A New Heart

Judgement, God’s Will, and Salvation

Ezekiel 25-36 in one day!

While we have been thinking about the importance and beauty of God’s word in Psalm 119, we have also been reading Ezekiel. I want to lead you on a speed run through Ezekiel 25-36. 

For the most part, Ezekiel is given a message of judgement against the nations. These nations are those who have harmed the people of God. Many of the Minor prophets got similar messages which could be summed up in modern words as, “You have hurt and abused God’s people, and he will give you justice.” The nations that are judged in these chapters are Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt. He spends quite some time on both Tyre and Egypt, and even speaks to their kings directly. The praise he gives in his lamentations over these nations is rather grand. Read Ezekiel 28:11-19. God had blessed the King of Tyre, given him so much, and yet look how far he fell! I hope you can see why a number of people have thought that God started talking about Satan here; an angelic powerful force from the beginning of the world falls to the pit because of pride. I don’t think the text is specifically talking about Satan, but that the King of Tyre represents the satanic spirit and lives his life parallel to the Satanic fall. In these laments, I don’t think God is necessarily mocking their fall. I don’t think he wants to bring the evil back on their head (see 36:11), but the nations and their rulers acted pridefully and never sought the good of his people. God does not allow that to go unpunished. 

And so God sends in his man. So now we get to see the Israelite King or General or War Hero who vanquishes his foes and becomes King over the Kingdom…

Right?

No, God didn’t work that way. God instead says, “I will strengthen the arms of the King of Babylon and put my sword in his hands.” (30:24) God used Babylon. The same Babylon that would later take his people into captivity, the same Babylon that would later be used as the image of the proud nation, as the one who exiles the people of God. What is God doing using Babylon?! 

He’s doing what God always does; His will. 

God is smart enough, wise enough, powerful enough, good enough, loving enough, to take all the broken pieces and people in this world, with their free will and desires and urges and traumas and prejudices and hatreds and pains and hopes…

And God can use it for the good of his people

and the working of his plan. 

Babylon acted in freedom, maybe even sin, and God can take that and make it work for him. 

God can give true freedom to love him or reject him, to walk in righteousness or sin, and he can still work out his will in people. 

You have this freedom. In Ezekiel 33:10-16, God tells his people, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Are you living a life of wickedness, separated from God? I stand, like Ezekiel, as a watchman(33:7), begging you to see the truth. To turn from that sin and live! If you choose to believe in the God of this prophecy, the God of the Torah, the God of all Scripture, who gave us these words and the Word, made flesh in Jesus Christ, If you choose to follow him, then the promise from Ezekiel 36 will happen in you. “ Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.” (25-28)

May you trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ. 

May you turn from sin and judgment. 

May you turn to righteousness, hope, and love. 

May you have YHWH, the one true God, be your God today. 

May you all be the people of God. 

-Jake Ballard

Jake Ballard is pastor at Timberland Bible Church. If you’d like to hear more from him, you can find Timberland on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TimberlandBibleChurch/ ) and on Instagram (https://instagram.com/timberlandbiblechurch?igshid=t52xoq9esc7e). The church streams the Worship Gathering every Sunday at 10:30. Besides studying and teaching God’s word, he is raising three beautiful children with the love of his life, loves Disney (especially the princess movies), and believes that Christmas music is acceptable from the first Sunday in Advent to January 6th. If you’d like to reach out to talk Bible, talk faith, or talk about your favorite Christmas Song (and why Mariah Carey sings it), look Jacob Ballard up on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336 ) or email him at jakea.ballard@yahoo.com
God bless you all!

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 35-36 and Psalm 120-122

Into Exile

2 Kings 24-25 and 2 Chronicles 36

But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. 2 Chronicles 36_16 NIV

Well, if yesterday’s reading was one of the most depressing passages, I guess it applies doubly today, since we read two more accounts of the Babylonian conquest of God’s holy city Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.  Bad kings, poor decisions, temple treasures plundered, men and women forced into exile, rebellion, siege ramps around Jerusalem, starvation, fleeing king captured and tortured, temple and city set on fire, officers executed, more and more exiles, governor assassinated, fleeing for safety.  God’s anger.

It’s not a pretty story.  But it is a story well worth our time to know and remember and understand.  It is such an important part of God’s story and His character.  This is the same God of today and the same God who centuries before this had saved His people out of Egypt and revealed himself to Moses as, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Exodus 34:6,7).  God had been patient with His people hundreds of years, but there comes a time when their unfaithfulness can no longer be overlooked or excused or explained away.  He had sent many, many prophets to warn the people and if His people would had listened and repented and turned from their wicked ways, they would have been saved from this time of judgment.  But they made their (poor) choices and there was a consequence to pay for it.  

Today, many like to focus solely on the God of compassion.  It is a beautiful picture.  And, it is true – but it is not the whole picture – or the whole truth.  It can be a fatal error to not consider the whole picture when viewing, knowing and loving God.  He is a God of compassion who is slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.  Praise God!  We have benefitted from His love and compassion in many ways and at many times!  He does not always treat us as our sins deserve.  But He is just when He does punish – way back then, and today.

