A Double Evil

Jeremiah 2:12-13

Be appalled at this, heavens; be shocked and utterly desolated! This is the Lord’s declaration. For my people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves—cracked cisterns that cannot hold water (CSB).

God’s story takes in all aspects of human experience. A novice to the truth might anticipate that it would only speak of joy and glory. Yes, it ends in the fullness of both glory and joy. However, along the way, as the Lord of glory interacts with people, he feels our sorrows, our ugliness, our ruin. The Forever Blessed One calls us to feel the disgust caused by people’s rejection of his joy and glory. The verbs are meant to shake us out of our complacency: Be appalled… be shocked… utterly desolated. Why such horror? It is because the visible people of God had committed the evil exchange, that lies at the core of fallen humanity (cf. Romans 1:18-23). What is this evil? It is the exchange of the all-glorious God for worthless idols.

The Father calls this a double evil. First, people abandon God. Abandonment of others is very much a part of this world. One day there is love, joy, peace, acceptance, and friendship. The next is the awfulness of rejection, the benefits of friendship gone. You may weep if you have been abandoned by family or friends.  Watching his people walk away is intensified because the Lord fully understands what they are walking away from—the fountain of living water. Fresh water is necessary for life, but people want the dust of death. Second, people make substitutes for God, but the substitutes are defective. Instead of the fountain, they want cisterns, and they’re cracked, unusable cisterns at that! If you have ever seen someone trade a loving family for some ruinous pleasure, you know the tearful outrage that this brings to one’s heart. God spoke through Jeremiah to call them back from this senseless, double evil.

This word is not simply for Israel 2600 years ago. It is for us. The temptation to commit this double evil surrounds us, and because of remaining sin, it can stir within us. Our Father in heaven calls us to a joyous walk in the light with him. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Read his word, think on it, talk to your God, and share your life with him. Give thanks for the blessings of his grace; dare to ask for more grace.

Do not abandon God on Monday or any other day, because it is gray and rainy, because other people are making your life miserable, or because you feel lonely and dejected. Do not make substitute pleasures out of the gods or goddesses of money, power, popularity, and pleasure. Learn anew where true pleasure is found, in the fountain of living water. Refresh your heart in the Lord today.

Grace and peace, David

Up to This Point (Part One)

img_0105-21 Samuel 7:2-13

Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord (7:2 NIV).

Back in the days when we lived where there was sufficient snow cover, Sharon and I would ski, cross-country style. One place we skied was in the Charleston State Forest, which had twenty some miles of ski trails cut in it. In the north section in one area, the trail ran through a long avenue of pine trees. With a couple of feet of snow on the ground, it was a beautiful sight. We would stop at different points to admire the scene.

Picture in your mind a long avenue of evergreen trees. You might be skiing or walking or driving down it. As you travel down this green avenue, you stop along it to admire the view. You look back to what you have already traveled, and are grateful for what you have seen. Your stopping point seems calm and peaceful, and you are glad. Then you turn to look forward. New views await, but some parts look challenging. You think, “The trail goes up, so the way will be harder, but then the view might be better!” And you move on. Our walk with God is similar. Let us look at a passage to help us in this matter.

Our spiritual journey with God involves our repentance (7:2-6). For twenty years, the ark of the covenant had been separated from the tabernacle. Worship of God had been disrupted. No one seemed to care. Unexpectedly, the hearts of God’s people turned back to the Lord (7:2). It was a general revival. Behind this was the Holy Spirit. Nothing else explains this situation. He stirs people’s hearts, so that they are dissatisfied and feel that God is missing in their lives. His action causes the people to sorrow. “Life is not right; we need the living God among us. How can we return to God?” Compare Psalm 42:2-4. People in our time are dissatisfied, though they are far from thinking that the problem is the absence of God. “Lostness” gnaws at their souls, as they seek hope in a new year. But they suppress the knowledge of God. If you understand, weep for our generation!

