If there is one thing we can all do well, it is sin! We mess up and usually a lot, whether in thought, word, or action. We have all done something in our lives to fall short of God’s desires. David wrote Psalm 51 during a time in his life when he had messed up big time. Most of us probably can recall the story of David and Bathsheba, if not it can be found in 2 Samuel 11-12. At this time, David was completely broken, it was in his brokenness his heart revealed the words found in Psalm 51.
When I read this Psalm, I see three parts to it. The first is in verses 1-9. Here, David acknowledges that he has sinned, and he asks God to forgive him of his sins. The second part is verses 10-12. In these verses, David asks God to be changed from his sinful ways with the statement “create in me a clean heart.” The final section is verses 13-19. David proclaims what he is going to do because he has been forgiven. He says he will teach the ways of God, he will joyfully sing, and he will declare God’s praise.
I think we can apply all three parts of this Psalm to our lives. When we sin and mess up against God, we need to be like David by confessing our sins, and asking for forgiveness. Right away in verse 1, David asks God to “Be gracious with me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” We then need to take action, recognizing that we need a changed heart and restoration. But it doesn’t stop there, we need to take the forgiveness given to us and live for God. When you are transparent with people they will see your changed life with God and will hopefully want that as well. Just as verse 13 says, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will be converted to you.” Follow David’s example, ask for forgiveness, ask to be changed, then show others how you have been changed.
Have you experienced God’s forgiveness and the changing of your heart? If so, did you use the opportunity to declare His praises and show/teach others how you have been forgiven and changed? How?
What does your heart need to be cleansed of today? What sins stand between you and God right now? Pray this Psalm to the Lord. What does it feel like to have your sins blotted out by God? What will your clean, changed heart look like? How will you share with others what God has done for you?
What does God reveal about Himself in Psalm 51 and your reading today? What words would you use to describe Him? What will your response be?
In Revelation 2, John is tasked by the Son of Man to begin writing to the seven churches. This chapter specifically details what should be written to the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira. All of these churches share a commonality of starting strong and then waning in righteousness over time. To Ephesus, the Son of Man comments on how they started strong, with perseverance and a low tolerance for evil. However, they have strayed from their faith, and so Jesus warns them to repent, or they will have their lampstand removed. In Revelation 1 it was discussed that the lampstands represented the churches, therefore the church would cease to exist. Furthermore, in repenting they are promised to be able to eat from the tree of life in the Kingdom.
The second church, Smyrna, has a fate that is full of tribulation. They have persevered through poverty and blasphemy against them, and Jesus remarks that the Devil would test them by having them thrown into prison. However, if they remain faithful, then they would receive the “crown of life.” He further remarks that “he who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” This situation seems fairly awful, but when you put thought into it, this situation is represented by the world that we currently live in anyways. Sin and suffering are rampant, yet, we are promised the crown of life by persevering and overcoming. This message is purely to enforce steadiness in faith.
The third church, Pergamum, shares commonality with the situation described in the first church. They remained steadfast at first, but now there is heavy straying from their original path. Teachings of false gods, eating idol sacrifices, and general acts of immorality have become practices among some members of the church. Jesus warns that those who walk this path will have “war waged against them” personally. From the being who has a double-edged sword protruding from his mouth, that’s definitely not a message that I would take lightly. However, this can be avoided if they repent, and they in return will receive mana, a white stone, and a new name that only they will know.
The fourth church, Thyatira, has had a congregation that has been led astray by a woman named Jezebel. Now, this woman is not the same Jezebel from the Old Testament, but she is enabling people to practice extremely immoral practices as a false prophetess. The Lord commented that He gave her a chance to repent, but she steadfastly refused to do so. However, those who follow her have been given a chance now to repent, or else they will suffer pestilence alongside the false prophetess. And like the other churches, if they hold fast and overcome, then they will receive the morning star and will be given authority to rule over nations.
