Christianity 201

August 20, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is a writer who is new to us. Neil White, is a Lutheran (ELCA) Pastor, currently Senior Pastor for Rejoice Lutheran in Frisco, Texas. His blog is called Sign of the Rose. To read this at source, and then navigate to other articles, click the title below.

The Disconnect Between Worship and Obedience: Jeremiah 6: 15-21

15 They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the LORD.
16 Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it.”
17 Also I raised up sentinels for you: “Give heed to the sound of the trumpet!”
But they said, “We will not give heed.”
18 Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
19 Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes, because they have not given heed to my words;
and as for my teaching, they have rejected it.
20 Of what use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me.
21 Therefore thus says the LORD:
See, I am laying before this people stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;
parents and children together, neighbor and friend shall perish.

Apparently the reality that some people may be faithful church attenders while they live lives that are fundamentally out of touch with God’s desire for their lives is not a new reality. As Walter Brueggemann states:

In place of torah, Israel has substituted cultic action (Jer. 6:20-21): frankincense, cane, sacrifices. Israel has devised a form of religion that reflects affluence, which can be safely administered, and which brackets out all questions of obedience. (Brueggemann 1998, 73)

It is a nice, safe, easy religion that has allowed the people to slip into a sense of cultic complacency. So long as we have the temple and we keep bringing our offerings to God nothing will happen to us. This is the picture of gods that are common in the ancient world, that you bring pleasing offerings to the gods to entreat their favor and to get them fight for you in your battles, allow your crops to prosper, etc. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand the relationship God wants for God’s people.

It is not coincidence that the Old Testament prophets frequently rail against the sacrificial system (and Jesus also directly confronts the temple in his own day). The way things are will not continue indefinitely, God is speaking through the prophet. God is taking away the things that people have placed their trust in, and the temple and the priestly sacrificial system is one of these things.

August 10, 2017

Jeremiah and the Popularity Contest

by Clarke Dixon

“Your popularity has gone down 25%!” Such was a new expression one of my boys brought home from school as a way of expressing annoyance. I suppose I should have been happy that my son was learning percentages, or that my popularity was not dropping near as fast as my other sons. What I was not so happy about was the lifting up of popularity as something of great importance.

As prophets go, Jeremiah was not popular, indeed he went beyond being unpopular to being hated. And little wonder, Jeremiah 1:10 gives a nice summary of what Jeremiah was expected to do:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:10 NRSV)

You may have noticed that the description of Jeremiah’s call has twice the amount of negative sounding items as positive. Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you will notice that Jeremiah spends most of his time prophesying destruction and hard times. Such messages would not help his popularity rating! Jeremiah’s contemporaries preferred a kinder, gentler, and of course, more popular message, but Jeremiah remained faithful. Had he cared more for his own popularity than God’s truth, he would have faded into obscurity as a prophet not worth remembering. Like most of his contemporaries he would have become irrelevant.

There is a great effort in the Church today to try to be relevant, to regain some of the popularity we perceive ourselves to have lost. There are those who think the Church can be relevant if it pays attention to the shifts in society in world-view and ethics and make similar shifts, “keeping up with the times” as it were. However, the opposite is true. It is by maintaining the distinctive teaching from God’s Word that we become relevant. It is when we play the popularity game that we become irrelevant.

Jeremiah lived in a time and place where his message was necessarily negative. The time had come for judgement, for which there was no sugar coating, and about which Jeremiah could do nothing. As Christians we live in a time and place where our message will necessarily be unpopular.

Let’s consider one of the most unpopular teachings of the Church in our day. Consider our message regarding sexuality. The message of the Church that sex belongs within marriage sounds antiquated to many, judgemental and negative. Should we play the popularity game and change our views? While viewed negatively by society, there is much to commend a Biblical view of sexuality. Sexually transmitted diseases are not transmitted by God fearing people. Marriages are not ripped apart by adultery among God fearing people. The Canadian definition of marriage today may as well be “the relationship among the many we have had that we hope lasts the longest.” Among God fearing people marriage is a fundamentally different relationship from any other relationship ever had, not just the longest lasting among many. “Being faithful so long as we both shall live” rings deep and true when a person can speak of “being faithful so long as I have already lived.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse can and should begin long before the wedding day. But even if there was nothing practical to commend our message, faithfulness to it would still demonstrate our faithfulness to God, and that ought to matter. The message of the Church with regards to sexuality is not popular today. But that should matter to us about as much as the popularity of the message of judgement mattered to Jeremiah. What matters is faithfulness to God, and it is by remaining faithful to Him we remain relevant to our society.

There are many other examples of Christian teaching that will be unpopular; belief in the supernatural, belief that abortion is wrong, belief in the importance of sobriety, belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, belief that other world-views are wrong. We can not expect the Church to win a popularity contest while it holds to these teachings. But neither do we need to enter a popularity contest. God calls us, like he called Jeremiah, not to popularity, but to faithfulness to Him, and to true and lasting relevance.


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

February 12, 2013

Then the Word of the Lord Hit Me

Although this is a longer item today, I wanted to include the introduction which really resonated and helped me to understand where the author, Tim Whitehead is coming from. This is from the blog, Just My Thoughts and appeared under a title that better reflects what he is really writing about here, The Power of the Potter. This is a blog that I hope you will want to bookmark.

“Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel” Jeremiah 18:5, 6

A reoccurring phrase which is common among the Old Testament prophets is, “…the word of the Lord came to me…” I liken this phrase to hearing people say something like, “And suddenly it hit me” or “I was doing such-and-such and it dawned on me. It came to me that…” Each of these contains with them the element of the unexpected, that it was something which happened suddenly while busily doing something else. Imagine Jeremiah going about his daily routine, handling his chores, taking care of some things, when suddenly the Lord speaks to him. Amid him just being an ordinary guy, going about his typical day, doing all the typical things that regular folks do, the Lord abruptly interrupt Jeremiah’s day and his thoughts, and He talks to him.

