Monday, September 22, 2008

I Don't Want To Be An Object Lesson

I lost the Bible that I normally preach from this week. I accidently left it on the roof of my van when I went to pick it up after an oil change. Now I have a few different Bibles, but this one was very special to me. I loved the way that it felt in my hands. It was the perfect size to fit my notes in. I reach for it every week to study from. I had a picture of myself as a child on my father’ knee in the front of it and it always is an inspiration to me as I preach from week to week. I have a few different Bibles, but I have to admit that my heart sank when I reached for it this week and realized it was gone. It was an awful experience for me and I went on a desperate search up and down Ontario St. a few times retracing my route to find it to no avail.

The people of Judah had lost the Word of God at this time in Jeremiah’s ministry. In fact they had lost more than that…they had lost the very presence of the Lord.

We will unpack the second message in Jeremiah's ministry to Judah, just before their final exile into the land of Babylon at the hand of king Nebuchadnezzar. It was delivered about five years after the first, in the eighteenth year of King Josiah. However, what begins to unfold for us now is how Jeremiah himself is personally affected by his own ministry.

Last week we were challenged by his message to always remember our relationship with the Lord likening it to a marriage, realize to the depths that we have fallen and the call to return into the fold, becoming His beloved children who say, Here I am, send me! I will be the living presence of Jesus in my world.

When we lose the presence of God in our life, we lose our own sense of worth and ultimate meaning. In fact Jeremiah made it clear that by chasing after worthless idols in our life we in turn become worthless. 2v5

When you lose God, you easily lose the value of human life. The nation had lost its sensitivity to God and the reverberations continued to deal death blows to their sense of self and others.

Today’s message is a challenge to stay true, stay focused, stay the course when life is way beyond us to understand God.

Losing Your Way To God – I CAN’T SEE YOU.

It is always tough for us to know how to respond when God acts in a way that is opposite from how we expect him to show up. There have been times where I have celebrated the God who heals, the God who gave a clean bill of health to my father, the father who showed me how to love your wife and your children only to see the cancer return with a vengeance two months later and his death 3 months following that.

I have celebrated the God who defied the doctor’s prognosis for my dear friend Carlos, a dentist who takes his whole dental staff to Uganda to work on the teeth of those families who could never afford it, a man who would return to his homeland in Columbia despite the warnings to minister to people there as well. A man with such a generous heart that when he bought a cabin in the mtns he made it very clear that it was not his, but to share with every ministry, especially the youth, for retreats only to fall into palliative care in July and die in August of this year.

But the hardest thing I had to watch was a little boy by the name of Robbie Newman die at the age of 7 because he contracted HIV and then AIDS as a result of being born with this condition. I sat by his bedside, held the pictures that he drew for me.

You may resonate with me in those similar places where God has left you in the whirlwind of the circumstances

However that is why God is mysterious. We would like God to be more predictable, but oh, He is not. We have picked out the promises that we have claimed and clinged onto. However we rarely take into account the whole of Scripture. We are more comfortable proof texting our preference of God. So, today we come face to face with some difficult verses, verses that are not so quick to understand, but really shake us to our core and require quite a balancing act.

God asked Jeremiah to do two things here that really seem out of character for God.

7v16 "So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.

How does that strike you? God commanded Jeremiah to stop praying for the people of Judah,…don’t intercede, don’t fast, don’t bring them before me. Most of us think that prayer is always the mandate…PUSH pray until something happen. Why would he command someone to stop praying??

I don’t think any of you have claimed this as your life verse.

As if that were not bad enough, check out what God tells Jeremiah in v27

"When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.

As a pastor who preaches on a week to week basis, this would be all the motivation I would need to say, “God, I don’t think I am meant to be your man in this place”. Imagine going into that kind of assignment and being told that no one is going to respond to your message, they are not going to listen, they are not going to take it to heart and don’t even bother praying about it. Prayer is the fuel for my preaching, it would be so empty and meaningless.

Losing The Voice Of God – I CAN’T HEAR YOU

Well, let’s look at this whole chapter unfolds in v1-7

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : 2 "Stand at the gate of the LORD's house and there proclaim this message:
" 'Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. 3 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!" 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

The historical context for this message is also seen in 2 Chronicles 34,35 where we get more background into the events that surround this message from Jeremiah.

Young king Josiah was conducting an attempt to turn this nation back to God. At this precise moment he had given orders to clean up the temple. For the temple had been turned into a storage room and had begun to accumulate a lot of junk.

So, in the midst of doing their clean sweep and getting ready for the temple garage sale. It is the high priest, Hilkiah, who very likely was the father of Jeremiah, that found an old scroll of the Law from Deuteronomy. So the King and his advisors were working hard to challenge the nation to return to the Lord. They had a proper Passover celebration, the first one in such a long while and the king went all out! There is a great procession, song being sung about the temple of the Lord

They read about the Passover, and discovered that no one in that nation had celebrated the Passover since the days of Hezekiah, a hundred years earlier. So orders were given for a great celebration of the Passover. Scripture tells us that there never before had been a Passover in Israel like this one. This king went all out! He offered sacrifices according to the Levitical commandments, and had the priests prepare themselves to conduct the ceremony. Everyone is caught up in the moment of celebration and then they see Jeremiah and he is yelling out something like “Hold Fast” Hear the word of the Lord