Did you notice that the two accounts we read today don’t end the same?  At the conclusion of the book of 2 Kings we read of the grace extended to Jehoiachin, a king from Judah who was deported to Babylon and held as a prisoner for 37 years.  The new Babylonian king not only releases him, but welcomes him to a place of honor, he eats at the king’s table and his daily needs are provided.  It is indeed a sweet ending for Jehoiachin.

The book of 2nd Chronicles was written at a later time – to remind the surviving Israelites of their history. This author knows that Jehoiachin is not the only one to experience great grace and restoration.  The years of time-out in exile in Babylon would last 70 years, as predicted by Jeremiah – and then the time would come for God to extend grace and restoration to His people, or to the remnant of believers.  The final verses of 2 Chronicles are:

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

23 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.’” (2 Chronicles 36:22,23 NIV).  

 

God works in amazing ways towards restoration for the faithful remnant who walk with Him.  The story of God’s people does not end in exile.

Take heart.  Remember God’s character and His story.  He is a God of love and compassion – who in His perfect love, will not leave the guilty unpunished.  Be wise and pay attention to God’s Word – listen to the prophets who speak for Him.  Seek God with your whole heart and don’t follow after false gods.  God’s plan is still in progress.  It includes love and punishment.  And ultimately He is planning a time of restoration where He will dwell with the faithful remnant in His Kingdom on earth.  How will you prepare for that today?

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to here – 2 Kings 24-25 and 2 Chronicles 36

Tomorrow’s reading will be the three short chapters that make up the book of Habakkuk as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Judah Kicked Out of the House

Jeremiah 10-13

Jeremiah 12 7 NIV sgl

We all understand what it is to make a promise.  When you were a little kid did you ever do a “pinky swear” with your friend?  When I was in high school we used to “go steady” with that special guy or girl.  If it was really serious you let her wear your class ring or your letter jacket (my HS girlfriend wore both my class ring and my letter jacket).  To go steady was to make a promise, “I won’t date any other girl but you.”  (note, in the 70’s dating in 7th grade might mean walking her from her locker to class, possibly holding hands publicly, and dancing exclusively with her at the sock hop… I know, times have changed.)  When things got rough, you would “break up”.  There would be tears and drama.  After you broke up, it was understood that you no longer were going steady and were free to walk other girls from their locker or dance at the next sock hop.

Marriage is a more serious commitment.  You make a public promise to God and each other before witnesses to love and be faithful to each other until one of you dies.  That kind of promise is known as a covenant.

The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people.  God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants Isaac and Jacob (who later became Israel).  God promised to be their God, to protect them, to provide them with all that they needed:  productive land to live in, abundant children and animals, and protection from their enemies.  In return, God asked Israel to be faithful only to Him.  To worship only God and to follow God’s teaching, God’s instruction, God’s rules for living in community.  They were not to be unfaithful to God by worshipping false gods or man-made gods known as idols.  God warned Israel that if they were not faithful to their covenant with God, they would suffer serious consequences.  God might withhold rain, send plagues, or even allow their larger and more powerful neighboring countries to attack them and God would not defend them.  It was a covenant, a kind of marriage between God and Israel.  In fact, God referred to Israel as His bride.

The bottom line was clear- if you are faithful to God and to the covenant with God, you will be blessed, if you are unfaithful to God and to the covenant, you will be cursed (punished, not experience the blessings).  Throughout their history, Israel frequently went through periods when they were unfaithful to God and violated the covenant.  God would often punish them in some way, they would repent, which means they would turn away from whatever wrong they were doing and return to God, and then God would once again bless them.  However, as time wore on, Israel’s unfaithfulness grew worse and worse, God’s punishments grew harsher and harsher and Israel grew more calloused and disobedient.  Think of a toddler who absolutely refuses to obey his parents.  Usually, a swift punishment will result in repentance.  But after a long time, they had become rebellious teenagers who no longer repented, or as a better example, an unfaithful wife who continually cheats on her husband and doesn’t even bother to hide it from everyone.  Something had to change.

Several hundred years passed since the days of Abraham and later Moses and even King David.  Israel’s unfaithfulness to their covenant with God had grown more brazen as they worshipped Baal and other idols.  Finally, God had had enough.  God was sending his faithless bride into exile.

The prophet Jeremiah was one of several people God sent to Judah, God’s people who lived in the southern Kingdom, where God’s temple in Jerusalem was and from where God’s anointed King ruled.  God told Jeremiah to warn his people that the time had come for them to face the full measure of punishment for breaking faith with God.

Jeremiah 11:6-12

The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’”

Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. 10 They have returned to the sins of their ancestors, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both Israel and Judah have broken the covenant I made with their ancestors. 11 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes.

This isn’t just, “I’m taking away your cell phone” or “I’m taking away your car keys for a week until you straighten up.”  This is “I’m kicking you out of the house because you refuse to follow the rules.”  It’s harsh punishment.  It’s called “tough love.”   Even loving parents are sometimes forced to have an “intervention” or in the South we say “come to Jesus meeting”.

