Smitten While Preaching

burning-passionJeremiah 20:1-5 Now Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks. Then said Jeremiah unto him, The LORD hath not called thy name Pashur, but Magor-missabib. For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thine eyes shall behold it: and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword. Moreover I will deliver all the strength of this city, and all the labours thereof, and all the precious things thereof, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hand of their enemies, which shall spoil them, and take them, and carry them to Babylon.

I couldn’t imagine being “smitten” while I’m preaching. But Jeremiah was. And the man who “smote Jeremiah” was none other than one of his contemporaries, another priest. That was very demeaning. Very rude. Very uncalled for. However, this morning, Jeremiah’s response is what sticks out to me. Here are a few observations from this morning’s Scripture reading, and Jeremiah’s response to the situation:

  • God’s message will not always be popular – more and more in this day and age, God’s message isn’t popular. The further we get from a Judeo-Christian society here in the US, and it’s influence in the world, it is not popular. It wasn’t when Jeremiah preached it. It wasn’t in the disciples’ ministry (most were tortured to death). It hasn’t been in ministries over the years since Christ (I think of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs). It wasn’t with Christ (He was tortured and killed). Doctrinal and social issues that we hold near and dear are being alienated and looked down upon at an increasingly, somewhat frightening rate.
  • Jeremiah stood on God’s Word even though it meant potential negative consequences – though he was smitten, and though he was taken to the stocks (a very uncomfortable place to be), he continued to preach God’s Word without faltering or compromising its message. I believe strongly that we will soon have to make that choice in our context – in our churches, colleges, schools, and even individual and family lives. We will be called names, lose our jobs and businesses, and may have to choose between a pure message and the “law of the land”. And yet we see Jeremiah’s example of standing for principle and doctrine despite the consequences.
  • Jeremiah understood the importance of God’s Word in his heart – He was tempted to quit. He was fearful. He was in distress. He was criticized, called unpatriotic, and I’m sure a bigot… But because he had God’s Word in his heart, like a burning fire, he couldn’t but speak God’s message in the midst of it all. Might we get His Words in our hearts, and memorize and meditate upon them, that when the trials and temptations come (which they will), we too will continue, and not be able to “forbear”.

Jeremiah 20:7-9 O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay. 

  • If we stand with the right message, and the right spirit, those who criticize may come and seek the message in a time of need – A group from the king, including the one who smote Jeremiah, came to him seeking an answer from the Lord in the very next chapter (Jer 20:1-2). My dad called it the “season of the soul”. And when people are hurting, and they are fearful, and when people are searching for answers, they won’t think of the family member or coworker that is just like them. They will most likely think to the one with principle and conviction, who hasn’t wavered and who serves the Lord. Might that be us. May we preach with conviction and passion, and without compromise. But let us preach in love (“charity”) so that when the time comes that people are seeking God’s message, they know where they can seek it.

 

Ye Have Done Worse

heartJeremiah 16:12 And ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.

Jeremiah 18:12 And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.

Jeremiah went out to the gates and streets to preach and warn of God’s wrath. The people’s answer? “What have we done wrong?” They knew that their fathers had killed prophets. They knew that their fathers had served other gods. But they couldn’t be to blame. How could God be angry with them? After all, they did go to church. They did perform sacrifices.  They were innocent, or so they thought. God’s word was damning: “…ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imaginations of his evil heart.” In God’s mind, their sins were worse. And their sin was that of the heart.  Later on the Lord reminds us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart…”

This morning I am reminded of the importance of my heart’s condition before God. The Lord makes a big deal about our heart – the seat of our emotions, imaginations, motives, and ultimately, decisions in life. And yet it’s naturally wicked. It’s naturally deceitful. It naturally breeds and ruminates on wrong imaginations. If my heart will be pure before the Lord, I’m reminded that it’s going to take work. Three things come to mind:

  • I must guard my heart (Proverbs 4:23). There are so many things and people calling for my heart, and seeking to invade it.I must guard against pride, evil imaginations, wrong motives, and more. I must keep it, guard it with ALL diligence.
  • I must examine my heart with the Lord’s help (Ps 139:23) – My heart needs constant examination. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been saved, I need a “heart check”. And because the Bible says “who can know it”, I need the Lord’s help in this area.
  • I must guide my heart (Proverbs 23:19) – We hear a lot of preaching on guarding our hearts. But the Bible also admonishes us to “guide thine heart in the way”. From the time our children are young, Disney and Hollywood tell them to “follow your heart”. I can’t think of worse life advice. Mainstream society teaches this antibiblical philosophy from kindergarten through adulthood. I am to guide my heart in God’s way. My heart will say one thing, but the Bible will say another. My heart will say one thing, but the Holy Spirit will say another. This is when it’s important to guide my heart in the ways of the Lord – correcting it as it tries to stray toward another path – which it naturally does.

