Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grant, Almighty God, as through our extreme blindness, we cannot gaze upon open daylight, that we may be enlightened by thy Spirit. May we profit by all thy prophecies by which thou wishest to direct us to thine only-begotten Son; embrace him with true and certain faith, and remain obedient to him as our ruler and guide; and after we have passed through this world, may we at length arrive at that heavenly rest which has been obtained for us by the blood of the same thy Son. — Amen. 

John Calvin's prayer after Lecture 49 on the book of Daniel

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What Went Wrong - A Study of Jeremiah 5

After a two week vacation I spent taking care of children and grandchildren in different cities, I am back.  Here is today's Bible study.



Jeremiah delivered God’s word that an enemy from the North would invade Jerusalem. This was God’s punishment for idolatry. It was the ultimate curse of the covenant, the loss of the land.

The verses from 4:5 through 6:26 are sometimes called “The Invasion Oracles”. They are a series of statements from the Lord giving setting out the sin of the Israelites and the coming judgment of them.

Chapter 5 is a sort of insert. It deals more with what Israel did wrong to incur God’s wrath than the outpouring of that wrath through the invasion. Chapter 6 will return to the invasion theme.

Each of these oracles paints a picture of the invasion and defeat. They are vivid and terrible. Yet, the Israel refused to believe and repent.

There Are No Godly People Left

The Lord told the people to go through Jerusalem and try to find one righteous person. If Jeremiah found even one, the Lord would spare the city. The implication is that they could not find one.

This passage alludes to the bargaining of Abraham for Sodom after the Lord told him he would destroy it. Abraham bargained down to 10, but the Lord did not find 10 righteous men in Sodom. He destroyed it, but saved Lot. The implication is that the Lord finds Jerusalem as wicked as Sodom and will destroy it.

God Warned Them

God sent adversity to them to warn them to repent of their sin. Verse 3 says He “crushed them” (NIV) or “struck them down” (ESV). How did he do this? Israel, the northern kingdom, was defeated and taken into captivity by Assyria. Judah became a vassal of Assyria, Egypt and Babylonia. The kingdom was greatly reduced from the time of David and Solomon. Yet they did not repent.

The Old Covenant was very physical. God promised Israel a land and prosperity when they obeyed the covenant. Disobedience to the covenant brought deprivation and defeat. Ultimately it resulted in loss of the land.

Our covenant is not primarily physical but spiritual. But, God may still use adversity to get our attention. Sometimes it may be just to grow us, but it also may be to correct the path of our life. It is worth examining yourself and your life when you encounter hard times.

Unfaithfulness was not limited to one class of people

Jeremiah first thought only the poor were unfaithful. This may be because he had seen King Josiah bring reforms. But he found all the people were disobedient. .In verse 5, he says they all “broke off the yoke” or “tore off the bonds”. A yoke is a wooden piece used to control oxen or horses while they pull a wagon or a plow. Bonds are leather strips used to tie something up. These are metaphors for the covenant. All of Jerusalem abandoned the covenant.

God brought the curses of the covenant to make them repent and obey. As they continued to refuse, the curses became greater. This is just as God said in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. The ultimate curse is defeat and losing the land. Verse 6 says this in animal metaphors. A lion, a wolf and a leopard are used to portray a fierce enemy who will devour them.

We see also that God is coming to the end of any period of forgiveness. He will tell Jeremiah not to even pray for the people. Here in verse 7, he says “why should I forgive you?” (NIV) or “How can I pardon you?” . Although he took care of them, they abandoned him. The time for judgment will come for them and it will be too late to repent. The same is true for every man and woman that lives. There is a time to repent. But when the end comes, it is over and the penalty for sin must be paid.

Yet God Has Mercy

Even when the country is destroyed and the people carried off to Babylon, God would not destroy them completely. He would have mercy. He would leave a remnant. Verse 10 also carried this idea.

This idea of a saved remnant is an important Biblical concept.

When God destroyed humanity in the flood, he preserved Noah and his family. (Genesis 6-9)

Remember that Elijah thought he was the only one who did not worship Baal and rejected the covenant. (1 Kings 19:14) But God told him he had kept seven thousand people for himself. (1 Kings 19:18).

Isaiah 1:9 says “unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah”. He meant that they would have been totally destroyed if the Lord had not preserved a remnant.

Romans 11 picks up the theme. Paul referred to the remnant of Israel saying there was still a remnant chosen by grace. (Romans 11:5). He compared it to the seven thousand of Elijah’s time. This proved that god had not completely rejected his people.

