Two Great Poems Contrasted

September 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love | Leave a comment

Psalm 132 and Lamentations.  I read these two portions of scripture together the other day, and what a contrast they present!  Psalm 132 is a “Psalm of Ascent.” one of those fifteen short psalms following 119 that were presumably sung as pilgrims made their way up the fifteen steps to the temple for worship.  On the thirteenth step, as they neared the top, they would sing the longest of these songs and be reminded that the temple was built in Jerusalem because of David’s influence, vision and leadership (1-5).  They would also be reminded that God promised a Davidic king to sit on the throne forever, as long as his descendants kept the requirements of God’s covenant (10-12).

          Four hundred years after David, there was no more temple and no Davidic king, for Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had come in and destroyed it all.  The book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s cry and prayer over the destroyed city of Jerusalem.  In this great poem, Jeremiah not only laments the loss of God’s temple and his own home, he also recognizes God’s hand in the matter because of Israel’s sin.  They no longer kept God’s covenant, and God allowed, actually brought upon them, the destruction Jeremiah witnessed, just as he’d prophesied through Jeremiah he’d do.  The reminders of Psalm 132 were forgotten or ignored.

          The good news in all this is that, even through the destruction, Jeremiah recognizes God’s love and faithfulness.  The high point of Lamentations is in these famous words:  “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.  The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!” (3:21-23).  Looking back 2600 years later, we can see that God was faithful to his promise.  He has placed on David’s throne one of his descendants, Jesus, who is the king of kings, and he will reign forever.  The ultimate expression of God’s love and faithfulness is that he has not forgotten his people but has he sent his Son, through David’s line, to be their eternal King and to save them from the ultimate destruction they deserve for not keeping God’s covenant.  And so we can sing with the pilgrims on the steps, “Let us go into His dwelling place; let us worship at His footstool.  Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let Your godly ones sing for joy.” (8, 10)

We Will Sacrifice to the Queen of Heaven

September 27, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching | Leave a comment

Jeremiah 44.  This old passage sounds much like today, people listening to what their itching ears want to hear.  Jeremiah had predicted that King Jehoiachin would be carried off as a captive; he had predicted that Babylon would surround the city of Jerusalem; he had predicted that King Zedekiah would be captured; he had predicted that the city would be destroyed.  Everything he predicted came true, yet many refused to believe him.  After the destruction of Jerusalem, some of the remaining people thought it might be wise to take refuge in Egypt.  They came and asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord about the matter.  They promised to do whatever Jeremiah said was God’s word for them.  “Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God.” (42:1-6) After praying for ten days, Jeremiah returned to them with God’s answer:  Stay in this land and God will bless you here (42:10-12); don’t go to Egypt or you will die there (42:13-22).  The people refused to believe God’s word through Jeremiah.  They went to Egypt anyway and took Jeremiah and Baruch with them as captives (43:1-7), then they sacrificed to the gods of the Egyptians (44:7-10).  So God again spoke through Jeremiah, telling of the coming destruction of Egypt by Babylon (43:8-13) and of the destruction of those who took refuge there (44:1-14).

          The response of the men to this prophecy is interesting.  “We will not listen to you; instead we will sacrifice to the queen of heaven.”  The reason is that when they sacrificed to the Egyptian goddess, so they thought, they had plenty, but “since we stopped,” they added, “we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and famine.” (44:16-19).  Isn’t that just like people today?  With a total disregard for truth, they follow whatever seems to make them prosper.

George Muller

September 23, 2010 at 8:24 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

          We’ve been reading together as a family the biography, George Muller: Man of Faith and Miracles, by Basil Miller.  Though this is on my list of most influential books, and I love the story of this man who trusted God for some amazing things, this time through I’ve been disappointed.  The biggest disappointment is in the presentation the author makes of the post-conversion George Muller.  Until the very late chapters, when some of his trials and temptations are reviewed, it’s as though Muller never sinned again after coming to Christ.

          The author begins his biography with this sentence: “George Muller is literally ‘the man God made.’”  That is a great start, and maybe in light of it we should read God’s workings into all he says, but too often he seems to give Muller the credit for what God was doing.  He uses titles like “our hero,” “apostle of faith,” “disciple of faith” and “servant of God” all too often.  But worse than that are the scattered sentences like, “All of these gifts, it must be remembered, were wrestled from the hand of God through Mr. Muller’s prayers.”  And later, “All of this was brought in through prayer alone.”  Then “During the next three years Mr. Muller literally fed the orphans out of God’s hand.”  Notice that the active agent of those sentences is George Muller.  My wife commented that Mr. Muller would not like his own biography, because it’s too much about him and not enough about God. 

          I haven’t read the book since college, and it had such a positive impact on me then, that this disappointment may be just a letdown from high expectations.  Even while typing this blog, it doesn’t seem half as bad as when we read it.  However, all three of us felt the same way.  My daughter’s disappointment could be from high expectations we gave her before reading it.

          There are, however, many great lessons in this book and many things said well.  It is still worth your time to read, if you don’t know George Muller’s story.  So let’s end on a couple of positive quotes: 

After learning the lesson of being busy in the work of the Lord, too busy in fact to pray, he told his brethren that four hours of work after an hour of prayer would accomplish more than five hours without prayer.

During the latter years of his life, he read the Bible through four times yearly.  . . .  He was a greater lover of the Bible at ninety than at thirty.  It grew upon him with age.   In it he found his supreme pleasure, and daily he waited upon the Lord as the Word spoke to him.