All of these messages have two similar messages that can be generalized and applied. The first message is that all of these churches are going through tribulation and external influence, and have been led astray. However, they all have time to repent. This is familiar, though, as every day we will struggle with the external pressures of sin and can very easily be led astray. However, Jesus has made it clear that everyone has a chance at forgiveness upon repentance, even someone as corrupt as the false prophetess influencing the people of the church in Thyatira. The second similar case in these messages is the reward for persevering. This is the same message that Jesus and his apostles have spread since the gospel and throughout the New Testament: the good news for those who hold fast and persevere. Sin is very easy to fall into, but staying on the righteous path is much more favorable considering the reward that awaits.
And so, let us take these messages to the four churches discussed so far and apply them to our lives, let this be like a message to us. Whatever sins we have committed; they are already known as the Lord knows our hearts and minds. This is referenced in Revelation 2:23. Therefore, our time left gives us a window of opportunity to repent of them, and live as righteously as we possibly can. In the end, true victory is on the side of the righteous.
1. Smyrna specifically is tasked with remaining faithful until death. How can we ensure for ourselves that we are likewise holding steadfast throughout our lives?
2. The Son of Man has offered repentance to everybody mentioned who is living in sin in this chapter. How can we hold these messages in our minds when interacting with those who are deeply entrenched in sin?
3. Does it make sense that these churches have such devastating issues yet Jesus still holds the star of their angel in his right hand? Why?
A couple years ago in a class at our youth event FUEL, I was in a class that focused on the idea of forgiveness. In the class we were watching a video by Bob Goff, a Christian author and lawyer, recounting his case against a witch doctor preying on the children of a few tribes in Africa. To make a long story short, Bob was able to assist in getting a witch doctor named Kabi jailed for the mutilation of a child. Unfortunately this crime was nothing new, but this time the child lived! This is definitely a story that is worth looking into after this, but let’s pick it back up in a little bit.
I want to turn to the life of Jonah the prophet. Despite the fun story many of us heard as kids I don’t think Jonah was a good prophet! He disobeyed directly what God had told him to do and expected God to simply vanquish his enemies. When he arrived at Nineveh, Jonah gave a half hearted message “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” And that’s all he said yet, it worked. When the people of Nineveh heard this they repented and mourned and decided to serve God, including their king.
When Kabi was jailed it seemed like a win, but an interesting thing happened. The enemy of this story, Kabi, acted in the same way Nineveh did. Kabi wanted to repent and turn to God!
When God decided not to punish Nineveh, Jonah was angry. He went on a hill and built a lean-to shelter and God grew a plant to shade Jonah. God then sent a worm to kill that plant so that the hot sun and scorching winds would wear Jonah down. Jonah 4:9-11 reads “ ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’ But the LORD said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?’”
When I was told Kabi was allowed to repent of his sins I was actually furious. I thought the most evil thing imaginable had been done and now this man gets to repent! But let’s look at the parallels. That plant was God’s to give and God’s to take away, just like our own grace given to us by God. The message of Jonah four is to be a reflection on our own lives and ask, “Are you okay with serving a God that loves your enemies?” And if not? He loves them anyway. Considering we’re not always on God’s side doing what he asks of us, it might just be a good thing.
Are you okay with serving a God that loves your enemies?
What was God’s desire for Jonah? For Ninevah? What is God’s desire for you? For your enemies?
For the last three years I have been in the retail industry. Working with the public, you are exposed to a wide variety of people. Ever heard of people watching? That’s when you literally just observe people for fun, whether at a shop or restaurant, because the state of our society can be so entertaining. However, it can be disheartening to a Christian. The way people talk and conduct themselves, and especially the way people treat each other, is really hard to watch. Let’s look at today’s scripture.
In Amos 5 we are greeted by a funeral song. Now, music has always been a huge part of my life. From Frank Sinatra to Dr. Dre, my appreciation of music is quite eclectic. Imagine my joy when I hear the chapter I get to write about is Amos 5! It reads, “ ‘The virgin Israel has fallen, never to rise again! She lies abandoned on the ground, with no one to help her up.’ The Sovereign Lord says: ‘When a city sends a thousand men to battle, only a hundred will return. When a town sends a hundred, only ten will come back alive.’ ” This is a warning from the prophet Amos to the people of Israel to provide another chance before facing the judgment of God. The sin they needed to repent from in this case was idolatry, and the imagery of the men dying in battle was to foreshadow the eventual tool God had planned to use to remove this sin, an invasion at the hands of the Babylonian empire.