Punished by Getting What They Wanted

The Lord said “since you wanted to serve foreign gods in my land, you will serve foreigners in their land”. The land and the worship of God are tied together. If the Israelites wanted to act foreign by worshipping other gods, they would have to do it somewhere else. Israel was sacred space. It was God’s land and could not be profaned by the worship of other gods.

Fear God or Be Foolish

The Lord points out that he should be feared. (22) Israel should fear him because he is sovereign. He controls the sea. He restrained it to its place though it is forceful and terrible. (23)

This is certainly a note for us. The educated elite in our country no longer credit God with the creation of the world or the sustaining of it. Evolution has replaced God in both respects. There is, therefore, no fear of God. Even if they believe he exists, he is powerless and removed from us. We should not be surprised that such belief has lead to the rise of the current crop of angry and vocal atheists.

Here, for fun, is part of a poem by C. S. Lewis:

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us,
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

They should fear God because he provides food for them. (24) He is in control of all of the elements necessary for food to grow and be harvested.  The same is true today.

But they did not fear him. He called them foolish and senseless. Psalm 14:1 says the fool says in his hear there is no God. Proverbs 1:7 says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline”.

And when the nation turns from the fear of the Lord, it also turns to injustice. Psalm 14:1 continues to say “they are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” Verse 26 says they are wicked men. Verse 27 says they are full of deceit. Verse 28 says they do not take care of orphans or the poor.

Remember that the covenant dealt not only with the relationship between the people and God, but also the relationships among themselves. There were ordinances for the conduct of the family, for business, for treatment of aliens and property. The Lord specifically told them not to cheat or oppress the poor. (Exodus 23:6).

And finally, even the prophets and priests lie and abandon the Lord. (30-31). He called it a horrible and shocking, or appalling thing.

When we fail to worship God for who he is and to obey him, our culture falls apart.  It happened to them.  It happens to us.

Friday, May 11, 2012

There is nothing easier than getting into a right relationship with God except when it is not God Whom you want, but only what He gives. If you have only come the length of asking God for things, you have never come to the first strand of abandonment, you have become a Christian from the standpoint of your own. 'I did ask God for the Holy Spirit, but He did not give me the rest and the peace I expected.' Instantly God puts His finger on the reason--you are not seeking the Lord at all, you are seeking something for yourself." ~ O. Chambers

Being Needed v. Being Useful

Here is a good post from R. C. Sproul, Jr. on the subject.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Church With Friends

My friend John Milam posted this on Facebook and I obtained his permission to post here. John Milam Church With Friends! Most of you don't need an explanation, but Words With Friends is a wildly popular game where you play against an opponent in creating words out of given letters. You win by trying to get as many points as you can by playing these words strategically. Some people are just ok at this and others cheat :) Seriously, if you are consistently using words with more than 4-5 letters, Cheater! Cheater! Cheater! I was thinking on my drive in to work today, that's kind of what I have done at church for years. Speak the appropriate words like "Praying for you", "Praise the Lord", "Amen", etc. Was I really praying for you or praising the Lord? I don't think I was consistently. I'm playing Church With Friends. I was trying to make everything sound good, without any significant transformation in my life. I was trying to score the most points in hopes that I would look more spiritual. In my subconscious, I was thinking, "If I am part of the group, then I am in!" The more I read the bible lately; I see that an appearance of activity without transformation is a waste of time, a chasing after wind. Pastor Matt Chandler says that attending church is a terrible hobby. If that is what you are doing, get a boat! That would be much more fun. If I am not being transformed daily, then I am not drawing closer to Jesus. My church attendance is simply Church With Friends. If I sit down and contemplate what God allows me to understand about the gospel and fully realize that I have eternal life in Christ who paid the sacrifice that I might live forever, shouldn’t that transform my life. What on earth could be as exciting and valuable as that? Seriously…anything? I am not saying this is easy. With all the distractions of life that we enjoy, taking time to read my bible, pray consistently and contemplate just who God is can often be considered a chore. There are so many fun things that I can spend my time with and I never have to think about God. I can make myself feel better though with a little Church With Friends every weekend. The rest of the week, I can entertain myself with TV, music, the internet, movies, sports, food, blah blah blah. I have been praying lately to God that he increase my love of his word. To be honest, the bible bored me before. Other things were a lot more entertaining, but God has given me a new desire for his word, and it could only come from him. He said to ask and you will receive, so I asked, and I received. I pray now that he will sustain this in me. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 ESV) “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV) I don’t think any of this means we become people who are so serious that we do not have any fun. If anything, those saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ should be the most fun. Seriously fun. We have nothing to lose. Our lives are not lived for the here and now, but for eternity. This is a daily struggle for me, and something that I have to concentrate on every single day. I know now that it is not of my own strength, but given through God the Father. I will never understand all there is to know about the life of a believer, but I do know that if I never begin the journey, I will be right where I started. I do not want that. Some days it flows so easy, and others days it does not seem to flow from me at all. But I want to strive to be consistent, not to earn my salvation, as that is not possible, but to daily acknowledge Christ and my dependence upon him. I can only speak for myself, but I have to make time to concentrate on this. I don’t always want to do it and I don’t always do it, but I am trying. I say that I believe the bible, every word of it, but do I even know what is in it? For if I say that what I believe, based upon his word, is truly what I believe, I ask myself, “What’s up me??? Why is that not changing my life???” That is some seriously good news, and I mean better than a plate of Cinnabon rolls, while sitting by the beach, while having a massage and finding out I won the lotto. That would be pretty good news. But Seriously, Jesus, if we think about what he truly is, and what salvation truly means, far exceeds any and all things. He even says that we can’t imagine what he has prepared for us. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— (1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV) Oh, and quit cheating at Words With Friend too…that’s annoying…

