully realized in the eternal reign of David’s greater son, Jesus (Matthew 1:1; 22:41-45).  He will rule over His people as well as over all the nations, bringing justice and righteousness to earth in a glorious, unending way.

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