Are You All In?

Jeremiah 32-34

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The religious reformer Martin Luther once famously said: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

I thought about this quote as I was reading Jeremiah 32 today.  Jeremiah is being held in prison by Judah’s king, Zedekiah.  The city of Jerusalem was under siege by the powerful Babylonians.  To hold a city under siege means that you have it surrounded.  No one gets in, no one gets out.  More importantly, no FOOD gets in.  Hold a city under siege long enough and the people will get hungry, and some will come out voluntarily.  For those who hold out longer, they will simply starve to death, or become so weak that they are unable to fight.  It was a strategy of war that was used for thousands of years.

God had told Jeremiah the prophet to warn Zedekiah and all of Jerusalem that they were going to fall to the Babylonians, their city would be captured and destroyed.  Jeremiah had been warning them for over 2 decades.  They imprisoned him just to try to shut him up.  But here they were, surrounded by the Babylonians.  It was only a matter of time until the Kingdom of Judah would be destroyed.

So with all the doom and gloom what does God tell Jeremiah to do?  Buy a field.  Now, if you know that an enemy invader is about to completely destroy your nation does it make sense to perform a real estate transaction?  If an asteroid is headed for earth tomorrow, does it make sense to buy green bananas today?  If the Zombie Apocalypse has started, is it really a good time to order all of your Christmas presents early on Amazon?  If the world is going to go to pieces tomorrow does it make sense to plant a tree today?  Luther thought so.    Jeremiah, knowing that Jerusalem was about to fall to the Babylonians, went ahead and bought the field, signed the deed and put it in a clay pot for safe keeping.  Why?  because he trusted God.

God said that all that was about to happen to Judah, the destruction of the temple, the arrest and death of the king, the exile back to Babylon, it was all going to happen, but it was only temporary.  Eventually, they would come back, the Kingdom would be restored, the temple would be rebuilt, and a new King would be installed to reign.  So the question for Jeremiah is, do you trust God to keep His promise?  Do you trust enough to “put your money where you mouth is” and buy the piece of land, keep the contract safe so that your heirs will have a piece of land to rebuild a house on and plant crops, and maybe an apple tree or two?  How much do you trust God?  Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?

Jesus would later talk about the “pearl of great price”  a treasure so valuable that someone would sell everything that they had to buy it.

Some might say that right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and societal disruption it feels like we are under siege from uncontrollable forces.  I’m not acting as a prophet right now.  God hasn’t given me exclusive insider information about how all of this is going to end.  Maybe we discover an effective vaccine?  Maybe we figure out a way to restore racial harmony?  Maybe not.  I don’t know.  Maybe we have another civil war and the United States of America will be no more?  I don’t know what’s going to happen with these current crises.  God used the powerful and evil nation of Babylon to punish His disobedient children 2600 years ago.  Maybe God is using disease, division, death and destruction to punish his disobedient children today.  Or maybe this is the devil doing what he does – “steal, kill and destroy”.

There’s a lot about our current situation I Don’t know.  But what I DO know is that God is still in charge.  God is still in heaven.  God is still all powerful.  God is still good. God made a promise that one day he would send His Son Jesus to bring a final end to sin and death, there will be a final judgment against sin, and there will a renewed heaven and earth and finally God Himself will make His permanent home in our midst (See Revelation 20, 21 and 22).  I still believe that to be true.  If I were a betting man in Vegas I would push all my chips onto that hand, I’d be “all in”.  I don’t know how much time I personally have left before Jesus comes again or before I close my eyes in the temporary sleep of death and await the resurrection, but this I do know, I’m betting it all on God.  I’ll buy that field.  I’ll plant that tree. I’ll spend every day of my life telling people that God is faithful and God is good and that Jesus is coming again. I’m all in.  I hope that you are too!

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+32-34&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 35-37 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Backsliding

Jeremiah 30-31

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In the traditional hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” there’s a verse that includes the following line: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it Prone to leave the God I love.”

I invite you to just sit with that line for a minute….

Have you observed this tendency in your own life?  Are you prone to wander … to stray away from God?  While you are thinking about that let us consider the Nation of Israel, God’s people.  We’ve been looking all week at Jeremiah’s prophecies to the people of God some 600 years before the birth of Jesus.  They were a nation that was “prone to wander” away from God.  They kept wandering into idolatry.  They wandered into sacrificing their children to the immoral gods of their evil age.

There’s a term Jeremiah uses in several places in his letter.  The word is backslide.  That word is kind of an old and outdated word, but I’d like to dust it off for a minute.

Jeremiah 3:22 “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.” KJV

Jeremiah 14:7  “Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you.” ESV

One definition of backsliding is: “To revert to sin or wrongdoing, especially in religious practice, someone who lapses into previous undesirable patterns of behavior.”

