Self-Promotion 

Jeremiah 45:4-5
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up… And do you seek great things for yourself?'”

As the nation teeters on the brink of collapse, Jeremiah is given a prophetic message for one man, Baruch. Baruch was an assistant to Jeremiah. One of his main roles was that of a scribe. He was responsible for writing down Jeremiah’s messages in book form and delivering them to the kings. We have every reason to believe that Baruch served Jeremiah, and the Lord, faithfully. But even faithful men are in need of correction from time to time.

Often Christian service goes unnoticed, especially when we are in a support role in ministry. We might labor intensely to help accomplish a goal and someone else receives all the accolades. I think pastors’ wives are particularly susceptible to this. They are at the side of their husbands serving, supporting, encouraging, and no doubt feeding, but it is the pastor who gets all the attention come Sunday’s service.

Baruch seemed to grow weary in his support role, and as time moved on, wanted to make a name for himself in ministry. Perhaps since he was a writer, he was toying with the idea of having a Bible book with his name on it. Whatever the case, the message he heard was clear.

“Now is not the time to seek great things for yourself”

The nation needed men and women who would seek to promote the Lord. Yet, Baruch was seeking to promote only himself. While there is nothing wrong with working for a nicer car, bigger house, or better retirement, we need to keep in mind that the current condition of things, calls us to focus on the service of the Lord. We should seek to be doing our part in the furtherance of His kingdom, rather than seeking only the things that are best for ourself.

Time is short, life will soon pass, only what is done for Christ will last.

Pastor Jim

 

The End Is Near 

1 Peter 4:7-10
“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another.”

Peter gives a series of exhortations, all predicated upon the fact that the end is near. When the Bible refers to the end of all things, it does so, not out of fear or despair, but out of joy and anticipation. For the believer, the end of all things means Christ will call His church home, and ultimately return to set up His earthly kingdom, where He will reign and rule in righteousness.

This end was the anticipation of the prophets of old, who spoke of things like righteousness covering the earth, as the waters cover the sea; or the lion and the lamb lying down together; and weapons of war being turned into instruments of agriculture; and men learning war no more. Peter is reminding us that Christ will come back and make things right.

In addition to filling us with hope, the reality of His return should stir us to proper behavior. Peter lists four areas of life that should be impacted by the expectation of Christ’s return. First, we must be watchful in prayer. I think there are two very important things we must watch for in prayer. One, we must watch that we are praying. Too often, prayer becomes our last resort, instead of our first instinct. If we want to see God accomplish the things He promises, we must be men and women of prayer. James said we have not, because we ask not (James 4:2). Also, we must watch that we are praying according to the Word of God. The Bible is filled with promises predicated upon asking. James went on to explain, the reason we do not see God accomplish what He promises is that we ask amiss (James 4:3). In other words, we are asking for things He has no intention of doing, while neglecting to ask Him to do what He promised.

Second, Peter exhorts us to love one another. Love is the greatest of all the commandments. Jesus said our first love must be directed to God. If we truly love God, it will be expressed in love for each other. John asked, “How you can love God whom you cannot see, if you do not love others who you do see” (1 John 4:20)?  One way this love is expressed is through covering the faults of another. Peter is not suggesting that we condone sin. The Bible clearly teaches, if a Christian is in sin, we must confront him, to help rescue him from impending danger. What we are exhorted to do is look beyond the failures of one another, and love each other. This is where forgiveness is a huge expression of love. The proper way to have a relationship is to be willing to forgive and press forward.

Third, Peter speaks of being hospitable. The Greek word translated hospitable is a compound word literally meaning “to love strangers.” As we are to love each other, we are also to love those who do not yet know Christ. One of the great ministries of the early church was breaking bread from house to house. They turned their homes into places where others were welcome to come and learn about Jesus. We should be those who are always looking for ways to express the love of Christ to those who have not yet come to Christ.

Finally, Peter declares that as we await the arrival of Jesus, we must be involved in ministry. Sadly, many Christians think ministry is to be done by the professionals; when the Bible clearly teaches that every Christian has been called to ministry. The church was designed by Jesus as a place where the Bible would be taught so the Christian could grow and impact others. It was also to be a place where the Gospel would be declared, so Christians can bring their friends and family to hear about Jesus and be saved. As we await Christ’s return, let’s be busy serving the Lord.

