Why Have You Cast Us Off? 

Psalm 74:1
“O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?”

Asaph describes Jerusalem being ransacked by Israel’s enemies. The sanctuary is being defiled and the city is destroyed. While this is happening, Asaph remembers the ancient victories wrought by God. He speaks of how God has;

 

Divided the seas

Broken heads of Leviathan in pieces.

Broke open the fountain and the flood.

You dried up mighty rivers.

Prepared the light and the sun.

Made summer and winter.

This causes him to ask why God had cast off His people. The answer is,  God cast them off because they had turned from Him to serve other gods, and pursue their own ways. For years Israel ignored the warnings of the Word and the prophets, in order to continue in lifestyles that were abhorrent to God, and destructive to themselves. After years and years of extending His mercy, the time came when God allowed the enemies to defeat His people, as a form of judgment for their sins.

The same is true today. When we continually cast off the word of God to live however we want, we will find ourselves living in defeat rather than victory. We will one day look up and wonder how such a mighty God could allow such hardship in our lives. In some cases, the answer is that we have brought this upon ourselves, by ignoring God and His ways. It is always shocking to hear someone, who gives little regard to the ways of God, suddenly blame God or become angry with Him, when their life is suddenly met with upheaval. It may be that the difficulties you are facing are the consequences of ignoring God and are designed to awaken you so you will return to Him. It was after his world collapsed, that the prodigal son ran home to his father.

While God cast off Israel, He did not do so forever. Paul wrote,

Romans 11:1 “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”

God has a future plan for Israel and He has one for you. No matter what your past has been, or how difficult your present might be, God has a plan for your future. It is possible for you to turn your life over to Him, be forgiven, and allow Him to redeem your life and use you for His glory.

Pastor Jim

 

Return 

Zechariah 1:3
“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,”’ says the Lord of hosts.”

After seventy years of captivity Israel was allowed to return to the land and begin to rebuild their broken down Temple. Millions had been taken captive and only a fraction returned to get the task started. Even those who returned had become discouraged and had forsaken the work. It is in this setting that Zechariah declares,
“Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,”
For some, returning to the Lord actually involved a change of their current location. If they were going to be obedient, they would need to pack up their stuff and make the long journey to Jerusalem. For others, returning meant getting back to the work in which they were once involved. Life had taken precedence over serving the Lord, and it was time to get things back in their proper order.

What about you? If God’s word is going to have its proper place in our lives, we need to examine how we should respond to its exhortations. In this case, we are exhorted to return to God. For some, that means we need to get back to the work in which we were once involved. I have noticed, over the years, that many families start out serving the Lord together, but as the kids grow and life gets busy, they begin to wane. Soon they are not only neglecting service, but even begin to neglect fellowship all together. Don’t wait until tragedy strikes, before you will reevaluate your spiritual leadership in the family. Take the necessary steps today to return to the Lord.

Pastor Jim

 

Turn To Me

Joel 2:12-13
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.”

Sadly, the people of God had once again wandered from their God. The allure of idolatry, with its lack of morality, had seduced the people. They were now distant from God and beginning to suffer the consequences of a life lived apart from Him. Once again, the mercy of God is revealed as Joel encourages the people to turn back to YHWH and be restored. He explains the way back and the results.

The way back to a right relationship with God involves a 180 degree turn. They were involved in a lifestyle that was unacceptable to God, and it was necessary for them to leave that behind, if they were ever going to experience restoration and true spiritual blessing. Joel makes it clear that there must be both inward and outward change. They were to weep over sin and set up a fast, to show they were truly interested in getting their lives right with God; but these external changes were not enough. They must also rend their hearts. True repentance is more than cleaning up the exterior of our lives. If we want to be right with God, we need a heart change, and that is something He alone can do. We turn from sin and to God, and He will begin to transform us from the inside out.

Joel goes on to give two amazing promises to the people who will make the “U-Turn” and get their lives right with God.

Joel 2:25 “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.”

The land of Israel had suffered greatly from a locust invasion. Crops had been destroyed and the economy shattered. Instead of chalking this up to nature or high carbon emissions, Joel realized the natural phenomenon was a consequence of sin, and could only be remedied by the people turning back to their God. Individually, we will find the same thing to be true today. Our lives are marred by our rebellion against God. We have left a trail of consequences behind us that can only be remedied by turning back to Christ and following Him. The great promise is,  He can and will restore shattered relationships and broken lives. Even those who have lived a lifetime apart from God, can be useful for the kingdom in their latter years.