In verse 4 it reads, “Now this is what the Lord says to the family of Israel: ‘Come back to me and live!’ ” And that’s the amazing thing about the grace of God, is that’s all it takes. If the Israelites had simply put their false gods aside, they would have not (eventually) been punished.
Let’s pull it all together. You hear all the time from people that modern times are “so awful” and “that nothing like this has ever happened”. But that is plainly false! The sins of man have always been abhorrent, but “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent…” (Numbers 23:19, NASB 1995), that means that when God said “Come to me and live” he MEANT that and will ALWAYS mean that.
Read Amos 5 and list all the things God saw the Israelites doing that He was warning them against continuing. Also list what God wanted them to do instead. Which of these actions and attitudes do you see today in society? In God’s church? In yourself?
What warning do we need today?
What does it look like to Come Back to God? How will you Come Back to Him? How will you help another to Come Back to Him?
“I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1 ESV).
Not every letter written has the same intent. Some of the New Testament letters are written to address very clear and direct issues (I think of Paul addressing specific sexual immorality in 1st Corinthians 5). Sometimes they are multi-faceted – some specific – some more general teaching or correction. What Peter writes here makes another point – even if there is nothing specific that may need to be corrected, reminders are still valuable and necessary. When we aren’t reminded about things, we can lose track or lose sight of what is ahead of us… We can become passive, apathetic, or incredibly distracted. The tyranny of the urgent can cause us to put things on the backburner, and if you are like me, it can be hard to remember to pull them back to the front. Sometimes we just need to have our attention drawn to what we need to be doing in the present or near future (like when you think you are signing up to write devotions for October of 2023, but it’s really 2022). Much of what I view my role as in pastoral ministry is reminding people what scripture says – sometimes I address actual needs that I see in the body, but typically it is looking at a text, reminding my congregation of what it says, and then trying to highlight its significance in its historical context and how it is significant for us today.
In verse 3, Peter states that scoffers will come in the last days… I bet each one of us knows someone that would fit that description (maybe many people). You probably can’t turn on the tv, or radio, or fire up the old interwebs for very long without finding someone speaking out against or mocking a scriptural worldview. Why are they scoffing? Because a biblical worldview does not mesh with their sinful desires, and they must push back at it or try to discredit it in some way to justify their way of living (or to clear their conscience).
Peter points out that the promise of “this ‘coming'” (2 Peter 3:4) has been spoken about for a long time, but where is this promised day that things will begin to be set right through God’s anointed one? He says that they deliberately overlook in part that the world has existed for a long time, and that God has passed judgement before, but now God’s judgement is being stored up (and in the grand scheme of time, Jesus’ ascension isn’t that far back). Our conception of time is different than that of God and while sometimes we may wonder why this delay of the Parousia is happening, we must recognize this fact that Peter lays before us: God is not slow, but is merciful! God is not willing that any should perish, but he desires all to come to repentance (and he gives us so many opportunities to do so!). It would, however, be unwise to be cognizant of this fact and delay our repentance, because if we have placed that on the backburner, we might get distracted and forget to bring it back to the front. We don’t want to diminish the urgent need for repentance and reconciliation… If we are not paying attention to the things of God, we will be caught off guard, but if we are watching, we will be ready when he sends his son like a thief in the night and starts the restoration of the earth.
I’ll leave you with a few of the final verses or the chapter to reflect on.
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:14–18 ESV)
What reminders do you find in 2 Peter 3 that you needed to hear this week? What important things have you slid to the backburner that could use your attention today?
What does God’s patience, mercy and timing mean to you?