Pastor Jim

 

Self-Inflicted 

Jeremiah 44:7
“Now therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel:‘Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves…”

God warned the people not to flee to Egypt for help. He knew the Babylonians would soon defeat Egypt and any who were In allegiance with her. Despite these warnings, many of the people chose to depart from Jerusalem and Judah, making their way to Egypt. When questioned by Jeremiah as to why they chose to disobey the clear commands of God, they responded that life was easier when they worshipped the “queen of heaven.” The real reason they fled the commands of the Lord was they wanted to worship other things.

Often, an unbeliever or backslidden Christian will bring accusations against God and His Word. They will claim the Bible is difficult to understand or that there are many interpretations. While there are some Biblical texts that require careful study in order to rightly understand, most texts are plain, clear and simple. The real reason for abandoning them is not because we are not sure what they say, but because of what they clearly say.

God’s word is abundantly clear; worshipping other things is forbidden. His word is also clear that the lifestyles connected with these pagan worship practices are sinful and not pleasing to The Lord. The people did not worship false gods because they thought they were more believable than God, but because these false systems allowed them to behave in ways God had forbidden.

It is important that we do not follow the pattern set by those of Judah. These men and women chose to walk outside the parameters of Scripture, only to find they were sinning against their own souls. It would not be long before they found their sin had cost them their freedom, their lives, and their families.

Pastor Jim

 

Self-Willed 

Jeremiah 43:4
“So Johanan the son of Kareah, all the captains of the forces, and all the people would not obey the voice of the Lord, to remain in the land of Judah.”

After the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, the inhabitants of Judah began to look to Egypt as a place of refuge. Jeremiah warned them that fleeing to Pharaoh would result in further death and destruction. The same people who refused to listen when the prophet told them to willingly go to Babylon, are the people who are now fleeing to Egypt. On the one hand, the Word of God told them to go, on the other, it told them to stay. In both cases they chose to disobey. It is not the commands of God that are the problem, but the will of men. Disobedience is always driven by self-will.

Scripture is filled with examples of people choosing to place their will above the will of God. We find Jacob wanting his brothers things, so he lies, cheats, swindles and steals to get it. We read of the multitude of Israel erecting false gods, looking for a leader who will lead them back to Israel, and refusing to enter the promised land. We recall men like Samson who continued to pursue the lust of his flesh to his own demise, or Saul who initially refused to accept the position of king and later refused to let it go. The details may vary, but the one constant in every case of disobedience is placing self-will above the will of God. We often do this because we are driven by fear, misunderstanding, or a lack of trust.

The inhabitants of Judah could not process how staying in Jerusalem and submitting themselves under Babylonian rule could ever be a good idea. They had seen Nebuchadnezzar’s forces come multiple times over a period of 15 years, taking waves of people as prisoners of war. What they failed to realize was the cause of the fall in the first place; their unwillingness to submit to the authority of God and His word. They were developing a pattern of living however they wanted, then blaming God for the outcome. As time unfolds, the command of God will make perfect sense. It would not be long before Pharaoh and his forces were defeated and those who allied themselves with Egypt became the enemies of Babylon.

Don’t allow your inability to understand the ways of God limit you from being willing to do what His word says.

Pastor Jim

 

Answers

1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;”

Shortly after coming to Christ, I was driving down PCH in Southern California and found myself stuck at one of the many red lights, waiting for the arrow to turn green so I could continue to my destination. It was a summer day, and since my car did not have AC, my windows were rolled down. A car pulled up next to me and the driver called out to get my attention. I had never seen him before, and to my knowledge have never seen him since, but what he said to me has stuck with me for more than 25 years.

After getting my attention, he asked if I was a Christian, the “Jesus Loves You” bumper sticker gave me away. I replied that I was, and he then asked how a person could be saved. I was caught off guard, and was not clear on how to articulate the Gospel, so I sat there stunned. As the signal turned green and he sped off, I hollered out “believe in Jesus!” At that point, I determined, I wanted to have an answer for others who were seeking to find the truth about Christ. It would be quite some time before I stumbled across Peter’s words recorded here,

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;”

Peter explains how we can be ready, when the opportunity arises, to help point someone to Christ. This readiness involves two things. First, we must sanctify the Lord in our hearts. Sanctify means to set apart. Christ must be set apart from all other things to which your heart is attached. It is not enough to simply have Jesus as one of the many things you are devoted to; He does not enter a life and take second place. Remember when He said “You cannot serve two masters”? (Matthew 6:24) Jesus demands and deserves first place in our hearts and lives. He calls for us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to give Him first place in our lives. If we want to affect others for the kingdom of Heaven, it begins by giving Jesus first place in our own life. Perhaps other things have risen to the top, or crowded Jesus out of His rightful place. If that is the case, take a moment right now to recommit yourself to Him.

