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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Drink from His River of Delights



Drink from His River of Delights
 
Jesus Christ is our joy – a boundless source of joy.   Joy is just one of the many gifts He gives us when we come to Him.  (Galatians 5:22) The Bible calls us to enjoy our rich relationship with our Lord.  To find rest and refuge in the shadow of His wings. To feast on His abundance and drink from His River of Delights.  Scripture says: “How priceless is your unfailing love!  Both rich and poor people find refuge in the shadow of your wings.  They feast on the abundance of your house, and drink from your river of delights.”  (Psalm 36:7-8)
 
You may ask that since Christ has given you this abundant gift of Joy, then why are you feeling so worried and depressed?  Scripture says that this joy in Him is yours to take, but you must take it.  Seek after it.  Over and over again Scripture reminds us: “Then when you seek Me, inquire for Me, and want Me, you will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”  (Jeremiah 29:13) The Bible promises that if we will seek Him, we will find Him.  (Matthew 7:7) And, finding Him is pure joy!   
 
There is joy in believing in Christ. Joy in finding refuge in the shadow of His wings;  joy in obeying Him;  in belonging to Him:  in following His Word.  Talking to Him and listening for His voice. We find joy in our relationship with our Savior and Lord.  And Scripture tells us that we give Him joy when we give ourselves to Him.  He says: “I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of My Hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16) 
 
Jesus calls us to “walk in the light of His Presence.”  This delightful way to walk and live involves trusting and obeying and rejoicing in His Name and exulting in His righteousness.  We can rejoice in His Name because of His unfailing love for us.  And we can exult in His righteousness because He has shared His righteousness with us!  Scripture says: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”  (Philippians 4:4)  
 
 Jesus calls us to walk in the light of His Presence.  Scripture says: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”  (1 John 1;7) Christ has given us His light and called us to share it with others.  Scripture says: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)  
 
We can become very depressed and frightened by the sorrows and evils of this world.  The darkness of this world can be so heavy that we forget that Jesus is the Light of the world. We forget His amazing promise to us that anything we ask in prayer believing, He will give us, if it is in His Will.  (Matthew 11:23-25, John 16:23-27) We forget that in Him our prayers are powerful.  We need to remember that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:1:13) Scripture says: “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5) There is joy in standing on the believers’ many promises in Scripture. 
 
 Because we know Christ as Savior, we have the source of Light that overcomes the darkness.  Scripture says: “Those who look to Him are radiant: their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:5) Also: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  (2 Corinthians 3:18)   We need to take time to bask in His Love-Light and soak in His radiance.  Then we can radiate His Love to those around us.
 
The heavenly Father calls all of His children to enjoy Him.  To walk His joyful path of simply trusting and obeying. To drink from His River of Delights.  Psalm 100 is one of many Psalms and passages that calls us to be joyful in Him.  Here it is: 
Psalm 100
 
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
Worship the Lord with gladness:
Come before His Presence with joyful singing,
 Know that the Lord is God,
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves,
We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His Name.
For the Lord is good, His love endures forever,


And His faithfulness continues through all generations.
   
 
 
 
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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Jeremiah, the Wailing Prophet



Jeremiah, the Wailing Prophet
 
The year was approximately 626 B.C. and the Jewish people in Judah had become so corrupt that unless they turned from their evil ways, God would bring an end to their nation. God called Jeremiah to be His messenger or prophet during this difficult time.  Jeremiah would deliver God’s messages to the Jewish people begging them to return to God and warning the people of God’s severe punishment if they didn’t.
 
Jeremiah was not popular with this rebellious Jewish generation.  They tried to kill him and did not want to hear what he had to say.  They had turned away from worshipping the God of their fathers and they had hardened their hearts against God.  So, they took out their anger on Jeremiah as he traveled from town to town crying and begging his fellow Jews to come back to their God before it would be too late.
 
Jeremiah said that God’s message was like a burning fire inside his body and he couldn’t keep it in.  (Jeremiah 20:9)   He was called “the wailing prophet” because he spent sixty years traveling from town to town crying, begging and wailing as he cried out God’s message to the stubborn people of Judah.    
 
