OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[Mar 25]—Inside-Out or Outside-In?

Jeremiah 24:1-7

How do we make a better society? That’s a good question, a practical one, and it divides people pretty strongly. Some people say that we need to reform society through better laws and government. And there’s some legitimacy to that. We need laws in order to keep the structures and foundation of civilization from crumbling. But what’s the purpose of law? Is it to reform society or to protect society? There’s plenty of scriptural evidence that the law/government is meant to protect us from anarchy and chaos (such as Romans 13:1-4), but none that I can find that it’s there to reform it.

So how do we do it? I think the answer is located in today’s passage, but it’s a theme that’s repeated in the Bible. The Lord said that when the exile comes, he will “give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Here are some others: he will circumcise our hearts so we will love him with all our heart and soul, he will write his law on our hearts, and he will take out our heart of stone and make it a heart of flesh.

You seek, you can write all the laws you want, but they won’t mean a thing unless people obey them. And the only way they’re going to obey them--without an authority looking over their shoulder--will be if they have that law “written on their hearts” (as Jeremiah puts it). Do we want a type of society in which a legal authority is looking over our shoulder more and more and more?

But if the law’s written on our hearts, then we’ll want to obey. From today’s passage, if God gives us a heart to know him and we return to him, then we’ll see a change in our personal lives. And if more and more people get their hearts changed, then you’ll see a change in society. I’m aware of multiple times in British and American history in which it’s happened, since I’m more familiar with those country’s histories. Of course, our main purpose isn’t to bring down rates of crime, divorce, abortion, etc., but it’s a fact that during times in which masses of individuals got right with God those side-benefits also occurred.

But it all comes down to me. Has the Lord changed my heart, so I want to obey and please him? And if so, is that reflected enough in my personal life? Am I kind and loving in my speech to my wife? Am I scrupulously honest in my business practices? Am I faithful in giving to my church? If not, then something’s wrong.

This also means that in our evangelism and discipleship efforts, we need to concentrate on conversion. A turning of a person’s heart to the Lord will be reflected in changes in lifestyle. Maybe not overnight, but it will be.

And finally we need to take a more realistic view of human nature in our legal system and election promises. Quite frankly, anyone who promises to change society through laws is probably naïve at best.

It’s from the inside-out, not the outside-in.

Father God, it all comes back to me, doesn’t it? It’s me who constantly needs a course correction, multiple times a day. And it’s only you who can do it. Please.

[Mar 24]—On Heat and Hammers

Jer. 23:25-29

I really think you can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to God’s word. If someone presents a fairly positive view of the Bible, I know they either A) haven’t read it, or B) really don’t take it seriously. What do you mean, Keith? When I say “fairly positive view” I mean the way most people take it: They recognize the positive impact it’s had on the world, and they might even concede that it has some good nuggets of wisdom, like “Love your neighbor” and some interesting stories.

But I stand by my proposition. It’s the same “Liar/Lunatic/Lord” principle that C.S. Lewis proposed: A man who claimed to be the sort of things that Jesus claimed could not possibly be just a good teacher. He’s either a Liar on the level of a demon from hell, or he’s a lunatic on the level of a man who’s says he’s a poached egg, or he’s the Lord of all creation. The one thing he could not possibly be—a good teacher—is exactly how most people think of him.

It’s the same with God’s word, what we know as the Bible. The one thing it could not possibly be would be a collection of good advice and interesting stories. It claims to be so much more: The very words of God from his throne. If you literally stood by God’s throne and heard him speak, it’d be fully in accord with what you read in that Book. It’s either that, or it’s not worth reading. Or to paraphrase Lewis again, If the Bible is true, then it means everything. If it’s not true, then it means nothing.

So what does the Lord say about his word here? He compares it to two common things we see almost every day: fire and a hammer.

I particularly love the first image. His word is fire. Now, when you first hear it, you just might think “Ok, so fire burns. His word consumes everything it touches and burns it up.” But it’s much more nuanced than that.

Heat has different effects on different substances. It hardens wax. It softens clay. In the same way, his word can soften someone’s heart or harden it. It depends on the condition of the person’s heart. If a person wants to mold clay, he might have to heat it up in order to soften it.

Think of heat when you’re purifying a precious metal like gold. The same heat consumes the dross, but it purifies the gold. In the same way, as a believer, his word consumes the parts of me that don’t look like Jesus, and in the process purifies me.

Or think of a hammer, the second image. A hammer is a tool, and it can be constructive or destructive. Actually, it’s commonly both at the same time. People don’t often break rocks into pieces just because they want to see littler rocks.

His word will end up destroying the rocky hearts of people who don’t listen to it. In fact, Jesus said his word will stand and accuse them on Judgment Day. It will be their Prosecuting Attorney, so to speak. All the times they heard about God’s anger on sin or about the Good News about Jesus will literally come back to haunt them.

For the lost, his word will only have a negative effect. But for me as his redeemed child, it’s negative and positive. Yes, his word—as the sword of the Spirit—will cut into me and point out my faults and lingering sin. But it’s not there to condemn me like it does the unredeemed. It’s there to purge away the dross and make me more and more like my Savior.

You see, you can’t ignore fire. And you can’t ignore a swinging hammer. God’s word will have an effect on you, both now and on the other side of the Great Divide. What that effect will be is determined by what type of person you are.

So which will it be?

Father God, I know very well what effect I want from your word. Please, Spirit, use your word like a surgeon’s scalpel—cutting and healing. Cut away the parts that don’t look like my Savior, and mold me into his likeness.

[Mar 23]—Silencing The Messenger

Jeremiah 20:1-6

You ever heard the phrase “Don’t kill the messenger”? No one knows exactly where it came from, but it likely stems from a practice that’s been frequently practiced by kings and other officials with a short temper. Someone comes with news you don’t like, and instead of dealing with it, you take your anger out on a convenient target, namely the poor sap who’s in front of you at the moment.

Unfortunately, this has been the all-too-common fate of God’s “mouths” in Israel’s history. Jewish tradition says that Isaiah was sawed in half while hiding in a tree. 1 Kings mentions how Queen Jezebel murdered lots of them. And today’s passage tells us how Jeremiah was treated by Pashhur, the official in charge of the temple. That’s right. Not the king. The man in charge of God’s house had Jeremiah beaten and put in stocks, which was torture in itself.

Just off the top of my head, I see three important lessons for us to take from this.

First and foremost, we need to get used to the idea that the world is A) not going to like our message and B) going to take its anger out on convenient targets, namely us. Jesus himself told us “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me." He meant what he said.

Second, and this is a more immediate application for those of us in America, where open persecution is pretty rare: Learn from Pashhur’s mistake. I know that you’re not likely to try to throw someone in prison just because they say something you don’t like. But does Pashhur's spirit motivate you? When a true friend “strikes” you, what’s your reaction? Do you avoid preachers/pastors/teachers who tell you things you don’t want to hear? Get all defensive? Try to find something with which to strike back?

Third, and I almost feel like urging you to tattoo this on your forehead: God’s word will be vindicated in the end. People laugh at his word today, just like they did in Jeremiah’s day. Or—more commonly—they simply ignore it with their lives, whether or not they pay lip service to it.

But in the end, all of it will be vindicated. His warnings towards people who are disobedient and his promised blessings on the redeemed will come true, down to the least stroke of a pen.

Pashhur learned this the hard way. He stands as a negative example for us to look at and say “I sure don’t want to end up like that guy!” History is littered with these fools. Please don’t be one of them.

Father God, when you rebuke me through a friend, I confess my first reaction is to be defensive. Please cure me of that. When a friend strikes me, help me see it as a kindness, not an attack.