If you’ve ever had a bad habit that was harmful or sinful- smoking, eating junk food, abusing alcohol or drugs, viewing pornography, spending too much time looking at social media, etc…. if you had a bad habit, overcame that bad habit and replaced it with a good habit for an extended period of time, and then reverted back to the bad habit… that’s a kind of backsliding.

Israel had a pattern of religious backsliding.  They would worship idols, God would warn them or punish them and they would stop worshipping idols for a while, then they would start worshipping idols again.

After many years of backsliding,  God had to deal more decisively with their hard hearted and sinful ways.  Their whole nation was about to be torn apart, the temple destroyed, the walls of Jerusalem come down, the king and his kingdom would fall from power, many would be killed and many would be brought into exile.

In the midst of all of this doom and gloom Jeremiah says in 30:10, “Do not be afraid.”  How does one NOT be afraid when everything around you is about to come crashing down?  Here in the midst of all the doom and gloom Jeremiah gives them some good news or gospel.

God’s message to Israel is this-  “I am going to discipline you because of your great guilt and many sins” but the discipline is only for a limited time.  “After your discipline, I will restore you, you will come back to your land, you will rebuild your temple, those who I used to punish you will themselves be punished, and after I have regathered you I will raise up one of your own to be your king.”

This part of Jeremiah was written 600 years before the birth of Jesus, but it gives a clear and vivid prophecy of Jesus.  In Jeremiah 30:9 when he says that he will “raise up” “David their King” he wasn’t just talking about King David, who had died several hundred years earlier, he was looking ahead to Jesus.  Jesus is “one of your own” a Jewish man, a descendant of the kingly tribe of Judah and descendant of David.  God promised that he would raise up this king- and oh how he kept that promise when he “raised up” Jesus, who had been crucified and buried in the tomb three days.  He raised up Jesus from the grave and 40 days later he raised up Jesus into heaven (Acts 1:9).  One day Jesus will return to reign over all the earth in the Kingdom of God and he will be raised up and exalted over all the earth (see Philippians 2:9-11).

What happened to backsliding Israel?  Jeremiah 31:19 “For after I had turned away I repented…”  And how did God respond?  Jeremiah 31:20: “Is Ephraim (another term for God’s children) my dear son?  Is he the child I delight in?  As often as I speak against him,  I still remember him.  Therefore I am deeply moved for him;   I will surely have mercy on him says the Lord.”

Other words for backslide are “apostasy” or “fall away”.  Friends, I dearly hope that in your walk with Jesus you will not be one of those who are “prone to wander” or “prone to leave the God I love.”   Recently Pastor John Guthrie posted old pictures from RYOT and FUEL.  Some going back nearly 20 years.  It was fun seeing myself, other staff and many of the FUEL attendees of past days who are now adults with children of their own.  But it was also sad to see some of them who are no longer in the faith.  Some have left the Church of God, but even more disheartening, some have left the faith completely.  Some have backslidden, some have fallen into complete apostasy and are now living in a state of unbelief.  It can happen to any of us.  Don’t let it happen to you.  But if it has and you are reading these words… it’s not too late to repent and turn back to God.  For just as God remembered and delighted in backsliding Israel and had mercy on them, He will remember and delight and have mercy on you if you turn back to Him.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 30 & 31, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+30-31&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will read Jeremiah 32-34 as we continue our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

His Love & Discipline

Jeremiah 26-29

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I love God’s optimism.  Sometimes God reminds me of a Jewish mother, always looking for the best in her son.

“Three Jewish mothers are sitting on a bench, arguing over which one’s son loves her the most. The first one says, “You know, my son sends me flowers every Sabbath.

“You call that love?” says the second mother. “My son calls me every day!”

“That’s nothing,” says the third woman. “My son is in therapy five days a week. And the whole time, he talks about me!”

God is optimistic like that: “Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.” (Jeremiah 26:2-3).

God was more than ready to forgive them.  God had no desire to punish His people.  He gave them every opportunity to repent.  But instead of heeding the warnings of Jeremiah and changing direction, they wanted to kill the prophet.  Jeremiah was eventually spared, but the people still failed to listen to his warning and repent.  Babylon ultimately did conquer them and carry them back to Babylon in Exile.

Jeremiah warned that the exile would last 70 years.  Another “prophet” named Hananiah came back and said that in just 2 years they would all be back and everything would be okay.  Hananiah flat out lied.  He was spreading fake news (see yesterday’s devotion).  It ended up that Hananiah is the one who died and his prophecy did not come true.

Once the exile began there was no turning back.  But God had a plan for that time in exile.  It was actually to protect his people.  Just as their years of captivity in Egypt enabled Israel to grow from just a few people into a great nation capable of taking possession of the promised land, this time of exile was intended to be a time for God to both cleanse the land from idolatry and cleanse God’s people from their idolatrous ways.  While the exile might have felt like a punishment and a judgement, and it was, it was actually intended by God to help bring his people back to righteous living.