Sunday, May 06, 2012


God described himself as a jealous god.  In Exodus 34:14, he said “for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD whose name is Jealous is a jealous God. 

He means that he will not tolerate the worship of idols or any type of false gods.  He is especially jealous of the worship of his own people.  That is why the very first commandment of the covenant law is “you shall have no other gods before (or besides) me”. (Exodus 20:3).  He must be the only object of your worship.

That is why he told Israel to break down all the images and altars of pagan gods when they arrived in Canaan.  He did not want them tempted to worship those gods.  It is why he told them not to marry foreign women who had not converted.  He knew they would lead them into idolatry.  Solomon proved the truth of this by worshipping with his man foreign wives. 

And so, in Jeremiah 2, God accuses Israel of infidelity, of unfaithfulness.  He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt and gave them their own land.  Yet, the worshipped the gods of many nations.  Therefore, he would bring them to judgment. (Jeremiah 2:35).

God does not change.  He is the same.  He is still a jealous God.

He is also merciful.  He provided a Savior in Jesus Christ.  But because he is a jealous God, he still demands exclusive worship.  Therefore, Jesus is the only way to salvation. 

Jesus said so himself.  He said “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He did not say he is “a way” but “the way”.  There is one savior and one path to salvation. 

Peter preached a sermon on it.  He said “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12) 

To be saved, to have eternal life, you must believe this.  Paul put it this way.  He said “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and it saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

It is popular today to say there are many ways to heaven.  Someone may even call you arrogant for saying there is one way only.  But you are not arrogant.  You are faithful to a jealous God who will not tolerate the worship of other gods. 

So believe and be firm. 

Friday, May 04, 2012


Why did God create us? He created us for his glory.  In Isaiah 43:7, God refers to his people as “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made”.  He made us and he made us for his glory. 
The first question of the Westminster Catechism deals with this.  It asks “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer is “Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”
The Westminster Confession puts it this way “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.”
Since we were created for God’s glory, we should live in a way that brings glory to him.  Paul said, In 1 Corinthians 10:31, to do it all to the glory of God.  In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise (or give glory to) your Father in heaven.”  It is not that we add anything to God’s glory, but that we reveal it to the world. 
In contrast, Paul describes the world as those who “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” 
Because we are created to bring glory to God and to enjoy him, or to be satisfied in him, we are only fulfilled when we do.  When we live a life that seeks to glorify ourselves, we feel empty and unfulfilled. The great philosopher and theologian Augustine said “You have made us and directed us toward yourself and our heart is restless until we rest in you.”  (Confessions 1:1).

Thursday, May 03, 2012

National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer in the United States.  I was privileged to bring the Prayer of Confession at the gathering here.  Here is my prayer.



Father, I come before you today to confess sin, for myself and on behalf of the church and the nation.  I stand before you in distress today for how we have sinned against you and can only stand before you because the work of Christ allows us to approach the throne of grace boldly so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need. 

This, of Lord, is our time of need.

