Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review of Mark Driscoll's new book

Someone very kindly gave me a copy of Mark Driscoll's new book ('The Call to Resurgence') in a manner that suggested that this was contraband.  I even felt a little worried about whether I should be reading it, given all the trouble Driscoll has been in (including claims of harsh leadership, sexism and crudity) and the particular trouble (claims of plagiarism) surrounding this book.

However I must admit I am loving it.  I am only a third of the way through, so my thoughts are at a premilinary stage.  The book is primarily related to the American Christian scene and has the feel of being Driscoll's thinking on everything church and culture related. At times his humour is a little pushed yet often he is genuinely funny.  He admits to many failings and actually comes across as likeable.  He speaks of people in other evangelical tribes respectfully (although some will think his definition of evangelicalism as being too narrow).  Some will be annoyed that he treats the 'emergent' stream of Christianity as if it is a fade that has passed and takes little note of emergent leaders.  At times he shows glimpses of the attitudes that have got him in so much trouble.

If you have no interest in the American evangelical scene then this book is probably not for you.  His classification of evangelical 'tribes' is interesting (he tells you what tribe he is in without actually pushing the position of any one tribe).  If you are one of those people who can't stand Driscoll then you will find enough rope in this book to hang him.  However I am finding it an enjoyable read with many interesting insights.

PS.  If your conscience won't let you buy this book you can borrow mine when I am finished (but I'll charge you for post and packaging).

Sunday, 10 August 2014

How should we respond to what is going on in Gaza?

I think it discredits the witness of Christians when we uncritically support Israel even when it carries out actions that are disproportionate and rightly receiving widespread criticism.  I have been hesitant to criticise Israel because I went to school with a good number of Jews and found them to be wonderful people.  I don't want to simply jump on an anti-Israeli bandwagon and I don't want to ignore the evils committed by groups like Hamas.  I found the following link from the Gospel Coalition to be most helpful.  In it John Piper lists the following principles:

1. God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession. 
2. The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.
3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.
4. Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.
5. Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.
6. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.
7. Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen at the Second Coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.

The post then says: Why It Matters: Regardless of where you land theologically or politically, the events of the past two weeks mark yet another distressing development in the Israeli–Palestinian saga. This is a prime opportunity to pray. Pray for the Israelis, image-bearers of God, that they’d search the Scriptures and find life in the Savior (John 5:39–4046). May they discover that the meeting point between God and man is no longer a place—whether reconstructed temple or geographical acreage—but a risen and reigning and soon returning Person (John 4:21–26).
Pray too for the Palestinians, image-bearers of God, that they’d turn in droves to Jesus the King. Pray particularly for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the faith; there are, after all, far more Palestinian Christians in the Middle East than the news headlines imply.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Disappointed with Driscoll

Okay, here is the truth.  I like Mark Driscoll.  I have watched a number of clips of him preaching and enjoy how he communicates.  I have read a good few of his books and recommend some of them to others.  So it saddens me that he finds himself in controversy so often.  Over twenty years ago I worked near Seattle and have often wondered what people there think of him; I guess he divides opinions there as he does here.

I love the fact that he can connect with certain groups that the church has failed to reach.  Yet, right from the first books that I read, I had concerns about his slagging of those who did not match his view of masculinity.  Now he is in trouble for comments that he made which were misogynist and homophobic.  He admits he was wrong.

What is the future for a Driscoll?  I don't know.  Just because someone has been in the spotlight does not mean they have to stay there.  Maybe it would be best for him to fade away from public view.  I would certainly be upset if he continues to give people excuses to dismiss the reformed charismatic theology he espouses.  I hope he will lose his taste for controversy and use his gifts more productively.  I hope that he will be more emphatic towards those who are wired differently to him.  I hope that in years to come those who oppose his beliefs will have trouble finding things in his character to criticise.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Prophetic insight

Over the summer I read 'The God I never knew' by Robert Morris.  While I believe that the so-called charismatic gifts are for today I did not agree with his understanding of baptism in the Spirit, found some of his exegesis to be very stretched, and felt that he only counteracted extreme forms of opposition to the classical Pentecostal position.  It you want to read a thorough reflection of charismatic gifts I recommend Don Carson's 'Showing the Spirit'.

