Forgetfulness that Leads to Death

Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17 & 18

Forgetfulness is a common ailment. We all forget. We forget where we put the keys. We forget to send the birthday card, forget to get milk at the store and forget to pay the bill or finish the homework or return the library books. We climb in bed after a long day of remembering lots of things and realize we forgot to exercise and read our Bible and call mom. I have done it all. I am pretty much an expert forgetter.

Much of the time our forgetfulness is just inconvenient or unfortunate. It means we have to make an extra stop at the store tomorrow, pay the late fee on our bill, or receive a lower grade. Maybe one day we will learn there are consequences to our forgetfulness and it will help us remember to do what we had planned to do all along – until we forgot.

But sometimes a poor memory will actually lead to death. Tragic cases can occasionally be read in the news. Forgetting to take children out of their car seats and into safety. Forgetting to latch and lock the pool gate. Forgetting the once familiar route home. There can be dreadful, heartbreaking consequences for yourself or others which can lead to death when one simply forgets.

You can also read about the devastating effects of forgetfulness in the Bible. In fact, in both of today’s passages we find instances of forgetful people, with various results. In our Psalm for the day (106), we continue the history lesson of God’s people. In today’s lesson the Israelites are exiting Egypt and traveling through the dessert. Maybe the heat is getting to them because they seem to be having a hard time remembering some pretty big and important events that happened not so long ago.

Psalm 106:7 — When our ancestors were in Egypt,
    they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
    and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

Psalm 106:13 — But they soon forgot what he had done
    and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

Psalm 106:19-21 — At Horeb they made a calf
    and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
    for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
    who had done great things in Egypt

Sometimes the forgetful people are met with God’s mercy and yet another miracle they will also forget further down the road. Sometimes it’s more serious, and even fatal. Poisonous snakes, deadly disease, and the ground swallowing up those who forgot to remember God. What else could God do to help them remember?

Many generations later we see the same tragic forgetfulness recorded in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 18:15 — Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths. 

They had forgotten the MOST important thing of all – the One who gave them life, the One who provided for all their needs, the One who had laid out blessings for those who follow, the One who had laid out curses for those who went their own stubborn way. They forgot God. And because of their repeated forgetfulness God was preparing the curses promised in his covenant: destruction, invasion, death.

It is easy to get so caught up in living our own busy lives, going our own stubborn ways, before we know it, we have forgotten our Life-Giving Teacher and all the lessons He was trying to teach us. And, instead, we face death and destruction.

Thankfully, there are ways to remember. With effort we can fight off this deadly tendency to forget. Here’s some ideas to build your memory.

How to Remember

Keep a thankful journal. Write down at least 3 things each day to thank God for. The act of writing helps you remember, and you will have the written journal to return to when your brain gets fuzzy on the details of how God has provided and cared for you – every day.

Clear an overly busy schedule. Trying to do too many other things that really don’t matter doesn’t leave time and space in your overbooked brain and calendar to remember God and do what is most important. You may even find some of those “extras” in your life that were getting too much of your time and memories were approaching, or at, idol status. Clear ’em out.

Get to church, Sunday school, Bible study, youth group, the church mens or ladies group, church camp, etc… Surround yourself regularly with those who are helpful for jogging your spiritual memory. When left alone brain connections can diminish leading to difficulty recalling. Instead, get to church. It’s a great place to overcome your own memory deficiencies – and it’s a great place where you can even help someone else remember God, His greatness and all He has done.

Add visual or auditory cues. What “tricks” will help you remember to keep God first. The Israelites were told to write it on their doorposts – maybe you need some Bible verses on your wall, mirror and refrigerator. Satan uses many schemes to erase God from people’s memory. Jesus found great power against Satan’s schemes by using God’s scriptures which he had committed to memory. Take out that Bible, the Sword of the Spirit, and use it daily to slash away cobwebs forming in your brain. Time and study and a love for God’s eternal word is the best cure I know for forgetfulness that leads to death.

Remember God and what He has done, is doing and will do!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17-18

God is My Teacher

Jeremiah 15-16 and Psalm 105

Yesterday’s Psalm (104) gave a history lesson on creation. Today’s Psalm (105) gives an overview of God at work during the years of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. God makes a great history teacher – He was there when it all happened and He knows clearly the lessons that ought to be learned to celebrate the good parts of the past and to prevent the tragedy of history repeating the ugly parts. The inspired Psalmist wrote: “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.” (Psalm 105:5). We would do well to remember and be in awe of the amazing miraculous ways God has worked in the past to help teach and provide for His children. And, we must not forget the times He has taught (and will teach) with punishment and judgment those who have turned their backs on Him.