I confess, Lord, that I am a sinner.  I have no illusions about myself.  You have stripped me of pretensions and shown me who I am.  I have broken your commandments.  I have dishonored my savior. 

I have been greedy and ambitious.  I have inflicted pain on those who love me when I was angry.  I have been selfish, seeking my satisfaction rather than serving those around me.

I have been a hypocrite.  I have pretended to be a godly man when I was not.  I have pretended to be a good family man when I was not.

I have refused to give to the poor when I knew they needed it. 

I confess that I have failed to speak the gospel to someone who needed to hear it.

I have neglected your word and prayer for long periods of time.

I have sought worldly success by worldly means rather than rely on you.

I am ashamed that, while all my sins were placed on Christ at his crucifixion, many of those were sins I committed after being saved.

Although it was painful, I am thankful you pulled the rug out from under me and let me fall far enough to see the truth: that living for your glory is the only satisfying thing in life, both here and in eternity.


On behalf of the church, I confess we have not done many of the things you commanded us to do, and have spent much time on things you did not tell us to do.

You told us to love you with all of our heart, soul and mind.  But we confess that we have loved ourselves, seeking our comfort and our self esteem rather than your glory.

You told us to have no gods before you. We confess we have placed our desire for wealth, status and entertainment before you.

You told us to go to the nations and make disciples.  We confess we have built and hidden behind huge expensive fortresses. 

When you brought people from all the nations to us, we treated them badly and did not share the gospel with them because they were poor or dirty or different.

You told us to give without reservation to the person who asks; in fact to give more than he asked.  We confess we questioned his motives and closed our hands.

You told us to help “the least of these”.  We confess we preferred to party with our friends.

You told us to continue in your word.  We confessed we watched television, went to movies and sporting events, and read frivolous books and magazines.

You told us to seek wisdom. We confess that we sought entertainment.

You told us to flee sexual immorality.  We confess that many are addicted to pornography, even among our clergy.

You told us to honor marriage.  We confess we have dishonored marriage by divorcing as much or more than the non-believers. We dishonored it by failing to love and serve each other as you told us to even when we stayed married.

You told us to do all things for your glory.  We confess we have glorified ourselves whenever possible, sometimes while pretending to glorify you.


Father, we realize, as the body of Christ, we have no land as Israel had land.  We, like Abraham, look forward to the city with foundations , whose architect and builder is God.  Yet you placed us here and we care for this nation and its people as we know you do.

On behalf of our nation, I confess we are in moral and spiritual decline.  More than 2 million Americans are in prison.  Many more crimes have gone unpunished. 

We confess we have given power to an entertainment business that seeks in large part to tear down the moral fiber of society and see how debased it can get before someone reigns it in.  We confess we have done this by giving them huge sums of money to entertain us.

We confess that our education system teaches our children destructive values and anti-Christian philosophy.

We confess that our government and many of our people conduct a full time assault on the institutions of marriage and family.

We confess that our culture has glorified men and women who put their careers above their families.  We have created two generations of young men that have not had fathers and do not know how to be a father or husband or even simply an adult.

We confess that we have devalued life.  We have treated pets better than people.  We have treated murderers better than their victims. We have warehoused children in day care centers.  We have made adopting a child so difficult it is often easier to go into another country to do it.

And, Lord, while we stand in this place whose mission is to place children in loving homes, we know that next door vast sums of money are being spent to construct a killing field for infants made in your image.  We confess this is to our shame and we know that you call to us to account for the life of every human being that is killed.  You have made that plain in your Word.

We confess that while the majority of Americans say they are Christians, we have denied the power of God and godliness.  We as a nation have become darkened in our thinking.  We have lost our way. 


I am afraid, O Lord.  I fear you. 

I am afraid you will pour out your wrath on our nation in judgment of our sin.

I am afraid you will purify your church with the fire of persecution.  Even more, I am afraid you will slip quietly away to work in Africa or Asia and no one will notice until we turn out the lights on the last church.

So, what can we do?  What can take away this stain of sin?  What can deliver us from judgment? 

Only your grace and mercy can deliver us.  And so, oh merciful Father, we plead today for forgiveness.  We plead for mercy.  We plead for grace.

Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide and too deep to undo.  Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear and what for us has become a consuming fire of judgment. 

Fulfill in every contrite heart the promise of redeeming grace. Forgive our sins.  Cleanse us from an evil conscience through the perfect sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Lord.

And all the people said: Amen.