16 April 2020

Binge-watching!


During this pandemic, I have now understood the temptation and the reality of binge-watching shows on TV.  Do you have a favorite platform – Netflix, the new Disney+ or perhaps Amazon Prime?  On any streaming service, I’m a sucker for documentaries and westerns! 

By way of confession, I’ve been watching the 1989 TV series, “The Young Riders” – it’s a lot of fun!  But if I’m not careful, one or two episodes can turn into 5 or 6...and my backside makes a firm impression into my couch!  Laziness can easily kick in. 

Funny how something so seemingly innocuous as watching a western came to my mind as I continued my Journey with Jeremiah this week!  God gave the prophet a pretty strange illustration, and although I’ve read this book many times, I must admit, I never remembered this obscure incident!  Take a look:

        This is what the LORD said to me: "Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water." 2  So I bought a belt, as the LORD directed, and put it around my waist. 3  Then the word of the LORD came to me a second time:
        4  "Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks." 5  So I went and hid it at Perath, as the LORD told me.
        6  Many days later the LORD said to me, "Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there." 7  So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless. (Jeremiah 13:1-7 NIV)

I stopped here and wondered out loud, “Why, Lord, would You give such a strange assignment to Jeremiah?  You take a perfectly good belt and destroy it!  What’s the point?”  Keep reading:

        8  Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9  "This is what the LORD says: 'In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10  These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt--completely useless!
        11  For as a belt is bound around a man's waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,' declares the LORD, 'to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.'  (Jeremiah 13:8-11 NIV)  I marveled at this illustration’s many facets!

First, I see just how longsuffering God is with His people.  Time after time, God gives warnings and exhortations to return to Him: “I love you and want you to be close to Me!” 

I’m reminded of the encouragement we find in 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (NIV, emphasis mine) 

God excels at giving us time to come to Him so we can be with Him and enjoy His company!  How might you thank Him for His longsuffering with you today – all so you can spend time with Him?  And that leads to the second purpose. 

God wants to remind us that we are so susceptible to pride – at its core, the attitude of “I know better than You do, Lord.”  Oh, and how left unchecked, this will rot us away from the inside out! 

All it takes is time... stewing in the attitude of self-centeredness, and yes, even my laziness.  Are there areas of your life filled with pride that you might confess to Him and change right now?

That’s when my western came to mind, and I was convicted.  “Of course I need another few hours sitting here in mindless entertainment! I deserve it!”  Now, I’m not bashing your Netflix binge. 

But for me, I realized I can easily miss time with the Lord.  He wants to love and equip me to be His instrument for good in challenging world!  Ah, and that’s the final insight.  The belt represents His people – Israel, Judah, and now us!

Our purpose is to cling to Him!  Oh, how I love God’s design for us – to be that close, that intimate, that we are wrapped around Him!  We are to be His people who give glory to Him – to show Him off and how good He is – so others will praise Him!  I have purpose and meaning in life... God desires me!  Take confidence in that today as you lean into Him.

Lord, I want to listen to You calling me today!  I want to set aside my heart of pride and spend some time hearing Your voice in Your Word.  Remind me when I get lazy or complacent to draw deep from You, the Source of Life!  And help me cling to You anew today, in Jesus’ precious name, amen!

09 April 2020

Vengeance Is Mine?


My Bible journeys with the prophet Jeremiah continue to reveal some critical truths I need for this season of life.  You may wonder, "Mike, why Jeremiah of all books?  Isn't that a little depressing for when we're cooped up at home these days?"  I hear you...but I am ever-so-glad that I'm on this path, and I'm learning some insights for my life that might apply in yours, as well.


A bit of background: Jeremiah was into the priestly line of Aaron in the little town of Anathoth, a few miles north of Jerusalem, where he served God faithfully. Later, God called Jeremiah to give His people a message. “Return your hearts to Me – repent of your wickedness – for judgment is coming!” 

Sadly, the people of Israel and Judah didn’t listen and continued on in rebellion, worshiping idols and following their own evil desires.   As you can imagine, when this humble prophet came to deliver God’s warning, the people didn’t like it! 