When a parent punishes a child, the healthy parent is not getting any joy from seeing their child suffer.  The old expression “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you” has a real basis in truth.  A loving parent punishes, or better – disciplines, their child out of love.  The child has been acting in ways that are ultimately harmful to themselves and they need correction.  After numerous warnings and Israel’s failure to heed those warnings and repent, God had to take bold corrective action.  But the intent and purpose is love.  They needed to be purged of their idolatrous practices which included sacrificing their children to the gods of the age.

The exile was intended by God to purge them of their idolatry and purify them as a people.  As they were living in Babylon they were to live as good citizens.  They were to “seek the peace and prosperity” of the place in which God had brought them (Jeremiah 29:7).  Babylon was certainly not a perfect place and had its own share of godlessness and evil, but God’s people were to live peacefully and seek the good of Babylon while they were there.

I would encourage you to read carefully the letter that God had Jeremiah send to the exiles in Babylon found in chapter 29.  This is instructive for Christians today.  As Christians in the world today, we are ultimately children of God, citizens of God’s coming Kingdom.  Our King is Jesus and he is currently in heaven, waiting for the day when he will return to earth and establish God’s kingdom.  So our citizenship is currently in heaven.  When our king comes and the earth is transformed, our citizenship will be here on the renewed earth.  Until that time, as we live here we are resident aliens.  I may be a US citizen in the United States in name, but ultimately, I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom living here as a stranger and foreigner.  Peter calls us exiles.  You and I are exiles living here just as the Jewish people were exiles living in Babylon in Jeremiah’s time.

As exiles here we should practice the same things that Jeremiah told the Jews in Babylon to do as exiles there.  We should get married, have families, increase in number and pray for the place we are living.  We are to continue the creation mandate given in Genesis 1- “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it etc…”  As Christians living here in exile we use our gifts to make the place in which we are living a better place.  Babylon was not perfect, but the people of God living there were to contribute to it being a better place to live.  America or Canada or wherever you happen to live is not a perfect place, but you as a Christian should live in a way and use your gifts and energy to make it a better place, until Jesus comes again and we are no longer in exile but enter into the fulness of the Kingdom of God.

Note that eventually, God brought judgment against Babylon.  That empire fell to the Medes and the Persians, and it was the Persians that made it possible for the people of God to return from exile to the promised land.  Let us seek the best for wherever we live, but when God decides to bring judgment against that place, it is all part of his plan, and he will watch over His people who remain faithful to him wherever we are.  And in the end, all will be well.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 26-29, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+26-29&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 30-31 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

A Fake News Detector

Jeremiah 23-25

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The Cambridge Dictionary has recently added a new entry: Fake News.  Fake news is defined as: “false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke.”

President Trump can probably be given a lot of credit for making this term a part of our everyday lexicon.  But fake news is nothing new.  In fact, it’s been around since the days of Adam and Eve and the serpent.  When the serpent told Eve, “You shall not surely die” if she ate from the forbidden fruit, the serpent was spreading fake news.

During the time of Jeremiah there was a lot of Fake News going around Jerusalem and throughout the land of Judah.  The fake news was being spread by people who claimed to be speaking God’s truth.  They were prophets and priests and other religious leaders who were telling everyone, “Everything is going to be okay, nothing to worry about, the king has everything under control.”  The problem was, everything was not going to be okay, there was plenty to worry about and there was absolutely nothing that their king could do to stop it.  Those messengers of fake new were peddling a false hope to the people of God, and they were doing a lot of harm.  God said that they were actually strengthening the evildoers so that they don’t repent.  They were doing the exact opposite of what God wanted.

Against the backdrop of fake news that was being spread by false prophets, God called Jeremiah to be a voice of truth with a clear message from God.  Amidst all the claims of “everything is going to be okay”, Jeremiah said to the king and other political leaders as well as the priests and religious leaders, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture, declares the Lord.”  Woe, is a word of warning, it is a word of condemnation, it is a word of judgment.  God is declaring judgment against the civil and religious leaders in Jerusalem who are allowing God’s people to practice idolatry and all kinds of evil.  God is declaring judgment against the kings who are entering into alliances with the surrounding empires, hoping that Egypt or Assyria will protect them against their enemies.

God had been extremely patient with His people.  Psalm 103 reminds us that God is “slow to anger.”  God had sent a steady succession of prophets to speak truth and warn His people to stop worshipping idols and stop looking to their neighbors to be their protectors.  God sent prophet after prophet to call his people to repent.  Jeremiah alone had been prophesying for 23 years, warning people to repent.  Yet they still failed to listen.  They chose instead to listen to the fake news that was being spread by the false prophets who were saying everything is going to be all right.  God said that they actually “prophecy the delusions of their own minds” (23:26) and that they are spreading “reckless lies.”  “Each ones words are their own message.”