Nevertheless it was an enjoyable read and his ongoing dependence on the person of the Holy Spirit is inspiring.  He related the following story.

'I was once in a cafeteria eating a meal with my wife, Debbie, when I observed a muscular fellow and a woman I later learned was his wife carrying their trays to a table near us.

The moment my eyes fell on this gentleman, I knew something about him.  I recognised this knowledge as coming from the Holy Spirit because I'd never seen this man before in my life ...'

He approached the man and after some small talk added, "The Holy Spirit showed me a picture of you when you were a young boy.  I saw you sitting in your grandmother's lap, and you were crying.  She told you that God could make you strong like Samson if you promised to serve Him.  I saw you make that commitment to serve God and honour him with your life.  Well, God just told me that He kept His end of the deal, but you didn't keep your promise."

The man's chin began to quiver and big tears started rolling down his face.  He looked at his wife and she began to cry as well.  As it turned out, he'd just been telling her the story.

He said, "Sir, I was raised by my grandmother.  My father left when I was born, and my mother left just a few years later.  One day when I was about eight, some boys were throwing rocks at me, just to be mean.  One hit me in the head and put a gash in it, and I went home crying.  That's when my grandmother sat me in her lap and told me the story of Samson.  I promised God that if He'd make me strong, I'd serve him all my life.  I was just telling my wife that I've been thinking about that promise lately, but I didn't really even know how to approach God."

Robert led them to The Lord and they were both baptised the next week.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Jeremiah 21-30 'Be careful who you listen to'

I once posted a blog on the topic 'Will all people be saved?'  I concluded that the Bible is very clear that all people will not be saved.  A minister friend of mine took issue with me over this.  His reply to my post included the fact that Jesus mentions hell directly only eleven times whereas he mentions money and poverty twenty-four times each, and love fifty-one times.

I am not sure I get his point.  If he is saying that the church does not speak enough about issues like social justice I am in total agreement with him.  But if he thinks that we spend too much time on God's final judgement I think he is wrong.  And if he thinks that we have to choose between preaching that emphasises social compassion over preaching that addresses God's moral outrage against personal sin then I think he is missing the mark.

You see Jeremiah is a book filled with calls to help the most vulnerable people in society.  It is also a book that warns of a judgement without mercy that will befall the finally unrepentant.  If Jeremiah was preaching the gospel today he would not choose between speaking about hell or addressing issues of poverty, he would speak about both.

1.  God is compassionate towards the needy (21:1-23:8)

'The word came to Jeremiah when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the priest son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah ... (21:1).  Zedekiah was the last king of Judah and this seems to be the final year of his reign.  Ten thousand of the leading citizens of Judah had been taken into exile by the Babylonians who were now encroaching upon the nation again.  Zedekiah hopes that Jeremiah will tell his messengers that God is about to deliver them.  Instead Jeremiah says that God stands against him and is using the Babylonians as his instrument to punish them.  God declares, 'I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in furious anger and in great wrath' (21:5).

But notice the offer of mercy!  'Furthermore, tell the people, “This is what the Lord says: see, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.  Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives' (21:8-9).  The advice may have seemed odd to them but he is offering them a way of life rather than death.  Similarly Jesus offers us a way of life rather than eternal death.

Jeremiah speaks of coming judgement and calls them to accept God's way of salvation.  He also intertwines this gospel with God's heart of compassion towards the poor.  'Do what is just and right.  Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed.  Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place' (22:3).  God is passionate about social justice.  Compassion is a part of the fruit in-keeping with repentance.  The great king Josiah had 'defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know me?’ (22:16).  If we are not compassionate towards the most vulnerable in our society then it shows that we simply don't know God.

