Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Way to Zion

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Saturday, October 26, 2013:  Jeremiah 49:23-50:46

“In those days and in that time,” says the Lord, “The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together; with continual weeping they shall come, and seek the Lord their God.  They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces toward it, saying, ‘Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that will not be forgotten.’  Jeremiah 50:4-5 (NKJV)

It seems God's people never stop moving.  Adam and Eve were thrust out of Eden.  Abram journeyed from Ur to Canaan.  The two great movements of God's people in the Old Testament are "out of Egypt" and "back from Babylon." 

In the New Testament, the Gospel moves from confinement in Jerusalem to release to the nations.  In terms of its mission, the Church is always expanding, moving, going out.  This is descriptive not only of her earthly ministry but also her spiritual journey.  Hebrews 13:14 says, "For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come."  Peter calls us "sojourners and pilgrims" (I Peter 1:1 and 2:11).  We are always moving toward Zion.

Jeremiah prophesied that Israel and Judah would come back.  They would return from Babylonian captivity.  On their lips would be a request, "Please, show me the way to Zion."  This is the perennial question asked by all who seek the Lord.

Zion has a rich and layered meaning both in Scripture and history.  David won his first battle as king by reclaiming the Jebusite stronghold on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  He renamed that stronghold the City of David (II Samuel 5:6-9).  Symbolically, Zion is where we meet and fulfil our destiny.  It is the full expression of God's kingship in our lives that vanquishes our enemies and extends His kingdom.  Historically, for the Jewish people, the term Zion means their homeland.  The Zionist movement is the return of the Jews to their home.  This is why Jerusalem holds such a dear place in the heart of all wandering Jews. 

The top of Mount Zion in Jerusalem today

It seems we are always moving.  In the will of God, we are always both "going out" and "coming in."  We are going out carrying the Good News to a world that God loves.  We are coming in by always returning to our true identity, our true destiny, our true homeplace.  We have met God but we are also meeting God.

Zion is the place of covenant.  Jeremiah calls it "a perpetual covenant that will not be forgotten."  When we, as Christians, set our faces toward Zion we are moving out of our bondage and toward the manifest victory God has promised.  We are moving toward destiny and effectiveness.  We are moving toward our true homeland from which we will affect the nations.

We, like Israel and Judah, are asking the way to Zion.  This is our prayer and our aim.  We join ourselves to the Lord by covenant.  As a result, the most beautiful city the world has ever seen will be built.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Last Days of a Great Nation

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Monday, October 21, 2013:  Jeremiah 37:1-38:28

Now King Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned ...  But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land gave heed to the words of the Lord which He spoke by the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah 37:1-2 (NKJV)

Zedekiah was the last king to rule in Jerusalem.  The Babylonian captivity swept him and Judah away ending the succession of kings that began with David.  Never again would a human king rule over a national Israel.

God brought needed judgment to sinful Israel.  In so doing, He set the stage for the advent of the true Prince, the true King.  A new kind of King would arise to fulfill the grand vision of David's rulership.  His Name is Jesus.

God was finished with Judah as we knew it in the Old Testament.  He had something bigger and grander in store.  Like changing from one garment to another, God laid off national interests and replaced them with His global Body of Believers called the Church under the rulership of King Jesus.  This had always been His plan.  In the Old Testament we see it as types and shadows -- prefigurements of the glorious people God was raising up out of every tribe and nation.

Jeremiah began to prophecy about this transition.  Zedekiah and his cohorts refused to listen.  They were mired in their own intensely present dilemma.  They could not imagine that God had anything bigger in store.

This idea grips me.  In the annals of history, God has raised up one nation after another to serve His mission of world evangelism.  We have seen nations rise and fall.  Germany, France, England, Ireland -- these are but a few.  Today, perhaps the Chinese church is the greatest gospel standard-bearer of our day.

Is God through with America?  I certainly hope not!  I love my nation.  I cherish our heritage of biblical fidelity.

I hope that God will preserve our land.  I hope that His prophetic word over our nation is not similar to the one that Jeremiah spoke over Jerusalem.  I want to believe that God can yet again raise up a great gospel witness for Himself in our land.