[Mar 22]—Heart Trouble

Jer. 17:9-10

I admit it, I like a good romantic comedy. True, they tend to be missing my favorite movie elements: car chases, gun battles, and explosions. But I can understand the appeal of Sleepless in Seattle or Sixteen Candles. I can recognize a good storyline and acting.

But there’s a common motif in most if not all these movies with a romantic theme. How often have you heard this one slogan/piece of advice? Follow your heart. “I know that your family, friends, good common sense, and all your past experience are telling you with one voice not to do this. But don’t listen to any of them. Instead, listen to what your heart says.”

My friend, this would be my prime nomination for the worst advice, no, the most destructive advice commonly thrown out there today. There’s plenty of bad advice in the world today, but to my knowledge there’s nothing that’s A) More common, B) More destructive, and C) More insidious.

I mean, think about it. Doesn’t it sound poignant? Isn’t it touching? And doesn’t it always end well in the movies and on TV?

Well, we’re not living in movieland or TVland. We’re living in the real world, with real consequences. And in the real world, those consequences urge us to listen to what God says instead of what Hollywood says.

And what does God say about it, through Jeremiah here? Your heart is the last place you need to be looking to for advice. He says it’s deceitful above all things. No one can fool you as well as you can fool yourself.

What does he mean by this? To my understanding, he’s referring to our thought processes and emotions. Let’s take for example a man on a business trip. He’s happily married, or at least married. He meets a beautiful young woman there in the hotel bar, and she makes it clear she’s available and interested in a night of pleasure. He doesn’t feel like staying faithful to his wife. At that moment in time, his emotions and feelings are lying to him. They’re telling him that it’s worth it to threaten his marriage for a night of passion. And that’s a lie.

You see, your feelings can lie to you. And so can your thoughts. We’re not computers. Our feelings and desires can influence our thoughts so that what sounds perfectly logical is not so.

Why? Is there something wrong with emotions in themselves? Of course not. To a degree they’re a result of God’s image stamped upon us. He has emotions as well: To our extremely small understanding, we know from his word that in some sense he experiences anger, sorrow, love, hatred, joy, etc. But our emotions are tainted by something that don’t taint his: sin. Sin has entered the picture and perverts our emotions. That’s why we can’t trust them.

And who can understand a man's heart? Who can really get past all the masks and pretence? There's only One who can do this, and he does.

What else does the Ultimate Heart Specialist have to say about our heart? It’s beyond cure. No matter what we do and how hard we try, we can’t really overcome our sin problem.

So what do we do? Let the Doctor operate. He alone can probe our innermost thoughts and emotions. He searches out our heart and examines our mind. Like a skilled surgeon, the scalpel of his word probes down to the very bottom of the depths of our soul.

So if we can’t cure ourselves, what is the cure? The passage today only mentions his judgment. He looks through the innermost depths of our soul, and he plans to bring judgment on what he finds there. But there are other passages that speak of his loving examination of his children. If we allow him to be our Savior instead of our Judge, then his probing can be positive to us. David’s cry to the Lord can be our cry: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Yes, even as his beloved children, his probing can be painful. But if we’re redeemed and covered by his blood, then there’s nothing to fear. His deep examination of his children is to make his children better, not to judge them.

But if I haven’t made it clear yet, every one of us is destined to be placed under the All-Seeing Eye. You can do it now, or you can do it later. Trust me, now is better.

Father, when you’re probing, let me be silent. Give me a quiet soul. Give me listening ears. Probe and cleanse as deep as only you can. Please.

[Mar 21]—Where’s Your Trust?

Jer. 17:5-8

It seems to me like this is really clarifying question. In whom is your trust?

It appears that there are two types of people in the world as described in today’s passage. Let’s see how Jeremiah (as inspired by the Spirit) describes and contrasts them.

The first group, which is a huge majority, are those people who trust in “man.” They “[draw] strength from mere flesh.” There are lots of variations in this group. Maybe they trust in their own strength. I’ve known people like that: They’re “self-made” men or women. They know this world is a dark place, and so they’ve learned to trust in themselves to get through life’s problems. They tend to be honest, hard-working, self-sacrificing people, so they have lots of redeeming qualities. They trust in their own resources: their own intelligence and hard work and charisma; they think that’s enough.

Or maybe they draw “strength” from the “flesh” of someone else. Maybe the “man” they trust in is a politician, even a President. Maybe they trust what some priest or rabbi or minister tells them. Maybe they trust in the “strength” of money. Some place their trust in their country’s military power or economic power.

What’s the commonality of all these people? They might trust in different things, but the way to see what they have in common is by contrasting it to the second group. The people in the second group, the tiniest of minorities by way of comparison, trust in the Lord. Their confidence is in him. And in him alone.

You see, my friend, you’re either in one group or the other. If you don’t trust in God, then you’re trusting in human strength and resource, either your own or someone else’s. It’s the same principle that I made from the last speech of Joshua: If you aren’t worshipping the God of the Bible, it really doesn’t matter what you worship.

And also please note that the difference between these groups is not whether or not troubles come. The group that trusts in “man” will end up dwelling in a parched place in the desert. Does the group that trusts in the Lord have it free and easy? No. They also have a time of “heat” and “drought.” They go through life’s problems and turmoil and trials just like everyone else.

So what’s the difference between the two? Actually, there are two mentioned here. The first is for the here and now. The blessed ones don’t “fear when heat comes, [their] leaves are always green.” Yes, the heat will come, but it’s nothing to fear. As the old saying goes, if you fear the Lord, you don’t have to fear anything else. When everyone else around you is falling apart, you don’t have to. People look at a tree and wonder why its fruit is so green. Of course it’s green—it’s planted by the river. The river is its source of nourishment and strength. The tree’s roots are planted down deep out of sight, but you can see the result. In the same way, no one can literally see my relationship with my Savior, but you should be able to see the results in the way I handle catastrophe.

And the second difference is in the there and then. Of course, Jeremiah’s first listeners would've understood him as mostly referring to this life when he talked about “prosperity” coming. Some day, very soon, those who truly belong to the God of Israel would be vindicated in their trust. How much more will that be true of us, we who understand more about the Age To Come than they ever did?

If you’ve been with me a while, you know what I’m going to be asking next: To which group do you belong? Are you trusting in the only true Refuge, or in something else?

Lord Jesus, I do trust you. I want to demonstrate it and show it and advertise it. Please, may everything I do and say reflect that.

[Mar 20]—Plenty To Go Around

Jer. 14:13-16

OK, have we finally gotten it into our heads just how ticked off God is towards false teachers/prophets? These charlatans spoke in God’s name, and he hadn’t sent them. This wasn’t a game. Peoples’ lives and souls were at stake. My friend, I make it my business to make darn sure that I make a very careful distinction between what the Lord has clearly said and my personal opinion. I try really hard to be dogmatic on a subject in direct proportion to God’s clarity on it. That’s because my Lord takes a very very very dim view of someone presuming to speak in his name.

But what about those deceived by these hucksters? Does God hold them accountable as well?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, apparently you don’t read the Scripture verses I place at the beginning of the devotional. The Lord makes it abundantly clear from today’s passage that he holds those who buy into this mess as culpable and guilty.

Why would he do that? Doesn’t he have compassion on people who are tricked? Well, yes and no. Jesus told us that he’s going to judge based on the light that person has received. So I would suppose that he’s not going to punish someone deceived as much as the one deceiving them.

But they don’t get off scot-free by any means. When it comes to punishing people who rebel against him, there's plenty of wrath for everyone.

To see why, let’s ask some clarifying questions. Were the people just lost in ignorance? Had he made his will known to them? Um, yeah. It was called the Torah, which is translated as “Law” or (my favorite) “Teaching.” He spelled out exactly what his expectations were. He spent several chapters in Deuteronomy in particular laying out very specific blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience.