Judah had been badly served by its leaders.  But the days are coming, declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour' (23:5-6).  Who is this?  This is Jesus!  He is our compassionate king who cares for the needy and inspires his people to be concerned for the vulnerable.

2.  God provides the remedy for our guilt (23:9-40)

One theologian despaired of the theology being taught in his day saying that it taught a god without wrath who brings people without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministry of a Christ without a cross.  A bit like the false-prophets of Jeremiah's day.  'They keep saying to those who despise me, “The Lord says: you will have peace.”  And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, “No harm will come to you"' (23:17).  They wouldn't address the depravity of the human heart, the dire need to be forgiven our sin, and the dreadful fate that awaits those who reject God's means of salvation.  But God does provide a remedy for human guilt.

3.  God chooses to save an undeserving people (24-25)

Jeremiah is given a picture showing how God will save many undeserving people.  This picture centres on two baskets of figs.  One basket represented those who had been taken into exile and the other those left behind in Judah.  “Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians'.  My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land.  I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them' (24:4-6).

This is absolutely amazing!  Why does God consider those sent into exile as good?  Was it because they were actually good?  Was it because they were better than those left behind in Jerusalem?  Not at all!  These people were among the wicked leadership of a wicked nation.  God, in his unfashionable wisdom, simply chooses to show undeserved mercy to these people.  He does so as he changes their wicked hearts and causes them to repent.  'I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord.  They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart' (24:7).

In the book of Jeremiah God genuinely desires the salvation of all people.  He repeatedly has called them to repentance.  He is the God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but fathers that they repent and live.  But in our wicked, sinful stubborn hearts all people break God's heart by refusing his offer of grace.  Yet God does not stop there.  He chooses to change the hearts of many sinful people so that they willingly come to love and obey him.  In other words if you are born again it is because God has chosen to transform your heart but if you die in your sin it is because persistently refused his offer of mercy.  Salvation is all of God and final condemnation is all of man.

Before we move on to our final point notice that Jeremiah warns all the nations of God's cup of God's wrath.  'Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make the nations to whom I send you drink it.  When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them' (25:15-16).  As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before he endured the cross he spoke to his Father about the cup he was about to drink.  He experienced the full weight of God's righteous anger so that people like us, gathered from all nations, would not have to experience God's anger for ourselves.

4. God has an unfolding plan that is for his people's good (26-29)

In chapter twenty-six Jeremiah is speaking in the temple.  They thought God would rescue their city because the temple was their.  In doing so they were exposing a superstitious religion that was disconnected from God's call to repent and act justly.  Bible commentator Chris Wright notes that only Jesus knew the kind of courage it took to say such things in such a place.  Jesus also went to the temple and criticised shallow religion and he too experienced the murderous hatred of people for it.

In chapter twenty-seven Jeremiah gate-crashes an gathering of international leaders who were meeting in Jerusalem.  They were deciding what to do about the threat from the Babylonians.  He tells them what they don't want to hear.  He puts a yoke around his neck and tells them to submit to the yoke of the Babylonians.  Again God is being merciful, he is offering them life rather than death.  Serve the king of Babylon and you will live (27:17).

But there were popular preachers than Jeremiah.  In chapter twenty-eight the prophet Hananiah claimed broke the yoke around Jeremiah's neck claiming that the power of the Babylonians would soon end and the people would quickly return from exile.  That was a blatant contradiction of what God had told Jeremiah.  The exile would last around seventy years before they would return.  God took Hananiah's life for preaching a gospel of false hope.

Chapter twenty-nine contains a letter to the exiles in Babylon.  They are to settle down in that place and seek to be a blessing to the wicked city in which they live.  This is so important for us.  We are to live lives that bless the communities where we are stationed.  The exile community is told, 'for I know the plans I have for you ... Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future' (29:11).  These aren't simply words to us as individuals, although they are true for every individual Christian, they are words to God's chosen people that speak of God's great unfolding plan.  A community would would return from exile.  From that community would come the promised king of David, The Lord our righteous Saviour.  He will bring his people home, not to an earthly Jerusalem, but to a heavenly Jerusalem.