Second, Peter says, “be ready.” We do this by getting to know the Bible. Paul wrote that we should “Study to show yourself approved to God.” (2 Timothy 2:15) As believers, we are called to become students of Scripture. We do this by taking time daily to read our Bibles. Over the years, I have been amazed at how often the answer someone is seeking, comes right out of the passage I read that morning. Jesus promised us help in this area when He said, the Holy Spirit would remind us of the Words that Christ had spoken (John 14:26).

If someone were to ask you today how to become a Christian are you prepared to give them the Biblical answer?

Pastor Jim

 

Ready, Willing and …

Jeremiah 42:6
“Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God…”

A few years back I attended a men’s conference where this verse was shared during a worship session. Like most, I was encouraged by the sentiment of it, until I recalled the context. You see, as beautiful as the verse is, it is declared by a group of people who have no real intention of doing what the Lord says. The verse might better read, “we will obey as long as the Lord tells us what we want to hear.”

As requested, Jeremiah sought the Lord on behalf of the people. Ten days later the Lord spoke to him, instructing the people NOT to go to Egypt, but to remain in the land, trusting in the protection of God. This was not the message they wanted to hear. They wanted Jeremiah to tell them that they could go to Egypt, get a fresh start and receive the bountiful blessings of the Lord. When they heard his response their tone changed drastically,

Jeremiah 43:2 “You speak falsely! The Lord our God has not sent you…”

I wish this were the only case in history where someone claimed to be willing to do what God wanted, until they heard from him. Tragically, this is an all too common occurrence. It seems now a days, whenever we hear something we don’t like, we simply hunt down another source who will tell us what we want to hear. Affirmation should never be exalted above truth. If we want to please God and experience the blessed life, we have to be willing to obey His word, even when we do not particularly care for the instructions.

Let’s not be those who boast of good intentions while continuing on a downward course away from Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

Game Over 

Jeremiah 41:15
“But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men and went to the Ammonites.”

After conquering Judah and Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah governor over the people. He allowed many of the Jews to remain in the land, and gave them certain freedoms regarding their worship. Soon, those who had fled from Jerusalem, when the Babylonians forces first arrived, began to make their way back to the city. Many of them were faithful to a man named Ishmael, who secretly wanted to overthrow Gedaliah and Babylon.  He soon took action by going on a killing spree, putting to death all those he saw as faithful to the governor. His actions not only caused the death of many innocent men, but also turned Babylon against Jerusalem, and finally forced Ishmael to flee from Israel to the Ammonites.

This passage reminds me of the question Jesus asked His disciples. Recognizing that no man will ever gain the whole world, He inquired “What will a man give in exchange for His soul?” (Matthew 16:26 ) Ishmael was willing to murder to pursue his drive for power. He valued a position as more important than obedience to God. When his murderous tirade finally came to an end, he reigned for only a few short days, before he fled as a fugitive to a foreign land where he died in obscurity never to be heard from again.

The height of folly is to give up what will last forever in pursuit of what is only temporary. Like Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of soup, Ishmael gave up eternity for a few days upon the throne. The missionary Jim Elliot once wrote “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Pastor Jim

 

Living Stone 

1 Peter 2:5
“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”

Peter describes Christians as Living Stones. This simple phrase reveals the miraculous nature of our salvation. Individuals can no more have their sins forgiven than a stone can come to life. However, what is impossible with men, is possible for God. We, who are dead in sin, are made alive through faith in Christ. Peter adds to the miracle of salvation by explaining, once we have been made alive, we now have a divine purpose, “we are being built up a spiritual house.” God is shaping us into the people He created us to be, that we might experience abundant life and have an impact upon others, for the kingdom of heaven. We, who were once without God and without hope in this world, have been made alive and given a life of purpose. How should we respond ?