Might I, and my family, keep right hearts before the Lord, starting today by asking “Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts.”

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Other notable verses from this morning’s reading. Not politicians. Not police. Not wealth. But ultimately our trust must be in the Lord.

Jeremiah 17:5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

Jeremiah 17:7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. Jeremiah 17:8 For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. 

 

 

…Be not proud.

pridecatlionJeremiah 13:9 Thus saith the LORD, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 13:15-17 Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the LORD hath spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.  But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride…”

I am reminded once again this morning of God’s hatred for pride. Pride is thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. Pride is not giving the glory to God for who we are, where we are, and what we have. In these chapters, the Lord’s anger for His people is obvious. He’s so angry, in fact, that that twice he asked the prophet to stop praying for them, because He would destroy them. He didn’t want prayers. He didn’t want sacrifices. He didn’t even want the preacher to go back to them in Jer. 15:19. However, in the midst of this – in the midst of God’s hardness toward His people, He offers a glimmer of light for their saving. “…be not proud… Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness.” Their only hope for “light” was for them to do away with their pride.

There are multiple abominations mentioned in the Bible. Some are wicked, and vile, and we’d never take part in them. Some would ruin our reputation, and some would disqualify those of us in the ministry. However, there is one that seems to find its way into our hearts and our minds – pride. The devil, who is the epitome of pride, is a master at trying to usher pride into our hearts. Spurgeon came down from his pulpit after a great sermon, and two ladies met him at the back. “We wanted to be the first to let you know that that was a great sermon”. His response was “you weren’t the first. The devil already told me”. Even after a sermon where we prayed, sought the Lord, and knew it was HIM who gave it to us, we can walk away with a spirit of pride. A new car, or outfit, or gadget, can cause us to walk onto the property with a “proud look”. And in fact, pride is taking glory for anything that God has done. In that case, we don’t have much to glory in!

As God admonished to His people, let us give glory to the Lord for who we are and what He’s done in our lives. Might we look for ways to praise Him, thank Him, and attribute to Him the glory He deserves from us. And let us beware lest pride creeps into our hearts and lives. Of course, true humility is found in Christ’s example – servanthood, no reputation, and submitting in obedience to the Father’s will.

The Children Gather Wood… for the Queen of Heaven.

fire_wood Jeremiah 7:18 The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.

There’s so much truth in today’s Scripture reading, it’s hard to journal on just one of them. However, the Scripture above is notably heart breaking, and a stern warning to parents like myself. Early in chapter 7, we see that these families were in God’s house. They were gathered to worship. They proclaimed “the house of the Lord”. And yet further in the chapter, we see them – as a family – gathering sticks, and making preparations to sacrifice to the god of their world (“the queen of heaven”). It is sad to read of seemingly good families, who may have loved the Lord, and brought their families to church to hear the Word, and to worship – yet, the parents sought and served the things of the world through the rest of the week. And here is where the heartbreak is: their children were just as involved as they were in serving those gods. Their children gathered the sticks. The wives kneaded the dough. It was a family affair. And it provoked God to anger and jealousy. And their children suffered the consequences as much, if not more than they did.

Maybe it’s the god of materialism. Maybe it’s the “almighty dollar”. Maybe it’s a degree or career. Maybe it’s sports. A god in our lives is anything that takes the place of God in His rightful place in our lives and homes. And there are many gods in our world. They may not be statues or spirits. Our gods have become more sofisticated. They have ram, an OS, a keyboard, presidents faces, three letters (MBA, PHD), or a host of other things. I wonder how many of us serve the God of heaven on Sunday, and serve the gods of our world the rest of the week. My prayer this morning is that I’d examine and evaluate my week and ask, is there anything in my life or my home that has taken place where God should be. Because our children are watching, and they too may become consumed with and serve what serve. Has time on the tablet replaced family alter? Has overtime replaced family time? Has sports replaced a Deut. 6:6-9 atmosphere? Have late nights out eating or playing hindered my morning time with God? I pray not. I’d hate to look back and see that I involved my children in the worship of gods of this world. Might we serve the same God Monday-Saturday as we do on Sunday, and involve our children in it as we do.

 

Other notable Scripture from this morning’s reading:

Jeremiah 8:12 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD. – Have we lost the ability to “blush”, or be ashamed when we sin, and as we come before the Lord to talk about it?

