Misinterpreting the Times

Jeremiah was a very unpopular prophet.

Actually, he was a full on traitor.

At a time of extreme national crisis, when the very existence of the nation of Israel was at stake, he openly and consistently advocated surrender to the enemy (Jer.38:2, 17).

Throughout his prophecies, he warned people that God was bringing on disaster if they did not repent (e.g. Jer. 17:27, 18:11). Later, as it became obvious that no one was listening (Jer. 18:12 – 17) and when they turned against him (Jer. 18:18), his prophecies became more ominous and certain (Jer. 19).

We now know that God was indeed speaking through Jeremiah as he consistently said He was. But at the time the Word of God through Jeremiah was rejected on every side by both the kings of the time and many of the people.

In one particularly telling scene, Jeremiah gets his assistant to write down all the prophecies that God had given him. During a time of national fasting, his assistant reads from the book the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 36:9-10) in the house of he Lord. These words are full of specific warnings against Israel about the judgements that God was bringing upon them (36:2) and were written by the Lord in the hope that people hearing them might turn back to Him (v.3).

A man called Michaiah, son of Gemariah, hears the words and declares them to the princes of the land (v. 11-13). After hearing these words the princes become afraid (v.16) and decide to bring them to the king (v.20). However, the words that Jeremiah is bringing are so unpopular and against the nation that the princes advise him and his assistant to “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah, and let no one know where you are.” (v.19).

The king’s response is scary. He listened and every few minutes he cut the read sections out with a scribe’s knife and threw them in the fire. Eventually, he burnt up the whole scroll. (v.23).

The bible goes on to say that neither the king nor his close advisors were afraid or showed any symptoms of repentance despite hearing all these words (v.24). Some brave upright men who are called out by name (v. 25) pleaded with the king not to burn the scroll but he would not listen to them. He even commanded that Jeremiah and Baruch be seized but the Lord hid them (v.26).

This story is typical of Jeremiah. Throughout the book the same themes arise again and again:

  1. God warns the people that He is bringing destruction on them because of their sins.
  2. Jeremiah faithfully repeats God’s words. He is also instructed by God on exactly how to make them clear to everyone through everyday life pictures like a potter’s wheel (chap. 18) and smashing a clay pot (chap. 19).
  3. The kings (Jeconiah and Zedekiah)* and many of the people reject the words of the Lord.
  4. Disaster ensues. The enemy comes in, takes over the kingdom and the people of God are reduced to a remnant.

This theme is repeated in graphic and shocking fashion with the people left in the land (Jer. 42-44) after the loss of the king and their nobles to Babylon. They ask Jeremiah for the Word of the Lord (42:1-3) and promise to do whatever he says (v.5). But when they hear what God has said they reject it (43:2-4)!

One of the scariest parts is that they completely misinterpret what happened and why.

They say that the kingdom was taken by the enemy because they had stopped sacrificing to a false god (the “queen of heaven” 44:18). They determined to keep going to Egypt despite God’s words to the contrary. Eventually, even there, the enemy overtakes them and they are destroyed. Only a very small remnant escape as a warning to the others (44:28-30).

Of course, Jeremiah was not the only prophet of God who was right and rejected by the kings of the day. Micaiah, the son of Imla, suffered in a similar way (2 Chron. 18).

All this goes to show is that it is very easy to get it wrong when we are looking at impending disaster or are in difficult situations.

The most important thing to learn from all of this is that you, the President (elect or current) and all his and your friends could be wrong.

And that applies to whatever side of the divide you find yourself on. It was pride – specifically national pride – that caused the people of Israel to reject God’s will for them.

Ask yourself, are you on the Lord’s side? Really? If you are confused and don’t know which side to choose then you might be closer to the Truth than you think.

*Jeconiah rejected God’s words from the beginning and was consistently opposed to Jeremiah. He is sent as a captive to Babylon where he eventually dies. Zedekiah wavered and moved back and forth between supporting Jeremiah and abandoning him to his enemies. The king of Babylon catches him while he is fleeing Jerusalem, kills his sons in front of him, blinds him and takes him captive to Babylon. Neither of them do well.

Fine Dust in the Balance

If like me you have been distracted by an election in a country far away then I hope, like me, that you will be encouraged by the Lord’s view of nations:

Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket,
And are counted as the small dust on the scales;
Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.
16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn,
Nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering.
17 All nations before Him are as nothing,
And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless.

Isaiah 40:15-17

All the nations are as nothing to God, no matter what it may look like to us. The Scriptures are quite clear about this. We need to keep our minds off earthly things:

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Philippians 3:20

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:28

The US Election

In 3 days the world will know the result of the US election. This is an election like no other in a year like no other. Many are praying that there will be a very clear outcome, one way or the other, to reduce the risk of social upheaval.