It is time for us to hear from God.  He is still on His throne despite the daily negative developments that unfold before our eyes.  What if (God forbid) our nation should fall under the judgment of God?  I am so thankful the Kingdom of God will never fail.  It will never falter.  His Kingdom will know no end.

There comes a time when the patience of God runs out.  It spells the end of a nation.  We need not think that America is immune from such a thing.  Instead, we claim the promise of God that says, "If My people who are called by Name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways.  Then, I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land." (II Chron. 7:14)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

God's Strange Way of Using Us

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Saturday, October 12, 2013: Jeremiah 19:1-21:14

Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.  But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.  Jeremiah 20:9 (NKJV)

Ornery Old Testament Prophets

Jeremiah was in jail for preaching.  There is no doubt he had been delivering a scathingly hard word.  The priestly establishment heard about it and threw him in stocks (20:2).

These Old Testament prophets were an amazingly tough and ornery bunch.  In Chapter 19, Jeremiah had gathered the elders of Jerusalem out by the filthy landfill (the Valley of Hinnom).  If you read the word he delivered to them, it will make your hair stand up.  He said things like, "your corpses shall be eaten by birds" (19:7), and "you will eat the flesh of your sons and daughters" (19:9) -- that's cannibalism! -- and "you stiff-necked people are all going to be slaughtered" (19:6).  Whoa!  How's that for a seeker-friendly message?

Jeremiah had then done a "prophetic act."  He shattered an empty earthen pot in front of them.  He declared that God was doing to Jerusalem exactly what he did to that pot. 

In passing we should note the dramatic change in prophetic message and tone when we move from Old Testament to New.  The tenor of New Testament prophetic ministry is REDEMPTIVE.  Prophecy in the New Testament is for "exhortation, edification, or comfort" (I Corinthians 14:3).  The thrust of these Old Testament prophets tilted strongly toward severe, inescapable JUDGMENT. 

"I Quit!"

Prophesying in the New Testament church can be thrilling.  Prophesying to Old Testament Israel could be dangerous.  As a result, Jeremiah cried out to God about the dilemma of his ministry.  "O Lord, you enticed me and persuaded me to take this assignment!" (20:7).  "Then you gave me this really hard word to preach."  "Now, everyone is either hating me or laughing at me."

Jeremiah tried to quit.  "Then I said, 'I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His Name'" (20:9).  There comes a time in the life of every servant of God that he or she feels they can't go on any more.  The resistance is too strong.  The pain is too great.  It seems that God has hung you out to dry -- to be a laughing stock.  He has set you up for rejection and failure. 

The Fire Inside

Jeremiah made a discovery.  At this low point, he came face-to-face with the nature of all true calling.  Jeremiah had not called himself into the ministry.  God called him.  He had not invented the Word he was to deliver.  God had given it.  The Word in his heart became a force to be reckoned with.  The Word was alive.  The ministry was not the man Jeremiah; it was the Word he carried.  Once God placed His Word in Jeremiah's heart, it became like "fire in his bones.

There is an inevitability to all true, God-ordained ministry.  It is like fire that cannot be contained.  Paul echoed this truth when he wrote, "woe to me if I do not preach" (I Co. 9:16).  He told the Corinthians, "the love of Christ COMPELS us" (II Co. 5:14).  Jeremiah says that he grew weary trying to hold the Word inside.  It HAD to be released.

God's Strange Way of Using You

It seems like a strange way to do business.  God entices us to do His work.  Then we find out that some folks don't appreciate us like we thought they would.  How often have you felt the sting of unfair criticism only because you tried to do God's will?

The world, the flesh, and the devil will try to shut you down.  They want you to fold.  But this can be your finest moment.  You will find a power rising from deep inside -- from the marrow of  your being.  His Word working through you will ATTRACT opposition.  But it will ultimately prevail. 

Though strange, this is the way of the prophets.  This is the way of God's Word.  This is the path that you walk.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Battlefield of the Heart

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Friday, October 11, 2013: Jeremiah 16:16-18:23

9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?  10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NKJV)

The Bible has much to say about the heart of man.  Our few words here do not afford us space to deal with this important topic as thoroughly as it deserves.  I will only make a few observations.