Our passage in Jeremiah today speaks of God as a teacher. Unfortunately, it is at a time when, “Each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me.” (Jeremiah 16:12 – see the recurring stubborn heart problem we talked of earlier this week). Because of their disobedience and collection of false gods (one false god is too many) the lesson coming wasn’t going to be a pleasant one. God says, “Therefore, I will teach them – this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 16:21 NIV)

I love the idea of God being a teacher. We chose the name Moriah for our first born daughter, partly because of the reminder to always keep God first, even above our precious children (Moriah was the name of the mountain God sent Abraham to when He tested his faith and allegiance to Him). And, then when I found out Moriah means “God is my teacher” in Hebrew, it became an automatic favorite. This world tries to teach us many lies. I pray me and my family (and you and yours) will listen to and learn from God instead. And, if we learn the lesson well to put Him first and seek Him always, perhaps we will be saved the agony of the lessons He has reserved for those who have turned to false gods and neglect following His words. May we be busy listening to, and doing, what the Teacher says.

Jeremiah gives a good example of what kind of a student we ought to be. He says to God, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16) What teacher wouldn’t love having a student like this – one who listens, loves, devours, and receives great joy from the Teacher’s words and also takes pride in calling themselves the Teacher’s student. In fact, God told him if he repents (turns from evil) and speaks worthy not worthless words, he will use Jeremiah as his spokesman (Jeremiah 15:19 – perhaps a promotion to teacher’s aide?)

A good teacher knows the subject matter well – God does. He made the world and everything in it. He knows everything. He is the one and only omniscient being.

A great teacher must also know his students well – God does. What are the students’ strengths, their weaknesses, their needs, their fears? What motivates them, what distracts them, what do they already know, what do they still need to learn today, what do they need to be truly successful? How many hairs are on their head? God knows! In Jeremiah 16:17 God says, “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.” The all-knowing, all-seeing teacher doesn’t miss a thing.

And, of course, the very best teacher not only knows each student backward and forward, inside and out, but that teacher loves each and every child to pieces, and is willing to sacrifice for that child’s benefit – God does! He loved you so much that He gave His one and only Son so that you, His student, could have life. His love doesn’t mean punishments won’t be given when earned. After all, punishment is a powerful way to teach a needed lesson. But through it all, never doubt, He knows, He loves and He teaches.

If God is the teacher, what kind of student are you? Are you the child who is easily distracted and zones out during the lesson, missing what the Teacher wants you to know? Are you the one who is making jokes during class to gain the attention and praise of your classmates? Do you deserve several time-outs a day due to your lack of self-control – throwing pencils across the room and getting caught up in sin? Are you a student with a stubborn heart problem and way too many gods in your life? (Hint: the most important math lesson is – the correct number of Gods is ONE and He is the Almighty Creator and Teacher who gives the final grades.). Or, are you a student who is feasting on the Teacher’s words, seeking Him, repenting, and searching for worthy words in an effort to help other students hear His words, too?

Report cards are coming – for you, your family, your church, and all nations. What will the Teacher say about you?

“Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 15-16 and Psalm 105

My Creator God

Psalm 104 & Jeremiah 13, 14

Our family loves camping and finding new places to hike or kayak through God’s beautiful world. The variety of his creation is truly amazing! Desert, forest, plains, mountain, ocean. We love them all and the chance to explore a new little corner of His world we haven’t seen yet. And, along the way, trying to capture a photo to remind us of the beauty and creativity we had the privilege to see.

Psalm 104 is a beautiful poem of creation. I would love to make a photo book or photo wall with pictures from our family hikes and travels depicting each verse and phrase.

“He wraps himself in light as with a garment” (vs 2) – sunshine blazing in all His glory

“he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (vs 2) – expansive blue sky from horizon to horizon

“He makes the clouds his chariot” (vs 3) – white and multi-shades of gray amazing textured rolling clouds with shafts of sunlight shining through with the brilliant blue sky behind

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines” – hot springs bubbling from the ground and flowing down the mountain side

You get the idea. There would be photos of waterfalls, lightening, mountaintops, ocean waves on the shore, rainstorms, the moon, plants and animals, sunrises, sea creatures, and people. Each one accompanied with God’s text.

I recently taught a unit on creation to the adorable children in children’s church. And it was so much fun spending a week (or more) on each aspect of God’s amazing creation. We brought in shells and rocks and leaves and bird feathers to touch and play with. We matched plant photos to foods we eat and counted plant products in ingredient labels. (Do you know how many plants are in a box of Cheerios or mac’n cheese?) We classified plants and animals and brought in a bird expert. We watched videos and explored books on clouds and planets and sea creatures and the animal kingdom and the incredible human body. And all the things that we take for granted everyday.

Not only is God’s world a beautiful world – but so incredibly functional, too! He thought of EVERYTHING! The more I learn of science and the human body in particular, the more I am amazed at His creation.