Joel 2:28 “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…

The greatest promise in the prophecies of Joel is regarding the Holy Spirit. Joel foretold of a time when the Spirit of God would be poured out on all flesh, and those who received the Spirit would be given spiritual gifts for the furtherance of the kingdom of God. This promise was fulfilled, initially, in Acts 2 when the church was born, but continues to be fulfilled each time a believer turns to the Lord and asks to be filled with the Spirit. When we turn from the things that are not pleasing to God, we are restored to right relationship with Him and given the Spirit of God, in order to serve. A life surrendered to Christ, is a life empowered by the Spirit.

Turn toward the Lord and see all that He will do in you and through you.

Pastor Jim

 

Welcome Home

Jeremiah 16:14-15
“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that it shall no more be said, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.’ For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.”

Jeremiah’s message was a warning of coming judgment and a call to return to the Lord. He predicted the Babylonians would soon overthrow Israel and take the people captive. He promised that those who turned to the Lord would experience the mercy of God, and one day the nation would be allowed to return to the land. It is here that a wonderful promise is made to the backslider. He declares, God will be known to them, not only as the one who redeemed them from Egypt, but also as the one who brought them back from Babylon. God is the God of salvation, and the God who brings the wayward home.

Throughout Scripture, we find God not only redeeming the lost, but also reaching out for those who have wandered, fallen, or returned to the life from which they were once redeemed. Jesus spoke of His desire to go after lost sheep, hunt for lost coins, and celebrate the return of a prodigal son.

Falling away from Christ is not the end. Jesus will welcome you back no matter how far you have fallen. He loves you and wants to be known, not only as the God who saved you, but as the one who restores the fallen.

Pastor Jim

 

Don’t Be Shaken

2 Thessalonians 2:1
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.”

One of the primary themes of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian church is the return of Jesus Christ. Paul lived with the expectation that Christ would return in his lifetime, and urged others to always be on guard. He had warned in his first letter that, “the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Looking around at the condition of the world they lived in, through the lens of Biblical prophecy, had caused some of them to be alarmed, and even gripped with fear. Paul mentions how they were shaken in mind and troubled. The term ‘shaken’ would describe a ship being tossed to and fro by the raging seas. The word ‘troubled’ carries the idea of crying out for help. Paul had written to a group of Christians facing turbulent times, with the purpose of encouraging them with the “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Yet the message designed to give them hope, had actually robbed them of peace, filled them with fear, and was causing them to cry out in despair.

In my experience, this response is all too common. We look around at the present world conditions, and realize the sun is setting, and the day of the Lord is approaching. Because we do not fully understand what that entails, we are often gripped with fear, instead of being filled with expectancy, joy, and a new vigor to share Christ with friends and family. The Thessalonians were shaken and troubled because they misunderstood the Bible’s teaching regarding the return of Christ. Some thought it had happened and they had missed out. In an age without satellite TV, Google, or cell phones, news did not travel in real-time; rumors of what had taken place in a distant land could take weeks to verify. Paul wrote to assure them the return of Christ is imminent, but still ahead.

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him…”

“The coming” is a translation of the Greek word “parousia.” This word was used to describe the visit of a king or dignitary to a city, in order to show his magnificence to the people. Paul is stating, King Jesus is coming back in all His glory to set up His kingdom and rule in righteousness. He assures them that before this event can happen, another ruler must appear on the scene. This ruler is called “the Man of Sin”, who will exalt himself as God. The Bible uses many different terms to describe this individual; the most well-known is the term Antichrist. Paul explains, before Christ comes back as King, the Antichrist will be revealed. If this verse stood alone, we might conclude that we should not be looking for the return of Jesus, but for the reign of this Man of Sin. Our eyes would be taken off Christ and His Word, and we would be searching the news feeds for information on world leaders. But this verse does not stand alone. Paul adds,

2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.”

Notice the words “And then the lawless one…” it is after the restraining force in the world is removed, that the Antichrist is revealed. It is after this event that Christ will return from heaven, with a shout and set up His earthly reign. It is believed by many, that the restraining force Paul refers to, is the church. Paul is reminding us, the next event we should be looking forward to is the sudden and instant removal of the church from earth, and into the presence of the Lord. He described this event to the Corinthians as something that would happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52).