They had men calling themselves “prophets” who were telling them contradictory things. One set told them that God is fine with idol worship and sexual immorality and child sacrifice. The other set—a much smaller number—told them the exact opposite, that the Lord was extremely angry with their behavior. Which one to listen to? Well, the Lord had already addressed this in his word. In fact, as we discussed before, even if a “prophet” made a right prediction, they were still obligated to compare what he said versus what God (thru Moses) had already said.

Let’s be clear about this. The Lord never leaves himself without a witness. If someone is led astray, it’s because they want to be led astray. If they paid any attention to what the Lord had already told them, he'd lead them to some more revelation, until they're either redeemed or turn away from him.

So how does this apply to me? Despite the cliché, ignorance is not bliss. The Lord will hold you accountable not only for what you know, but what you could've known if you wanted to. You're responsible before him to know as much as you can and to act upon his truth.

Please take this to heart.

Father God, my problem is not—and has never been—that you aren’t speaking to me. It’s that I haven’t been listening very well. Please grant me a soft heart, listening ears, and the willingness to act on what you’ve told me.

[Mar 19]—Tears For The Sinners

Jer. 13:15-17

If you know anything about Jeremiah, you might've heard that his nickname is “The Weeping Prophet.” It’s pretty ironic, don’t you think, that the prophet most well-known for the harshest pronouncements of doom would also be well-known for crying over the targets of his rebukes? I’d like to spend a little time on that concept.

Please keep in mind how Jeremiah was treated by his compatriots. The popularity of the prophets never was very high. But as you might expect, Jeremiah’s popularity was inversely proportional to the negativity of his message. The man who strokes the ego of his audience is going to attract a crowd. How do you think they react to the man who tells them that God is really angry at them and that judgment is imminent? They jeered him, they ostracized him, they slandered him, they arrested him and there was worse to come.

And what was his reaction? Tears. He knew very well what the future held for them, and he shed tears for them.

And why? Well, I suppose a huge part of it was because he identified with them. They were his people, his relatives, his own flesh and blood. Do you have a relative who drives you crazy, but you put up with it because of blood relations?

But I think there’s more to this. Remember who inspired the prophets? Peter tells us that they “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” They had a special intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit which most people never had and never will have. He spoke through them. You ever hear the phrase “From your mouth to God’s ear”? This was literally the reverse: From God’s mouth to their ear. Literally a prophet is a “mouth,” remember? He revealed things to them which he didn’t reveal to anyone else, and they spoke what they heard.

I really believe that there was more than human compassion at work here. In that intimacy with the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah was weeping God’s tears. I’ve mentioned these passages plenty of times, but they bear repeating: He’s not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. As surely as he lives, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that he turn from his ways and live. As we discussed before, we need to keep this in mind—Behind the sternest warnings lie a Father’s heart who’s reaching out to lost sinners.

So here come the tough questions: Are we in tune with his heart? Does it bother us that people are lost and are heading into an eternity without Christ? Do we weep over peoples’ rebellion, or do we smugly watch with a judgmental attitude?

My friend, if I believed in salvation by works, then I could understand a judgmental attitude. I could understand looking at sinners and being prideful. But I don’t. I believe that I’m saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. I believe that it took the blood of Jesus to purchase my forgiveness. I believe that I deserve nothing from God except judgment, and he's shown me nothing but grace and mercy and forgiveness.

So how can I be so callous?

Father God, please tune my heart to yours. As you’ve shown me mercy and grace and forgiveness, may that overflow into a burning desire to share the wealth. And a contempt for pride. And tears.

[Mar 18]—Open For All

Jeremiah 12:14-17

What sins really tick God off? Hopefully you know that he takes all sin a lot more seriously than we do, but you should also know that he takes some sins more seriously than others. There are well-meaning Christians out there who teach that the Lord counts all sins equally, but this really doesn’t jibe with what Scripture teaches. I won’t get into the evidence, but if you’re interested, here are some passages.

So what really gets his blood boiling, so to speak? Well, Jesus seems to take an extremely dim view of anyone messing with children, for example. But something else that really seems to get him angry is false teachers, or anyone who leads someone else away from humanity’s Redeemer. As you merely skim the book of Jeremiah you see multiple warnings and threats about this. At issue here are the nations surrounding Israel who led it away from the Lord. It’s not bad enough that they’re rebelling against the Judge of the Universe. No, they’re not content unless they’re leading others astray. That’s why James warns against even desiring to become a teacher, because you’re responsible for not only yourself (as all of us are) but also for the spiritual condition of all your listeners. God holds anyone who claims to be a teacher to a higher standard.

That’s why today’s passage gave me pause when I was reading Jeremiah in preparation for the blog. At first it’s pretty similar to most of the book: He’s pronouncing judgment on his rebellious, stubborn, sinful people. But as the Puritans said, judgment is his “strange” work. He’s not willing that any should perish, so after he’s punished them, he’s going to bring them back as a people. He’ll have compassion on them and bring them back to their own inheritance, and—most importantly—back to himself.

And yes, apparently this includes those who led others astray: “[If] they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people.”

Let me make this clear. On the basis of God’s word, anyone this side of the Great Divide can come to Christ and repent. Here's a song by Carolyn Arends called "Love Is Always There," which makes that point beautifully.

As Carolyn Arends put it,

“Until this life is over

there is no point of no return

'Cause everywhere you turn

His love is always there”

There’s only one unpardonable sin, and even teaching a false gospel isn’t it. But there’s always bad news on the flip side of the Good News. If any of the nations didn’t listen to God’s revelation to them, there would be consequences. That’s how it is with choices: They come with consequences.

And as it is with nations, so it is with individual people.

Father God, when I think about the people who might listen to what I say and to what I write, it frightens me. May every word I speak or write draw everyone who listens or reads closer to you, and not further away. I beg you.

[Mar 17]--The Right Way To Complain

Jer. 12:1-4

You know, as a general rule, nobody likes a complainer. I’ve been in offices before with one coworker who’s complaining all the time, and you know how popular they are. If you live with a spouse who can’t ever be satisfied with the way things are, that’s a real burden.

So is it ever right to complain to God? Some would say no, and they certainly have Scripture that they can point to, like Romans 9:20—“Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" And I want to remind of you of my favorite clarifying question: “What exactly does God owe you?” The answer? Nothing but judgment.

But I talked about this last year when we looked at the Psalms. There are tons of Psalms which have complaints in them, which could be summarized thus: "Things are really stinking right now! I have enemies on every side, troubles too many to count, and it’s your fault God! What the heck is going on?! Why aren’t you doing something about this?" The Psalms are just as inspired as the Gospels, right? So in some sense, God the Holy Spirit wants us to complain to him.

As best as I can tell from Scripture, there’s a right way and a wrong way to complain to him, and I think in today's passage we can see a good example of the former. First, as a counterexample take the Hebrews under Moses’ care. They were constantly complaining, and when they did, they implicitly or explicitly impugned his character, as if he didn’t care about them or even was planning them harm, and that he’d been lying to them the whole time.

Let me give a purely hypothetical example. Let’s say that someone supposedly saw me having lunch with an attractive lady and told my wife about it. How my wife approaches me about it reveals much about her attitude towards me, specifically whether she trusts me or not. There’s all the difference in the world between A) “Hey honey, Bill saw you at lunch with someone today. So who was it?” and B) “So who’ve you been cheating on me with?” Now if I’ve ever shown a reason to make her doubt my fidelity, especially if I’ve ever cheated on her before, the tone in B) is reasonable. But if I’ve never given her a reason to doubt me, there’s a huge problem with her.