I have never made anything nearly as intricate or useful as the smallest, tiniest, most simplistic, most ‘insignificant’ part of God’s creation. But, I do like to create quilts – little scraps of colored fabric (which came from a cotton plant) sewn together in patterns to make a cozy cover to bring comfort and warmth. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were to meet someone who explained that those quilts just came to be one day – that it grew from nothing and became strings that wove themselves together and the fabrics cut themselves into the perfect shapes and even stitches magically formed just as they were needed to piece the top together and the materials used to create the final layered project appeared at just the right time and space and lined up just so to automatically go through the final steps to create my quilt. Foolishness. It is foolishness that leaves out the thought, intention, desire, creativity, vision, purpose and ability of me, the quilt creator. Or, equally painful – maybe they would give all the credit for the making of the quilt to another.

It makes sense that the Creator of the Heavens and Earth wants us to enjoy and admire His creation – and give Him all the credit He so much deserves. But, what happens when people don’t? What happens when they take away the glory that belongs to God and call it chance instead or give it to another? What happens when they refuse to listen to God’s words – the first recorded words being – “Let there be light”? What happens when they attribute God’s creation to another? We see in the book of Jeremiah. “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless!” Jeremiah goes on in today’s reading to describe the drought, famine and sword that will be used in judgment of those who have stubbornly turned from God. Jeremiah 14 ends with God telling Jeremiah to speak to the people, telling them to acknowledge their guilt and wickedness and sins against Him and ask God to remember His covenant. The final verse of chapter 14 says,

“Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain?
    Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, Lord our God.
    Therefore our hope is in you,
    for you are the one who does all this.” (vs 22 NIV)

Not only did Our Great God create this world for us – He made a covenant with us – He has power still today – and He holds out a blessed hope for those who acknowledge and worship Him for all He has done, is doing and will do.

Thank you God for your incredible Creation – help me see and appreciate each amazing part!

Thank you God for the rains today – help me see you at work today!

Thank you God for the hope you set before those who believe and worship you alone – a New Heavens and Earth that will be beyond all we can ever dream or imagine!

You are our hope – for you are the one who does all this!

-Marcia Railton

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 13-14 and Psalm 104

Don’t Withhold the Cure

Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

The Old Testament prophets who spoke for God, including Jeremiah, were entrusted with preaching a lot of doom and gloom. Because God’s children had strayed from his commands, judgment would be coming and the people needed to know. I loved Jeff Fletcher’s illustration in his devotion yesterday of a doctor who could be charged with malpractice if he knew the sick condition of a patient’s insides and knew how to fix it and what changes the patient would need to make in order to cure the potentially deadly ailment, and said nothing. This would be like the Christian who sees the broken sinful world and pretends everything is okay. Don’t withhold the cure.

Jeremiah paints a very vivid picture of a world that is not okay. Chapter 9 opens with the prophet mourning the sinfulness of God’s people. He would love nothing more than to pack up and go to a desert retreat where he could get away from and forget this crowd of unfaithful people. Can you relate? But, rather than abandoning the people in their sin, Jeremiah continues passionately speaking truth for God, over and over, even though his words often seem to fall on deaf ears. He still must speak and write and hold out the cure to these wayward people.

God has had it, too. He aptly describes the situation this way:

“It is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:3b NIV)

and again, “They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sining. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:6 NIV)

It sounds to me like God and Jeremiah are describing the sad state of affairs in 2021. So many lies and deceptions abound when attempting to justify and explain and even celebrate sin and sinful lifestyles that fester and grow when individuals and nations and societies have turned their backs on God.

It is as though God is left without a choice. “What else can I do because of the sin of my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7 NIV) “‘Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?’ ” (Jeremiah 9:9 NIV). God had drawn up the rules long ago with blessings promised to those who followed and curses to those who stubbornly disobeyed. Many chances had been given. Prophets had been sent to remind the people of the deadly disease and of the cure – repentance, turning away from sin and turning back to God. But these were a very stubborn people who took delight in continuing in their sin and lies and more sin and more lies.

God had given mercy. God had given reminders. God had given prophets. God had stretched out the cure. But, to no avail. So, God says – it is time. It is time to teach your daughters how to wail – death and destruction is coming. (Jeremiah 9:20,21).