Truth is very important to God.  He wants His people to speak the truth.  Jesus would later say, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.”  Paul reminds us that we are to practice speaking the truth in love.  Telling the truth whenever everyone else is spreading fake news is an act of love.  For Jeremiah to courageously stand up year after year in the midst of false prophets telling lies should inspire us today to not be afraid to stand up and speak the truth.  Of course, to speak the truth we must make sure that we are hearing it from God.  We must keep our eyes in God’s word and our heart tuned in to God’s spirit and we should filter everything we hear and think through the filter of God’s revealed truth.  That takes both courage and dedication, and time.  Are you willing to invest the time into hearing and discerning God’s truth?  Do you have your fake news detector fully operational?  Are you willing to speak God’s truth in love, even if it feels like you are a lone voice and nobody is listening?

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 23-25, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+23-25&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will read chapters 26-29 of Jeremiah as we continue through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

An Extremely Important Message for You from the Potter

Jeremiah 18-22

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Have you ever made something from clay like a clay pot?  You have to work the clay with your hands and keep it moist.  You can throw a pot on a potter’s wheel and as long as the pot stays moist and pliable you can keep working with it and if it doesn’t look right you can smash it down and remake it, as long as it stays pliable.  But what happens once the clay is dried, hardened in a kiln or other fire?  What if, after it’s hard you discover that it is defective, that it doesn’t hold water?  At that point it becomes worthless.  You can’t rework it, you can only smash it into pieces.

In this section of Jeremiah, God again uses graphic imagery to reveal to His people their sin.  Like a potter, God has worked and worked with His people Israel and Judah.  He has shaped them and molded them and worked them thoroughly to craft a useful vessel.  What was God’s purpose for creating Israel?  Why did he create a special nation?  He wanted them to be a light to the rest of the world.  He wanted all people to come to know Him as the only true God.  He said to Abraham that he would bless the whole world through Abraham and his descendants.  Israel was to shine the light of God’s word and God’s truth to the rest of the world.  God spent years patiently and carefully crafting his people.  From Abraham and the patriarchs to Moses, through the many judges of Israel, then through Kings David and Solomon.  He worked and worked with the clay to make a suitable vessel.  They built a temple as a place of worship.  Under Solomon Jerusalem became a great and prosperous city with a Temple to the one true God and became the talk of the nations as royalty came to see the city of God in all of its splendor.

But God’s vessel wouldn’t hold water.  The pot was cracked.  Israel kept turning away from the one true God who created them and worshipped idols.  They worshipped the pagan gods of Baal and Molech.  God tried to reshape and reform His deformed pot, His disobedient, covenant breaking people.  But every time they were restored, they would once again return to their idol worship.  To get their attention, God had Jeremiah take a pot and symbolically shatter it to the ground.  This is a sign of what God is going to do to His people if they do not repent and turn from their wicked ways.

Jeremiah enacted this ritual shattering in a place called the Valley of Ben Hinnom or Topheth.  A quick reading of Jeremiah 19:4 might cause one to miss the point here. “For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.”  It was at Topheth they worshipped foreign gods, a.k.a. idols, they burned incense to those gods… that sounds bad, worshipping false gods and burning incense to those gods, not a good look.  But why is God so mad about this that He’s ready to smash their kingdom?  It’s the last part: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.”  Let’s look a little more closely at that.  Who exactly are the innocent?

The worship of Molech involved offering sacrifices to the god.  So what’s the big deal, didn’t God also demand sacrifices of sheep and goats, ox and doves?  A lot of blood was shed in the temple of Jerusalem.  True, but the worship of Molech didn’t involve killing sheep and goats.  These were human sacrifices.  Lot’s of cultures did that too – the Mayans and Aztecs and other Mesoamerican religious groups did a lot of human sacrifices. (Just watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom… or Apocalypto and you’ll see the grisly story of human sacrifice).  But Molech was even worse.  The humans they were sacrificing were truly innocent… they sacrificed children.  In that very spot, in the valley of Hinnom in the place called Topheth, God’s covenant people Israel did what God never told them to do, burn their innocent children on the altar to Molech.

A nation that would sacrifice the most innocent to the gods of the age cannot survive.  But when that nation, the Nation of Israel was set apart by God to be a light to the darkness, when that light goes out and the nation plunges into darkness, God has no choice but to smash it, to bring it crashing down, to stop the heinous practice of child sacrifice.

Jesus would later tell his disciples, “You are the light of the world.”  The Church was to complete the task that Israel had begun but failed to complete.

1500 years later when the first pilgrims and puritans crossed the Atlantic in the Mayflower and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first governor, John Winthrop, borrowed such imagery as he spoke of these Christians who helped begin what was to become the United States of America:  “for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for Gods sake; we shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going.”

That was in 1630, 343 years later, January 1973, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of Roe V. Wade that laws preventing abortion must be struck down.  Since that time over 60 million unborn humans have been sacrificed, not to Molech, but to the gods of choice and sexual liberation.