The point I’m making is that when tough times come or we see evil people prospering and good people suffering, we tend to react like with a B)-like attitude when the Lord has never ever ever given us real reason to doubt him.

So like Jeremiah here, when we question the Lord, we need to start out with an acknowledgement of his goodness. It might even seem like he’s treating us wrongly, but he’s not. We know that he's always righteous, in his dealings with us along with everything else he does. No matter what’s happening.

The other thing we need to keep in mind is that he really is in control. Some pseudo-theologians out there try to let God “off the hook” by pretending that when bad things happen, he’s really helpless to prevent them. Yes, people are responsible for their actions, and the Bible never hints otherwise. But the Lord is sovereign, and he ultimately ordains (or at least permits) everything that happens. See Jeremiah’s language: “You have planted them, and they have taken root.” It’s not by chance or fate or kismet. It’s the Lord who’s raised up these evil people and brought down the good.

Also we need to remember that what we see is not the end of the story. Jeremiah, in his rage at injustice, asked God to intervene and punish the guilty. And one day—at the proper time—he will. Sometimes we’ll see it in this life, but in the end everyone (outside of Christ) will get exactly what they deserve. As Longfellow said, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”

So when things look really bleak and you’re angry at him, let it out. Be honest with him. You’re not fooling him anyway. But do it right.

Father God, so many times I’ve come to you complaining, and you’re so patient. As I pour out my heart to you, I run out of accusing words and am silenced by you. Not by force, but by love.

[Mar 16]--Bragging Rights

Jer. 9:23-24

As you might've noticed from these readings, I’m a huge fan of C. S. Lewis. I’ve read just about everything he’s ever written, and his work has influenced my thinking and writing to a great degree. And of course one of my favorites is one of his most famous: Mere Christianity. If you haven’t read it, you’ve severely deprived yourself. He has a chapter on pride and humility which is a must-read for every Christian.

It’s there that he makes a really important point regarding the vice and its opposite virtue. Is it wrong to take note of admirable qualities which you have? If I’m really smart or skilled or talented in a certain area, is it wrong to notice that? Or do I need to pretend as if I’m not?

Paul apparently didn’t think so. He told us “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Examine yourself with sober judgment. Take an honest inventory of where you are and what you have.

But today’s passage puts everything we have and are in proper perspective. If you’re the richest person in the world, and if you’re the best in the world at making money, then there’s no shame in that. He's given you certain gifts and abilities and privileges which he hasn’t given others, and you’ve taken advantage of that.

Let’s say you’re the strongest man on earth. I’ve seen videos of a man who’s pulled a train with his teeth. I’ve seen other videos of weight lifters who can lift several times their mass over their head. I’m sure they could grab me and break me in half like a match stick.

Or imagine that you’re the wisest person on earth, or even in history. Kings and presidents and other leaders come from faraway lands just to hear your advice. Your recorded sayings are considered to be national treasures.

You know, the track record on people with these gifts--as regarding personal happiness—is not that great. The strongest man in recorded history, by name of Samson, ended up pretty much a failure and committed suicide. The wisest man on earth—who really did have national leaders come to him and beg to hear his counsel—ended up writing the most depressing book of the Bible (Ecclesiastes). And of course the stories about rich men who found no peace in their lives are well-known.

All these men could boast about great accomplishments in their lives, but for the most part they missed the most important thing in life. They poured their lives into things which are here today and gone tomorrow.

Instead, they could've poured their lives into understanding and knowing the most important Person in the universe. And the really astonishing thing is that this Person is utterly knowable by anyone in the world. Low IQ? Not a problem! Don’t have two dimes in your pocket to rub together? No worries! Completely failing in your strength? Not only is that not a problem, it probably qualifies you better than someone who’s stronger, faster, or more popular.

He is the Lord. He exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth. And he smiles on people who do the same. That’s who he is, and that’s what he’s looking for.

So what’s your boast?

Father God, that’s all I care about, or at least what I’m supposed to care about. I know you, and I want to know you more. Please.

[Mar 15]--Cold, Heartless, and Cruel

Jeremiah 8:18-9:2

Have you ever heard of the myth of Cassandra? She was cursed by the gods in a particularly cruel way: She was given the gift of predicting the future, but no one would ever believe her prophecies. She saw the doom of a city, warned the inhabitants, and they ignored her.

How would you react if that happened to you? You can see, as clear as a summer day, the approaching doom of a group of people. You warn them-explicitly and repeatedly—and they either ignore you or threaten you. You’ve warned them, you’ve prayed for them, you’ve done everything you can to get their attention. Instead of being grateful for caring for them, they accuse you of the basest of motives, of being cold and heartless. What would you do?

I can tell you my instinctive reaction, and probably most of you would say the same if you’re honest: “All right then, you can all go to Hell! Someday I’ll be laughing while you’re screaming in agony!” I’m not saying that’s right, but it’s certainly understandable.

It’s certainly not the reaction of our Lord to ungrateful sinners. As surely as he lives, he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

And it wasn’t the reaction of Jeremiah. If you read his book from cover to cover, he has some of the harshest things to say about his own people. They’re miserable, rotten, unfaithful sinners. Again and again and again and again he warned them of the wrath to come. And their responses ranged from indifference to hostility.

And yes, he was angry at them. He was disgusted by their behavior.

But his main reaction was twofold: prayer and tears. Since his people were crushed, he was crushed. He mourned for them. He longed to see a “balm,” a healing physician for them. There’s a reason he’s known as the “weeping prophet”: He longed for the ability to cry out for them night and day, to let flow a fountain of tears. He saw them not just as sinners who deserved punishment but as lost sinners who desperately needed a Savior.

You see, this is a lie that the Enemy loves to promote, that anyone who tells a Non-Christian about their appointment with the Judgment and about their desperate need for a Savior is doing so out of a self-righteous attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. Especially as N.T. believers, we're fully cognizant of the fact that we deserve God’s anger just as much as anyone else. We know we’re saved by his grace, not based on anything we’ve done. Like the old saying told us, I’m a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

OK, so that’s a good rejoinder for those who accuse us of being hard-hearted towards those who disagree with us. But what about us as believers?

My question to you and to me is very pointed: Do I reflect the heart of Jeremiah? Yes, he was brave and bold enough to preach an unpopular message to a hostile audience. Am I brave enough to do that when the opportunity arises? And do I take it to the next step: Am I compassionate enough to tell people that they desperately need the Savior? When I think about where my lost friends and co-workers and family are heading, does it cause me to weep like the prophet? Like the Spirit who inspired him?

Father, to NOT tell someone what they need to hear, THAT is cold-hearted and a lack of compassion. Please, make my heart like yours.