Towards the end of chapter 9 an interesting section seems almost out of place…

 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

Perhaps it was written more for us who would be reading Jeremiah centuries later, to remind us of the choice we have. And, the great opportunity we have to boast about our God, our Creator, Our YHWH. He created the cure. His Son is the cure that was not yet available in Jeremiah’s day. Sin is the same and comes with the same consequences – death. People today need to know about the cure. They don’t need to hear you bragging about your dinner, your kids, your car, your job, your grades, your house, your ______ (on social media or at the checkout line). They need to know about the LORD our God who exercises kindness AND justice and always righteousness. The Psalms passages today have some great examples of boasting about our God while holding out the cure. How can you hold out the cure today to a nation and world that is unknowingly in the stages of the deadly disease of disobedience?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

Spiritual Malpractice

Jeremiah 7-8; Psalm 96, 97, 98

            Over 100 years ago Eleanor Porter wrote the children’s novel, Pollyanna.  I like the version Disney did in the 1960’s starring Haley Mills as Pollyanna Whittier, a young girl, the daughter of missionary parents who both died.  She moved to a new town to live with her rich but stern Aunt Polly (Fun Fact, in the Disney Movie Aunt Polly is played by Jane Wyman, an actress who was President Ronald Reagan’s first wife- I have a lot of trivial information in my head, sorry).

Pollyanna’s minister/missionary father had taught Pollyanna to play the “glad game” as a way of coping with life’s challenges.  Essentially, she learned that no matter what happens, you should always look on the bright side.  Essentially, it’s a way of life that is exceedingly optimistic in every situation.  Throughout the story Pollyanna met neighbors in challenging situations and preached her gospel of positivity and as a result changed lives and made her town a much more positive place to live. 

In a particularly memorable scene Pollyanna brought her positivity message to the local pastor who, at her dour Aunt Polly’s behest, had been giving his congregation a steady diet of fire and brimstone, anti-positivity.  Pollyanna encouraged him to notice and begin preaching the “glad texts” of the Bible.  He, listened to her counsel, changed his preaching to become more positive, and everyone in the Church became much happier.  There’s more to the story, but that’s the part that is relevant to our conversation.

During the last 30 years there has been a revolution in psychology.  In the past, psychologists and counselors focused on psychological pathology, all the things that are wrong: anxiety, depression, shame, anger, addiction, poor relationships etc…  From Freud onwards psychiatrists were trained to dig into a person’s past to find the cause of their neurotic thoughts and behaviors. But positive psychology introduced the benefits of focusing on positive thoughts and behaviors like gratitude, hope and other glad things.  This corresponds historically with a more positive oriented approach to preaching.  Many pastors traded in fire and brimstone sermons warning people against sin and judgement for more positive messages. Norman Vincent Peale, founder of Guidepost magazine, wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking.”  Robert Schuller, famous TV preacher of the 70’s-90’s, preached a gospel of positive thinking.  Many preachers began preaching a prosperity gospel.  Joel Osteen is popular today because of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller and others like them. 

So the question at hand is, which is more biblical, the hellfire and brimstone preacher who speaks against sin and calls people to repent, or the positive thinking pastor who focuses on preaching all of the “glad texts” in the Bible and ignores icky verses that talk about sin and judgment?  I think the answer is both, or better yet, neither.

I like the old expression that says that the preacher’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”  Solomon said it pretty well in Ecclesiastes 3- there’s a time and a season for everything.  Sometimes preachers need to say hard things and issue dire warnings to their hearers.  Sometimes preachers need to give words of comfort and encouragement.  Jesus gives examples of this.  Sometimes Jesus got angry and called his listeners, a.k.a. the Pharisees,  a “brood of vipers”.  Another time Jesus told a woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, while telling her also to not sin anymore.  Jesus showed that one can be both firm and compassionate as they speak for God.

Today’s reading in Jeremiah 7-8 has a clear absence of the “happy texts” that Pollyanna was so fond of noticing:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”

 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.” -Jeremiah 7:3-11.

            God criticized their priests:

“They dress the wound of my people
    as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
    when there is no peace.”- Jeremiah 8:11

            I love Pollyanna and her innocent joyful optimism.  We all need a good dose of Pollyanna to get us through hard times.  But at the same time, we need to balance that with a good dose of reality and hard truth as well.  We need to hear how important it is to be grateful and have hope, we need to hear how forgiving and merciful God is.  And… we need to be reminded that God absolutely hates certain things and is going to bring an end to sinful actions and that those who do not repent and turn away from pursuing a life in rebellion against God will face judgment.  Some of the priests in the time of Jeremiah were giving false assurance to the people.  They were wrongly assuring them that because they were God’s chosen people who worshipped at the right place, the temple, and came from the right family, descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac, that it really didn’t matter how they lived their lives, they were okay with God.  They were giving false hope and false assurance. “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” –Jeremiah 8:11.

            Part of my ministry is in the hospital.  Sometimes people who are in the hospital are sick and will probably get better.  Sometimes people who are in the hospital are sick and will probably NOT get better.  Sometimes the doctor has to tell people hard things like, “if you don’t quit your… smoking, drinking, injecting heroin, allowing your diabetes to go uncontrolled, etc… you will probably die sooner than later.”  Do people like hearing those things?  Nope.  But if the doctor simply said to them- “You’ll be fine, just keep doing what you’re doing” that would be malpractice.  Doctors need to tell people the truth.  So do pastors.  So do all Christians.