It’s not fun when someone points out the sin in your life, and I tend to get a bit defensive! But instead of defensiveness, the people went even further. In Jeremiah 11:18-23 NLT, we read this:  

“Then the LORD told me about the plots my enemies were making against me. I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I had no idea that they were planning to kill me! “Let’s destroy this man and all his words,” they said. “Let’s cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever.”  O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, you make righteous judgments, and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets. Let me see your vengeance against them, for I have committed my cause to you. This is what the LORD says about the men of Anathoth who wanted me dead. They had said, “We will kill you if you do not stop prophesying in the LORD’s name.”  So this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says about them: “I will punish them! Their young men will die in battle, and their boys and girls will starve to death.  Not one of these plotters from Anathoth will survive, for I will bring disaster upon them when their time of punishment comes.”   

People in Jeremiah’s own hometown plotted to kill him, to silence the messenger, as if that would silence God! But I notice several truths I can apply to my life here...   

First, have you ever been na├»ve and fail to see what’s clearly ahead? I think we’ve all been here before! God revealed to a clueless Jeremiah that these men were out to get him. That’s God’s providential hand at work in our lives!  When I trust Him for guidance, He never fails me!   

Second, and this was the big lesson for me... I realize that when someone is out to get me, I tend to want God to “throw the book” at them!  It’s a natural response, and Jeremiah had it, as well. I think to myself, “Vengeance is Yours, Lord... so go get ‘em!” That’s when my heart is revealed, how equally cruel I can be in return.    

Jesus reminds me, “Mike, do not seek evil for evil; do not bear a grudge or resent those who have mistreated you. Do not seek revenge or look for a chance to retaliate.  But forgive... go out of your way to help those who do evil against you. Such an attitude is the only way to ever reach them for the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matt. 5:38-48).   

Finally, I’m encouraged by God’s response to this desire for vengeance, vs. 23: “For I will bring disaster upon them when their time of punishment comes.” His timing is always perfect, not mine! When I get impatient in waiting for something good to come, I can have confidence that, yes, evil will be judged, but that I’m in this for the long haul – I have a life after this one with Jesus where all things will be made new again! That’s what the cross and resurrection remind us of, as well.   

Are you anxious or irritated that God isn’t moving fast enough? (Especially now as we are all told to stay at home!) Are your plans not coming together as you’d hoped? Maybe you have people who are “out to get you!” In all these things, we can have utmost confidence in God’s timing and purpose. Evil will not prevail. Sickness will not prevail. God will! Be encouraged with that today!   

Lord, help us this morning remember that You are Sovereign and in control of everything, even when it looks like chaos out there! Help me to resist the temptation to lash out at others and instead demonstrate your love. And above all, help me to trust in Your timing and that You will renew all things. Guide me today. I love You, Lord...in Jesus’ name, amen!    

03 April 2020

Information Overload?


I woke up this morning with so many questions...probably because I have the all-too-familiar disorder called “information overload.”  If you’re like me, you’ve been bombarded with statistics lately on the worldwide virus out to get us.  And my heart races with the sheer volume.

And all that data, all the commentators, the government decrees, and the self-defined experts in medicine still cannot answer those questions that arise inside my half-awake brain. 

What is this sickness, really?  What does it look like for me if I get it?  What if I get it?  What will happen to the economy?  Will we have jobs left?  What about my family?  What does the future hold?  Will I actually get a pack of TP when we do run out!

Why am I not trusting You, Lord, more?

As soon as that last question came into my head, I realized I already was sick...sick with worry, sick with fear...but not with a persistent sickness, but a periodic one...one that enters my body from time to time when my thoughts are dwelling elsewhere.  I’ve let the flow of information control my mind rather than the fact that God is in control.  

In my periodic sickness, I then turned to these words.  It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 NIV)

Of course!  The Master Physician came for people with my condition, too!  I admit, Lord, I need a doctor right now.  I see that my 20/20 vision has been clouded.  I have missed the most important part of this pandemic: You are still present!  And so I acknowledge the trust I’ve placed in the information and not in You alone.