[Mar 14]--Self-Deceptive Worship

            What does God think of my worship? Have you ever asked that? That can be an uncomfortable question, can’t it? Is it possible for a person to deceive themselves into thinking that the Lord is happy with their worship, when he’s not?
            Yes, it is.
            What about the people whom Jeremiah is addressing in today’s passage? What were they doing?
            Well, the first thing we notice is that their conduct from Sunday to Friday (since they worshiped on Saturday) was not becoming of God’s people, to say the least. Ironically, this is one of the few passages in which the prophet actually mentions specific sins. Most of the time, he just accuses them of such things as being unfaithful to the Covenant and to the Lord. If they were pricked by the Spirit and actually were curious about the particular transgressions of which they were guilty, obviously he would've told them. The Spirit never leaves us in the dark about a specific sin of which we need to repent.
            Here they were guilty of theft, murder, adultery, and “perjury.” An alternate translation of the last accusation is “swearing by false gods.” Basically it’s talking about “false swearing,” and either they were swearing falsely by invoking God’s name in a lie, or they were invoking false gods, whether the facts they were asserting were true or not. Whatever the case, the Lord hated it.
            You see, we can’t separate our worship from our conduct. We can’t act as citizens of this world throughout the week and then come into his Presence on our corporate worship day (now Sunday for most of us) and expect him to accept it.
            Now you might be thinking “But I don’t cheat on my wife or kill anyone, so I’m fine.” Um, no you’re not. Just to be clear, Jesus specifically warned us that if our hearts are given over to lust and hatred, he sees it as adultery and murder. And how’s about theft? If your boss had been watching over your shoulder the entire time you’ve been on the clock this past week, could he find you “stealing” his time?
            And then there was the question of their religious practices. I think that idolatry and sinful conduct go hand in hand. Remember, you’re only as good as the god (or God) you worship. Baal and Molech and the other gods of the Canaanites were vile creatures from Satan’s and man’s imagination, and that fact showed in the typical conduct of their worshipers.
            And even if idol worship didn’t lead to immoral conduct, that still wouldn’t justify it. The Lord God of Israel is the only God who truly deserves our worship. He made us and redeemed us. He deserves our wholehearted allegiance. He deserves our undivided loyalty. He deserves the best that we have. He doesn't deserve to be one god among many others or even as a competitor to anything else. He is utterly unique, and he deserves to be treated as such.
            This is why God wasn’t accepting their worship. He wasn’t neutral towards it and didn’t have “an open mind” towards it. He hated it with every bit of who he is.
            He didn’t accept it then, and he doesn’t accept it now.
            The good news? If you’re feeling convicted by this in a particular area of your life, then know this: He loves you, and he’s ready and willing and able to forgive. Raise the white flag, throw yourself on his mercy, and resolve that you’re going to start doing things his way instead of your own. But it all starts with an end to the games. You might fool everyone else, but you’re not fooling him. Not for a second.

Lord Jesus, I have no claim to righteousness of my own. By your grace, the games stop today. Please forgive, and please restore, as only you can. 

[Mar 13]--Peace, Peace

            One of my favorite Bible teachers of all time is R.C. Sproul. I can’t say that I agree with every word that he says, but his insight into the Scriptures has been invaluable to me over the years. I remember distinctly remember him saying what portion of Scripture frightens him the most. He knows he’s saved, but there's one passage in Scripture which particularly fills him with fear and trepidation: "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."
            This is a theme which I’ll probably address multiple times over the next few months as we examine Jeremiah and the other prophets—God holds people in spiritual leadership to a higher standard than he does regarding the ones led. The Lord holds you accountable for you; one day you’ll have to answer to him as to how you’ve lived as a believer. If I’m your teacher--which I guess I am if you’re reading this blog and get spiritual instruction from it—then the Lord holds me accountable for me and for you.
            As you read the book of Jeremiah, which I certainly recommend, then you might notice how often he condemns false prophets. He gives the people a word straight from God’s throne, and they contradict him. In particular he tells them how angry the Lord is with their conduct, and how close they are to judgment as a nation, and they stand against his message.
            And what’s their message? What are they telling their listeners? “Peace, peace!” In other words, everything is going to be fine. God smiles on your conduct. He’s fine with how you’re behaving. He loves and is pleased with your worship. And he’s going to continue to bless your nation, just as he has up until now, for a long long time.
            A pretty pleasant message, isn’t it? People who preach this message are always going to have plenty of listeners. They’re going always have a ready audience. But there’s just one problem: There is no peace. All that they were preaching wasn’t from God. It was from their own imaginations, with some inspiration no doubt from the Evil One.
            Why would they do this? What was their motivation? Well, today’s passage gives one motivation, and it’s one of the oldest. A popular message can bring in some good money. And although the Bible doesn’t say it, I’d venture to guess that some of them had, to some degree, good intentions regarding the people. Maybe it wasn’t all greed all the time.
            It doesn’t really matter in the end. Even if they had the best of intentions, you know where that road leads.  They were leading people on the road to destruction.
            That’s where I and every other Bible teacher/preacher come in. It’s easy to teach and preach what other people want to hear. God’s fine with homosexuality, for example. Or he has no problem with greed or lust or pride. Aborting an unborn baby is just another “choice.” And my personal favorite message from the zeitgeist: A person doesn’t really have to believe in Jesus in order to be right with God and make it to Heaven. As long as they’re “sincere,” that’s good enough.
            But I can’t do it. That’s not what the Bible teaches. If someone doesn’t accept what the Scriptures teach, then that’s between them and God. I can’t change anyone else’s mind. But I have a duty to discharge. I can’t say “peace, peace” when God says there is no peace. How would we view a doctor who knew that his patient has cancer, and didn’t tell him? What if this doctor “[dressed] the wound as though it were not serious”?
            I can’t, and I won’t.

Father God, I hear the Enemy’s whisperings, and it resonates with a part of me. Please deafen my ears, and focus my spiritual eyes, so that I hear nothing and see nothing except what you place in front of me. And when a friend wounds me in love, please let me see it as a precious gift from you. 

[Mar 12]--Fruitless Punishment

            It’s amazing, really, the wrongheaded views people have of God. Some folks, especially a lot of Christians, visualize him as a Grandfather who winks at the minor foibles of his grandchildren. Others, especially most self-proclaimed atheists, consider the God of the Bible as a harsh tyrant who delights in punishing lowly victims for the most minor of sins. In fact, one of my favorite writers in Hollywood, Joss Whedon, calls God the “sky bully,” which pretty well sums up his view of the Almighty.
            Of course, neither extreme reflects the God of the Bible. He’s the God who destroyed Egypt, Sodom, and a whole generation of humanity. He killed a man for touching the Ark of the Covenant, and the very sons of the high priest Aaron were struck dead in his presence for not doing things his way. But he’s also the same God who is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” He’s not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that he turn from his ways and live.
            So why does he punish? Well, first and foremost, he’s holy and righteous. Sin can’t abide in his presence. He must punish sin. Sin and he are mortal enemies of each other. When he sends someone to Hell—and yes, he does do that—that’s the reason.
            But what about believers? The Lord Jesus took all of our sins upon himself on the cross: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”We’re never going to get what we really deserve. He no longer deals with us according to what we deserve but what we need. And sometimes that includes hardships which he brings into our lives, which in extreme cases can be sickness or even an early death.
            So what does that have to do with today’s reading? Why did I give it the title I did? Because sometimes God’s punishments don’t accomplish what they’re supposed to do, at least in some sense. Read the passage again, especially the last verse. He punished them. He “struck” them and “crushed” them, and what was the result? Nothing positive. They just sloughed it off and continued in their rebellion.
            This is an important lesson for us to learn: Anything this side of the Lake of Fire is the Lord’s appeal to sinners.  Keep in mind what type of God that he is. He takes no pleasure in making peoples’ lives miserable. When he introduces hardship into someone’s life, it’s there to wake them up from a spiritual slumber.
            You can tell that in today’s verses. The point of his “striking” them and “crushing” them was for the exact opposite of what happened: This was intended to soften their hearts and lead them to repentance.
            By the way, this is something pointed out to me by John Piper--Hell does not lead to repentance. People in Hell will just hate the Lord more the longer they’re there.
            So what does this mean to us? Well, if you’re reading this and haven’t received Jesus as your Boss and Savior, you can change that fact today. You need to change that fact about yourself—today. Start by reading this.
            If you do know him as your Savior, then ask yourself: Is his discipline working? You know, if you listen to him through the “normal” channels such as his word, prayer, and the Church, then he won’t have to resort to harsher measures to get your attention. And trust me, he’d rather it not come to that.