            So as you read through your Bible, I hope you will notice all of the “glad texts” like today’s Psalm 97:1 “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad”. 

And also pay attention to the “not so glad texts”  like “So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.”-Jeremiah 7:32-34

Thank you for reading both the glad and not so glad texts of the Bible with me this week.  I hope that God will use all of it to help you grow as a faithful disciple of Jesus.

Jeff Fletcher

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 7-8 and Psalm 96-98

Just One

Jeremiah 5-6;  Psalm 94-95

          There’s a story in Genesis 18 that is kind of amusing to me (and also tragic).  After God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age he basically tells Abraham, “I’m going to go destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great sin.”  That’s not the part that’s amusing.  Abraham knows that his nephew Lot and his family are living in Sodom and Gomorrah and he’s trying to persuade God not to destroy the whole city.  “What about the good people in Sodom? Are you going to kill them along with all the bad people?  What if there are 50 good people in Sodom, will you spare the city?”  God agrees with Abraham’s request, “If you can find 50 good people in Sodom I won’t destroy it.”  This is the part that I find amusing… Abraham starts to negotiate with God in the way someone might try to negotiate buying a used car. “What about 45 good people?”  God says “Ok, I won’t destroy it for 45 good people.”  Abraham keeps negotiating until he talks God down to 10.  If there are only 10 good people to be found in Sodom, God will not destroy it.  (Abraham is one fine negotiator)

          Sodom is so bad it can’t even reach that low bar.  God rescues Lot and his 2 daughters and everyone else dies (including Lot’s wife who turned back and became a pillar of salt.)

          In today’s reading we’re not in Sodom, we’re in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, the city of God where the Temple and all its priests and religious leaders worked.  Jerusalem, where the King and all his government served.  You would think that with all of these important leaders of religion and government there would be lots of good people in Jerusalem, and you would be wrong.  In Jeremiah 5 God says:

          “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem,
    look around and consider,
    search through her squares.
If you can find but one person
    who deals honestly and seeks the truth,
    I will forgive this city.”

          When I was a kid, back when music was great, Three Dog Night had a song called “One is the Loneliest Number”.  (Go ahead, if you’re under 50 go check out the song on You Tube, I’ll wait).

          Welcome back!  God is making an offer even better than the one he made to Abraham about Sodom.  1.  If you can find just one person in Jerusalem that is honest and seeks the truth, he will forgive the whole city.  That would be like today God saying “Go to Washington DC.  If you can find one honest person in the whole city, I’ll spare the city.”  Well, maybe we can imagine that.  So apparently Jerusalem was Washington DC level corrupt.  Now, with politicians we can kind of get it.  But this was also the religious leaders, the priests and heads of religion.  Surely they were all honest seekers of truth, right? (No, I’m not biased even though I’ve been a professional clergy for the entirety of my adult life, over 35 years).  Come to think of it…. “Houston, we have a problem.”

          There was not a king nor a priest nor anyone else who was righteous or cared about the truth.  And so Jerusalem was toast.

          But here’s the good news.  God sent His son, Jesus, to Jerusalem.  He was the one true and righteous king.  He was the one priest who cared about truth.  Of course, they killed him, but God raised him.  And Jesus is the only way that we can find salvation. He is our righteous messiah and holy high priest. (See Hebrews).

          Jeremiah paints a painful but honest picture of the brokenness of human beings.  It helps set the stage for Jesus as the true and only one able to save us.  Keep this in mind as you read Jeremiah 5-6 today.  It was bad, it may get badder, but one day all will be well again.

          I will end with a portion of Psalm 95 “Today, if only you would hear his voice, Do not harden your hearts…”  Seriously, don’t harden your heart, let Jesus in.

Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereJeremiah 5-6 and Psalm 94-95

Unfaithful

Jeremiah 3-4; Psalm 92-93

                Occasionally, in my work as a chaplain I  meet an older couple who tell me they have been married a long time.  A few say they’ve been married 50 years.  Still fewer 60 years.  I can only think of 1 or 2 that I’ve met that made it 70 or 75 years.  Think about what it takes to be married to the same person for 75 years.  You have to be married at a young age, you both have to stay healthy enough to live at least into your 90’s, and you have to be able to figure out how to get along with another human being for 75 years.  Those are no small feats.  Statistically in the United States only about 5% of marriages make it to 50 years and far less to 60 or 70 or more.  According to the US census the average marriage lasts 8.2 years and the percentage of divorce is somewhere between 40-50% for all marriages.

                Marriage is a covenant.  A covenant is a faith commitment between two or more persons and God.  God established the covenant of marriage to be between a man and a woman till death do them part.  Because of human brokenness and our propensity to unfaithfulness, God made a provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24.  Divorce is better than murdering your spouse.  Call it the lesser of two evils.  But it was never God’s intention for marriages to end in divorce.  It’s more of an accommodation to sin and brokenness than an ideal.