Jeremiah 9:7-9 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people? Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait. Shall I not visit them for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? – He desires truth in the inward parts.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. – Not in preaching ability, not in talent, but in knowing and understanding HIM.

Break it Up

fallow ground

Jeremiah 4:3-4 For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.

This morning, I am reminded how easy it is for our hearts to become hard, and fallow. We are admonished in Jeremiah 4 to break it up. I see that three things are necessary when it comes to keeping my heart soft:

  • An Acknowledgement – This may be the most difficult one. In order to start the cultivating process, I first must acknowledge that my heart is hard. And as a teacher and preacher, and Christian for now 20 years, this isn’t something that I want to readily admit. But it doesn’t take much time for the ground to become hard. I have overseen the grounds at PBC for years now. And my dad was a stickler about making sure they were immaculate. Sometimes, my dad would be gone, or he would not walk around the property for a week or so. Then one day he’d decide to to a “walk around”. He’d walk from his house (a block away), and begin inspecting the property. Then – the dreaded 3×5 would come out (he had a smart phone – but preferred the 3×5 for notes like this). And sure enough, I’d get a call or an email: “Joseph, have you seen the flower beds, they haven’t been turned. Weeds are starting to pop up all over. It’s bad.” I had passed the beds daily, and so it didn’t seem bad to me. Afterall, we had cultivated them not too long ago. But to my dad, who hadn’t seen them for a week or few, they were fallow. The same is true for us. Because we live with ourseleves, we may not realize that our hearts have become hard to the preaching, or the Holy Spirit, or to the needs of those around us. I need to start by asking today, “has my heart become hard?” And that acknowledgement is the first step to a soft heart.
  • An Instrument – Once I acknowledge that the ground needs broken up, I must find a tool that can help me to do so. On the grounds, it was “the claw” or the hoe. And in some instances, we needed the hose to wet and soften the dirt before we began turning and pulling. The same rings true in our lives. Once we recognize our need, we need to get out necessary tools to help soften our hearts. The Word of God is primary. It “pierces to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”. Next, some good preaching is a great way to begin softening the heart. There are some sermons that I pull out when I need my heart to be broken – for my sin, for the lost, for the sake of eternity. Good preaching is a good tool to help soften the heart. Finally, good music can help. Now, music shouldn’t replace the Word of God or good preaching, but songs that remind me of God’s goodness and His grace and that stir my soul and spirit can help get my heart back to the right place. These are some tools in the “shed” that I pull out.
  • A Cleansing – Once the dirt was turned, our grounds crew would come behind the tool and begin to pull the weeds. We are admonished not to “sow among the thorns”. Because if we do, the good seed will simply be choked out by them. Once we make an acknowledgement, and we begin to apply tools to soften our hearts, we can ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the weeds and thorns in our hearts, and begin to remove them. Maybe its pride (this will harden a heart fast!). Maybe it’s moral impurity in thoughts or actions. Maybe it’s bitterness, or hardness towards people. Whatever it is, once I begin the process, I need to get out the weeds, so that when the “Father” does a walk around, and inspects the grounds of our hearts, he finds soft, cultivated ground ready for the good seed of His Word.

 

Spurgeon had good insight on this topic:

I FALLOW GROUND IS COMPARATIVELY FRUITLESS.

II FALLOW GROUND BEARS WEEDS.

III FALLOW GROUND IS SUSCEPTIBLE OF CULTIVATION.

IV FALLOW GROUND MUST BE BROKEN UP.

V IT IS OUR DUTY TO BREAK UP THE FALLOW GROUND.

VI THE DUTY OF BREAKING UP THE FALLOW GROUND IS GREAT AND PRESSING.

Where?

(1) in the world!— think of India, China, Africa, the godless of Europe;

(2) in the Church!— how many enjoy its privileges! How few maintain its work! and

(3) in our own hearts!— what faculties are wasted! What opportunities for good neglected!

Where is the Lord?

 

where is the lord

Jeremiah 2:6-8 “Neither said they, Where is the LORD that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness… The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not…”

It was a privilege to preach our Sunday AM service this past week. I had six principles, and my topic was “Biblical Lessons on the Family”. I planned to be finished as usual, at 11:30 – which would give me about 30 minutes to preach. I preached through my first three points, and rushed through the final three, realizing that I had about five minutes left for three points. After the service, one of our good, faithful men, John, knocked on my office door. He had a rather somber look on his face, and asked if he could pray with me. Before he did, he asked, “if God gave you something from His word for us, why would you rush through the second half of it?” He said, “I know some people look at their watches, and others are on their phones, but some of us don’t come to church to get out.”