Father God, please give me a soft heart and listening ears. Let’s do this the easy way, shall we?

[Mar 11]--Judicial Hardening

            All right guys, kindergarten is over; it’s time to talk about an issue which is a little deeper than what we’ve had so far. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I don’t delve into deeper theological topics unless it’s necessary. You’re not going to find here a big discussion on details about the “End Times,” for example. The reason I don’t do that is because I’m a practical theologian. If it doesn’t affect your daily walk with Christ, and especially if the Scripture isn't crystal clear about it, then I tread very lightly upon it if I address it at all.
            I can’t do that here. This is something that every Christian needs to wrestle and come to terms with. It’s a recurring theme in the Bible (so it’s not obscure), and it IS something that can directly affect your relationship with him.
            The term, as you might have guessed from the title, is “judicial hardening.” What does it mean, and how does it affect me? Let’s start with a basic proposition: Every bit of spiritual understanding comes from God himself. If we're going to know anything about the Lord and how to relate correctly to him, then he has to reveal it to us one way or the other. And I don’t mean just the bare facts themselves, like what’s written in the Bible. I mean the Spirit has to actively work on our hearts and make God’s truth clear to us. There are plenty of people who study the Bible and have no true understanding of what it’s really saying, and the truth of Scripture has no impact on a life by itself. It has to be wielded as the Sword of the Spirit.
            OK, we’ve got that, right? But what if a person resists the truth of God’s word and the activity of the Spirit in their hearts? Is that possible? Well, Stephen said it was. In his speech before the Sanhedrin, he warned them that they were resisting the Spirit. The Spirit was speaking to them—presumably while Stephen was talking—and they literally shut their ears to both of them.
            Well, one of two things happens. Eventually the Spirit gets through to them and they repent. Or something else can occur, which is pretty frightening. Jesus warned about this: “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Paul did too--When he starts out the book of Romans with a general indictment of humanity as they turn away from his truth, he uses the phrase three times: As an end result of their rebellion, “God gave them over.”
            Here’s the pattern: The Lord reveals something of himself to humanity. Maybe not everything they would want or need, but enough to get them started. If they take what he's given them and act positively on it, they'll get more. This'll continue until they come into a full relationship with him. But if they turn away from what the Lord’s already given them, then eventually what little they have will be taken away. Keep saying to him over and over and over “Go away, go away, go away,” and eventually he says “All right, I will.”
            This is where today’s passage comes in, which is the springboard for today’s topic. The prophet complained that the Lord was “deceiving” them by giving them false prophets. Of course, they always had the Torah and the genuine prophets. If they chose to listen to what the Lord had already given them, he would give them more. But if they chose to listen to the false prophets, he'd eventually “deceive” them by giving them over to what they wanted to listen to.
            Yes, this is a danger today. If lost people keep on turning away from what God has revealed to them of his truth, he will eventually abandon them to the darkness. And yes, that can happen in this life.
            What about us? Can this happen to believers as well? I believe it can. If we turn away from what our Savior has revealed to us, then we risk placing ourselves under his more harsh discipline. If he can’t get to us through the regular avenues like his word, prayer, and the church, he’ll use rougher methods. Remember, if he loves you, he’ll discipline you. One way or the other.

Father God, only you can give me understanding. Only you, through the work of your Spirit, can soften my heart and change me from the inside-out. Please. 

[Mar 10]--Only One Solution

            You’re familiar with “Murphy’s Law,” right? “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” I’ve definitely discovered that’s true regarding stains on my shirt. If I’m eating chili dogs or chocolate ice cream, I have to be extra careful, because I guarantee you that otherwise I’ll end up with some on my shirt.
            Today’s title has a double meaning. We have a problem: There’s a stain on our souls. It’s been there since our first Parents made one very bad decision. They chose to disobey the Lord’s instruction, and that one bad choice has had repercussions on all their children ever since. I don’t exactly know why, since the Bible never really lays out the ins and outs, but somehow they passed a sinful nature down to us. I don't for one moment believe that we’re punished for the sin of Adam. But we’re affected by it. We have within us a desire to turn away from God and do things our way instead of his way.
            And that leaves a stain, just like my bad decision to be careless results in a stained shirt. But the consequences of this are a bit more dire than a stern look from my wife. God cannot let sin into his presence without punishing it.  God and sin are mortal enemies of each other. If there’s a stain of sin on your soul, then that has to be cleaned off before you can stand before him, which we all will someday. That stain has got to come out somehow.
            So how can we get it out? How do you cleanse a soul? Well, people have all types of solutions (both in the problem sense and in the laundry sense). They try to make up for it with good deeds. But the problem is that the prophet Isaiah tells us that our righteous acts are like filthy rags before him, literally they are menstrual cloths. If that’s how God sees your good deeds, then how can your good deeds make up for the really bad stuff?
            Others try religious rituals. They pray five times a day, or they give to the church, or they make sacrifices. But that’s described in today’s verse. It’s people trying to cleanse themselves. They use all types of “soap” and “cleansing powder.” And when they’re done, they see (if they’re honest) that the stain remains.
            But the Bible tells us that there is a way to cleanse the soul, to get rid of the stain. But it’s the only one. There’s only one solution, both to our problem and to get the stain out.
            The Bible tells us that the blood of Jesus the Son can cleanse us from every sin. Every type of sin, and every sin in our lives. Is it the physical blood that Jesus shed 2000 years ago that does the trick? No, that blood didn’t have any mystical or magical properties. If you had a time machine and went back to the cross and saved some of the blood and put it under a microscope, you wouldn’t see anything unusual.
            No, when the Bible is referring to the “blood” of Jesus, it’s a way of referring to the violent death he experienced on the cross. We talk about it this way even today: If we say that “blood will be spilled,” we’re talking about someone killing someone else. It doesn’t mean that I cut myself.
            But that’s the sense in which his blood cleanses us. He paid the debt we owed. He redeemed us (bought us back) by his blood. When we place our faith in him and receive him as our Boss and Savior, his blood cleanses us. The stain is lifted—for all time—and we’re clean before God. Now and for all time.
            If this is something you’ve already known and experienced, then take a moment to thank him for what he’s done for you. If you haven’t, here’s some more reading on the subject Don’t wait, please.

Lord Jesus, nothing can wash away my sin, only your blood. Nothing can make me whole again, nothing but your blood. How precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow!

[Mar 09]--Downward Spiral

Jer. 2:19

            Life is full of small decisions which add up to big consequences. I’m diabetic, and every day I have to make choices about what I eat and how much insulin to take with my food. One cookie in itself is not that big a deal, but over time they add up—literally around my waist and elsewhere.
            I’m not advocating that you become a paranoid legalist, but we need to be mindful of this prospect. Take the issue of marriage: Most failed marriages are not like a tire blowing out suddenly while you’re on the road. Most of them are like slow leaks which weren't dealt with when we first notice the problem.
            Take today’s reading, which is just one verse. Notice first of all that the Lord is warning his unfaithful people that their own sins would punish them. Their own behavior, that of “backsliding” would come back to bite them on the rear. Forget about what the Lord himself would do: Sin itself brings its own judgment and punishment.
            What is backsliding? Can a true believer do it? I think he can. This isn't dealing with the issue of eternal security, which I thoroughly believe in. But I also thoroughly believe that it’s entirely possible for a believer to fall away in his commitment to the Lord. Maybe you don’t read your Bible as faithfully as you once did. Your prayers are just rote, and you might as well be talking to the wall for all the good it does you. If you're still attending church, it’s nothing more than something you do on Sunday mornings.
            I repeat—It is possible for a believer to fall into this trap! Your love for your Savior has gone lukewarm, and I want to tell you that your Savior finds it disgusting.
            But where does it all start? Once again, I don’t think it’s a blowout so often as it’s a slow leak. And I think the clue is found in the last part of the God’s indictment in the verse:
            You have no awe of me. The fear of me within you is gone.
            The God who saved you. The God who sent his Son to die in your place, who took your sins upon his back. The One who has showered you with you grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Who’s provided for all your needs.
            It didn’t start with open rebellion. It rarely does. It starts with losing sight of who he is. Then it leads to forsaking him, turning away from following him like you used to. Then it leads to other, more flagrant sins.
            If you have true awe of him, you won’t sin. The proper fear of the Lord will keep you from it.
            Yes, I believe in the eternal security of the believer. I don’t think you can lose your salvation. You don’t do anything to lose salvation any more than you did anything to gain it. But you can lose your awe of him, which leads to forsaking your relationship with him, at least for a short time. And if this continues, he'll make you regret it. He doesn’t let his children stray for too long before he makes life really difficult for them. The ones he loves, he disciplines.
            I’m pointing the finger at me as much as at any of you. Do I revere my Father? Do I show proper awe of him?