                Yet, even God had to divorce his unfaithful wife.  Woa, Nelly!  What are you talking about?  God never got married because, he’s… God, right?   Actually, God uses the image of marriage to describe His relationship with Israel.  God is the husband and Israel is His bride.  It’s an image that appears in today’s reading of Jeremiah and it appears in many other places in the Old Testament.  In fact, the book of Hosea is an entire book about this.  God uses the image of an unfaithful bride because it brings an immediate, visceral response to the reader.  Nobody like to be cheated on by the person that they love.  It’s one of life’s most painful experiences.  Go listen to Carrie Underwood’s song “Before He Cheats”.  That pretty well captures the rage that comes when someone you love is unfaithful.  Has anyone ever cheated on you?  If so, you know how much it hurts.  And God wants his people to understand how much they have hurt him by their unfaithfulness and idolatry.  Read Jeremiah 3-4.  That’s written from the perspective of a husband who found out that not only has his wife been cheating on him, but she’s a prostitute, selling herself out on the street.  Ouch!

                Jeremiah 3 begins: “If a man divorces his wife
    and she leaves him and marries another man,
should he return to her again?
    Would not the land be completely defiled?
But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—
    would you now return to me?”
declares the Lord.  -Jeremiahs 3:1

            Most men in that situation would say “heck no” (or something even stronger).

                And yet…even with all of that hurt and rage and betrayal and pain, God is still willing to take his bride back.

“If you, Israel, will return,
    then return to me,”
declares the Lord.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
    and no longer go astray,
 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
    you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
    and in him they will boast.” –Jeremiah 4:1-2

            That’s what you call mercy.  That’s what you call grace. That’s what you call undeserved favor.

            God called his people to a true change of heart. 

            The original sign of the covenant in Israel was circumcision.  God told Abraham and his descendants to physically circumcise every male born in Israel as a visible sign that they were part of the covenant people of God.  They were uniquely in relationship with God and offered their exclusive allegiance and worship to God.  But far too often these people who were in that covenant relationship with God had hearts that were far from God.

So God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it.” –Jeremiah 4:4

Back in the time of Moses God spoke to Israel and said that they were to Love Him with all their heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5).  What does any husband want?  His wife’s whole heart.  Just as any wife wants her husband’s whole heart.  That’s why unfaithfulness is so painful and leads to so many broken hearts and broken marriages.  God wants those in a covenant relationship with Him to give Him their whole hearts.

God criticized Judah for failing to return to God wholeheartedly: “her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” (Jeremiah 3:10).  God is NOT interested in our half-hearted repentance, our half-hearted worship, our half-hearted service, our half-hearted relationship.  God wants our whole-hearted love.

God created us in His image.  We love, we hurt, we get jealous and angry. That means that God also loves, God hurts when betrayed, God gets jealous and angry.  Jeremiah shows us how heartbroken God was with his faithless bride:

“Your own conduct and actions
    have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
    How bitter it is!
    How it pierces to the heart!”

 Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
    I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
    My heart pounds within me”- Jeremiah 4:18-19

And yet, God loves us so much, he invites us to return to Him.

“Return, faithless people;
    I will cure you of backsliding.” Jeremiah 3:22

Have you been giving your heart to someone or something instead of to the God who loves you?

Of course we can love other people, parents, spouses, children, friends.   We can love our jobs and love our homes, we can love pizza and love a pet.  But no love should come before that one true love, that love above all loves, the one with whom we’ve entered a covenant, God.

David loved God and wrote many love songs to God.  Here’s one:

“It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.”  -Psalm 92:1-2

How will you love God today?

-Jeff Fletcher

PS- In November my wife and I will celebrate 37 years married- we’re almost halfway to 75!!

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here Jeremiah 3-4 and Psalm 92-93

Words Matter

Jeremiah 1-2; Psalm 90-91

This past Saturday women (and some men) gathered in front of the US Capital in Washington, DC and in state capitals across the United States to protest for women’s rights to choose to abort their unwanted babies.  One of the signs held up said “Rage, Rage Against the Denial of Your Rights”.