When Israel allowed their innocent children to be sacrificed to Molech and refused to repent, God had Jeremiah smash a clay pot to show that he was about to smash them.  That spot where the blood of the innocent was shed, in the Valley of Hinnom or Topheth, was later the place where Israel’s dead were piled up after the Babylonians smashed Jerusalem and Judah.  Later that spot became the garbage pile where not only the dead were disposed but all the refuse of Israel was burnt up.  It became known as Gehenna or the Lake of Fire, the place of destruction, the place of God’s judgment against sin.

If God did such judgment against Israel for their horrific crimes of child sacrifice, can the United States expect any less judgment?  I know that might make some of you angry at me, just as in the time of Jeremiah the people were furious with him and threw him into a pit.  Jeremiah couldn’t keep his mouth shut because God’s word was in his heart like a fire 20:9.  God used Jeremiah to warn the people of the “terrible plague” of judgment that was coming to punish their pride.  He said that later people would look and ask “why did God do this?” 22:9.  John Winthrop would later say the same thing about the US.  As we look at where the US has come since 1630, how far we’ve drifted from being a God fearing nation, might we ask the question: Why wouldn’t God do this? If we refuse to let God remold us, if we become hard and brittle why wouldn’t he smash us?

PS- to throw a bit of good news after all this bad… even after a pot is smashed, a true artist can take those smashed pieces and remake it into a beautiful mosaic.  God isn’t finished with us quite yet no matter how brittle or unyielding we may be.

 

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 18-22, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+18-22&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will continue with Jeremiah 23-25 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Will it Be Okay?

Jeremiah 14-17

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I’ve been a pastor for 35 years.  As a pastor I’m often present for the happiest moments of people’s lives – when they get married, when they have a baby and want to have that baby blessed, when they give their life to Jesus Christ and are baptized, and when they celebrate great milestones like graduations, 50th wedding anniversaries and other joys.  I am privileged to “rejoice with those who rejoice.”

At the same time, I am also there during some of life’s most painful moments- when a loved one has died after a long illness, or suddenly in a tragic accident, when someone has just been told by their spouse that they want a divorce, or when their child has been arrested for possession of illegal narcotics.  I am there to weep with those who weep.

When people are going through the most painful or difficult challenges of their lives- when they are waiting for a loved one in major surgery, or for the test results to come back, I try to help them and provide a voice of calm assurance.  “It’s going to be okay.”  And of course, I want it to be okay.  But to be honest, sometimes it’s NOT okay.  Sometimes people don’t make it through surgery.  Sometimes couples don’t reconcile and marriages aren’t saved.  Sometimes test results come back and it’s bad.  Sometimes prodigal children don’t come back home, or back to Church or back to God.

Let’s be honest, 2020 sucks!  Covid-19 has killed a lot of people and has a lot of people scared.  A lot of people are out of work and the economy has tanked because of it.  A lot of people are scared to go anywhere including church.  For a time many states told people they weren’t allowed to go to church – what’s up with that?  And in the midst of that we’ve also had racial protests (or sometimes riots), murder hornets, great white shark attacks and now for more fun – its hurricane season.  Some people joke about, “What’s this month’s plague going to be?” but it’s getting to the point where it’s no joke.  Something’s going on.

The caring pastor part of me wants to take you by the hand and say “it’s going to be alright.  We’ll get through this.”  But can I be honest for a minute?  I don’t know that for sure.  For all I know Covid-19 could get a lot worse.  Or the vaccine they make to cure it could turn us all into vampires.  (Just kidding, I just watched the movie I Am Legend where the cure for cancer turned almost everyone into vampires.)  You get my point, I can’t guarantee that in a few weeks or months it’s all going to get better… it might not.

Can I be more honest?  God may be really angry right now.  “Oh, now Pastor Jeff we don’t believe in an angry God anymore- that Angry God of the 18th and 19th century has been replaced by a much more liberal and chill God, haven’t you heard?”  Well, I hate to break it to you but there’s only one God.  The God we worship today is the same God who was around in 600 BC when Jeremiah was walking around on the earth.  It’s the same God who got so angry with Israel for years of unfaithfulness that he sent a drought.  Yep, no water.  He’s the same God who said I’m going to call your neighbors to come and go fishing and hunting… for you, Judah.  It’s the same God who told Jeremiah that all the prophets who were out there telling everyone “It’s all going to be all right, we’re gonna get through this together” were spreading “fake news.”  They were false prophets telling people it was all going to be okay, when clearly God was not done smiting His very disobedient nation.

Make no mistake about it.  America has changed a LOT in the last 50 years.  It’s changed a lot in the last 10 years… or even 5 years.  Things that for a long time everyone agreed were bad, wrong, sinful have been declared ok.  Things that God used to say were important, like getting married BEFORE you have sex, and being faithful to your spouse after you get married, those kinds of things aren’t so important now.  Protecting the lives of the unborn, those aren’t so important either.  In Psalm 139 David says that God is the one who, “knit me together in my mother’s womb” but now it’s okay if the woman chooses to murder that unborn baby.  (“Pastor, you don’t sound very nice anymore, I don’t think I like where this is going?”)

