Blooming and Boiling

February 18, 2020 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Jeremiah | 1 Comment
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When I taught the Book of Jeremiah in Sunday School, I called the study “A Prophetic Heart Attack,” partly in reference to Jeremiah’s shock and awe when the Word of the Lord came to Him to tell him that he would be a prophet, but mostly in reference to one of Jeremiah’s over-arching themes: He was ordained by God to attack the hearts of the people – not to just try to get them to reform outwardly, but to call them to an inward revival – a true revival of the heart. And he did this by “attacking” or exposing the true evil that lurks in the heart of every man before he finds God, or when he wanders from God.

Jeremiah was initially afraid to speak for God, but God encouraged him by promising to be with him and by promising to give him the words to say. You and I are not prophets in the way the Jeremiah was, but do we have the same duty, in a sense? To boldly speak God’s Words and to warn our neighbors of God’s judgment? We sure do. And if so, do we have the same assurances of God’s help? We have His promise to be with us, and we have the promise that He has given us His Word in the Bible.

God had some huge plans for Jeremiah’s ministry, including a command to “throw down” (Jeremiah 1:10). When I was in school, “throw down” was slang for fighting: “Dude, you broke my Der Kommissar cassette! Meet me in the parking lot at 3:00 – we’re gonna throw down!” Many of us today, although hopefully less inclined toward physical violence, are more than ready to “throw down” when someone offends us, messes with our children, tries to cheat us out of a bargain, or makes a political statement with which we disagree. But how willing are we to “throw down” what Satan has built up in our own lives? How anxious are we to “throw down” the vain thoughts that we have entertained in our minds in opposition to the Kingdom of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5)?

God did not spend much time coddling Jeremiah. There are a number of reasons for this, but one was that God wanted Jeremiah to understand that there was an urgency to his mission.

Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.

Jeremiah 1:11

almond branch

This may have been in a vision, or it may have been something truly observed by Jeremiah in his surroundings. Jeremiah’s home town, Anathoth, is known for almonds to this day. The Hebrew word for “almond” was similar to the word for “hasten to perform it” (“SEE to it”) or “watch.”

Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.

Jeremiah 1:12

In the original language, this was a play on words similar to our song, “I’m looking over a four leaf clover, that I overlooked before.” God let Jeremiah know that He would be very hands-on in supervising the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies and Jeremiah’s ministry.

Do you find God’s omniscience – and His immanence – comforting or disturbing? He is watching you. Is He pleased with what He sees? This is a sobering thought, but it can also be a reassuring thought. It is important to remember that His disposition toward Christians is one of both requiring and encouraging us to do right. He is not anxious to see us do wrong so that He can smack us down with glee, so the primary meaning of the almond tree metaphor was that, just as the almond tree was the first plant to bloom after the winter, and is often a prediction of how the rest of the harvest will go, so, too, was God’s judgment against His own people closer than it had ever been.

And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north. Then the LORD said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.

Jeremiah 1:13-14

boiling cauldron

This second prophecy was another image of urgency, although, again, it’s something that anyone of Jeremiah’s day would have recognized as a familiar sight: a kettle boiling over, seething and spilling out its scalding contents. Here it is a reference to judgment coming from the north, as though God had been restraining the enemy army of the Chaldeans from over-running Judah, and now He was about to allow them to tip over or boil over and conquer His people, killing them, or as we know from hindsight, taking them away into captivity.

Hebrews: Drawing Near to God

July 20, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Hebrews | 1 Comment
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The Book of Hebrews offers five admonitions for living a confident and victorious Christian life:
1. Don’t slip when it comes to faithfully exercising your spiritual disciplines. Don’t stop praying, studying your Bible, attending church.
2. Don’t be suspicious of God’s trustworthiness.
3. Don’t be stunted in your spiritual growth. Eat God’s nourishing Word, rest on His promises, and exercise yourself in walking with Him.
4. Don’t slander God’s Word by acting like it’s not true.
5. Don’t spurn God’s Word by disbelieving or thinking it doesn’t apply to your special circumstances.

There are several themes in the Book of Hebrews: the supremacy of Christ over all His Old Testament types; finding a confident and sure “rest” by “entering in” to the promises of God; Christ’s role as our Great High Priest; and others. But the theme that really stood out to me the first time I studied through Hebrews was the theme of drawing nearer and nearer to God. I believe the two key verses to unlocking the book are:

For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.