He basically is telling them, "Whom do you think you're kidding? Do you really think God is like this, that all he is interested in is religious games, rituals that you go through? Do you really think that if you merely get all this religion going, God will be fooled and will spare this land? Don't you know that God knows what is going on?" And he went on to describe it in Verses 8-11:

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

9 " 'Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe"-safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

It would be Jesus who centuries later came to the temple during his public ministry, quoting these very verses in John 2:16 and driving out the money changers, the very people who were taking advantage of the place of the church and turning a not-for-profit ministry into a very profitable one…

The people were thinking that the discovery of the Word of God and being in His temple were good enough. God will be pleased with us and they were so flat out wrong…

They were trusting in the appearance of righteousness, the ritual of being in His presence and Jeremiah is not finished. As God has commanded him, he continues to preach…It was at this point that Jeremiah was told not to pray for this people any longer, for God had decided to visit them with judgment.

14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your fathers. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers, the people of Ephraim.'

Losing The Touch of God – I CAN’T FEEL YOU

Now if you think God is the type to take pleasure in seeing these people destroyed, then you are missing what He is really doing here in fact you can see God’s heart through the prophet in chapter 8

Chapter 8 goes on to tell us how he reacted. In verses 18-22 you can see the prophet's personal reaction:

O my Comforter in sorrow,
my heart is faint within me.

19 Listen to the cry of my people
from a land far away:
"Is the LORD not in Zion?
Is her King no longer there?"
"Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their worthless foreign idols?"

20 "The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
and we are not saved."

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?

He could see their end and it made his heart sick. Jeremiah himself continued to be the object lesson for God commanded him as we see in the beginning of chapter 16 not to get married, to not take part in any wedding or funeral to further impress on the people that God has withdrew his blessing on His people.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever suffered over some loved one, and cried out, "God, where is the Great Physician?" So Jeremiah cries out, "Why don't you heal this people?" He simply doesn't understand what God is doing.

We love a God who speaks

In order to get all this together, we ought to look back in Chapter 7 and see the list of actions God says he takes when a nation or an individual begins to turn away from him. Verse 13:

While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; v13a

The first thing God does when you begin to drift is to warn you what the consequences are going to be. He is faithful to tell you

Galatians 6:8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

There is no way to escape it. Even forgiveness for it does not remove that. If you sow to the sinful nature…guess what the weeds are going to show up in your heart. Sin will leave its scars even though the wound is healed. God warns that there is going to be hurt in your life, hurt in your heart, hurt for the loved ones around you. There is no way to escape it.

Then God speaks again…

I called you, but you did not answer. V13b

He is always calling, always seeking, longing for us to return. He is longing for us to come back, but when that does not work, he has one step left in the program: judgment.

He will not let His own continue to fall away, He will bring us a wake up call.

Hebrews 12 The Lord loves those that He disciplines.

C. S. Lewis put it very beautifully when he said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures; he speaks to us in our work; he shouts at us in our pain."

That is what Jeremiah had to learn. He did not understand that this nation had reached the place where the only thing that would heal it, the only chance it had left, was the judgment of God -- the hurt and the pain of invasion, and the loss of its national place. God's love was insisting that that happen.

We love a God who listens

Radical surgery was necessary, but it was the only way to remove the blockage to their heart.

Chapter 9, Verses 23-24:

This is what the LORD says:
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,

24 but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,"
declares the LORD.

Don’t get wrapped in a false sense of security. Jeremiah knew that they saw going to the temple as a good luck charm and he warned them about it

It is good to talk about what God has done, but even better to talk about what God is doing! What is your security blanket?

Church attendance, a false sense of your own goodness, serving in a ministry, attending another Bible study….You need to know the Lord firsthand – not through others version of it. Know the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness in your life, in our lives, in the life of our church…

Paul reiterates this is 2 Corinthians 10:17 Let Him who boasts, boast in the Lord

The only time that we should be reveling is in the realization that God has spoken through us. He has placed a message on my heart and I was convicted in my spirit enough to share it because I love that person and I want to be obedient to His voice.

There is no point in boasting about what we have or who we are because it is all a gift from God.

Jeremiah continues to reflect in 10:23 I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own;
it is not for man to direct his steps. Proverbs 3:5,6

The sooner we realize this, the better off we will be. The lesson is simple- do not think that you are in the driver’s seat – Keep living that out practically – seek Him out, ask for His discipline, ask for His wisdom – keep seeking it out.

We love a God who feels

It was at this point that Jeremiah broke down and wept before God. I do not think you can read these passages expressing the anguish of the prophet's heart without seeing the echo of the sobs of God. For God was still working through this man, and weeping over this people himself, as expressed in the sobs of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 9:1,2

These are the verses that gave Jeremiah the name ‘the weeping prophet’

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.

2 Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

There is a difference between being alone and lonliness. He definitely wasn’t alone and neither is God, but lonliness is the ache that you feel when there is no connection, no initimacy, no relationship.

The Takeaway

Understand and know the Lord!

When we can’t speak, He still listens, when we can’t hear, He still speaks and when we feel numb, his heart aches.

Questions For Discussion

Share about a time of pain or grief when God felt distant or uninvolved? Is this situation still unresolved or how has healing come?

What verses do you cling to in a storm of life?

Has God ever given you a wake up call?

What enables you to keep your Christian life real and not ‘going through the motions’?

How will you seek to understand and know the Lord this week?

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