I’m telling you the truth because I love you.  Don’t just listen to me, go back and read the actual verses in Jeremiah 14-17.  God was angry.  God told Jeremiah to tell the people “don’t even bother to pray to me for help right now, because I’m not helping you.”

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I believe that God is love and that everything God does is because of His great love for us.  That’s why he sent His Son to rescue us from our sinful ways.   God wants to rescue us from our sinful ways.  What we are doing collectively is WRONG.  It is hurting us.

I read an interesting article recently.  So called progressive elites, those liberal professors who say that traditional morality is bad or outdated, those who say that people should be free to do whatever they want.  Yeah, those people, the highly educated, the elites, the 1%.  They aren’t the ones having babies out of wedlock and whose children are being shot by gangs or dying from opioid addiction.  Those people who are “successful liberal elites” actually get married, then have children, work hard, live in good neighborhoods and do the kinds of things that actually lead to successful lives.  The people who suffer from living in a society that has tried to do away with God and with Biblical morality are actually the poor, the uneducated, those without power and privilege.   What we need to be telling people is the truth.  If you want to thrive and live a flourishing life you should do things the way God says to do it.  Adopt God’s values and live by them.  Turn away from evil.  That’s how you thrive.

Now, after telling Jeremiah that he won’t answer their prayers and things are about to get really bad for them, God does offer this hope.  After all the punishment is over, after the exile has passed, after you have repented and you’ve changed and are willing to start doing things the right way, I will take you back home and restore you and everything will eventually be okay.

So yes, ultimately, everything will be okay.  Someday God will restore this earth to its original state of perfection.  But first, God’s got to do some major housecleaning.  God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way.  God wants to make you to be like Jesus.  Follow Him. Turn away from your sinful ways – do not follow this world into judgment, follow Jesus into the Kingdom of God.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 14-17, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+14-17&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 18-22 as we continue seeking God and His Ways 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

Remember

Exodus 28-29

Exodus 29 42b NIV

I’ve been a pastor for 35 years.  I’ve pastored local congregations.  I’ve served on the mission field in a different country.  I’ve served as a hospice chaplain with people who have been diagnosed with life ending diseases and as a hospital chaplain with people who are very sick, or having surgery, or recovering from surgery or recovering from pneumonia, or have attempted suicide or are struggling with mental health issues and need extra support.  I preach each week to people in the nursing home and those who are suffering from Alzheimers and other forms of dementia.  I’ve stood at the bedside and prayed with families whose loved one is about to die or who has already died.  I’ve prayed blessings over newborn babies and people over 100 and everywhere in between.

The one common need I find over and over again is the need of the person going through crisis to know that God is with them.  Everyone goes through challenges and difficulties, losses and pains in life.  It’s not a question of, “Will bad things happen?”  or even, “Why do bad things happen?”, it’s more a case of, “When bad things happen what resources do you have to draw from to help you get through it?”

As God’s people, Israel was being transformed from slaves to the people of God who were to be a light to all nations, they were going to face many challenges on that journey of transformation.  They had a desert to cross.  They had numerous enemies to face who all wanted to prevent them from reaching the promised land, and once they arrived in the land, there were enemies who wanted to take the land away from them and turn their hearts away from undivided loyalty to God.

To get through these challenges Israel needed regular assurance that God knew them and that God was with them.  If you’ve been a Christian for most of your life, it is likely that you know these things already.  You know that God knows you by name, that before He formed you in your mother’s womb he knew you.  You know Jesus’ promise that he will be with you always, to the end of the age, right?  There’s no way you would ever forget that God knows you and that Jesus is with you, right?  (More about that in a minute).

The people of Israel were spiritual babies.  They were just starting to learn about who this God is and to get used to the idea that God would stay with them and not abandon them.  They needed a lot of reminders.  So, in addition to having a tent of meeting constructed in their midst (see yesterday’s devotion) they needed to know that they had representatives who would go before God regularly on their behalf.  So God set aside a group of men who would serve as priests.  They had a special calling and were set apart or consecrated to do the work of a priest.

Today’s reading describes the various pieces of clothing that the priests wore and the purpose of each item- ephod, breast piece, robe, tunic, turban, urim and thummin, gold plate, sashes etc…  of all of these descriptions in Exodus 28 one in particular stands out: “Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord. (11-12).  So when the priest went before God, he went bearing the names of the sons or tribes of Israel.  This was a reminder that they were there on behalf of the entire people of God.  The message for the people was that the priests would bear on their bodies a constant reminder to God of His beloved people.