“. . . to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Peter explains that one of the primary purposes of our life, is to offer up spiritual sacrifices that have been approved by God. In other words, there are things God desires in return for the salvation He has freely given. First, we are told to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This is done when we willingly surrender ourselves to Christ, and seek to live in accordance with His Word. A living sacrifice is one who reads the Bible and does what it says. Peter goes on to speak of abstaining from fleshly lusts, obeying authority, and following after the example of Christ. The living sacrifice looks to the Word, and seeks to put these things into practice in his life. Are there any fleshly lusts you have been toying with, instead of abstaining from? Perhaps your eyes have been looking, your lips speaking, or you ears hearing, things that they shouldn’t be. The right thing to do, as a living stone, is offer yourself back to God.

Another acceptable spiritual sacrifice is worship. Worship falls into at least three categories, and we should be consistently involved in all three. First, we worship God for who He is. No matter what our circumstances might be, God has not changed, and He is worthy of praise for being God. The Bible describes Him as dwelling in unapproachable light, being surrounded by companies of angels that declare His holiness and majesty. We should join Heaven’s chorus and offer praise. Second, we worship God for what He has done. When life hits us hard, we are able to look back to the cross where the Son of God died for us. We look at His bleeding hands and feet, and we are reminded of His love for us; a love that understands our weakness and knows our pain. Looking to the cross will fill us with faith, enabling us to press forward, despite the trials. Finally, we worship because of what He promises to do. The Bible is filled with promises for the child of God. Each of them stronger than any obstacle in our way. We must learn to look to the promises and to cling to them. Paul, referring to the promises of God, said they were all “yes and amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20), meaning that every promise of God is certain to come true.

Christian, it is time to offer up spiritual sacrifices, no matter what you are facing, give God your highest praise.

Pastor Jim

 

Seek Counsel 

Jeremiah 40:16
“But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said to Johanan the son of Kareah, ‘You shall not do this thing, for you speak falsely concerning Ishmael.'”

After taking Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as governor of the province of Judah. No longer living in a free state, the people would now be subject to Babylon. In order to make things as safe and comfortable as possible, Gedaliah exhorted the people to put their weapons away and serve the king of Babylon. As things began to settle, many who had fled for safety to the countryside returned to Jerusalem. Among them was a man named Ishmael, who had been a captain of the Judean forces. He was a man who publicly showed submission to Gedaliah, but privately was planning to overthrow the governor and mount a rebellion against Babylon. Some of the other leaders began to suspect Ishmael of treason and reported it to Gedaliah, who dismissed the report as false. Sadly, as the story unfolds, Ishmael will kill Gedaliah and turn the Babylonian forces, once again, on Jerusalem.

Nothing in the text gives us any real clear insight into the spiritual condition of Gedaliah. He may not have been a believer at all, or may have been a believer who simply failed to take the warning he received to the Lord. Whatever the case, his story reminds me of the failure to take things to the Lord. Had the governor taken this warning seriously, gotten alone with God or sought counsel from the prophet, he may very well have avoided death and secured the safety of his people.

As a follower of Christ, we have been given the privilege of access to God. Jesus is our heavenly counselor who seeks to guide us, as we navigate our way through life. When we face obstacles, difficulty or indecision, we don’t have to lean upon our own understanding, but can seek counsel from God. Whatever you are facing, don’t go it alone. Take some time today to seek guidance from the Lord. Who knows what pitfalls a little time of prayer may help you avoid.

Pastor Jim

 

Competition 

Jeremiah 39:18
“’For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,’ says the Lord.”

This promise was first given to a man from North Africa named Ebed-Melech. He was told that his life was like a prize, because he had put his trust in the Lord. It is quite common in Scripture for our lives to be compared to a competition. The New Testament compares the Christian life to a walk, a run, a race, a fight and even a battle. Jeremiah reminds us of one key ingredient of our training, if we want to win; Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian, trusted in the Lord.

Trusting the Lord suggests he did not buy into the popular teachings of the day. While the Word of God warned against sin, idolatry, and worldliness, the culture declared these things to be acceptable in the eyes of a loving God. While prosperity teaching filled the pulpits throughout Judah, the Word of God spoke of judgment coming upon His people, for abandoning the ways of God. Ebed-Melech chose to put his confidence in the Lord, rather than trusting in the popular teachings of his day.

While our lives are a competition, it is important to remember we do not compete against one another. I am not seeking to beat you to the finish line, storing up more eternal reward than you. We are competing together, and we must encourage one another. Just as Jeremiah shared the promises of God with Ebed-Melech, we should encourage each other with the written Word. As you pray for your friends and family, consider the Word of God; perhaps He would have you share a promise with them that would help them run in such a way as to win.

Pastor Jim