Father God, I am so very sorry for the times I lose sight of who you are and who I am. Please, through your Spirit, fill me with a proper fear of you, a respectful awe of who you are. 

[Mar 08]--Two Sins

Jer. 2:10-13

            I promise you, the next few days in Jeremiah are not just going to be repetitions of the same message over and over: “You’re a sinner, God is really angry at what you’re doing, and he’s about to punish you!” This is why, when Jeremiah comes up in my reading plan, I try to take it in bite-size chunks instead of trying to read it all in one sitting. But Paul told us that all Scripture is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” So every word, every thought, and every line, has a message for us.
           The book of Jeremiah is full of God’s accusations against his people. He'd done nothing towards them except treat them with grace, mercy, faithfulness, and love. In return he'd gotten—for the most part—nothing but disrespect and faithlessness.
           But this is more than just an accusation like you hear in court. This is a Person whose heart is broken and whose love is wounded. Can you see it in today’s passage? Once again I want to draw your attention to one portion, specifically the last sentence: “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.” A cistern was an underground water storage device, a hole dug into the ground which was lined with plaster to keep the water from leaking out.
          The Lord is saying that they've committed two sins, but really they’re linked to each other. You can’t have one without the other. First, they forsook the God who'd done everything for them. He calls himself “the spring of living water,” a source of running water, as opposed to stagnant water which would be nasty at best and life-threatening at worst. He’s the spring of living water. There is no other. And just like physical water brings us life and is necessary for it, he’s the Life-Giver, the Source.
          In sharp contrast we see the cisterns which people built for themselves. They weren’t interested in the God of Abraham. No, they had a much better plan than anything he could come up with. They made their plans, staked out their claim, marked out the spot, and put a lot of effort into digging a hole. Once that was done, they set out to protect their investment.
          Isn’t that a perfect representation of what humanity’s done since the Fall? Can you think of a better summary of history?
          And of course you can see the end result in Scripture, just like you can see it in history and in the world today. In the end they find out that their “cistern” into which they poured such effort, time, and resources is just a leaky vessel. Sooner or later they find this out. We all do, and the sooner we learn it the better.
           I feel the need to hammer this point home through repetition: There are only two choices presented here, and there are only two choices allowed in life. You’re either drawing your life from the Spring of Living Water, or you’re depending on your own cistern.
           So which will it be?

Father God, you know what my choice is, or at least what I claim it is. I tend to stray quite a bit from the Source, and to start digging my own hole. When that happens, please stop me before I get too far.

[Mar 07]--You Are What You Eat

            Please indulge me as I trot out once again my defense of clichés, please. People tend to dismiss well-known pithy sayings as “clichés.” The reason sayings become clichés is because over time folks recognize that there's truth contained within them, that they speak of something that is generally true. For example, “You get what you pay for” is generally true, although there are plenty of exceptions.
            What do we mean when we say “You are what you eat”? Well, that’s pretty simple, right? It’s a call for us to eat healthier, to try to eat more healthy food and stay away from the less-than-healthy variety.
            Why do we think that this applies in the physical realm but not in the spiritual? Why does the present zeitgeist cause us to think that it doesn’t matter what a person believes, as long as they’re sincere? A person might sincerely think that another chocolate bar will do him no harm, but facts are stubborn things.
            What does this have to do with today’s passage? God, through his prophet, is complaining about the lack of faithfulness of his people—a recurring theme throughout the book attributed to Jeremiah. He recounts, as he often does, how the Lord was so gracious and wonderful and merciful and powerful on the behalf of his chosen people, and in return they continually turned away from him. But I want to call attention to the last few words in the reading: “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”
              My friend, this is a fact of life you can count on: You're only as good as the god that you worship. If the god you worship is harsh, cruel, arbitrary and unloving like Allah of the Koran, then what type of people do you think that will produce? If the god you worship is the impersonal almighty Dollar, then do you think that might affect your personality and character?
              If the god you worship is supposedly the God of the Bible but you only care about the aspects of his character that you like, like his love and mercy but not his holiness and justice, then that will lead to flaws in your outlook and lifestyle.
              Now, don’t get me wrong. There are exceptions to this: People can sometimes rise above the god that they supposedly worship. There are plenty of Muslims in the world who don’t act at all like the Prophet they supposedly follow as an example, and I for one am grateful for that.
             And there’s a reason I was very careful in my wording: At best you’re only as good as your god, but you might be much worse. In the case of the God of the Bible, that’s certainly true: All of us fall far short of his perfect standards. He’s perfect love, and I’m certainly not showing that all the time in the way I treat others. He’s perfectly holy and righteous and full of grace, and you know that you’re not.
            So how do I apply this? Make sure that the God that you worship is the God of the Bible, not someone you’ve made up. Read all of the Book, not just the parts that appeal to you. And if there’s an idol in your life, something that’s a rival to your Savior, be aware that the old “cliché” is true.

Father, what about me? Am I worshipping the real you, or someone I’m making up? All of my false images of you? Let’s a do a search and destroy.

[Mar 06]--Creative Destruction

           Today we’re continuing our brief study of Jeremiah’s calling. Here’s another mark of a true prophet—God takes over his mouth. I don’t mean necessarily like a puppet, but the Lord came down and “touched” Jeremiah’s mouth to give him the words which the Lord wanted him say.

            This is in stark contrast with the false prophets, both back then and today. A true prophet is not airing his own opinions. What he’s uttering and writing down is just as much from the mouth of God as what the angels are hearing by hovering around the Throne in Heaven.

            Then the Lord gives him a summary of what he’s going to be doing with his words.

            I’d like to introduce you to a term in economics: creative destruction. This might seem to be a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. How can destruction be creative?

            Look at a business that’s failing. It’s using up resources in a very inefficient way. So what happens is that it finally folds. All of its assets don’t just vanish, however. Someone'll come along and buy those resources and (supposedly) use them more effectively and efficiently. In this sense, you have to destroy before you can create. You have to tear down the structure in order to build something better in its place.

            This is why Jeremiah seems so negative in his writings and sermons. He’s got to tear the nation down in order to build it back up again. He had to “uproot and tear down,” “destroy and overthrow” before he (and others) could “build and plant.”

            So let’s get to the parallels in our lives in the here and now, shall we?

            Now, I do not believe for one moment that biblical prophets exist today, at least in the same sense as Isaiah or Jeremiah or Amos. Does God speak today? Of course he does, but the only 100% authoritative message we have from the Lord today is his word, which is contained in the book known as the Bible. The main way he speaks to us is through his word. I think he gives us guidance and leading and wisdom, through the Sprit and the Church. But to know for sure what he says on a subject, go to the Book, the complete word from the Almighty. That book is closed, and it doesn’t need any addendum.