This Easter season, I’m reminded of another sick man in Scripture – the second criminal crucified next to Jesus.  He realized the sickness of his sin.  He was a sinner in need of the majestic grace found in the Suffering Servant who will always be King.

To the defiant slurs of the other criminal hanging next to them, this sick man realized the truth.  He was being punished justly for his crimes, but Jesus didn’t deserve this same sentence at all.  Turning to Jesus in repentance, he in great openness of heart said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And the greatest promised that Jesus gives to all who are sick and in need of His healing touch: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:40-43 NIV)

Through all the uncertainty of this life, I can clearly see the Lord’s guarantee to sick people like me when we place our trust in Him!  And that truth this morning humbles me and renews me.  How about for you?

Do you think you are beyond reach of His love and grace in this very moment?  That criminal experienced, in his dire sickness, a complete healing!

What stops you from delighting in the promise of Jesus?  This present pandemic?  What would it look like to live in the light of your assured place in paradise right now?  Will you?

02 April 2020

Unlikely Encouragement


There are so many voices we have to listen to these days, and I hope that as your pastor, I might guide you to listen more to the Lord’s voice as the storm rages.

Of all unlikely places to be in a disciple’s quiet time, I find myself in Jeremiah chapter 10 – the words of a prophet on the coming judgment of God’s people for their sin!  That doesn’t sound like an encouraging place to be when you want to have hope for your situation!

But quite the opposite!  Today, I found a message that not only gives me hope but refocuses my attention to where it should be.  I’m going to personalize the text a bit from verses 6-16 and adapt it as a prayer for us today.  Will you pray this along with me?

        “Lord, there is no one like You!  For You are great Your name is full of power!  Who would not fear You, O King of nations?  That title belongs to You alone!  Among all the wise people of the earth and in all the kingdoms of the world, there is no one like You!  You are the only true God, the Living God – You are the everlasting King!

        “You made the earth by Your power and You preserve it by Your wisdom.  You stretched out the heavens by Your understanding.  When You speak, there is thunder in the Heavens!  You cause clouds to rise over the earth.  You send the lightning with the rain and You release the wind from your storehouses.

        “Compared to You, all people are foolish and have no knowledge at all!  They make idols, but the idols will disgrace their makers, for they are frauds.  They have no life or power in them...worthless lies!  And the time is coming when they will all be destroyed.

        “But You, God of Israel, Jacob’s Portion, are no idol!  You are the Creator of everything that exists, including Israel, Your own special possession.  The Lord Almighty is Your name!

Oh family, what a thrill to sense the magnitude of our God this way!  Notice the truth about Him:

1. He is all-powerful.  There is nothing God cannot handle in Your life – from sickness, financial issues, loss, fear, and doubt – He is able and sovereign!  How will you place Your trust in Him more today?

2.  He created all things and is master over them.  I sense His beauty around me, the evidence of His creative hand crafting each thing with purpose and meaning.  And I rejoice in His creation of each of you – unique and special to Him!

But this one fact also makes me pause.  If that’s the case, what about viruses?  For me, I found a secret, as John Piper says, “Knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus and doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it. Indeed, more than sustains — sweetens with hope that, for those who trust him, his purposes are kind, even in death.” 

I am not disappointed in what God allows.  I want to find ways of magnifying Him through it.  Will that be your response today?  To pray this: “Lord, may I see You and serve You in Your purposes!”

3.  Wisdom and knowledge and truth come only from God.  This is how, to me, He is Almighty – not just in His power but in His depth – a vastness to Him that I cannot comprehend!  But in His grace, He reveals Himself to me through Jesus and daily by His Spirit indwelling me.  Will you thank Him for illuminating Scripture for you and guiding your steps?

I hope you might be comforted in a BIG God today – larger than your own concept of Him – and then be moved to worship Him right now!  Will you continue Jeremiah’s prayer?  “Lord, there is no one like You!”

Much love in Him,

Pastor Mike