Having just sent out the 12 for the job he had trained and empowered them for, Jesus took a beach vacation. No, just kidding, that’s not what Matthew 11:1 says. Jesus hit the road, too, teaching and preaching in the towns of Galilee. He met up with a lot of different people along the way and he had different responses and directives for them based on who he was talking to or talking about. In a humble way he answered the questions the followers of John the Baptist asked about who Jesus was, saying look at the evidence. Consider what you see and hear. We would be wise to also follow this advice when examining who this Jesus was – and is – and will be. Jesus is known as being a man of love who spoke wisdom. And that is so true! Let’s consider what we see and hear from Jesus in this chapter to see what we can learn of him.
Jesus commends John the Baptist. It is obvious he knows John well, and thinks very highly of him and the job he has done, even comparing him to the Old Testament prophets. However, Jesus doesn’t hold John on such a high pedestal that no one else can reach him. In fact, he curiously states that, “He who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)
Jesus points out inconsistencies and short-comings in the understanding and actions of his generation. He pretty much calls them immature (like children). He calls them out for their critical, know-it-all spirit. They don’t like John the Baptist and his ministry. He is doing it wrong and they know better, he must have demons, the people said. Then Jesus comes along and they don’t like Jesus and his ministry, either. He is doing it differently, but still wrong and they know better, he must be, “A glutton, and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners”, the people said. (Matthew 11:19) When in fact, it wasn’t the current generation that knew what was going on at all. It was Jesus who saw clearly what they had completely missed, more than once.
Jesus continues with harsh (but righteous) judgment for those cities that saw his miracles and knew of his ministry but did not repent (change, turn from their sins to begin a new life). He said it will be worse for them than it will be for Sodom (which was totally destroyed), because if Sodom would have seen the miracles of Jesus they would have surely repented.
People love the “Come-to-me-I-will-give-you-rest” Jesus. That appeals to many in this tired generation. Today even the loved-the-sinners Jesus is quite popular. Perhaps we are more comfortable with sin now than those in Jesus’ time who couldn’t handle Jesus because he wanted to be with the sinners. Loving the sinners like Jesus loved is the hip modern thing to do, as long as the sinners (including me) aren’t required to actually repent and change, right? Or, perhaps it was Jesus’ love for them that made him want to be around sinners, so they could see and hear him in action, so they would see the need to change, so they would indeed repent, so they would be spared the judgment coming to the unrepentant.
As a whole it seems, we would rather dismiss the woe-to-you-unrepentant-people Jesus as a bit outdated and unpopular. But this Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He spoke different things to different people based upon their response to him and His Father. The love-the-sinners Jesus is indeed the same as the woe-to-the-unrepentant-cities Jesus. Jesus is love. Jesus is judgment. What will he say to me? That will depend on how I will respond to him?
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What words might Jesus have for your generation? For you? What might he see (and say) clearly that others have not?
Is there an area of your life that is in need of repentance – changing/starting over, giving up the old sins, in exchange for a new life? What’s your motivation? How will you start? Who can help? What would Jesus say?
What are your feelings as you read through this chapter? Any verses you are confused about? What do you think God’s purpose was for including each section in this chapter?
The prophecies foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament continue in chapter 3, but this time in regards to a man known as John the Baptist. Isaiah prophesied that there would be, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:3, and original thought in Isaiah 40:3). This John is a relative of Jesus, born to Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth. See Luke 1 for more on his family and the events surrounding his own miraculous birth about 6 months before the birth of Jesus. Even as a pre-born baby in his mother’s previously barren and aging womb John reacted with joy at Mary’s greeting when she came to tell Elizabeth about her encounter with the angel Gabriel and the child she would carry. These young men, Jesus and John, have quite a connection. They go way back – not just to their days in utero, but going back 700 years to Isaiah’s prophecy.
John had a job to do. A job that had been waiting for him for 700 years – prepare the way for the Lord. He was the opening act. His job was to prepare the audience. Pump them up. Get the crowd ready to listen to and appreciate and adore the one who would come after him, the one who is greater than he is, the one who is the main act, the show stopper. He got to introduce the crowd to the one who could be their Savior.