God tells the Jewish people what they have done wrong. Jeremiah delivers His message: “Everyone is given to covetousness:  from the prophet even to the priest.  Everyone deals falsely, for they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’  When there is no peace. (Jeremiah 8:10a-11) Bible scholars say that the religious leaders superficially tended to the wounds of the people.  They told the people not to be concerned about their sinful lifestyle when they should have been telling them to be concerned and to come back to their God.
 
God goes on recounting the many sins of His people through His prophet, Jeremiah.  “For they are all adulterers.  And an assembly of treacherous people.  Like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies.  They are not valiant for the truth on the earth.  For they proceed from evil to evil.  And ‘they do not know Me’, says the Lord.  Everyone needs to watch out for his neighbor, and do not trust any brother:  for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbor will walk with slanderers.  Everyone will deceive his neighbor and will not speak the truth. “ (Jeremiah 9:2b-5)  The Jewish people’s many sins have caused a breakdown of families and personal relationships.  God begs them to return to Him.
God is crying out for His people: “They have walked according to the dictates of their own hearts and after the Baal gods…”  Therefore, says the Lord God of Israel: …” I will scatter them also among the Gentiles whom neither they nor their fathers have known…”  (Jeremiah 9:14 and Jeremiah 15a-16) The people of Judah were burning or sacrificing their little children to the heathen god, Baal.  It seems that when gross sins are allowed to flourish in a country, it is the little children that suffer the most! 
 
God, the Father, continues grieving for His lost children, the people of Judah.  “Woe is Me for My hurt!  My wound is severe.  Truly this is an illness that I must bear.  My tent is plundered, and all my cords are broken.  My children have all gone away from Me.  And they are no more.”    (Jeremiah 10:19-20) The deeply distraught heavenly Father has lost everything. 
 
God, the Father continues spilling out His deep grief over His lost children.  How He misses them and the fellowship they had.  How He longs for their return to Him. Is their any grief worse than the grief of a parent who has lost a child?
 
God, the Father, cries out in His overwhelming sorrow that He must punish His beloved children.  A desperate Father who must use tough love as a last resort!  Tough love, because real love is always forgiving but also always just.  With a breaking heart the heavenly Father calls His lost children “the dearly beloved of My soul”.  But then He compares His beloved children to a lion in the forest coming out against Him.  And, He compares them to a vulture. 
 
Have human parents ever felt like their beloved children are attacking them as a lion in the forest attacks its’ prey?  Have human mothers and fathers ever felt like their precious child – their dearly beloved - has become like a vulture to them – waiting to pick them over when they die?
 
 God, the Father cries out through His messenger Jeremiah: “I have forsaken My house; I have left My heritage:  I have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies.  My heritage (My children) is to Me like a lion, in the forest.  It cries out against Me:  Therefore, I have hated it.  My heritage is to Me like a speckled vulture:” (Jeremiah 12:7-9a)    
 
His heritage, (His children) were also compared to a pleasant vineyard that has now become a desolate wilderness because no one follows the Lord.  Scripture says: “The whole land is made desolate, because no one takes it to heart.”  (Jeremiah 12:11b) The heavenly Father had had so much joy with His children. Israel was symbolized as a holy people, “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6) They had enjoyed an intimate relationship with God as His covenant people.   But now a rebellious generation has thrown it all away.
 
All of the Bible teaches us that God is a God of love but also a God of justice.  Love and justice cannot be separated. A God of forgiveness when we repent and a God of judgment when we don’t.  And some Christians have a difficult time with that.  They try to make God into what they want instead of who He is in our Bible.
 
A parent who loves her child is a parent who steps in and corrects or disciplines the child when the child does something wrong.  A good parent loves their child too much to let him grow into a selfish hateful person.  And our Father God loves us too much to let us remain in our sin.  He calls us to Himself, to follow His laws, to accept His Son as our Savior and to trust His goodness. 
 
The book of Jeremiah was written approximately 2,600 years ago.  But we can learn from Jeremiah that our heavenly Father was broken hearted when His people turned away from Him so long ago. And He finally had to punish them.  God, our Father is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and He is heartbroken today when we turn away from Him just as He was back then.   
 