I have some people asking me about it so here is my tuppence halfpenny’s worth. I hope it helps.

Evangelical voters in the US are facing a particularly difficult choice and need our prayers. I, for one, am glad I don’t have to vote in this election.

There are 2 main components of the election facing all voters:

  • The choice between the 2 parties involved: Republicans and Democrats and the values they stand for.
  • The choice between the 2 men involved: Joe Biden and Donald Trump and their respective characters.

In the first choice the main issue seems to be around conserving or changing the US culture, perception of history and political systems. The US Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, etc.) and the ideology, culture and history that springs from it and the US Constitution are things that many Evangelicals, reasonable people, and other people of faith in the US, believe strongly in and want to preserve. Many perceive that voting for the Republicans is a vote for that culture, history and philosophy and voting for the Democrats is a vote to destroy all that. This particularly applies to issues such as abortion and race relations but also applies to revising history, concepts of family and gender and other dearly held Evangelical positions.

I have found Ben Shapiro’s writings and podcasts useful when it comes to understanding the Republican view point. The Atlantic and the Economist are good sources if you want to understand the Democrat view point.

On the other point many reasonable people, Evangelicals included, perceive that to vote Republican is to vote in Trump for another 4 years. A lot of reasonable people including Evangelicals would see in Trump’s character and behaviour everything that they would consider the antithesis of the nature of Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels. Many consider Trump to be selfish and a narcissist in a similar way to other dictatorial leaders desperate to hold onto power at any cost (e.g. Putin, Kim Jung-un, Alexander Lukashenko). Joe Biden on the other hand comes across as a reasonable man who does not embody the extremes of the feared Democrat position.

So many Evangelical voters are caught between a rock and a hard place. They only have 2 choices:

  • Vote for Trump and the Republican party and usher in another 4 years of tweets, polarization, ego and damage to the Evangelical testimony in many people’s eyes or
  • Vote for Biden and the Democrat party and all it stands for including the loss of the gains in anti abortion rights, etc. that have been made under the Trump administration.

It is no wonder that John Piper recently blogged that he was not going to vote for either one (though he doesn’t recommend that to anyone).

The most likely outcome from this election will be disillusionment with the whole US electoral system.

Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal 2020

This post is one of a series related to the Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal 2020. In this time of physical contact restrictions the appeal has had to move online for this year which leads to some unique challenges. The needs have never been greater in the recipient countries so please #TeamUpForTeamHope and contribute generously to the appeal this year.

Team Hope CSA 2020

This post is one in a series related to the Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal 2020. In this time of physical contact restrictions the appeal has had to move online for this year which leads to some unique challenges. The needs have never been greater in the recipient countries so please #TeamUpForTeamHope and contribute generously to the appeal this year.

Promises, beloved!

]Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

2 Peter 1:1-4 (NAS)

Peter is telling us that God’s divine power – which gives us everything we need to live a godly life- is mediated to us through the promises scattered throughout Scripture.

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,

“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1 (NAS)

Paul tells us of the greatest promises in Scripture: God Himself will be a Father to us. He also emphasizes that holiness is required to experience this.

Here are a couple of promises from Proverbs that have helped me this morning:

The fear of the Lord leads to life,
And he who has it will abide in satisfaction;
He will not be visited with evil.

Proverbs 19:23

The righteous man walks in his integrity;
His children are blessed after him.

Proverbs 20:7

Cleansing the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22

The Scripture is clear that, in the New Testament, the temple of God is no longer in Jerusalem but it is in the bodies of believers both individually and corporately:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

1 Cor. 6:19

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

Matthew 24:1-2

Therefore it is also clear that Jesus intends the same purity for His spiritual temple, both corporately and individually, that He expressed for the earthly temple in the passage from John 2 quoted above (c.f. Mal. 3:1, Psalm 69:9). We should therefore not be surprised when we encounter various trials (James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:12) – God is cleansing His temple.

Don’t be surprised if everything is upset and in turmoil internally at times. There is a season for everything and this just might be that season for you. God might touch your hard secular work (represented by oxen), your Christian works (represented by sheep), your financial affairs (the money changers) and any other spirits that might be operating on you internally (represented by the doves).

It might have taken 46 years (more or less) to have got your internal state to the place it currently is. When Jesus comes in He could overturn it all in less than an hour and raise it up to something new in 3 days.

Enjoy!

Abiding

He who dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High will rest under the Shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91:1

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:27

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

John 15:4-10

It seems to me that there are few things more important for a Christian to learn and to continue learning about than how to abide in Christ.

This is a spiritual thing, it cannot be learned unless you know that the Spirit of God dwells in you and understand something of what that means for your internal disposition. In other words, like so much of the Christian life, you must be able to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). If you don’t know how to do that then you need to question whether you have ever encountered God and allowed Him to overwhelm you (Matt. 22:37-40).

But presuming you are spiritual, then the great essential thing is to abide in Him (Luke 10:42). This is where the battle is – it means bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-6), setting your mind on things above (Col. 3:1-3), putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Col. 3:5-8), taking up our cross daily (Matt. 16:24).

But who is able for these things? It is so important we realise that God has a unique road for us to follow that He knows we can do (1 John 2:27, Jer. 29:11, Romans 7:24-25, John 12:26). We are empowered by the Holy Spirit (John 14:12-18) and He can teach us and lead us in a way no man can if we would just fall helplessly into His arms, desperately and fully in love with Him.

Hollywood plots

I stayed up way too late last night binge watching a series on Disney+ called “Agent Carter”.

So here’s the plot: Our hero has to defeat a foe from another dimension which is trying to bring the whole world to hell. The script writers have determined that, no matter how unlikely the odds, our hero will win out in the end, defeat the enemy, find love and ensure that everyone around them lives happily ever after.

The fate of everyone involved in the story depends on their relationship to the hero. During the series it becomes increasingly clear to the various characters that if they side with Agent Carter they will be safe and if they oppose her (yes the hero is a woman) they will come to a sticky end. Again, this is because the script writers have written the story in this way. During the series some of the other main actors encourage one another to do what Agent Carter says.

The parallels are really obvious I guess. God is the Script Writer for all our lives and He has determined that our fates will depend on how we relate to His Hero, Jesus Christ our Saviour. The plot may take some very strange looking twists and turns and at times it may seem like our Hero has to lose. But the Script hasn’t been written that way. As long as we do what He says and live according to His principles (not our own) He will keep us safe into eternity.

We all need to understand the Script and its Author and come to know and follow the Hero.

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16, NKJV).

18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

(Romans 9:18-21, NKJV)

Different ways of seeing

In the middle of Jesus’ discourse on the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 He suddenly says this about Himself:

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father” (John 16:16).

His disciples are confused so they repeat the statement:

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’;and ‘because I go to the Father” (John 16:17)

Finally, Jesus repeats the statement again before not answering their questions about it (see Proverbs 25:2):

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me” (John 16:19)

When something is repeated 3 times in the space of 3 verses you would expect that the Holy Spirit is trying to draw our attention to something. However this is one of those places where the English translations generally miss something important: The first word translated “see” in each verse above is not the same in the original Greek as the second word translated “see”.

The first word translated “see” is the Greek word θεωρεῖτέ (thee -or- rei-te) and is often used in the sense of beholding something with your physical eyes.

The second word translated “see” is the Greek word ὄψεσθέ (ops -es-te) which is often used in the sense of perceiving something.

I am no Greek scholar and, anyway, it is not good to make a doctrine out of a single Greek word difference. But let’s look at a possible distinction in some other ways.

It is of course well known that seeing something can have different depths to it. For example, I might see my wife sitting at the table and perceive that she is very happy about something. Someone else seeing her might not perceive that about her. That person might just see her sitting at the table.

The context of the verses is also very important of course. For all the earlier part of Chapter 16 Jesus had been explaining the role of the Holy Spirit. He explained how (in verse 7) it was to the advantage of the disciples that Jesus went away. By going back to the Father He could send the Holy Spirit. He also explained (in verses 13-15) that the Holy Spirit would speak whatever He hears from Jesus.

So this is what these thrice repeated verses mean: In a little while Jesus was going back to heaven and the disciples would not see Him in the same way again. A little while later (after Pentecost) they would see Him again but this time it would not be physically but in the form of the Holy Spirit. This would require them to see differently since now they needed to perceive and hear some One spiritual. They would no longer have in front of them Jesus in the flesh.

Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 5:16b:

“Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”

Again, the context is important.

A Relevant Application

In the first half of the same verse Paul has this very relevant and important application for our lives, particularly in the context of the current upheavals since the murder of George Floyd:

“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2 Cor. 5:16a)

The crucial thing is that we perceive the underlying Spirit (or spirit) and character of the people we meet. We ought not to regard people according to their outward appearance including the colour of their skin (see also 1 Samuel 16:7 and Gal. 3:28).

Martin Luther King Jr. made it clear that this was his aspiration also for all people (in his “I have a dream” speech from 1963) :

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day
live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color
of their skin but by the content of their character”

I used to think that that was the whole answer to the race problem – ignore the outside and act according to the inside of someone – but I don’t think that is enough. Now I think we ought to be more aware of the fact that the outside of some people determines how they get treated and think all their lives. Now I think we need to be more proactive as a church and those who call themselves by God’s name in addressing why this is. May God give us all wisdom and much love while we work through this together.

In the end though if we are to consistently see the Bride of Christ as she really is, and all humans as they really are, we have to see them according to their spirit or character and not according to their external appearance.