I only hope those last three sentences can be true in my life.

Do Hard Things

September 15, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

          I just finished a great little book by Alex and Brett Harris called Do Hard Things.  My wife had read this, and we put it on our daughter’s required reading list for the summer.  I finally got my turn at it in September.  These twin brothers subtitled their book “A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations,” and they are encouraging young people to live above the level of normal expectations for today’s teens.  Showing the history of  the “teenager” or “adolescent” idea in culture, they demonstrate how teens of generations past were expected to live like adults, indeed were considered adults, and how they lived up to those expectations.

         Alex and Brett list five kinds of hard things that young people should do, with plenty of stories about teenagers who’ve been successful at each kind of hard thing.  They include going out of your comfort zone, going beyond what’s expected, and doing things that don’t get an immediate payoff.   The book is easy to read; challenging, in a positive way; and full of great illustrations that both prove their point and keep the book interesting.

          I was personally challenged by these young authors, even though I’m way past my teen years, about how often I live up to the minimum expectations for me and rarely do hard things.  This book is a must read for anyone under 25 years old, but people of every age can appreciate it.  If you have children, get this book; first for yourself and then for your kids.

Alex and Brett Harris have a very popular web site and blog.

A Serious Case of Writer’s Cramp

September 11, 2010 at 9:32 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

Jeremiah 36, 45  Though there are 8 chapters in between these two, they belong together, as they tell different parts of the same story.  In chapter 36, God tells Jeremiah to write all the words he’s spoken to him on a scroll.  Jeremiah calls his buddy, Baruch the scribe, to help him.  Jeremiah dictated and Baruch wrote.  That was a lot of writing, considering he did it with a quill and ink well on leather parchment.  This scroll probably consisted of chapters 1-20 and 25-26 of our modern book; much of the rest was written after this event.  I call that a major case of writer’s cramp.  Then Baruch was instructed to read the words of the scroll he’d written to the people of Jerusalem during a large festival.  When the king got word of what was being read, God’s promises to destroy the nation, he confiscated the scroll, cut it into pieces, and burned it in the fire.  So God appeared to Jeremiah and told him to write the entire thing again, plus a few added chapters!  So “Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the son of Neriah, the scribe, and he wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire; and many similar words were added to them.” (v32)  For Baruch, it was writer’s cramp times two!

In chapter 45 God speaks to Baruch about the incident; this message falls chronologically between the two scroll writings: “You said, ‘Ah, woe is me!  For the LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am weary with my groaning and have found no rest.’” (v2)  I wonder if he was expressing his pain over the destruction God had prophesied or over how he felt writing it all down, but it sounds like the latter!  That was a very self-focused attitude.  God assures Baruch that he will bring about the destruction he promised, then gives him this personal message:  “’Are you seeking great things for yourself?  Do not seek them; for behold, I am going to bring disaster on all flesh,’ declares the LORD.” (v5)  God was doing his sovereign work; Baruch’s concern must be faithfulness to the task God gave him, not greatness in the eyes of men.  Baruch heeded the words and faithfully completed the second scroll.  May we stop pursuing human greatness and simply do what God has assigned us to do.

Starving for God’s Word

September 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | 1 Comment

I have been spending some time in Jeremiah lately.  Here are five observations from the first ten chapters of that book.  Only a few quotes on each point can be used here without making this post way too long, but these thoughts run through the entire section.

First, the people of Jeremiah’s day didn’t know God. “For My people are foolish, they know Me not; they are stupid children and have no understanding.” (4:22)  “”Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.” (8:7)

Second, they believed lies instead of the truth about God.  “’Lies and not truth prevail in the land.  For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me, . . .  Everyone deceives his neighbor and does not speak the truth, they have taught their tongue to speak lies. . . .  Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know Me,’ declares the LORD.” (9:2-6)

 Third, the priests, prophets, scribes and Levites are at fault in this matter.  “The prophets are as wind, and the word is not in them.” (5:13)  “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!” (5:31)

 Fourth, the people must know God.  “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.” (9:23f)

Finally, they must have God’s Word so they can know God.  This final thought is what prompted this post.  I am astonished at how often God mentions his own word in Jeremiah.  I have highlighted every reference to God’s word, including every time Jeremiah says, “the word of the LORD came to me” and other such phrases, and the times God reminds Jeremiah, “declares the LORD,”  That last phrase is in the first 10 chapters 40 times and in the book over 160 times!  There is not a column in the book so far (I’m now up to chapter 18) without some highlighting in it.  The climax of this thought in the early parts of the book comes in the first few verses of chapter 11, “The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, ‘Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and say to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Cursed is the man who does not heed the words of this covenant which I commanded your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, “Listen to My voice, and do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God,”’”’”  That’s a lot of quotation marks!  But the point is clear, God want us to know it is his word that is proclaimed and his word that we need.

The same is true today.  People in our culture are starving for God’s Word.  Jeremiah was set aside before birth to be a spokesman of God’s words.  I believe that’s true of me also.  My commitment as a preaching pastor must be to always teach the Word of God and never resort to political rhetoric or current events, except that they illustrate, or are a direct application of, study in the Word.  Your commitment as a lay person must be to sit under a pastor who teaches only God’s Word.  Let’s get away from a political and social agenda and back to the Word of God.

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