Into this dark setting, God sent Samuel to preach (7:3). He recognized what was happening and seized the opportunity to give them hope. Consider four elements of his preaching:

  • Samuel told them to turn away from their false gods. The Baals and Ashtoreths (notice that both are in the plural, 7:4) were Canaanite fertility gods and goddesses. As you need not imagine, the worship of them was vile and degrading. Yes, they knew about sexual immorality in ancient times and were sophisticated enough to make it part of worship. And you thought times were bad now! Don’t be surprised at the next step of debauchery you hear of. Humanity has already been there.
  • Samuel told them to make it their business to return to the Lord. Interestingly, to return to the Lord means to serve him, which is also a very new covenant concept (1 Thessalonians 1:9). A true return to the Lord makes us recover a proper Creator/creature relationship and a desire to do what pleases God.
  • Samuel told them that they must be wholly for God: “serve him only”. The fashion of ancient times and postmodern times is pluralism. Hmm, we have advanced to the past! But true Christianity is exclusive. Whatever others may do, we affirm the reality of one true God (Ephesians 4:6).
  • Samuel told them that this was the only sure way to recovery. They had lived for years in oppression, but God was not about to help unless they really repented.

This is always unpopular preaching. It upsets people. But if you’ve ever remodeled, you know that you usually must rip out rotten material and make a mess to improve the situation. Most people only want to be happy, today and everyday, with no interruptions. Sadly, they sacrifice eternal joy for temporary happiness.

We can detect the fruits of true repentance (7:4-6).

  • Their change of mind caused them to put away their false gods. They made a clean, radical break. There is a time to burn the bridges to hinder any return to your old way of life. Do you have any bridges you need to burn right now? If there are items you know you need to get rid of, throw them in the trash today. Change comes from a believing heart, but it expresses itself in the fruits of repentance.
  • They acknowledged God in their public assembly. Fasting and pouring out water were used on various occasions in old covenant times to illustrate zeal and consciousness of the need for cleansing.
  • They confessed their sin. “We have sinned against the Lord.” They stated their sin in its true colors; it was against the Lord.

The Lord God encourages us to walk with him this year. The path will look difficult, but with his Spirit and help, we can overcome the challenges that will appear. Let’s learn from this incident in the life of God’s people.

Grace and peace, David

God’s Plans Not Ours

IMG_3162Genesis 26

Some people get overlooked by other people. Here, I am not referring to the great mass of common people in contrast to stars and celebrities. Instead, I am talking about ordinary people that are ignored by other people like them. It is not that they lack attractive or beneficial qualities. It is also not the case that they are necessarily trying to fade into the background. They are in our local churches, but too often unnoticed by others. They are there, and thank God they are there, or the rest of us would struggle without them. If we wished, this could develop into a long discussion about the reasons such people are disregarded by others and the need for better community. But let’s see how God’s story works through the lives of people we might unfortunately ignore.

Isaac is often overlooked, though God reveals himself in the Bible many times as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the Patriarchs of God’s old covenant people, Israel. Surely, being part of this line would qualify Isaac for our attention, but his part in the story of God’s glory in Christ gets easily passed by. He is sandwiched between his very prominent father, Abraham, and his scheming son, Jacob. Much more is written about Abraham and Jacob than Isaac. Could that be the reason we overlook him?

The twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis is not the first time Isaac is in the narrative. In one sense, there is no story without Isaac, because he is the promised child. Abraham and Sarah were childless for decades, and their faith in God and their struggles in their faith are a prominent part of the outworking of God’s story. Chapter twenty-four presents how Abraham’s chief servant was sent on a long journey to find a bride for Isaac, but Isaac is not mentioned until he married Rebekah. (Ladies, how would you enjoy this “destination wedding”? You take a long camel ride far away from your family and friends only to end up in the tent that had belonged to your mother-in-law!) Isaac and Rebekah had to wait twenty years for children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer (Genesis 25:21) and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. However, the twins became a source of controversy in the family when Rebekah loved Jacob, and Isaac loved Esau (Genesis 25:28). Isaac should have paid careful attention to the revelation of God’s plan told to Rebekah (Genesis 25:23). Isaac sadly wanted the son he loved to have the preeminent place. This means he acted contrary to the revealed will of God.

Yet God graciously included imperfect Isaac in his purposes. Isaac was in God’s story and God acted through him in the pursuit of his wise plan. To keep Isaac on track before the Scriptures were given, God appeared to Isaac, as he had previously appeared to Abraham, to give him instructions. Why did God do this? He did not want Isaac to imitate his father’s course by going down to Egypt. Eventually, Israel would go to Egypt and end up in bondage, but it was not yet God’s time for that.

This is one of the ways of God that we must learn to be content with. God works out his plan in his time, not ours. We might want something to happen very much, but we might find ourselves waiting and waiting and waiting. In this case God chose to use a famine in the land (perhaps the phrase “a famine in the land” would provide someone with a beneficial Bible study) to develop the character and faith of Isaac. God lets us see Isaac’s choices so that we might profit from his experience. When Isaac was faced with the hardship of a famine in the land, what did the Lord tell him?