That’s a dangerous way to begin today’s devotions.  Some of you are likely offended or possibly even angry at me for what I wrote.  I referred to them as unwanted “babies” and not “fetuses” or “products of conception.”  Words matter.  If a person says “illegal aliens” referring to those who cross the border without proper documentation and not “undocumented aliens” we know that they have an opinion about the status of those who have entered the country.  “Illegal” sounds like a bad thing, like someone has broken a law and might be punished, whereas “Undocumented” sounds like some innocent mistake or a government slip up.  I forgot my hall pass on my way to the bathroom and so I’m undocumented.  That’s different than bringing a gun to school or taking drugs at school.  Those activities are illegal and should be punished somehow, but crossing over the border without proper authorization, that shouldn’t be illegal, right? (If your sarcasm detector is now going off then it’s working properly)

Words matter, whether you say “illegal” or “undocumented” or whether you say “unborn or pre-born baby” or “product of conception.”  If I refer to a “product of conception” that a woman has a right to dispose of, that’s no big deal.  But if I say that it’s a human baby that is alive and waiting to exit her mother’s womb, and that we are killing that baby, that sounds pretty awful.  No one wants to think about killing babies.  No one should have the right to kill babies, but every woman should have a right to dispose of an inconvenient or unwanted ‘product of conception”.

Words matter.  Jeremiah 1 wasn’t written specifically to address the issue of human life, and yet Jeremiah’s inspired words, given to him by God, are worthy of reflection and application to our context today. 

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

    before you were born I set you apart;

    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”- Jeremiah 1:4-5

Here, God is calling Jeremiah to be his prophetic voice to the people of Israel.  Jeremiah is an integral part of God’s plan to prophecy against His people Israel for their worship of other gods.  Before Jeremiah was even born, God had a plan for his life.  While Jeremiah was still in his mother’s womb, God set Jeremiah apart to be a prophet.  This is such a rich passage and we could reflect on it a hundred different ways.  It speaks about God and his omniscience (that’s a technical term that means God knows everything).  God is able to peer into the future and see that this tiny little cluster of cells which carries in it the DNA for a male human person who  probably has brown eyes, brown hair and olive skin, will grow up to be able to speak for God 20 or 30 years in the future and be a key part of God’s plan.

This little tiny cluster of cells in that young Jewish woman’s womb would  one day be born, grow up  and go in the name of God to confront an entire nation with its rebellion against God.  

“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.”- Jeremiah 2:13

It was this tiny pre-born human, who God would use to condemn his people because: “On your clothes is found  the lifeblood of the innocent poor.”- Jeremiah 2:34

God condemns Israel because her clothes are stained with the blood of the innocent and the helpless.  Again, in the context Jeremiah is not referring specifically to pre-born babies who have been unjustly murdered (aborted).  However, in our present context, those words have a clear application.  Who are the most innocent and helpless human beings in the world today?  It is the pre-born humans whose Mother’s don’t want to allow  them to live.  As thousands gather around the country to rage at the prospect of some states seeking to bring greater justice and defend the defenseless we must ask ourselves “How in the world did we get here?”

When God called Jeremiah it was to take a courageous stand against a wicked and corrupt nation.  Is God calling His people today to take a courageous stand?  I think so.

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.” -Jeremiahs 1:17-19

If you, like Jeremiah, accept the call to speak faithfully for God against the current culture of death, and in doing so invite the rage of those who don’t want their right to murder unwanted pre-born human babies, then put Psalm 91 in your back pocket and carry it with you wherever you go: 

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

    my God, in whom I trust.”-Psalm 91:1-2

The Lord be with you.

Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereJeremiah 1-2 and Psalm 90-91

A Center for Ants?!

Job 41-42 and Psalm 89

I struggle with the book of Job. I come to the end of it anticipating answers. I’ve read it before, and I didn’t find answers then, so why would I expect answers this time? Maybe I will read it enough times that the key to all of it will suddenly spark into my understanding. But I could be asking the wrong questions. What if the author of Job wasn’t trying to answer the questions I care about? Is it still fair for me to excavate it for the answers I want?

If I was going to judge the book of Job like I would a television series, I would say it got canceled and they had to scramble to figure out a way to end it in the last episode. But there were too many details and connections to squeeze into one episode. There are only so many options in that situation, and none of them are good. So the producers of The Job Show, driven by the fans’ need for closure, opted for the fairy tale ending where some magical element swooped in out of left field and restored Job to his former glory. Then nothing really had to be explained. It was tied up with a bow without the need to craft all the right connections.

Somehow having two Ferraris to replace the first and getting a replacement family doesn’t feel like closure or justice to me. Really, I’m happy that Job had a great life after all of that, but that doesn’t wipe away the lingering questions.

Probably the biggest question everyone has about the book of Job is how a good and loving God can allow such terrible suffering. In Job, it is even more problematic, because God is making some kind of wager with the accuser and giving him permission to take everything from him. It doesn’t really take God off the hook to say that technically he didn’t do anything to Job. It sure sounds like Job was a chip being pushed out into the middle of the table during a divine poker game.

Another uncomfortable question is about the satan/accuser. The assumption might be that he is the bad guy, and that if justice is done, he should be dealt with. But he isn’t dealt with. He’s not important enough to even mention as the story comes to a close. It isn’t clear at all from the text that he is supposed to be understood as being evil. It sounds like he is just fulfilling a role of someone on God’s staff responsible for playing devil’s advocate, to enact checks and balances against God’s policies.