The Bible describes the heart as the deepest inner core of a man. Out of this core comes the multi-faceted dimensions of mind, emotions, and will.

 1. The heart is where we have our basic thoughts and attitudes.  Proverbs 23:7 says, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he."  Jesus once asked, "Why do you think evil in your heart?"  When the angel told Mary of the Son she would soon deliver, Luke 2:19 says, "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart."

2. The heart is the ground level of our decisions -- our will.  The Bible often speaks as it does in Exodus 35:5 saying, "Whoever is of a willing heart." We are continually instructed to "set your heart" (Dt. 32:46, I Chronicles 22:19) or "settle it in your heart" (Luke 21:14).

3. The heart is the reservoir from which flow our deepest feelings and emotions.  In the heart resides joy.  Jesus said, "Your heart will rejoice" (John 16:22).  Out of the heart come grief, gladness, desires, delights, affections, anxieties, and anguish.  The list goes on.  The heart is the symbol of love.

There is one major problem with our hearts.  This deep core is the battlefield between good and evil.  The heart is wooed by God and attacked by the devil.  Because of the sin of our original parents, something of our basic being died and is now vulnerable to deception and injury.

Some have responded to this battle by hardening their hearts.  Others have become cynical and suspicious.  Few there be that are able to keep a clean, healthy, whole heart in this battle.

Jeremiah gives a "heart diagnosis."  The first words are not pretty.  He says that we all have congenital heart issues.  We keep getting life wrong because we are prone toward deception.  There is something fundamentally disconnected in each one of us -- at the heart level.  It is a desperate situation!

The diagnosis may seem bleak, but the prognosis is good.  This heart problem can be fixed.  Jeremiah says that the Lord knows our hearts.  It is for this reason that we regularly use phrases such as "Ask Jesus INTO YOUR HEART."  This is not empty religious verbiage.  This is the real deal.  

Jeremiah says that God will search us, test us, and give to us.  From a medical perspective, this means that He will diagnose exactly what's going on and then give us exactly what we need in the light of our unique life circumstance.  

Some have read the last phrase as JUDGEMENT -- "to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings."  That sounds like God will give you what you have coming.  I believe, however, these words are REDEMPTIVE.

Our great God will search and test our hearts.  He will then give us the exact medicine we need to bring health and healing.  The basic medicine is always the same -- the Cross of Jesus -- the shed blood of Christ.  That medicine is applied "according to your ways, according to the fruit of your doings."  It will invade and redeem your incredibly complex and unique set of mess-ups.  

There is nothing too difficult for God.  He can even unravel a messed up heart.  That's the message of Jeremiah. It is the message of Jesus.  So invite His to do it.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news any of us have ever heard.  And it works -- at heart level.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

We Need Watchmen!

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Tuesday, October 1, 2013:  Isaiah 62:6-65:25

6 I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night.  You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, 7 and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.  Isaiah 62:6-7 (NKJV)

When the watchman does his job, the city can sleep in peace.  When the watchman fails at his task, the city is filled with fear.  The watchman on the wall is the warning system -- the alarm that sees danger as it approaches.  His job may not be to fight the battle, but rather to warn the troops so that THEY can fight and win.

The watchman is usually understood as DEFENSIVE.  He is part of the protective system that secures the city.

But, Isaiah describes an additional aspect of the watchman's job.  Not only does the watchman INTERCEPT the enemy's attack (as depicted in Ezekiel 33:1-11), but he also INTERCEDES for the presence of God.

He cries out until God's power is released. He refuses to be shut up or shut down.  He spends sleepless nights interceding for the will of God.  Like all good ministry, it is not enough to simply eliminate the bad.  The watchman's burden is also to imitate the good.

That's what watchmen do.  They are vigilant against the invasion of the devil, but also tuned in to the power and presence of God.

Throughout Scripture, God is looking for those who will stand on the wall.  Four times Jesus repeats, "Watch and pray." (Matt. 26:41, Mark 13:33, 14:38, Luke 21:36) There are continual calls to vigilance.  Be alert!  Wake up!  Pay attention!

This is not just to avoid danger but also to invite blessing.

Your family needs you on the wall.  Your city needs you.  Our nation is in desperate need of watchmen on the wall.  Will you be one?