All these chapters involve Jeremiah confronting different groups of people about their false-beliefs and wicked lifestyles.  People have to choose who they are going to listen to.  There are many false-gospels out there.  There are those who will avoid any talk of final judgement lulling people into a false-sense of security.  There are those who affirm the permissive values of our culture and so call no one to genuine repentance.  There are narrow groups who are so individualistic that they don't know the God of compassion.

Choose wisely who you listen to.  For there will come a day when God will be revealed to all the peoples of the earth as both a consuming fire and one of immeasurable love.  And on that day we will each be held accountable for how we responded to his invitation the mercy made available in the cross of Christ and whether we produced the fruit of compassion in-keeping with repentance.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Jeremiah 11-20 'Faithfulness is painful'

Sri Lanka Bible commentator Ajith Fernando wrote a book entitled, 'The Call to Joy and Pain.'  The sub-title reads 'Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry.'  As we look at the book of Jeremiah this morning we will see how difficult it is to embrace such suffering.  You see, being a disciple of Jesus is not supposed to be easy.  We follow a Saviour who was known as a man of sorrows.  Jesus warned his followers that they will not escape pain if they want to be faithful to him.

1.  Faithful people speak the truth (11-12)

We begin chapter eleven with Jeremiah speaking some hard truths to the people of Judah.  He reminds them of the covenant; the covenant made at Mount Sinai.  God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt brought them to that mountain and told them how to live as his people.  This covenant told them that they would only remain in the promised land if they lived a life of obedience and repentance.  But the people were not repentant and obedient.  It was as if they had conspired together to forsake God and worship other so-called gods.  Soon Judah would suffer the consequences of their disobedience and be kicked out of the land.

The people opposed God and they will oppose his faithful messanger.  Jeremiah is led like a lamb to the slaughter (11:17).  Who does this remind us of?  Jesus was like a lamb led to the slaughter as he went to the cross (Isaiah 53:7).  Jeremiah's suffering anticipates the greater suffering of Jesus.

His suffering prompts Jeremiah to complain.  'Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all the faithless live at ease?' (12:1b).  To which God responds, 'if you think things are tough now just wait, things are going to get tougher.'  Family and friends will forsake him.  Like Jesus he will be betrayed by some of those closest to him.  

2.  Faithful people remember their mission in the world (13-15)

In chapter thirteen we have the first of several prophetic acts that Jeremiah is called to preform.  'This is what the Lord said to me: "Go and buy a linen belt and put it round your waist, but do not let it touch water"' (13:1).  He then left took the belt to the Euphrates and left it in the cleft of a rock.  When he returned to get it, many days later, it was spoiled and useless.  Similarly, it was as if the nation of Judah had been taken to a foreign land as they chased after foreign gods.  They were supposed to display the glory of God to the nations but now they are like a spoiled garment not fit to be worn.  Chris Wright applies this principle to us writing, 'if there is fundamentally nothing in the least admirable about the lives of Christians individually, or the collective witness of the church, then there is small hope of the world finding anything to admire in the God we represent.'

What is said next is shocking.  When the punishment comes and Judah cries out to God he will refuse to listen to them.  It will be too late to be rescued.  We can always experience God's saving mercy if we turn to him in genuine repentance but these people are not repentant.  Also, sometimes it is too late to be rescued from the consequences of our actions.  The murderer might turn to God and be forgiven but still have to serve a life sentence; the adulterer may repent and be forgiven by God but still find his marriage is beyond repair.  The New Testament teaches that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6).

Again Jeremiah complains.  'Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends!  I have neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me ' (15:10).  He is disillusioned with serving God because all he gets is strife, contention and hatred.

How does God respond?  With a gentle rebuke!  '... If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me' (15:19a).  It is not that we cannot go to God with our pain and questions.  But Jeremiah's negative spirit will damage him unless he repents.  We are not permitted to wallow in self-pity.  The disillusioned believer sees no good in anything.  They are always pessimistic.  They pour water on the enthusiasm of others.  They are a destructive influence amongst God's people.  Therefore God calls us to repent of our negativity.