            But in a sense, we are prophets, each one of us. All of us have been given God’s word, and each of us has a responsibility to—as the Lord leads us—to share that message with people who need it. And inasmuch as we stick to what he's actually said, we’re speaking as authoritatively as Jeremiah did.

            I think there’s another application we can get from the “creative destruction” principle. As Yoda once told Skywalker, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” All of us have misconceptions, biases, areas of self-deception, etc. The artifice of our traditions and “the way we’ve always done it” is a structure which invites God’s prophetic word. He’s going to come, and when he comes, he won’t hesitate to tear down in order to restore and recreate.

            And of course the same principle applies in our lives as well. We’ve all built our own little Tower of Babel, our own little agenda about how we’re going to spend the remaining years on earth. Surprise! Our Lord loves to come and knock down our personal defense tower, to uproot, tear down, destroy and overthrow. But he’s not dismantling all that we’ve built just for its own sake. He plans to build something much better in its place.

            So are you going to cooperate in the rebuilding, or are you going to continue to mourn as you watch it all burn? Your choice.

Father God, your way is not the best way, it’s the only way. If I continue to build my own little Tower, then let it burn. I don’t need it. I need you, and what you have planned for me.

[Mar 05]--Marked Before Birth

            So now let’s get to a more systematic study of the prophets for a while. We went through Isaiah, so the logical next step is Jeremiah.
            Let’s clear up some potential misunderstanding before we go any further. This is a devotional, not a commentary. I have no inclination or plans to go through every verse of Jeremiah. First, because I know I'd lose a lot of readers. Let’s face it: Jeremiah is a tough read. If you’re familiar with him, you know that he’s not exactly a “happy go lucky” type of guy. Of course, all the prophets have some harsh things to say, but Jeremiah tops them all without even a close second. Second, I’m planning on wrapping up the prophets around the middle of the year, and Jeremiah has 52 chapters.
            But over the next month or so we’re going to be gleaning what we can from him. I know that a lot of his material could be summarized pretty simply: “You’re horrible sinners, and God is about to judge and destroy the whole lot of you.” That’s a lot of it, but not all of it or even most of it. There’s a lot more to him than just simple condemnation.
            Unlike Isaiah’s book, Jeremiah’s work actually starts out with a retelling of his calling as a prophet. He came from the priestly line, but we don’t know if that was how he was making a living before God intervened in his life.
            As we read the short description of God’s calling and the conversation that resulted in it, there are a few points I’d like for us to consider.
            Jeremiah was marked from birth. Actually it was before that, in the womb. No actually, if we want to be precise, God picked out Jeremiah for his special purpose before the creation of the world. But the passage focuses on the fact that God knew him and chose him before Jeremiah had a conscious thought.
            This reminds me that the office of prophet was not something one could aspire to, nor would it be. At least not a true prophet—there were plenty of self-proclaimed fake ones running around who only cared about popularity and cash. A true prophet did not pick himself. He was hand-picked by Almighty God.
            In fact, that leads us to another common sign of a true prophet: Reluctance. Jeremiah had to know what usually happened to true prophets who told people what they needed to hear instead of what they wanted to hear. The absolute best that you could reasonably hope for would be the undying hatred of the community. Tradition tells us that Isaiah was sawn in half. Even though he didn’t die a martyr, Moses would've been thrilled to hand over his responsibilities instead of leading those knuckleheads one more day. And the book of Exodus tells us that Moses, when confronted with his calling, came up with no less than five excuses as to why he wasn’t the guy.
            And that leads us to Jeremiah’s offered excuse—“I’m too young!”
            No you’re not. If God is sending you, I don’t care how old you are, or where you come from or your natural abilities. If he's sending you, that’s all that’s needed.
            See what God’s response is to Jeremiah? The Lord tolerates excuses no more here than he did when Moses trotted out his own. First, the Lord basically tells him “You’re going because I say you’re going. I’m God, you’re not, get over it.”
            But he also presents a note of assurance. If the Lord is sending you to do something, he'll let no real harm come to you. I've heard this over and over growing up, and it's still true: “The safest place in the whole world is smack-dab in the center of God’s will.” That’s still true. We have nothing to fear from the world of critics and enemies, both spiritual and non. He's sent us, and he'll provide for us, and he'll protect us from any real harm. We might actually suffer loss—in fact, that’s a given in serving the Lord, but in the end we won’t regret it.

Father God, I know you love to take the least likely candidates to accomplish big things in your plan. Please make me small enough to stoop down into my place in your agenda.

[Mar 04]--Cleansing Agent

            There’s lots more that the prophets tell us about the Messiah, but this’ll be the last day we spend on that particular topic. Starting tomorrow, we’ll get back to the overview of their books.
            The book of Malachi is poignant piece of writing for me. This was God’s last word to his people for several hundred years. I guess the Lord figured that this was all he needed to say until he was ready to send his Final Word, the Word made Flesh. In a couple of months, we’ll probably spend some more time on the writings of the last book of the Old Testament. Of course, strictly speaking, the last prophet of the Old Covenant was not Malachi, but John the Baptizer (per the words of Jesus). But Malachi was the last one who wrote a book for us to read.
            And here he tells us a very important characteristic of the coming Messiah. There are three people mentioned in this passage, and it’s important for us to tell them apart. First there’s the “messenger” who will prepare the way for the Lord. This was fulfilled in John the Baptist, who spent years of his life trying to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Messiah. The Second is the “Messenger of the Covenant,” who appears to be different from the first Messenger mentioned, since the 2nd Messenger is coming to “his temple,” which as far as we know John never did. The Third Person is the Father, who sent the Messenger who accomplishes the task set before him.
            I want to focus on the 2nd Messenger, since he seems to be the focus of the passage itself. What does he do? And when does this happen? Once again, I think this has a “partially then, more so now, and completely someday” aspect. It was partially fulfilled when our Savior came the first time. He literally cleansed the physical temple, and offered himself up to the Father in order to cleanse us from our sins. And he’s in the process of cleansing people today. Every time someone receives Christ, they’re cleansed from the stain of sin and the Great Cleanser starts the process of laundering out our personal lives. And someday he will complete the process when he comes again and the redemption of our bodies is completed.
            But there’s another aspect to this that we need to consider. These are almost the last words of the prophet, and they warn of us of another cleansing. He is coming again not just to complete the redemption of his people but to cleanse away sin from the earth. Ever since the rebellion of our first parents, this entire planet has been contaminated by the stain of sin. It’s filthy in his eyes, a stench in his nostrils. And finally he’s going to do something about it.
            And when he does, the prophet asks a great question, “[Who] can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” In our own righteousness, in our own goodness, the answer is no one. Paul said that before his Judgment Seat “every mouth [will] be silenced and the whole world held accountable to [him.]” He'll ask the questions, and no one will have any good answers. Their mouths will be silenced. All their snarky, sarcastic, snide remarks about how the Bible is full of myths? All their high-sounding arguments how Christians are narrow-minded and bigoted for telling people that Jesus is the only way to Heaven? I promise you: They won’t have any witty retorts on that Day.
            You see, everyone and everything will be cleansed, one way or another. You can be cleansed here and now, or you can be swept away when he does his final scouring of all the universe. What can cleanse sin from our souls? There’s only one solvent for that stain—the blood of Jesus the Son.
            If you haven’t been cleansed from your sin, then you can be. Please check this out If you have been cleansed by his blood, then be thankful.

Lord Jesus, what can wash away my sin? Nothing but your blood. What can make me whole again? Nothing but your blood, Jesus. How precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow! No other fount I know. . .