Hebrews 7:19

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:22

We can draw nigh with confidence into the Holiest to truly consider the glory of God in the person and work of Christ. We can draw near by growing in holiness, by faith, by consistently seeking to be in His presence, by considering, provoking, and assembling with each other, by preparation for worship, and by a willingness to go forth. Draw near to God in Christ and you will enter into your rest!

Here are links to the lessons on Hebrews:

1. Winning the Argument that Christ Is Better (Hebrews 1)
2. Two Thrones (Hebrews 1:8)
3. The Certainty of Christ’s Deity (Hebrews 1:10-13)
4. Don’t Let ’em Give You the Slip (Hebrews 1-2)
5. John Piper’s S.W.I.M. Prayer (Hebrews 2:1)
6. Don’t Let Go of the Rope (Hebrews 2:1)
7. He’s No Angel (Hebrews 2, 4:15)
8. Flesh and Blood (Hebrews 2:14)
9. Close Enough to Whisper in God’s Ear (Hebrews 3-4)
10. Restless Unbelief (Hebrews 3)
11. The Labor of Rest (Hebrews 3-4)
12. Rest / Repentance (Hebrews 3-4)
13. The Invitation to Come Closer (Hebrews 4)
14. A Timely Word (Hebrews 4:12) *
15. Beware the Feeling of Formidability (Hebrews 5)
16. Don’t Stunt Your Growth (Hebrews 5)
17. When the Foundation Ceases to be Cute (Hebrews 6)
18. The Hard Work of Encouragement (Hebrews 6)
19. Partakers Overtake Undertakers (Hebrews 6:4-6)
20. Anchored Upward (Hebrews 6)
21. The Certain Hope (Hebrews 6:18-19)
22. A Unique and Superior Priesthood (Hebrews 7)
23. The Testator as Intercessor (Hebrews 7)
24. The Meaning, Majesty, Ministry, and Maintenance of the Mediator (Hebrews 8)
25. The Old Covenant Sanctuary and the New Covenant Sanctuary (Hebrews 9)
26. The Greatest Sacrifice (Hebrews 10)
27. The Danger of Slandering God (Hebrews 10)
28. Catechism Question 19 (Hebrews 10:12)
29. Faith Illustrated (Hebrews 11)
30. Home Is Where Your Lord Is (Hebrews 11)
31. Faith in God (Hebrews 11:6)
32. Abraham and Isaac Receiving Christ in a Figure (Hebrews 11:17-19)
33. How God Prepares Leaders (Hebrews 11:23-29)
34. A Closer Race with Thee (Hebrews 12)
35. Racing Tips (Hebrews 12:1)
36. The Author of the Story that Never Ends (Hebrews 12:2, 7:25, 6:18)
37. This Is Going to Hurt Me More than It’s Going to Hurt You (Hebrews 12)
38. Moving Toward the Immovable (Hebrews 12:28-29)
39. Immutability for Today (Hebrews 13)
40. Why Is Marriage So Honorable? (Hebrews 13:1-8)
41. The Assurance of the Blood (Hebrews 13:20-21)

* most-viewed post in category

Beware Fractious Frustraters

February 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Posted in The Fives | 3 Comments
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Haggai and Zechariah preached words of encouragement to the Jews that had returned from Babylon to try to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. This served to motivate them to work hard to finish, which in turn stirred up troubling opposition. A governor named Tatnai and his companions tried their best to frustrate the Jewish workers.

Why did their harassment fail to stop the work? It was because the Jewish leaders recognized they were being watched by Someone greater and more powerful than any earthly governor.

But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter.

Ezra 5:5

God is omniscient and omnipresent, so there is really no place that anyone can go where He does not see. However, God’s children have a special sense of His eyes being upon them. The Latin term, coram Deo, meaning “before the face of God” is a shorthand way of expressing the idea that we should all live our lives as though God was observing us with keen interest – for He certainly is!