 Over and over God warned the Jewish people what they were doing was wrong.  He said: “Each one of you follows the dictates of your own heart so that no one listens to Me.”  (Jeremiah 16:12b) They “followed their own heart” or did their own thing back then.  And we can “follow our own heart” now and do our own thing.  It is only too easy to do whatever we want to do or what is popular to do, even when we know that God has called what we are doing wrong.  God gives us laws to follow. He will put His law in our hearts, and He forgives us when we go astray.  But we have to want to follow Him.       
 
 



 



 
 



 


 


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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Jeremiah


Jeremiah
 
Jeremiah was just a youth when God called him to be a prophet and carry messages from God to the Jewish people in Judah begging them to return to Him.  Also, he brought God’s severe warnings of doom and gloom if they continued in their sin. The year was approximately 626 B.C. and Judah had become so corrupt that God would bring an end to their nation.  Jeremiah became God’s prophet to the Jewish people during that difficult time.  And Jeremiah cried out that God’s message was like a burning fire inside his body and he couldn’t keep it in. (Jeremiah: 20:9)
 
Jeremiah was not popular with this rebellious Jewish generation.  They did not want to hear what he had to tell them.  They had turned away from worshipping the God of their fathers and they had hardened their hearts against God.  So, they took out their anger on Jeremiah as he traveled from town to town begging his people to change their evil ways.
 
 False prophets claiming to be from Baal were also traveling from town to town, telling the people what they wanted to hear. And the Jewish people listened to them. The false prophets were telling the people that it was good that they were worshipping idols and burning and sacrificing their little children to heathen gods. It was good that they were ignoring the poor and living sexually immoral lives. The whole world was doing these things and they were just doing what was smart and popular. The false prophets assured the people that there would be no judgment or punishment from God.     
 
Jeremiah was commanded by God not to marry or have children, because the next Jewish generation would die or be carried off into slavery. God’s punishment would fall on the Jewish people when they refused to turn from their sins.  (Jeremiah 16:2) Jeremiah suffered a great deal to be God’s prophet. In this spiritual battle it was God that the Jewish people were fighting and not Jeremiah. Scripture says that we will suffer persecution if we do God’s work. (2 Timothy 3:12)    
 
Year after year Jeremiah was mocked and persecuted as he went about giving God’s warnings to his people – a people who refused to listen.   All alone, for sixty long years, Jeremiah went about his difficult job of prophesying. Begging, crying and warning Judah to come back to God or destruction would follow.  Sixty long years of being laughed at and rejected! 
 
Here are some of the messages God gave to Judah through Jeremiah, His prophet or messenger:  God told the Jewish people that He (God)  was the Fountain of  Living Water and that they had forsaken the Living Water for broken cisterns that can hold no water.  (Jeremiah 2:11-13)
 
Another message God gave the Jewish people in Judah through Jeremiah was this:  God compares Israel to a harlot that is shameless.  “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done?  She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot.” (Jeremiah 3:6b)  (The high mountains and the green trees are where heathen nations sacrificed to their idol gods)   God continues His message:  “Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.” (Jeremiah 3:8)
 
Earlier, the ten tribes of Israel had forsaken God for a long period of time. Finally, they were attacked by the Persians and carried off into captivity, losing their Promised Land and their good life.  Now only two tribes are left and that is Judah. Jeremiah is telling Judah that this will happen to them if they continue rejecting God and sacrificing to all the heathen gods.
 
Another of God’s messages to Judah was this: “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem:  See now and know.  And seek in her open places.  If you can find one man, If there is anyone who executes judgment or anyone who seeks the truth. Then I will pardon her (Jerusalem).”  (Jeremiah 5:1) God is saying that if He could find just one person in all of Jerusalem who tried to follow Him that He would save Jerusalem from punishment. Are we learning here that just one person who trusts in God can make a big difference?  Scripture says: “The prayers of a righteous person avails much” (James 5:16)
 
 Bible scholars believe that this story in Jeremiah 5:1 was used to illustrate the wickedness of the city of Jerusalem.  If just one man in the whole city seeks the truth, then God will pardon the city! It seems that God wanted so badly to save the Jewish people from punishment that if just one person in the city of Jerusalem followed God, Jerusalem would have been saved.  Likewise, when Abraham prayed that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah be saved if there were just ten good people living there, the Lord answered him this way: “I will not destroy them for the sake of ten people.” (Genesis 18:32b) Unfortunately God could not find ten good people in Sodom and Gomorrah and those ancient wicked cities were destroyed!
 