Rather than being filled with fear, we should be living in expectancy; looking forward to the trumpet sound when Christ will call His church home to heaven.

Pastor Jim

 

Headlines 

1 Thessalonians 4:18
“Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

We are living in uncertain times. Violence rages in the Middle East, the threat of terrorism continues, even increases, despite all of our efforts to eradicate it, the rising threat of hostile nations developing nuclear capabilities, not to mention the domestic violence and uncertainty  we face on our own soil. Just today, the headlines on some popular news sites include: “New York store owner funded ISIS,” “South Korea detains Americans,” at least 220 killed in a day in Syria.”

At times, the thought of these things can become overwhelming, and we are struck with fear. While nuclear threats, embassy attacks, and car bombs did not fill the headlines in the newspapers of ancient Thessalonica, these believers had their own set of challenges, trials, threats and fears. In an attempt to encourage them through the difficulties they were facing, Paul broaches the subject of the return of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

While the threats we are currently facing are real, and the rising tensions around the world do cause concern, the Bible teaches that things as we know them, will culminate with the glorious return of Jesus Christ. A day is coming when living believers will be called home to join those who have gone to heaven before us, through faith in Christ. Paul explained to the Corinthians, this would be in a moment, as quick as the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52). While it is important for every believer to live a life that impacts the world for the Kingdom of heaven, we must also be living with an expectancy that Jesus Christ is coming back. Jesus said,
Luke 21:28 “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

As you head out the door to tackle your responsibilities, keep in the forefront of your mind the fact that Jesus Christ will be calling His church home soon. Let that impact the way you treat temptation, others, and the way you allow the current events to impact you. In light of the return of Christ, we should be doing all things heartily as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23).

Pastor Jim

 

Beware of Dogs 

Philippians 3:2
Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!”

Warning signs are all around us, cautioning us to beware of potential hazards. These signs warn the floor is slippery, the curve, sharp, the beam is low, or the dog is mean. As I sit here writing, my teacup reads, “Careful, the beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot.” Which seems obvious to me, since I did not order an iced drink. On the beaches in our community, there are signs warning of what to do in case of a tsunami; although we have never been hit by a tsunami, and experts tell us that the likelihood of such an event happening is almost zero. Because these warnings are so commonplace, we can become desensitized to them, and miss the ones that really matter.

Paul’s warnings are not to be taken lightly, as he tells us to be on guard against dogs, evil workers and the mutilation. He is using a common writing technique, where repetition is used for emphasis. He is not saying there are dogs, evil people, and mutilators to be aware of, but describing a certain group of people, using all three terms. He warned the Philippians to beware of those who would cause them to take their attention off of Jesus, and focus on works, as the measurement of their relationship with Jesus. Writing to the Corinthians, he put it like this,

2 Corinthians 11:3
“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

When you came to Christ, you began a relationship with Him based upon His infinite love for you. You responded to that love by crying out to Him as Savior and Lord, and you began to follow Him. By reading your Bible, you learned of Him and were blessed by Him. You loved to be around others who loved Him like you did. Worship was amazing, as you expressed, in song, your gratitude and praise. People asked, “What happened to you? Why you were so different? Why you were not doing the things you used to do? Why you seemed so happy, even though circumstances might be quite difficult?” You were in love with Jesus, and enjoying the simplicity of Christ. But then, ever so subtly, you began to be lured away from the joy of salvation and simplicity of following Christ. Your relationship with Him began to be treated like a series of responsibilities; devotions, church attendance, service. Even sharing your faith, began to be treated like duty, rather than an expression of relationship.

If that has happened to you, allow me to use the words of Christ to the church in Ephesus, as a means of encouragement,

Revelation 2:5
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works

It is time to go back to those first works; that time when you simply loved Jesus and wanted to please Him. When you read the Bible, not to check off the reading card, but because you wanted to hear Him speak to your heart, and guide your life. When you told others about Jesus, and bragged about how He spoke to you every time you attend church. How He wants to do in others, what He is doing in you.

Be careful not to be drawn away from simply being in love with Jesus, and enjoying the relationship you have because of the Cross.

Pastor Jim