John definitely had a way of getting people’s attention. But not in a flashy way at all. I don’t think he would be found in the mega church today. He was the preacher out in the desert. The one wearing weird, worn and outdated clothing and also known for his curious all-natural diet. He wasn’t about gaining popularity points or fitting in. He knew it wasn’t about him. It was about Jesus. And he had a job to do.
His message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). With Jesus’ earthly ministry now ready to start, it was time to make changes. They were closer to God’s kingdom now than they ever had been before. A kingdom needs a king and they were about to get their first look at the king chosen by God to rule His kingdom. But were they ready? No.
Repent of your sins, turn your life around. Stop using your religion as a show to look better than others. Stop relying on your impressive family tree for salvation. Repent of your sins, turn your life around. Start producing good fruit that shows you have changed. Start preparations for the coming judgment day. It’s closer than you think. Repent of your sins, turn your life around. For the Kingdom of heaven and the judgment day that comes with it is closer than you think. Let me introduce you to God’s chosen king – His Son Jesus!
Questions for reflection and discussion
Repentance is not just feeling sorry or regret for doing wrong, but also a commitment and action for change, turning from your sins to do right. In what ways have you sinned and need to repent? What will it look like to turn in the opposite direction and do right? What good fruit is God wanting to see in your life?
Jesus, even though sinless, was baptized by John to set an example for believers. Baptism is a physical act to show your need for repentance and your acceptance of a Savior. Have you been baptized? If so, what does it mean to you? If not, do you have questions about baptism you would like to discuss with a spiritual mentor or pastor?
What was seen and heard at the end of Jesus’ baptism? What do you think Jesus was feeling or thinking at this moment? What do you think God was feeling or thinking at this moment? How do you feel, what do you think, as you envision this scene?
Who has been a John the Baptist for you – someone who helped point the way and introduce you to Jesus? If you know Jesus now, who will you introduce to Jesus?
Yesterday, we saw Jonah’s reluctance to God’s call for his life. Actually, “active rebellion” against God’s call is more accurate! However, we saw Jonah pray to God during his time in the belly of the great fish. We were left asking the question, “Will Jonah finally answer the call to proclaim God’s message?”
He does. In 3:1, the word of the LORD comes a second time to Jonah. In 3:3, “Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh.” As the story goes, which so many of us learned in our childhood Sunday school, Jonah preaches that Nineveh will be destroyed, and so the Ninevites repented. And our happy ending occurs in 3:10: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
But wait. There’s more.
Why was Jonah SO reluctant to preach to Nineveh? Why did he run in the opposite direction to avoid God’s call on his life? Why did it take a great storm, being thrown overboard, and three days in the belly of a fish to learn his lesson? And why did Jonah scoff at the mercy of God in 4:1?
The truth is, we will never be able to see Nineveh or Assyria in the same way Jonah did. We didn’t grow up witnessing the brutality and evil that Assyria committed with every passing year, and we will never experience the same wars and terrible things that it did to Israel. But Jonah was very close to the evil that Nineveh did. In fact, Jonah had some really good reasons to really, really dislike Nineveh. Jonah didn’t want to see God’s mercy extended to his enemies. He actually wants to see the destruction of a city with 120 thousand people because he dislikes them so much! In fact, he camps out at the edge of the city hoping that their repentance doesn’t last.
And so God decides to teach Jonah a lesson. He grows a plant that gives shade and comfort to Jonah, and then kills it. Jonah reacts with anger once again. And finally God teaches Jonah the lesson he needed all along: Nineveh is like the plant in this story. God grew it and has concern for it (see 4:11). But on the other hand, he scolds Jonah for caring about a plant he never grew in the first place. In other words, just like the plant, Jonah has no right to be angry about a people that are actually God’s business all along.
So what do we learn here? There are a lot of lessons that come out of Jonah: God’s ways are far higher than our ways. His sense of justice and mercy will sometimes be at odds with our understanding of justice and mercy. We are challenged to lay down our prejudice and serve others in the name of God. And when God calls you to Nineveh, don’t run away– just go!
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!
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.