We might ask the question,” if God is perfect and all knowing, why would he need such a reminder? ” I would say that the reminder wasn’t for God as much as it was for the people to have the assurance that they were being constantly brought before God.  Prayer works the same way for us.  When someone prays to God  on our behalf, they aren’t exactly bringing new information to God’s attention.  God knows our needs before we ask.  One of the benefits of intercessory prayer is to remind us that we are not alone in the midst of our needs.  When I was first diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and radiation lots of people were praying for me.  It brought me great comfort and encouragement to be reminded regularly that people were remembering me before God’s throne.

In Exodus 29 it provides a description of the rituals that were used to consecrate or set apart the priests for their duties of bringing the people before God.  Notice how the consecration involved sacrifices and blood.  In order for the priests to go before God on behalf of the people, their sin and guilt had to be covered over by blood.  In fact, every day, morning and night, a lamb was to be sacrificed to God. “For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the Lord. There I will meet you and speak to you;  there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.” (42-43)

This served as a constant reminder that God was holy and sinless, and that human beings are sinful and needed to be cleansed and forgiven of their guilt in order to come near to God’s presence.  As a result: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.  They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (45-46)  These daily sacrifices served as a constant assurance to God’s people that He was their God and that He was with them.

As Christians, we are not required to sacrifice a lamb day and night in order to be assured that God is with us.  Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He, as the high priest and the sacrificial lamb, went into the most holy place with his own blood and offered a sacrifice that covers over all of our sins once and for all. (Once you read the book of Exodus, the book of Hebrews in the New Testament is much easier to understand… check it out).  When Jesus was first prophesied in Isaiah 7 it was said that he would be a sign that God is with us (Immanuel means God is with us).  In the name of Jesus we can be assured that God is with us – not because we are perfect or sinless, we are no more sinless than the nation of Israel was, but we have been made holy by the blood of Jesus.

Earlier I asked the question: “There’s no way you would ever forget that God knows you and that Jesus is with you, right?”  That fact is, we all have times when we forget that God knows us and that Jesus is with us.  This is a danger when everything is going well in our lives- when we are busy enjoying the blessings that God gives us and are on a roll, we can get so caught up in enjoying the gifts that we forget to worship the one who gives them to us, God.  It is also a danger when things are tough and we are hurting and feel all alone or worry that God isn’t answering our prayers.  When we go through spiritual depression or the dark night of the soul we can forget that the Lord promised never to leave us.  We need constant reminders, in the good times and the bad times.  That’s why we need to gather regularly with other believers to find encouragement and strength, so we don’t forget.  That’s why we need to regularly break bread and drink the cup at communion, to help us remember.  You and I need ongoing reminders that God is with us, that God remembers us.  We need to know others are bringing our names before God in difficult times, and we need to remember to bring others before God during their difficult times.  We may not have to wear ephods and robes and rub lamb’s blood on us, but as Christians we are all priests and we all need to go before God regularly on behalf of each other and behalf of people in the world, in the name of Jesus.  Don’t forget to remember, God is with us and God will never forget you.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+28-29&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 30-32 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan (1) (1)

In God’s Presence

Exodus 25-27

Exodus 25 8 NIV

                Places of worship come in all different shapes and sizes.  I have worshipped God in huge cathedrals with impressive pipe organs and altars overlaid with gold and stained glass windows.  I have also worshipped God in open-air tabernacles with sawdust floors.  I have worshipped God in a deer stand, at the beach, on a mountaintop and on a table undergoing radiation.  I have worshipped God in loud and energetic services with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards and I have worshipped him in places with no sound at all except the flickering flame of a single candle.

                I believe God loves to be worshipped in lots of ways and in lots of places.  Even in the Biblical stories God was worshipped on simple stone altars, in burning bushes, on mountain tops and down in valleys.

                Israel was at a critical time in their formation and it was important for them to have a steady reminder of God’s presence.  God made his presence visible to them as they journeyed with both a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night.  As they continued their journey across the wilderness, God chose to make his visible presence known to them in a portable house of worship.  This place would provide structure in the midst of their community wherever they stopped to make camp.  The tent of meeting or tabernacle would be an ongoing visible sign that God’s glory was in their midst.  And God taught them how to be a holy nation. He used various symbols and rituals of sacrifice and worship as a way to drill home to them his holiness and the consequences of sin.

                How God chose to do this is quite interesting.  He could have simply built a temple Himself in the heavens and dropped it down fully formed on earth.  However, God chose instead to invite His people to become active participants in creating this place of worship.

                First, God began with their willing desire to give.  “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather acacia wood;  olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).   This was not a mandatory tithe that was required; this was an offering to be willingly given and received.

                Where did the people get all of these valuable commodities?  If you will recall, as they were leaving Egypt they were given many valuable items by the Egyptian peoples – one might say this was payment to help compensate for years of slavery.  They had these items in their possession already.  Those who were willing could give them to help create the tent of meeting and the prescribed worship items inside of the temple, which included the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lampstand as well as the material for the tabernacle itself, and the altar, courtyard and the oil to keep the lamps burning.  All of the materials were freely donated.  The people of God used their own skill to build the items from these donated materials – carpenters, weavers, stonemasons, goldsmiths and others each made their own contributions to the creation of this place of worship.  In this way, everyone in the community that wished to participate had buy in to the tabernacle.  It truly was a communal place of worship.