 
Another message Jeremiah was called to deliver to the Jewish people was a message telling them that they should not trust in the temple to save them.  Even though the Jewish people worshipped other gods in 626 B.C., they still believed that God’s temple would save them from disaster!  Solomon’s magnificent temple was in Jerusalem and many of the Jews believed that, like a good luck charm, the temple would save them!
 
 God’s Spirit had been in that temple when their forefathers had worshipped there, but His Spirit had departed since the people had rebelled. So, in 626 B.C. their priests and religious leaders liked to dress up and play like they were godly, but they refused to really follow God. They wanted God’s blessings without worshipping Him in their hearts and lives.  And it doesn’t work that way.
 
 God speaks to the people through Jeremiah: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know.  And then come and stand before Me in this temple which is called by My name and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’?” (Jeremiah 7:9-11)
 
 The Jews in 586 B.C. were proud of their sins and brought them into God’s temple before His altar! God felt that they had polluted His house. God continues: “They have set their abominations in the house (the temple) which is called by My Name to pollute it.” (Jeremiah 7:30b) God tells His people that their sacrifices are worthless without their faith in Him and without their obedience.  (Jeremiah 7:21-23) 
 
Next week we will study more of the many messages God gave to His wayward people so long ago. Hopefully we can learn from the mistakes that that rebellious Jewish generation made back then and not repeat them.       
 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Lamentations


Lamentations
 
Lamentations is one of the Old Testament books in our Bible.  The word “lamentations” means something like “alas”.  A “lament” is a cry of grief and sorrow. The whole book of Lamentations is about grief and sorrow, loss, weeping, prayers and suffering of the Jewish people during one of their darkest hours. The author, Jeremiah, is writing Lamentations as a cry and a prayer to God.
 
Laments, or cries of grief, were usually composed as poetry in the ancient world.  When Lamentations was written, the Jewish people had lost everything and were in a hopeless position.  Everything in their lives had been taken away or destroyed.
 
 Lamentations features six major themes.  1) Their suffering was the result of their sin. (Lamentations 1:5; 2:14; 3:42; 4:13;5:16) Their suffering was seen as coming from God rather than from the cruel Babylonians.   (Lamentations 1:13 and 15, 2:1,4: 3:1,37,38)      3.) Their suffering could direct them toward God.   4.) Suffering, tears, and prayers belong together. 5.) Prayer should always look for some ray of hope. (Lamentations 3:31,32, 3:21-24, 3:58-66)   And 6.) Their responsibility was to submit to their sufferings patiently and wait for God.   
 
Lamentations was written around 587 B.C. – the year the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came against Jerusalem. (2 Kings 24:20) While the Babylonian soldiers surrounded Jerusalem, the Jewish people trapped inside were starving.  When the soldiers finally breached the city walls, they destroyed most of the city, killing many of the people with their swords.  They burned the temple and stole all the valuables – and we believe even the Ark of the Covenant. After Jerusalem was sacked and burned, the Babylonian soldiers carried all but the poorest people away into exile to be their slaves in Babylon. (2 Kings 25:8-12) 
 
The Jewish people had always known that they were God’s chosen people. They felt that they would always experience good things because God would always bless them. God had made covenants or promises with them, but God promised to bless them IF they would follow Him. God also promised to punish them IF they turned their backs on Him and His laws and worshipped other gods.  The poems in Lamentations are especially heartrending when the Jewish people contrast the former blessings and strengths God had given them with the chaos and suffering their sin had brought upon them now.
 