As I read through Isaiah and Jeremiah, I can’t help but draw a parallel between their day and ours. There were signs of outward revival. God’s house was full. God’s people said the right things. They were in church when the doors were open. They looked right, and even made the sacrifices they were supposed to make – giving, faithfulness, ordinances, and decisions for the Lord (Jer 3:10). However, the accusations from the Lord were condemning, to say the least. They were as an unfaithful spouse (a strong accusation in its context (Jer. 3). They had replaced Him for that which didn’t profit. They had exchanged God (the fountain of living waters) for a cheap substitute (broken cisterns). We see the heart of God as he remembers the relationship they once had with him – in holiness, kindness, and love. However, something had changed, and His people were about to suffer some very serious consequences. In Jeremiah 2:6-8, the Lord exposes a key reason for their demise: “Neither said they, where is the Lord… The priests said not, where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not.” With their lips they honored Him, but their hearts were far from Him. Oh, they were in church, but they didn’t ask for the Lord. They were giving and making sacrifices, but they asked not, “where is the Lord”. They performed the ordinances, paid lip service, and talked the Christian talk, and yet I wonder if they knew that the Lord’s presence was no longer with them. They wouldn’t know, because they wouldn’t ask.

As I think of the state of our country, our churches, and God’s people, I can’t help but draw the parallel here. We come to church faithfully. We tithe, give to the Ezra, Gideon, and Bus funds. We sacrifice our time and talents during special events. And yet as we observe the state of Christianity, I wonder if God’s people are asking, “where is the Lord” in our lives, our families, and our churches.  In church – we used to hear many messages about the asking for the Holy Spirit, and begging for God’s power, and seeking His presence in our lives and on our churches. But those are now far and few between. We have a great church. But as I sit in the overflow each Sunday morning I see people on their phones, and others, weekly, with that far-off look. But I’m not being condemning – because I’m also speaking to me. When the preacher goes five minutes over his “allotted time”, at times, I too begin to wonder if the conclusion is near. I’ve yawned during the song service, and sung the songs half-heartedly without a spirit of praise and adoration, and without asking for God’s spirit to be in the place. And I can’t help but wonder if the reason our country is the way it is, and our churches and converts are the way they are, is because we’ve stopped asking, “where is the Lord”? We wonder why we have the political choices we have. We wonder why our converts soon settle into their chairs each service without the Bible making much of an impact in their lives the rest of the week. Maybe they’re just like us.

As John sat across from my desk, I thanked him for being up front with me. I told him that one thing that challenges and appeals to me each year is when I go overseas, and see how those national believers have church. They don’t come to get out. They don’t sing the songs just to get to the preaching. They are there to seek the Lord.  It’s refreshing. It’s challenging. It’s convicting. My prayer is that we’d get back to a place of asking God for his presence and His power on us, our families, and our churches. Because it seems to be seriously lacking in so many areas. And if not, I fear that serious consequences are coming our way, and the next generation may not survive it. We know that  the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:”  Where then is His Spirit? Where is His presence? Where is His power in our lives? Maybe He’s waiting for us to ask, “where is the Lord?”

Wait

 waitingIsaiah 64:4 For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.

Wait… I don’t like this word. My human nature wants what it wants, now. I want my father to be healed, now. I want financial pressures to go away, now. I want to see God’s will revealed in certain situations now. I want to know why, now. I want to see hurts in my life and in the lives of people around me fixed now. But fortunately (yes – fortunately), God doesn’t always give us what we want, when we want it.

It wasn’t until I had young children that I understood the value of “waiting”. I’ll tell them to wait, because I know – though sometimes I can’t tell them why – I know the value and benefits that waiting will bring them in the given situation. And I love them dearly, and want only what’s best for them. And sometimes when I tell them “wait”, and I see the look of despair on their faces, I can’t help but think of a loving Father looking down on us, as young children, knowing full well that the benefits of waiting far outweigh the result that would come if He were to give me my desires “now”.  Though I don’t like it, and though it goes against my very nature, looking back, I can thank the Lord for the times He’s said “wait”. As I ponder upon the Scripture this morning, the Holy Spirit brings to mind the benefits of “waiting” on the Lord. Let’s learn to “wait patiently on Him”, “that we may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” as we are conformed to the image of His Son.

  • Renewed Strength (Is 40:31, Ps 27:14)
  • God’s best prepared for us (1 Cor 2:9)
  • Spiritual Maturity – (James 1:4)
  • Blessing (Pro 8:34)
  • And many more…