The reason that I point this out is because I want to dispel the notion that in order to hear from God we must place ourselves on extended fasts, spend hours in prayer, read numerous chapters and whole books of the bible daily, all the while living a solitary life as hermit. I’m not saying that living a disciplined life is wrong, or that there is anything wrong with setting aside personal time with the Lord daily. These are right and good. But never believe that these are the only times, and only in these situations can the Lord can speak to you. It is possible to be a regular person, like Jeremiah and others in the scriptures, live a routine, life and still be able to hear from God clearly.

You see, its one thing to spend time with God each day, but quite another to walk with God throughout your day. Those who walk with the Lord do not subject Him and whatever it is that He desires to do and say to their daily devotional times. The do not restrict Him to a specific time and place. They go throughout their day daily keeping their hearts sensitive to Him. They are available to Him for His use at any moment. They listen for Him. The ones who walk with God are flexible. They are continually cognizant that their plans can be divinely changed, and they are fine with it.

 A lot of people desire to hear from the Lord, and even to be used by Him, but they don’t want to be inconvenienced. Yes, they want the Lord to speak them, and yes they want to be used by Him, just as long as it does not interrupt their lives; their plans and activities.  I realize by experience that some of the best, and the most wonderful times of ministry are those unscheduled opportunities to minister that happen through the course of your day as you are doing nothing spiritually related at all. They can happen in the supermarket, on your job, at a restaurant, etc. You didn’t plan them and had no foreknowledge or warning that it would happen. They were strategically, divinely set up.

It’s the same way with the Lord speaking to you. He has a way of speaking to you, of dealing with your heart, at times when you are least expecting it. These are usually times when you aren’t even trying to hear from Him. On the other hand, in those times when you desperately need and want to hear from Him that He is silent. 

       – o – o – o –

The Lord says to the Israelites through Jeremiah, “…Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” In my mind I hear God saying it like this, “Israel, don’t you realize that I can do to you the same thing this potter did to the clay? Don’t you know that I can do that?” I imagine He said it with authority.  So what did the potter do to the clay which God says that He could do to Israel? We can find the answer to this by going back to verses 3 and 4. Jeremiah says, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. 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.” (verses 3, 4)  

The potter decided that he was going to make a certain vessel. As he was going about working on the vessel he discovered a flaw. The potter begins again. This time he isn’t going to make the same thing that he originally had in mind. He changes his mind and decides that he going to make something new. The Lord says to Israel, “I can deal with you the same way. I can do the exact same thing to you.” And He did.  

Israel enjoyed a special relationship with the Lord. They knew that they were His first choice above all other nations. They were fully aware that they were God’s elect, His chosen people. As such, they enjoyed certain privileges and experienced blessings which other nations did not. The people of Israel made a mistake thinking that because of whom they were, and their standing with God, He could not and would never cast them off. How sorely they were mistaken.

Using the potter and the clay as an illustration, God sent a clear and simple message to the people of Israel: “Israel, I am God and you are not. As quickly as I chose you to work with, just as sure as I had an original will and plan for you. I can just as easily, and just quickly change my mind.”  When those who are God’s first choice are unfaithful then the Lord raises up others in their place.    

Once and again I have warned believers over the years to be very careful that they never make the mistake thinking that they are all God have. Never think that just because God has chosen you, you are now secure in your place and position, and you cannot be replaced. Not one of us is so secure that because of who we are and because of our position we are not easily replaceable. We’re all expendable. Throughout the scriptures we have examples of those who were God’s first choice, but they were unfaithful to Him and to His commands, they disobeyed and they were quickly replaced by others.

Usually the ones who the Lord chose to replace His first choice were most times  the ones that in the eyes of others were the least likely to be selected for the position and job.

These days I see a lot of folks in the ministry who are indeed called by God and they are truly gifted, but the anointing of God has been removed from their lives and ministries a long time ago. These aren’t people who were never called to begin with. They were called, but somehow or other they got distracted from the Lord and from the assignment that He gave to them, some got into sin and disobedience, etc. As a result, all they are left with are gifts and a call, with no anointing. They still have the title, but they lost the anointing. They still receive the acclaim and accolades of the people, but they lost the anointing. They’re prosperous and powerful, but have lost the true riches and power, the anointing. In the eyes of men they are successful, but in God’s eyes they’ve failed without the anointing.

It is thoroughly possible to maintain gifts and callings, to even continue to function, though the anointing is no longer there. What’s frightening is you can even be successful at it. Never assume that just because a minister or ministry is successful it is anointed.

The Lord further says to Israel, “…Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” In other words, “In the same way that the potter can do whatever he desires with the clay that is in his hands, so to, I, the Lord, can do the same to you Israel. I can do to you, and with you, whatever I desire. I chose you but I can change my mind if you give me a reason to.” 

Even though the Lord has called us and He has chosen us; we’ve received, and still continue to receive, His blessings; we are privileged to be used by Him at times; we get to enjoy a special relationship with Him and to fellowship with Him, but, these must never cause us to get so comfortable with the Lord, and so secure in our position, that we forget that He is God. He is in control. He is the boss is. From time to time when it looks like we’re forgetting He will give us a sobering reminder.   

This passage has nothing to do with the Lord, as the Master Potter, taking the flawed and the broken pieces of our lives and remaking it into something beautiful. Certainly He can and He does do this. But this passage is not about that and has nothing to with it. It has everything to do with the power of the potter; that the potter has over the clay to do with it as he desires, and that circumstances can cause the potter’s original plan, will and purpose to change, thus requiring him to do something differently.