To illustrate the point, in chapter 13 God tells Jeremiah to get a linen belt, go bury it near a river, then later go back and retrieve the belt, that by then was ruined, and then show it to the people as a visible illustration of what Israel did.  God joined himself to His people symbolized by the linen belt, it was pure and spotless, and yet his people ruined that covenant by their unfaithfulness.  Now, they must face the consequences.

If you are a Christian, you entered into a covenant with God as well.  It was a new covenant, not based on your birth as a descendant of Abraham, but through faith in God’s son, Jesus Christ.  Water baptism is a visible symbol of that covenant.  When you entered that covenant you promised to worship God alone and follow Jesus Christ and keep his instructions.  Have you stayed faithful to your covenant promise to God through faith in Jesus Christ?  Or have you treated your promises to God like that linen belt that’s ruined and worthless.  The good news is, if you’ve been unfaithful to your promises to God there is still time to repent.  What are you waiting for?  Will you do it today?  Pinky swear?

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 10-13, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+10-13&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 14-17 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

God is No Magic Genie

1st Chronicles 3-5

1 Chronicles 4 10 b NIV

When we began 1st Chronicles two days ago we likened the beginning of this book to a family reunion.  It was written for the people of God who were returning to the Holy Land after years of captivity and living amongst foreign people who did not worship God (which had been their punishment for forsaking God).  Now, they were returning and receiving a history lesson on what it means to be God’s people.  If we listen in, I believe we can also benefit greatly from this lesson.

In today’s reading our list of genealogies is broken up in chapter 4 with a passage about Jabez.  In two short verses we learn: “he was more honorable than his brothers”, “his mother had named him” – PAIN (in Hebrew Jabez sounds like pain), he prayed to be blessed, “and God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:9,10).  Makes you wonder why we don’t have any babies today named Epidural?

Seriously though, I hurt for this man Jabez.  It doesn’t seem very nice of his momma to pass along the brief pain she felt at childbirth (I know, in the midst of it, it doesn’t feel brief) to her son to bear the name PAIN the rest of his life.   Can you imagine the jokes he heard from the neighborhood boys?  We also know it can be very painful growing up with less than honorable brothers.

It could have been a rough life for poor PAIN/Jabez.  BUT – it wasn’t.  Even though he had a few strikes against him in his early years, he knew to cry out to God.  And, perhaps because of Jabez’s honor, and I am guessing his heart was in the right place, God was ready, willing and able to fulfill his request.

Just what was his request?  “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!  Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from PAIN.”  It is a touching prayer knowing his background.  Other versions have slightly different interpretations – I especially love the NKJV, “Keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” It sounds so much more noble.  But, either way, he cried out to God and God “granted his request”.

Does anyone else get a vision of a genie, or is it just me?  Jabez cried out (with a list of 4-5 wishes) and his wishes were granted.  Poof.  Who wouldn’t take a God like that!  I can fill a whole book with my wishes and cry out to God and all my wishes will be met.  Never mind what God requires of His children.  Never mind the timeline and big picture that God is working with in His infinite wisdom.  Never mind the growth, compassion and character that develops in the midst of trials.  I want no pain.  I want it now.  Give it to me, God.

I would love to read the rest of Jabez’ story – the daily details, his life’s timeline.  I highly doubt that he never felt ANY more pain – never stubbed his toe, never lost a friend or family member, never needed to cry out to God again.  But, we know that God was faithful.  He blessed Jabez and He answered his prayer.

God wanted the returning Israelites to know the story of Jabez.  He wanted them to know of God’s faithfulness and the good gifts that He brings to His children who are honorable and cry out to Him.  Likewise, God wants you and me and the world today to know the story of Jabez.  God takes us in our pain and gives us blessings.  God is good.  God is powerful.  God is love.  God is faithful.

BUT don’t be fooled.  God is no magic genie.   In fact, He is so much more.

Our history lesson continues.  Keep reading, in chapter 5 (verses 23-26) we meet the half-tribe of Manasseh.  They were God’s people. God had already fought their battles and given them land.  They had prospered and become numerous.  Their leaders were “brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families” (1 Chronicles 5:24).  It sounds so good.  It looks like they were leading a charmed life.  God’s goodness and power have provided for these people.  We see God’s blessings – but do they?  NO!  “But they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land” (1 Chronicles 5:25).  In their pampered state they turn from the One who has blessed them.  They leave their Provider and Protector to run after false gods.  They chase what the ungodly society calls good – rather than clinging to their Creator, the God of their fathers.

And, their foolishness comes with consequences.  They don’t get more wishes granted.  What they have is taken away.  God uses the Assyrians to remove them – to place them into exile in a foreign land.  They have earned themselves a Big Time-Out which will last several years, until God prepares the way for the exiles to return.

God wanted the returning Israelites to know the story of the half-tribe of Manasseh.  He wanted them to know of the serious consequences that He puts into action when His children flaunt their waywardness.  Likewise, God wants you and me and the world today to know the story of the half-tribe of Manasseh.  God has given blessings, how will we respond?  God is just.  God is powerful.  God is faithful.  His loving kindness requires our faithfulness, too.

Marcia Railton

Today’s reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Chronicles+3-5&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Psalm 73, & 77-78 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

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