                Once the nation finished their journey through the wilderness and took possession of the Promised Land, they would eventually transition from a portable tent of meeting to a permanent temple under the leadership of King Solomon.  However, this tent of meeting served them well for 40 years in the wilderness and many more during the times of the judges, and king’s Saul and David.

                For Christians, we do not worship God in a tabernacle or physical temple and we do not bring sacrifices of sheep or goats or bulls for an offering to God.  For us, the Church itself is the temple of God.  I am not talking about the building where the Church gathers to worship, I am talking about the actual people who gather to worship, and we are the Church.  Jesus said whenever 2-3 gather in his name that he is there in their midst.  There is no one single right way or place to worship God.  It is wherever God’s people come together.  Christian Worship does not have to follow follow a strict pattern.  Worship is where we gather to read the word of God, pray, worship, encourage each other and exhort one another to good works, break bread and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.  Blood sacrifices are not necessary because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he entered into the holy of holies once and for all and gave his own body as the final sacrifice for all of our sins.

                One thing remains unchanged from the time of Israel in the wilderness tent of meeting and the Church today.  God still welcomes us to bring our offerings from the heart as a way to say thank you.  We can still bring tangible offerings, and we can still offer our gifts and talents as ways of showing God our deep gratitude for all of his blessings to us.  It is not all that important how we worship or where we worship, but it is very important that we worship and we bring our offerings freely to worship God.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+25-27&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 28-29 on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Transformation

Exodus 22-24

Exodus 22 31 a NIV

                Social transformation is often a long and painful process.  Think about efforts at equality within the United States.  The founders’ vision was for a society where everyone had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The Declaration of Independence expressed this in 1776.  Yet it took nearly a century and a Civil War to bring an end to slavery.  It took nearly 150 years for women to be able to vote and it nearly 200 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make significant strides toward racial equality.

                How does one take a community that has been enslaved for over 400 years and transform them into a nation that shines a beacon of light to all other nations in the world pointing them to the true God.  How does an entire nation become holy, set apart for God’s service and God’s glory?

                This is the challenge that was before God, Moses and the nation of Israel.  They were leaving behind one type of structure, slavery, to enter into a new way of living.  They needed a new structure to help them know how to live.  They had to be taught how to live in community.  They had to be taught how to work, and how to rest, how to care for their neighbors, and how to punish wrongdoing that threatened to destroy their community.

                In today’s reading we see how God begins to organize and structure the transforming community of Israel.  He teaches them how they are to live and become a holy nation and a royal priesthood.  This transformation would not come quickly or easily.

                They had to be taught how to show respect for personal property: “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (22:1)  Those who steal must give restitution.

                They had to be taught to respect the family structure and to place their sexuality within proper boundaries: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” (22:16-17)

                They had to be taught that there were severe consequences for failing to follow appropriate sexual boundaries: “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death.” (22:19).

                They had to be taught to have empathy and to show kindness to strangers and people who were different: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (22:21).

                They had to be taught to have compassion for people in the community who had suffered major losses: “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. (22:22).

                They had to be taught to show respect both to God and to their earthly leaders: “ Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (22:28)

                They had to be taught how to live as a just community by not giving false testimony, and by neither showing favoritism toward the poor nor withholding justice from the poor (23:1-6).

                They had to be taught to care for their bodies and minds by getting appropriate rest. (23:12).

                It was also important that everyone be taught these and other guidelines for how to live in community as God’s people and that they verbally acknowledge that they understand and intend to follow “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (24:3)

                Israel’s transformation from slavery to covenant people of God living a set apart life as the community of God’s people was a slow and challenging process.  It was painfully difficult, but necessary.  In the end, people failed more often than they succeeded to carrying out their assignments.  And yet, somehow, despite tremendous opposition from aggressive and hate filled neighbors, the Nation of Israel survived.

                As Christians, we can learn much from studying how God worked with His people Israel to bring about their transformation.  It is important to note that they were God’s people first, and then they were given this particular set of laws.  In the same way, as Christians, we become God’s people first, through faith in Jesus Christ, and then we commit to following Jesus and obeying Jesus’ commands.  We do not become God’s people by following laws, but by following Jesus Christ.  However, when we follow Jesus Christ, we do not descend into lawlessness.  Structure is still required.  So Jesus spends three years teaching his disciples how to live as the people of God who are called to be holy, set apart to be a light to all nations.  We complete the mission that the nation of Israel began, and we do so following the yoke or community guidelines as laid down by Jesus Christ.  The foundational teaching of Jesus is to Love God and Love our Neighbors.  That is a good place for each of us to start each day.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+22-24&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 25-27 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan