Running with the footmen (Jeremiah 12:5)

The prophet Jeremiah was writing to a people who were disobedient to the Lord and were heading toward judgment. He was given the daunting task of declaring the coming judgment to the nation of Judah with full knowledge that his words would not be heeded. Jeremiah had been told by the LORD that he was to preach to Judah even though they would never listen. But the language of the Scripture in Jeremiah’s prophecy evokes powerful images.

“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out,
Then how can you compete with horses?
If you fall down in a land of peace,
How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” – Jeremiah 12:5

Judah had been living in luxury and peace (“running with the footmen”) and had steadily decayed in their service to the LORD and in their giving glory to the LORD among the nations. Instead of holiness, Judah was marked by wickedness and idolatry, and the halcyon days of running with the footmen were about to be replaced by competing with horses.

WE HAVE BEEN RUNNING WITH FOOTMEN

As I read these words of Jeremiah, I can’t help but think that, in different a sense, the American church has been “running with the footmen” for a long time. By “running with the footmen,” I mean that the American church has had a long season of great material wealth, of protection from the government, and of tolerance from the prevailing society. The church militant in America has had decades of a favorable climate for declaring the gospel to the nations with very few hindrances. The American church has had a long comfortable period of peace and material prosperity. That is what I mean by “running with the footmen.” And yet, despite the wealth to fund far-reaching gospel ventures and the freedom to pursue our faith out in the open, the church has made scant progress in the gospel. While there have been some focused efforts to move the message of the gospel forward, there has also been the squandering of immense amounts of money, time, and focus on building opulent church campuses that serve only the people in the church. In my opinion, the excesses have far outnumbered the useful projects, the church in America has become inwardly focused through pampering, and the cause of the gospel has languished. We have been running with the footmen, and we have wearied ourselves in the most favorable of circumstances.

COMPETING WITH HORSES AND ENTERING THE THICKET OF THE JORDAN

But something else has been occurring as the church has been entertaining ourselves and improving our “church experience.” The material wealth of the church has slowly eroded, religious protection from the government has all but disappeared and has been replaced with restrictions, and the attitude of the American culture has gradually turned hostile to Christianity. I sense that the pleasant days of leisurely “running with the footmen” are fast coming to a close (if they have not already) and that we are beginning a time of “competing with horses.” To quote Jeremiah, we are entering “the thicket of the Jordan,” and in that place the obstacles to the gospel will be many and further progress will be hard-won.

How, then, are we who wage war (2 Cor. 10:3-5) under the banner of Jesus to respond to this increasingly hostile culture? Here are some thoughts that I employ that help me to persevere:

  • Be careful and thoughtful with my doctrine so that I am not blown here and there by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and thus end up in apostasy.
  • Be more intentionally encouraging to other believers since the sources of discouragement will continue to grow in number and in magnitude (Ephesians 4:29).
  • With a sense of urgency, be more vocal with my evangelistic efforts (2 Cor. 5:11a).
  • Strive to be more useful and productive in whatever area of Kingdom activity or ministry the Lord has given us (Colossians 3:23; Romans 12:6-8).
  • Expect and embrace persecution from the world. Bear it with joy and continue to proclaim Christ in the midst of persecution (Matt. 5:10-12, 44; Romans 12:14).
  • Stand firm against the schemes of the devil (2 Cor. 2:11; Ephesians 6:11ff).
  • Close ranks within the local church, and make sure that I am doing the “one anothers” for my fellow church members. These are the people the Lord has called me to encourage toward heaven.

As we must more and more compete with horses and run through thickets, let’s lean into the Lord and be steadfast (1 Cor. 15:58).

SDG                 rmb                 10/4/2021                   #438

For the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)

Perhaps it is just the haze that has clouded my memory over three or four decades, but in my mind, these present days are indeed evil days compared with times past. In my teens and twenties, when I was coming of age and moving into adulthood, I was decidedly not a Christian, so the decisions I made and the ambitions I had were completely disconnected from obedience to God and were, therefore, devoid of any wisdom that would come from the Bible or from wise men. I was living for me and was only interested in my desires and pleasures, and so I made many poor decisions and several disastrous ones. But in the days of my young adulthood, the world was a much more benevolent place and even my major mistakes seemed to have only minor and temporary consequences. Truly bad choices resulted in setbacks, certainly, but there remained a ray of hope and a peculiar confidence that all was not lost and that somehow there was still an escape as I continued to plummet earthward. A parachute would be procured, and the landing might be rough, but I would survive and move on.

But that is not the case today. The world today is a malevolent place where disaster seems to lurk behind the corner of even wise decisions and righteous actions. The devil has been released from the abyss (Revelation 20:7) and the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16) and the consequences of poor decisions and unwise actions are amplified. Our days these days are evil. Instead of hiding in the dark, the wicked brazenly parade their wickedness in broad daylight, unashamed of the vilest of deeds (Romans 1:32). It seems that even the wisest and most cautious plans of the righteous walk a tightrope toward success, and the scattered plans of the unrighteous which characterized my young adulthood inevitably meet with shipwreck.

And so, the disciple of Jesus must “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.”

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO WALK WISELY?

In view of the present distress (1 Corinthians 7:26), here are some suggestions for how the believer can walk wisely in these evil days.

First, holiness should be a constant and conscious objective. This holiness is visible righteousness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). In years past, it seems that a token nod to holiness would stave off the temptations to evil, but in the evil day the disciple of Jesus must take up the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13). There needs to be a conscious striving for holiness that is driven into the soul by a persistent discipline. The days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is a visible target, and the battle is fierce. “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

Second, the disciple of Jesus must be alert for the encroachment of Satan and watch for the impact of his schemes. It is a doctrinal fact that the believer has, in Christ, defeated Satan and, in Christ, the believer need not fear the ultimate success of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). Nevertheless, the disciple of Christ is to be on the alert for the working of the wicked one. Our adversary is patient, is deceptive, is subtle, and springs his traps suddenly and unexpectedly. For the naïve and the careless believer, Satan’s schemes can ruin years of fruitful service and can render the disciple useless for future work. “Be sober! Be on the alert!” (1 Peter 5:8).

Third, pray that the Lord will protect you from shipwreck and will guide you along the path of righteousness. Consider the truths of Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Pray through the power of Psalm 18:1-3, joining with David in asking the LORD for His protection and declaring the ways the LORD defends His children. It is certainly true that the Lord is our strength and our shield, but it is also true that, when the days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is well-advised to cry out to the Lord and proclaim the Lord’s power and declare the Lord’s promise to be the Defender of His people. “But the LORD is with me like a dread champion” (Jeremiah 20:11). What adversary will come forward to fight my Champion?

SDG                 rmb                 7/6/2021                     #420

Jesus, the Changer (Luke 8:35)

Tim approached me after the worship service because he wanted to introduce me to the pretty girl he was leading around the church. I was always glad to talk to Tim, and today was no exception.

Tim was 20 years old and had been a follower of Jesus for about 18 months. Before that, Tim had been a heroin addict and had done time in juvenile detention centers. His brother had died of a drug overdose and he appeared to be heading down the same street. Then Tim met Jesus, and Tim placed his trust in Jesus, and Tim was changed. Forever changed. Dramatically changed.

“Hey Roy. It’s good to see you. I want you to meet Angelina.” “It’s good to meet you, Angelina. How did you two meet?” Tim answered. “Well, I noticed her about nine months ago and then started getting to know her in groups and stuff. Then I finally asked her out. And now, Roy, the more I got to know her, the more I said, ‘This is such a godly girl. I want to marry her!’” Later I texted Tim and told him how much I enjoyed meeting Angelina. I also told Tim I was amazed at how much Jesus had changed his life. He texted back and said, “Please pray that my love for Christ grows so I can be a good husband in the near future.” Jesus changes people.

Three years ago, Zac was definitely struggling with figuring out life. Out of college, he had been a middle school history teacher at a public school and had been outmatched by the middle schoolers, so he had resigned after one year. His Chick Fil A job was not going to ever pay much, but he had no real plans for the future. He desired to be married, but he had no prospects and did not seem to have much of an idea how to find a prospect. But Zac faithfully followed Jesus and, step-by-step, Jesus had slowly changed Zac’s life. He had joined the Air Force National Guard, had gained a skill in military intelligence, and now had a full-time job with the Guard. On Sunday Zac was beaming from ear to ear because his girlfriend Lauren had accepted his proposal of marriage and was wearing her new diamond ring. Over the last three years, as Zac walked with Jesus, Jesus did what He always does with those who worship Him: He changed Zac and conformed him more into His image. Jesus changes people.

Jesus is the great Changer. He Himself never changes (Hebrews 13:8), yet He changes the lives of all those who follow Him.

In the Bible, those who encountered Jesus and who bowed to Him as King of kings were changed. The demoniac was screaming among the tombs and gashing himself on stones, breaking his chains and being driven naked into the desert. Then he met Jesus, and he was found “sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (Luke 8:35).” Then, as Jesus was leaving the region, He sent the former demoniac out as a missionary, proclaiming what great things Jesus had done for him. From madman to missionary.

Saul was an angry Pharisee; self-righteous, proud, and zealous for his Jewish traditions, he persecuted those who followed the way of Christ. Then he met Jesus on the Damascus road, and was struck down in the dust and blinded by the glory of the risen Lord. Three days later, Saul regained his sight, was baptized, and began to proclaim in the Jewish synagogues, “Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20).” Later, he changed his name to Paul and spent the rest of his life until his martyrdom preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the length and breadth of the Mediterranean world. From persecutor to preacher.

The New Testament is full of these stories, where broken, sinful people met Jesus and bowed down to Him as Savior and Lord. A Samaritan woman with a checkered past meets Jesus at a well and her life is transformed. A loathsome tax collector named Zacchaeus meets Jesus and immediately reforms his ways. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus in the dust of the streets of Jericho encounters Jesus, and Jesus gives him his sight and an entirely new life as the beggar follows Jesus, the Son of David. In the New Testament, when men and women met and followed Jesus Christ, their lives were changed.

But the Jesus who changed lives during His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago is the same Jesus who is changing lives now as He rules and reigns in heaven. When you meet a genuine follower of Jesus, you have met someone who is being changed by Jesus. Many of those who follow Jesus are radically changed, but all who follow Jesus are changed.

Some changes will be highly visible and immediate, and some changes will be less visible and gradual, but if you worship Jesus, He will change your life. He marks all those who are His by changing their lives. There is no exception. If you are His, you can testify to the changes that He has made and is making in your life.

If your life shows no marked change because of meeting Jesus, you have cause for concern. Pilate met Jesus, but his life was not changed. Judas spent three years as one of Jesus’ chosen apostles, but his life was not changed. The chief priests and Pharisees met Jesus, but they were not changed. Paul met Jesus and believed in Jesus, and his life was immediately and radically changed. Does your own encounter with Jesus seem more like Pilate’s or Paul’s? There is an eternal difference between these two encounters.

Note that religion of whatever brand or label does not change people, because no religion of what ever label has any power to change anyone. Jeremiah was speaking of the customs of the people when he said in Jeremiah 10:5:

They are like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.”

All religions are just scarecrows in cucumber fields. They cannot do any good. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, a religion will never change you. If a sinner wants to break the chains of sin and be changed, then the sinner must abandon all religion and all works and commit themselves to Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Those who trust in Jesus will be changed. Those who cling to their religion will remain trapped in their cage of sin.

SDG                 rmb                 4/5/2021

They will return to Me (Jeremiah 24:5-7)

SUMMARY: This (fairly long) article was taken out of Jeremiah 24 and gives a fascinating account of the LORD promising eternal blessings on people whom He “regards as good.” The expression, “regards as good,” introduces the idea of God’s sovereign election of some for salvation. This passage shows that God was sovereign over their salvation and, by implication, He is also sovereign over our salvation.

“The Lord God is sovereign over His universe.” Most professing Christians will agree with this statement whether they have thought much about it or not. But it makes sense, especially when we remember that, according to Genesis 1, God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Since He is the Creator, He should also be the ruler. Many do not realize, however, that the Bible claims that God is sovereign over all that takes place to anyone anywhere in the world, including where people will spend eternity. And uncomfortable though some may be with the Lord God’s right to rule His universe as He sees fit, and “to have mercy on whom He desires, and to harden whom He desires (Romans 9:18),” the biblical evidence of God’s sovereignty is plentiful in both testaments. In my daily Bible reading, I was in Jeremiah 24 and found a fascinating passage about good figs and bad figs.

BACKGROUND

In the Old Testament, it is often helpful to get the context of a passage. In Jeremiah 24, the year is 597 BC. The nation of Judah has been in moral and social decline for a long time. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has recently carried away into exile Jeconiah king of Judah along with many others in Jerusalem and has brought them to Babylon. Jeremiah has been the LORD’s anointed prophet to Judah for thirty years, warning them of the LORD’s coming judgment and urging them to repent.

In Jeremiah 24, the LORD shows Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs:

One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten due to rottenness.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying,

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not uproot them. I will also give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.’”

Consider carefully what the LORD God of Israel says:

“I will REGARD AS GOOD the captives of Judah, WHOM I HAVE SENT OUT of this place into the land of the Chaldeans.”

REGARDED AS GOOD

The LORD declares that He will regard the captives as good. Notice that it is of no importance how the captives regard themselves. Nor is it of any importance whether the captives are actually good or not. We search the text in vain for any mention of the obedience or of the moral character of the captives. We do not know if they fear the LORD and try to obey the Law or if they ignore the LORD altogether. When the LORD regards them as good, all other data or opinion becomes irrelevant.

Again, we ask, “Why does the LORD regard them as good?” No reason is given. The LORD regards the captives as good because the LORD regards the captives as good. No other reason is given because no other reason is needed. The LORD’s declaration of “good” establishes the fact of the captives’ “goodness,” and nothing can change it.

The LORD’s declaration of “good” was not based on anything the captives had done in the past, and so it cannot be lost by anything they will do in the future. The captives did nothing to merit the LORD’s regarding them as good. According to His sovereign will, the LORD chose to regard as good this group of people called captives, and whatever the LORD regards is irrevocable.

THE LORD AT WORK IN THE PAST

But notice also that the LORD’s sovereignty has already been at work in the past on behalf of these captives. The LORD says the captives are those “whom I have sent out of this place.”

How did this group of captives get taken from Jerusalem? The LORD sent them out. Well, how did these captives get taken to Babylon? The LORD sent them out. But didn’t Nebuchadnezzar come to Jerusalem from Babylon and take these captives away with him? Yes, the LORD sent out these captives by bringing Nebuchadnezzar and his army from Babylon to Jerusalem and then having him gather the exiles and take them back to Babylon That was how the LORD sent them out.

THE LORD HAS PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

And, also, notice that the LORD has plans for those who He has regarded as good. The LORD pours out eight promises for future blessing.

I will set My eyes on them for good.

I will bring them again to this land.

I will build them up and not overthrow them.

I will plant them and not pluck them.

I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD.

They will be My people.

I will be their God.

They will return to Me with their whole heart.

The LORD gushes out on the captives four promises of temporal, material blessings, but He also pours out four promises of eternal, spiritual blessings. Note that none of these blessings have been requested by the captives and that none of them are earned by the captives. These promised blessings are given by the LORD solely because it is His sovereign will to do so. Also observe that in these promises, the LORD is declaring what He will certainly do. These promises will certainly come to pass because the LORD always does what He intends to do. Nothing and no one resists His will (Romans 9:19).

ETERNAL SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS

“I will give them a heart to know Me.” All children of Adam are born with a heart that is deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). We have a hard heart (Ephesians 4:18), a foolish heart (Romans 1:21), a stubborn, unrepentant heart (Romans 2:5), and an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12). But the LORD here promises a new heart to those whom He regards as good, a heart that will know Him. He “will remove the heart of stone and give a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-28).” And with that heart they will know the LORD.

“They will be My people and I will be their God.” The captives who are regarded as good will be the people of the LORD (1 Peter 2:10), and in all the earth they will be His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5). And the LORD will be their God: their defender, their shield, their refuge, their provider, their Lord and their God.

“They will return to Me with their whole heart.” Read this carefully, for in this blessing the LORD is making an unconditional promise about what free people will do. What does it mean when the Scripture says, “Return to Me with their whole heart”? This is an Old Testament way of saying that they will genuinely and fully believe in the LORD. We would say that they will be saved. But notice that the LORD is promising that these captives whom the LORD regards as good WILL CERTAINLY return to Him with their whole heart. How can the LORD promise that these captives will do that? He can make this promise because the LORD is the sovereign ruler of the universe and has ordained it to be so.

APPLICATION TO OUR LIVES

This story from Jeremiah 24 of God’s eternal promises and of His regarding some people as good to their eternal, unmerited benefit is the story of the gospel and of how God has sovereignly chosen His people for salvation. But this story in Jeremiah also shows that, when the Lord chooses to regard someone as good, He also ordains that all the means necessary to bring about that person’s salvation will providentially occur in their lives.

So, just as the LORD unconditionally regarded the captives as good, so the Lord has unconditionally “chosen His people in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).”

As the LORD promised to give the captives a heart to know Him, in the same way the Lord has “made us alive with Christ and raised us up with Him” (Ephesians 2:4-5), and the Lord has “caused His people to be born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).”

The LORD declared that these captives would return to Him with their whole heart, and now we who are in Christ have a heart that says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).” We are those who declare, “I count all things loss in view of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).”

SDG                 rmb                 3/12/2021

Remaking a spoiled vessel (Jeremiah 18:1-4)

The potter worked quickly and skillfully as he created his vessels from the lumps of formless clay. His working on the wheel was almost as if the two were one unit, with the wheel yielding to and obeying every impulse from the potter as he shaped and molded. Every once in a great while, the potter would make a mistake with the wheel or with the clay, and the vessel that he was making would be spoiled in his hand. In those instances, the potter would collapse the spoiled vessel back into a lump of clay and quickly remake it into another useful shape.

The LORD calls Jeremiah, the prophet, to go down to the potter’s house and he sees what we just described. The potter takes the spoiled vessel and remakes it into another one.

But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so, he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. – Jeremiah 18:4

As interesting as the work of the potter is, it is not the main point of this story. In fact, this story of the potter and the spoiled vessel is just an illustration that speaks to our own ruined human condition. You see, you and I come into this world as spoiled vessels and we need to find someone who will remake us into pristine, useful vessels.

WHAT DOES A SPOILED VESSEL LOOK LIKE?

The Bible is the story of God’s pursuit of His people and of how He redeems them and remakes them regardless of how spoiled they are. Included in the pages of Scripture are many pictures of what ruined vessels look like to show me how ruined I am.

So, what does a spoiled vessel look like?

As a spoiled vessel, I was like a demon-possessed man screaming naked among the tombs as I gash myself with stones. Not even chains and shackles could restrain me as I fought wildly against my own depravity (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:27-39).

A spoiled vessel, I was like a newborn infant thrown out into the open field, squirming in my own blood, helpless and rejected. (Ezekiel 16:4-6)

I was dead like Lazarus, rotting in the grave, stinking in my graveclothes (John 11:39)

I was spoiled like Mephibosheth, crippled in both feet. (2 Samuel 9:3-4)

I was an unclean leper, longing to be touch and cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-4)

I was a spoiled and ruined vessel like the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting in the dust beside the road (Mark 10:46-52).

Those are pictures of what a spoiled vessel looks like.

Watching a skilled potter make pottery and occasionally remake spoiled vessels into beautiful ones is entertaining, but what does someone do if they themselves are the ruined vessel? For the clay vessel was visibly spoiled, but I am comprehensively ruined. A skilled potter can remake a clay vessel into something useful, but who has the power to redeem and remake a ruined life?

THIS POTTER CAN REMAKE ME INTO SOMETHING NEW

And now we come to the main application of the story of the potter. For there is a master Potter who has the power to remake the most spoiled of vessels into a new and glorious creation. But observe that the ruin in the vessel cannot be repaired. This is not pottery repair, but it is pottery made new. The old vessel must go, and the new vessel must come.

For me there came a day when I realized that the vessel of my life was ruined and there was nothing and no one who could repair it. Sin had ravaged and was ravaging my life, and I needed to find someone who had the power to make me new and set me free. I was tired of gashing myself on stones. I was weary of the dust beside the road. I was rotting in the grave and I was crippled in my feet. My life was spoiled and needed to be remade. Then I met Jesus Christ, the great Savior, the one who has the power to remake ruined lives into useful lives. He has the power to give sight to the blind and freedom to the captives and beauty for ashes. He took my spoiled vessel and remade it as it pleased Him to make it.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. – 2 Cor. 5:17

SDG                 rmb                 3/8/2021

A Purpose Worth Your Soul (Matthew 16:26)

What is the greatest satisfaction? What is that one thing that, if we find it, we will be content? Perhaps another way of asking the question is, “What is that endeavor that is worth the cost of my one God-given life?” Jesus stated the problem this way:

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?”

This search for purpose has been a persistent theme in my life, especially since I trusted Christ as Lord and Savior over thirty years ago. Maybe I am unusual in this, but I think that many wrestle with these same thoughts: “What am I going to do with my life?” God has placed within us a desire for purpose. It may be our strongest human desire, the yearning to find that great work, that place where we feel the deepest sense of fulfillment. “This is the reason I exist!”

In a way, we are all exchanging our soul for something. When I was much younger, I was exchanging my soul for rock climbing. Although there were pleasures and accomplishments from my years of rock climbing, there was never any sense that clawing my way up crags was worth my soul. I felt a need for purpose but climbing was never going to get me there. Then I met the Lord Jesus and He changed everything. Now my life had a sense of purpose. When I was a new believer, I had not come close to finding THE PURPOSE, but I knew that now I was on the right road.

THE MASTER ARCHER ANALOGY

I imagine God as the Master Archer and my life as an arrow. The target is that place where I feel the deep satisfaction and contentment of living my life fully to the glory of God, of finding my unique purpose. Before Christ, I had placed my arrow in the hands of clumsy archers who were poor marksmen, and my life was being spent in dissipation to no purpose. But now I have placed my arrow in the hands of the Lord, the Master Archer, and the Lord has launched me from His bow. Like every one of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am now either a contented arrow in flight, useful to the Master Archer as I fly toward His chosen target, or the greatest of all satisfactions, a fulfilled arrow which has found its target and is living out my purpose. I have found my great work (Nehemiah 6:3). My search is over. This, my purpose, is why I exist.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF PURPOSE

The Bible is full of examples of people who found their purpose. Nehemiah left Susa and the court of King Artaxerxes to find his purpose. He realized that the work of his life was rebuilding Jerusalem. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down (Neh. 6:3).” Having found his life purpose, nothing was going to distract him.

The apostle Paul found his purpose in the dust of the Damascus road. He was a chosen instrument for Christ, and nothing was going to prevent him from fulfilling his purpose. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).” He was a man who had found his purpose, and so he could say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).”

The Lord Jesus Himself was completely aware of the reason why He was sent by the Father and was focused on fulfilling His purpose. There has never been and there never will be a Person on earth who was more intent on His purpose. As He was preparing for the cross, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).” Even Jesus knew the joy and satisfaction of perfectly fulfilling His purpose.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet saw the LORD, lofty and exalted, and realized his own sinfulness (“Woe is me, for I am ruined!”), but he found his life purpose.

The Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

Jeremiah was given his life purpose when he was still a youth.

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak (Jeremiah 1:7).” “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you (1:17).”

Many others knew the satisfaction and contentment which comes from fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives. Amos 7:15 – “But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’” Peter was given his purpose one day on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to Simon (Peter), “Do not fear. From now on you will be catching men (Luke 5:11).” Moses was a washed-up shepherd in Midian when the LORD met him in a burning bush and gave him a life purpose, to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3). The LORD commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous and then gave him the life purpose of leading Israel in to conquer the land of Canaan (Joshua 1). Caleb demanded to be given the city of Hebron, because he knew that the LORD had called him to drive out the giants there (Joshua 14:6-15). Ezekiel was also given his assignment from the LORD: “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me (Ezekiel 2:3).” And thus was his life determined.  

But I have become convinced that the Lord intends for all His children to know the satisfaction and peace and contentment of finding their life purpose. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).” Now, if He has prepared our good works, he must also know the purpose for those good works.

I feel that, after a search of almost thirty years, I have now found my purpose; my great work. I am now writing full time and have never been more enthusiastic about my life. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).” If the desires of your heart are to glorify God with your life and rejoice in Him, then He has promised to give you the desires of your heart. One of those desires should be finding His purpose for your life. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).” The world searches for riches and fame and power, but the believer seeks the Lord Himself and fellowship with Him. Seek righteousness (Matthew 5:6) and the Lord has promised to add all the other things. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).”

SDG                 rmb                 2/24/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 1 (Phil. 3:10)

            It seems that the statement is made at some point in most conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to suffering for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and in history suffer for their faith? Why does the Bible have so much to say about suffering if my experience of the Christian life can safely avoid it? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course that will almost certainly result in my suffering to some degree?

            Because of these questions and because of the importance of the topic of suffering, I am going to spend the next several posts exploring what I see to be problems with this statement. The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #1

“Can you support that statement with Scripture?”

The first reaction to this statement may be to agree with it and let the conversation move on, but as discerning followers of Jesus, we must respond to these types of statements with at least a small challenge.

“That’s an interesting idea. Can you support that statement with Scripture?” Scripture is the place where all disciples of Jesus find a common foundation. Does a given theological position, or a faith practice find solid support in the word of God?

When I think about the fact that Jesus Christ was acutely aware of His appointed suffering on the cross from the beginning of His ministry and had, in fact, been sent to earth for the express purpose of suffering and dying on the cross, I seriously wonder if I can support the statement above. My entire salvation depends upon Jesus seeking suffering. Jesus’ mission could only be accomplished if He suffered and died on the cross. Where does the Lord Jesus tell His disciples that they are not to seek out suffering? Chapter and verse, please.

What about Paul? Paul intentionally did things that provoked persecution and inevitably resulted in his suffering. In Philippi he cast out a demon that ended the merchants’ revenue with the slave girl. He must have known that this was going to result in his being punished and his suffering.

Paul continued his way to Jerusalem knowing that conflict awaited him there (Acts 20-21). His own people pleaded with him to turn back and to change his plans, but Paul steadfastly refused even though he knew that he would suffer. Would Paul agree with the statement that the Christian does not seek out suffering?

And then there is Peter. Peter was warned repeatedly that, if he continued with his preaching about Jesus in Jerusalem, he was going to be severely punished (Acts 4-5), and yet he never even slowed down. If the Jewish or Roman authorities needed to punish someone for preaching about Jesus, Peter was not hard to find. Also, his first epistle has as its central theme the perseverance of the believer in the face of suffering for Christ. Would Peter say that the believer does not seek suffering?

            In the Old Testament, evil kings and false prophets warned the true prophets that, if they did not silence their prophecy or change their message, they would be punished, and the true prophets remained true to the message the LORD had given them to proclaim. For example, more than once, Jeremiah suffered for the message that he preached, but he would rather be punished with the stripes of men than fail to obey the LORD and deliver His message.

            So, while these heroes from Scripture may not have sought suffering, the prospect of suffering was not a factor in their decision-making. They sought to be obedient to the LORD, regardless. That is the view that the Scripture supports.

SDG rmb 1/5/2021

But let’s take a step back for a minute. Maybe the problem with the statement is the statement itself. That is, maybe we are saying what we mean in a clumsy way. My next post will explore that possibility in PROBLEM #2. rmb

Jeremiah 26:2. Do not omit a word!