 In 587 B.C. all their heathen neighbors (the whole ancient world) was worshiping and sacrificing to other gods.  It was always a temptation for the ancient Jewish people to want to do what the rest of the world was doing. The rest of the world created impressive idol gods for themselves.  They could bring animals and sometimes their own little children to be slaughtered and sacrificed to these idol gods. Often temple priests and prostitutes danced around the altar fires as the heathen worshipers would come to make their sacrifices before the demon gods, drink and have sex with the temple prostitutes.
 
 If a farmer was having a bad year and his crops were not producing, he could always visit the nearest temple or altar on the hill, have a little fun and make a sacrifice to one of the statue gods. Also, there were smaller handmade gods he could buy and take home as lucky charms.  Idol worship was a money- making business. Next year his crops would produce. The whole ancient world sacrificed to idols except for the nation of Israel!  God had forbidden them to worship idols or anything else except Himself.
 
 People in the heathen nations would tell the Jewish people how much they were missing out by not worshipping idol gods. They would brag about how much their gods were helping their crops to grow.  And how their fertility gods were helping them get pregnant when they had problems.  The Jewish people could see that their neighbors made their idol gods do whatever they wanted. They proudly offered their sacrifices and like magic their idol gods brought them luck for whatever they wanted to do, good or bad.  Or so they said. Worshipping idols gave the ancient heathen people more freedom and control over their lives! They could run their own lives and proudly do their own thing!  Isn’t that what life is all about?       
 
 But the nation of Israel was different.  The Jewish people could not see their God or make Him into whatever they wanted the way their heathen neighbors did with their gods.  God had given the Jewish people laws to live by and they were not free to do whatever they wanted to do.  Instead of them controlling their gods, the God of Israel called His people to give Him control of their lives.  To humble themselves before Him and let Him lead them.  To trust Him and He would provide for them and bless them.
 
Scripture tells us that the Jewish people in 587 B.C. had turned away from the God of their fathers, and many were worshipping idol gods. Many Jewish people did not want to let God lead them any longer. They wanted to do their own thing.  Be independent. For many years, God sent prophets calling them to return to Him, but they killed God’s prophets and refused to listen.  They brought in false prophets and Scripture says that their religious leaders were corrupt and led the Jewish people away from God.  God sent this punishment on Jerusalem partly because of the actions of their religious leaders.  Lamentations 4:13 says they were punished: “Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in her midst, the blood of the just.”
 
Scripture also mentions the sins of “the daughter of my people” as one of the many reasons why God’s punishment had come upon Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Lamentations 4:6 reads: “The punishment of the sins of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom.”   What were these Jewish women doing that was worse than the sin of Sodom?  Lamentations 4:3 continues: “Even the jackals present their breasts to nurse their young, but the daughter of my people is cruel.  Like ostriches in the wilderness. The tongue of the infant clings to the roof of its mouth for thirst.  The young children ask for bread, but no one breaks it for them.”   
 
God brought the Jewish people back from their captivity in Babylon seventy years later and they rebuilt their beloved city, Jerusalem.  With God’s guidance they rebuilt the walls and the temple and new homes.  The destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and the lessons God taught His people were so significant that the Jewish people started reading the book of Lamentations once a year in a special service.  They do not want that painful experience ever to be forgotten. 
 
This book of Lamentations has a great deal to say to us today. We wonder if God punishes His people for their sins today like He did back then?  We believe that Christ’s death for us and His resurrection have redeemed us.  We do not bear retributive punishment for any sin we commit, since Christ has suffered in our place.  We are living under a different covenant than did the Jews of 587 B.C.  They lived under the Law and because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we now live under Grace. However, we do suffer the consequences of past sins. Of course, not all suffering is the result of God’s discipline.  Satan can also bring suffering on us.  (Job 2:7, Luke 13:16) But, the suffering he brings is destructive rather than restorative. 
 


The book of Lamentations shows how weak people are under the Law, and how unable they are to serve God in their own strength.  This drives them to Christ. (Romans 8:3) Even in these poems, glimpses of Christ shine through.  He is our hope.  (Lamentations 3:21, 24,29) He is the manifestation of God’s mercy and compassion. (Lamentations 3:22,23,32) Christ is our redemption and our salvation. (Lamentations 3:58,59)