Short of having good answers for these questions, the next best thing I can do is suggest that they were probably not on the radar of Job’s author. The book of Job is not really about why we suffer or where suffering comes from, although Job’s suffering is like the emotional setting of the story. It isn’t about who or what the satan is, nor about his relationship to God. Not that these are not important questions! It’s just that the author of Job didn’t set out to address them. I think the real questions on the table are more about God’s wisdom and justice, and that the events at the beginning of Job serve to propel us into a hypothetical situation where we can sandbox the questions with Job and his friends.

In all the haste to bring the series to a close, there was time for a good bit about Leviathan. He’s a chaos water-dragon type of creature that we are apparently completely powerless against. You could take him to be a representation of our deepest fears and unknowns. How do we face such absolute terror? And if God is his creator, how much more terrifying must God be? Just imagine that we are like ants to Leviathan, but Leviathan is just a tadpole to God. Just a tadpole in a drop of water on a rock orbiting a star, somewhere within a galaxy of billions of stars, somewhere among billions of other galaxies. Do you feel insignificant?

After reading Job, we are left feeling small and with more questions than we had before reading it. Our status is upset from expert to beginner. This is a good place to be. This is humility that can lead to wisdom. God didn’t inspire the author of Job to answer all of our questions or connect all the dots for us. God is prompting us to ask bigger and better questions.

God trusted that Job would endure the most severe unrest and still serve him. Job was somehow able to trust that God was a God of justice even though he didn’t have the evidence we’d all require to do the same. Can I really trust that ultimately God will set everything right? Am I willing to accept that I most likely will not see all of this happen in this lifetime? Can I accept that God has the wisdom to enact true justice in his time, to his standards? 

Little did Job know that having his riches restored was only a small taste of God’s restorative justice. Our ideas of what justice, goodness, and love look like are so tiny compared to the true versions of these that come from God.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway at Job 41-42 and Psalm 89

Gird up now thy loins like a man

Job 37-38 and Psalm 85-86

There is an idea called the “retribution principle” that you can find woven into much of scripture. If you think that being good and righteous means that you will be rewarded, and that being wicked means you will be punished, you think that the retribution principle is true on some level. It seems to make sense as a general rule. What goes around comes around; you reap what you sow.

For most of the book of Job, we’ve been immersed in a debate between Job and his friends about whether this principle holds up. Job’s friends insist that Job must have done something wrong to bring on this suffering. Job insists he’s righteous and that his suffering makes no sense, bringing God’s justice into question. Elihu shows up, defending God’s majesty and justice, and condemning Job for being too self-righteous.

Sometimes Job’s friends seem like they have a grasp on the truth, but other times what they say seems misguided, and in the times left over, we just aren’t sure what to think. They all have worthwhile things to say, but at the core are still flawed humans. When reading anything in Job, we have to use some discernment to decide if what is being said is really true. After all, in the last chapter of the book, Job’s friends are criticized by God for not speaking of him what is right. 

At this point we have read a large chunk of Job, yet we are not sure who to believe or how to make sense of all the things that are being said. Suddenly in chapter 38, God rejoins the conversation from a whirlwind, signaling that this should be the dramatic moment when all our questions are answered.

We get no answers. In fact, God says he is going to ask the questions now.

If Job is man enough to challenge God, then he’d better be man enough to be challenged back. He’d better brace himself like a warrior. Job, were you there when I put down the foundation of the earth and gave the chaotic waters their boundaries? Do you have intimate knowledge of how all of creation works? Have you explored the highest highs and the deepest and darkest chasms? Do you have control over light, rain, snow, lightning, stars, or animals? Where does wisdom come from?

What would you say back? Really, what could you say back?

Does this frustrate you? It frustrates me. We call out to God in our deepest despair and questions but then feel like we just have more questions. It is not any fun to be humbled and put in our place. It’s disheartening to follow God and still go through hard times; we think it isn’t supposed to work that way. It’s natural to ask why we even bother serving God when we can’t seem to find the benefits, and yet the troubles have no trouble finding us. This all hurls us back to the question posed in Job chapter 1: If all the benefits were stripped away, would Job still serve God? Would you?

Through the story, the author of Job is asking us to question the retribution principle. Apparently, being good doesn’t mean you’ll expect only good things in your life. And being bad doesn’t mean getting a lump of coal. Reality is just more complex than that. It rains on the righteous as well as the wicked, and even in a desert land where nobody lives.

I’ll close with prayers of hope from the other part of our reading today:

“Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” (Psalm 85:8-9)

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)

-Jay Laurent

Some of you may know Jay as the really tall bass player in the FUEL worship band. We welcome his deep thoughts on God’s Scriptures this week.

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Job 37-38 and Psalm 85-86