In the early days of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet telling the LORD’s appointed messenger to speak “all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. DO NOT OMIT A WORD!”

Here Jeremiah is to proclaim a message that is so important that the LORD dictates the very words that must be used. This message from the LORD cannot be modified or shortened or embellished. No parts of the message can be left out and no other parts can be inserted. The messenger must communicate the LORD’s message and no other. “Do not omit a word!”

The point of this blog post is to consider the message that Jeremiah preached to the people of Jerusalem in the days before the Chaldeans destroyed that city and see that, in Jeremiah’s message, there are foreshadows and parallels with the gospel of Jesus Christ that we are called to proclaim to the nations.

The essential message that the LORD’s appointed prophet was to herald to Jerusalem is contained in 26:2-6 and 26:12-13. Consider, then, the message that Jeremiah proclaimed.

  • It was a message of warning, declaring to the people that their destruction was approaching. Whether they believed it or not, they would soon be destroyed;
  • Jeremiah’s message told that this destruction was a judgment on them from the LORD because of their sins and because of the evil of their deeds;
  • This was also a message of mercy, for Jeremiah had been sent by the LORD to these people who were doomed to destruction for the express purpose of announcing how the LORD would stop the calamity He was planning to bring on the city. The LORD was willing to be merciful;
  • If the people would listen to the LORD’s voice and would repent of their evil deeds and return to the LORD, then the LORD would spare the city;
  • If the people did not heed the message and did not repent and return to the LORD, then destruction and judgment were certain.

Does this message sound familiar? It should! This outline of Jeremiah’s message is a foreshadow of the essential gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ that believers proclaim today. Let me show you the parallels:

  • In our gospel, we proclaim a warning, telling sinners that God’s judgment is coming soon. Whether they believe they are sinners or not and whether or not they believe that our holy God will judge sin, our gospel warns all sinners that they are under God’s condemnation and wrath and will be judged;
  • Our gospel message declares that God’s judgment and wrath are the result of sins and the result of the evil of their deeds;
  • Like Jeremiah, we proclaim a message of God’s mercy, for we have been sent out by the Lord Himself (Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 2:9; Acts 2:38-39; Luke 24:46-49; 1 Timothy 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:20) to a people doomed to judgment for the express purpose of announcing to them that Christ is a great Savior and that God will forgive all those who place their faith in Him;
  • If our hearers listen to  the message and repent of their evil deeds and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31), God will remove His wrath and condemnation from them and will forgive their sin and will give them eternal life;
  • If our hearers reject the Lord’s message of salvation and do not repent of their sins and do not believe in the Lord Jesus, then God’s destruction and judgment are certain (Hebrews 9:27).

So in this passage in Jeremiah we have seen the gospel clearly foreshadowed. But I wanted to think for a second about the sentence in which the LORD tells Jeremiah, “Do not omit a word!”

In the case of Jeremiah’s message, the prophet was speaking to a relatively small group of people in a single city about a temporal destruction and a temporal deliverance. The Chaldeans were threatening Jerusalem with destruction, but if Judah repented, the LORD would deliver them from physical death and destruction. And yet in this situation, the LORD gives Jeremiah the command, “Do not omit a word!” The message must be exactly the LORD’s message.

But if the LORD is that serious about the accuracy of this word spoken concerning temporal salvation to a small group of people, and declares that the message must be exactly what He intends, how much more serious would He be about the accuracy of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the only means of salvation available for all of mankind for all time, a message that delivers anyone who believes from the eternal condemnation of God and brings them into eternal life. In other words, if the LORD wanted strict faithfulness to His message of temporal salvation (Jeremiah 26), how much more important is it that the gospel message be accurately proclaimed (Acts 2).

The lesson, then, is that we must faithfully proclaim the whole council of God’s gospel with accuracy and boldness. “Do not omit a word!” When we are faithful with the message that God has called us to proclaim, we will see God glorified and will see God bring people to Himself.

SDG       rmb       7/10/2017