Would You Rather? (Wisdom of Solomon Edition)

September 26, 2012 at 10:59 am | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 3 Comments
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Have you ever played the game “Would You Rather?” The idea is to take two equally unpleasant propositions (or, in a variation, two equally desirable propositions), and force the contestant to choose one. At least that’s how it was played at recess when I was a kid. “Would you rather get hit square in the face with a Nolan Ryan fastball or slide down a giant razor blade into a pool of rubbing alcohol?” Gross, huh? Well, I like to use the basic concept of this game in thinking about Ecclesiastes Chapter 7.

Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12

Would you rather have: wealth or wisdom?

They say that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but that, if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. If we think of wisdom as only the means to acquire wealth, it might seem preferable to take the short cut and receive the wealth without the effort, but, according to the Bible, wisdom itself is the more valuable commodity. The caveat to the idea that learning to fish is better than receiving a free fish is: God is still the One Who provides the fish – and the rod – and the bait – and the water – and the strength to set the hook.

Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?

Ecclesiastes 7:13

In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

Ecclesiastes 7:14

Would you rather have problems or prosperity?

This is a no-brainer for most of us. However, in a previous lesson we did learn that problems are an inevitable part of life, and in some ways, they are extremely beneficial when facing an uncertain future. So the caveat to this one is: We have to accept adversity from God without getting bitter at God for sending it.

All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

Would you rather have purity or pleasure?

As Christians we choose purity, which just so happens to contain real joy, which is far superior to temporal pleasure. But, again, there is a caveat: Beware of self-righteousness or pride.

For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

Ecclesiastes 7:20

Would you rather have infamy or ignorance?

Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

On the one hand, no one really relishes the idea of being ignorant, but on the other hand, do you really want to know what everyone is saying about you? Sometimes, they say, ignorance is bliss. Here is the caveat to this one: Only Christ can control our thoughts and tongues.

All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?

Ecclesiastes 7:23-24

Would you rather have a God who is knowable or knowledgeable?

I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.

Ecclesiastes 7:25-28

If you are a lady, you are probably not appreciating the smug satisfaction my sinful flesh is taking in knowing that at least Solomon found one man out of 1000 with some wisdom, while not finding a single woman! (Sorry, just kidding.) The fact is, we have a God who is both transcendent and immanent. We can never truly know the depths of His glory, nor His secret counsels, nor the fullness of His wisdom. Yet He has revealed Himself to us to a degree that allows us to know Him intimately. The caveat to this is: We must accept that we can never know as much as God, and, left to our own devices, we tend to go astray.

Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

Ecclesiastes 7:29

Do Birds Sing about Eternity?

May 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Posted in Ecclesiastes, Eternity | 5 Comments
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The next time you find yourself grumbling and complaining because you think you’ve had a bad day, or because you feel like God’s providence hasn’t been especially “fair” to you that day, try going out into your backyard and sitting quietly as the sun sets. Depending on where you live, there is a good chance you will be able to hear a bird singing somewhere. If you do, try to imagine all the things that bird had to go through that day, compared to your own experiences. Did you wake up this morning and have to hunt for your food, or was there a pop tart conveniently waiting for you in your pantry? Were there other birds – bigger and swifter than you – trying to swoop down and chase you away from your nest? Any snakes coiled around the branches where you were trying to land, or hiding in the bushes ready to strike when you landed on the grass? Did any mean kids with BB guns take pot shots at you? Birds don’t have houses or refrigerators or grocery stores. Their nests don’t have locks or burglar alarms, and they can’t call “Bird 911” if their eggs are attacked. Yet, there’s that bird – all day he’s been struggling just to survive – and at the end of the day he’s singing a song of glory to God!

Solomon’s rebuttal to his own arguments concerning the vanity of life in Chapters 1 and 2 of Ecclesiastes is found in Chapter 3. He recognizes that man’s life is a gift from a loving God. Human beings have an internal link to eternity: we have souls, we are created in God’s image.

He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

We know – inherently – that we were made by some higher Being for some eternal purpose. This universe is not a “closed system.” It’s not closed off from its connection with God, and we ourselves are never severed from our connection to God. God is transcendent and “immanent.” This means that He is actively and intimately involved in the affairs of this world. We use the the other homonyms of that word to describe theological principles also. We say that the return of Jesus Christ could be “imminent:” about to happen. And we say that God is “eminent:” having a glorious and prestigious character.

I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.

Ecclesiastes 3:14

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