  • God ordered Isaac not to go to Egypt (26:2). He did not explain his reasons. Too often we want to hear “reasons” about the twists and turns in our lives. We act like three-year-old children who constantly ask, “Why?” Do we think that God simply wants us to trust him without endless explanations? In all decisions about where he lived, he would be subject to God’s word.
  • God hinted that Isaac might be making some moves, though not to Egypt (26:3a). The Lord does not tell his children everything at once. We will usually experience a gradual unfolding of God’s purposes. If we are wise, we will walk closely with the Lord to be ready for our next steps.
  • God promised to be with Isaac and bless him (26:3b). Isaac would not have to face the famine alone. He could count on God’s presence. This is God’s basic promise to his people; yes, it’s his promise to us today. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age… Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you (Matthew 28:20b; Hebrews 13:5b HCSB). Although we face trials of many kinds, God is with us during them. His reality should kindle hope in our souls.
  • God included Isaac in all the promises made to Abraham (26:4-5). It was not till many years later that the apostle Paul explained that offspring or seed referred to one person, the Messiah (Galatians 3:16). This was the promise that Christ would come through Isaac’s descendants. The other blessings would also be his, because of the obedient faith of his father, Abraham.

How did Isaac respond to the word of God? He trusted and obeyed and stayed in the land (26:6). His faith did not mean that the famine ended immediately. His faith kept him where the Lord God wanted him to be, and that was the best place for Isaac to be, whether there was famine or plenty.

Grace and peace, David

Two Outcomes of Redemption

DSCN0209Ruth 4:11-12

One of the blessings of summer is the opportunity to get away from our normal routines, if only for a couple weeks. Perhaps I should say, the experience can be a blessing if we use our time off to stop and think, to invest some quality time in our walk with God. We live in a culture that is very self-focused. We have carried this natural human tendency to extremes, and so we need to reorient ourselves to how God has designed us. He made us to share our lives with him and with people. This will be the nature of eternal life. In our text we can see some glimpses of God’s desire for us on display.

The first glimpse is the importance of worship. They asked for God’s blessing on Ruth and Boaz. Ruth in some ways could be called “a book about prayer,” because we have heard many prayers in it (1:8; 2:4, 12, 20; 3:10). “Now all the people respond with prayer to the transaction at the gate by seeking God’s blessing on Boaz and Ruth… Every aspect of life, from misery to joy, from the routine to the extraordinary, daily work and social intercourse, as well as the very private moments, are lived in the faith that God is there and God cares” (Atkinson, my emphasis). Prayer ought to be natural to redeemed people. It should be so much a part of us that we naturally flow into and out of it. Pray constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17 HCSB). We should be able to talk with one another, and then seamlessly transition to talk with our Father in heaven together. Since Christ has set us apart for God (made us holy—positional sanctification), we should be living such holy lives that we have no qualms to approach God at any time.

The elders and the rest of the people prayed for three blessings. They prayed that Ruth would be fruitful, bearing many children like Rachel and Leah together did. Children are a great blessing from the Lord. Have as many as you can! (Yes, I know that is not politically correct, but don’t believe all the propaganda put out by anti-family types.) They prayed that Boaz would have a high standing in the community. Obviously, they were not jealous of his present success and prayed that he would become greater. The increase of a kind man like Boaz contributes to the prosperity of the community. They prayed for the good of their family and tribe. God had worked through the life of Tamar, who was from the people groups of the nations (a Gentile), to build up the tribe of Judah. They prayed that the family of Ruth and Boaz would also prosper.

The second glimpse is the importance of community. Notice the phrase “the elders and all the people.” They joined together to maintain order; for example, by being witnesses. No one would be able to dispute the legality of the land purchase and the standing of Ruth in their community. The new covenant community is to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). Every gathering of followers of Christ ought to have this as a core value. “Together, we will keep the peace in our fellowship as children of God” (cf. Matthew 5:9).

They joined together to celebrate. Sharing joy is significant. When you share your joy, it multiplies. It is like the bread and fishes of the boy. If he kept them, only he would have eaten them and been satisfied. But when he gave them to Jesus for the good of others, a great crowd was satisfied – with leftovers. Don’t waste your life on yourself. Be willing to share your life with others, so that together you can celebrate the Lord’s blessings. Offer your life to the Lord in sharing it with others, and he will multiply its worth beyond your ability to calculate.

Grace and peace, David