Although being a faithful witness involves suffering God promised his presence.  He assures Jeremiah '... they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you ... I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel' (15:20-21).

3. Faithful people are sorrowful yet rejoicing (16-17)

The life of Jeremiah contradicts the false promises of the prosperity gospel.  The prosperity gospel says faithfulness leads to wealth and happiness; Jeremiah's faithfulness would involve suffering and sorrow.  In chapter sixteen Jeremiah is called to endure the loneliness of singleness and social isolation.  Yet despite the pain Jeremiah can speak of God being 'my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress ...' (16:19).  The apostle Paul wrote of being 'sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything' (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Despite Judah's unfaithfulness God still plans to bless the nations.  His people may be unfaithful but God is faithful.  He promised to bless the nations through the seed of Abraham and he does.  'To you the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, "Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good"' (16:19).

This book has a lot to say about the heart. 'The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?' (17:9).  Jeremiah trusts God to heal his heart, (17:14).  Listen to the beautiful words in the Anglican Service of Holy Communion.  'Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.'

4.  Faithful people know justice will be done (18)

In chapter eighteen Jeremiah is directed by God to go to a potter's house.  He watches the potter work with a piece of clay.  The potter shapes the clay but he also responds to imperfections within the clay.  The final outcome is a mysterious interplay between the potter and that clay.  ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.  And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it' (18:6-10).

Sadly this final call to repentance meets with a hard stubborn heart.  Now this people who persistently reject God focus on attacking  God's prophet.  'Jeremiah will now endure for the rest of his ministry the kind of vicious opposition that confronted Jesus from the beginning of his' (Wright).

5.  Faithful people will experience opposition (19-20)

Again, at the beginning of chapter nineteen, Jeremiah is told to go to a potter's house.  He is to purchase a clay jar and to get some of the civic and religious leaders of the community to accompany him to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom - this valley was used as a dumping place.  There  Jeremiah pronounced a terrible message of doom.  Jeremiah will smash the jar as a picture of the fact that The Lord will smash Judah.

They will not repent, their hearts a resistant to God and so now only judgement awaits.  Jeremiah's words incite the anger of Pashur the priest.  He had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks (20:2).  Self-righteous people hate those who speak of the reality of human sin.

We finish with Jeremiah complaining again.  Yet despite the pain involved in his ministry there is an inner compulsion.  'But if I say, "I will not mention his word or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot' (20:9).

Conclusion - Jesus is the faithful one

Jeremiah's ministry anticipates the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus was a man of sorrows who faced murderous opposition as he served God faithfully.  He calls us to take up our cross and follow him.  But Jesus' ministry surpasses that of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah succumbs to bitterness and asks God not to forgive his persecutors whereas Jesus asks God to forgive those who crucify him.  Jeremiah ends this section dreaming of losing his life in order to avoid his mission whereas Jesus chose to lay down his life in order to fulfil his mission.

As I prepared this sermon I was struck by some words in the ESV Study Bible:  'Jeremiah's ministry causes him hard work, sorrow, and shame.  He accepts his role, but has no illusions of fame, approval, or appreciation.'  Will we persevere when no one encourages us?  Will we strive to serve God when the only words we hear are critical?  Will we delight to work for God when no one thanks us?  Will we stand firm when the world is against us?

Being a faithful disciple of the man of sorrows will be difficult but remember that God is good.  He will enable us to endure.  We are strangers and pilgrims in this land who are on our way to a better place.  Christ travels with us.  There is joy in the midst of the pain and a heavenly friend who is greater than all opposition.  Even the complaining Jeremiah bursts into song in the face of the goodness of God.  'Sing to the Lord!  Give praise to the Lord!  He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked' (20:13).

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Jeremiah 7-10 'Am I beautiful?'

Joel Osteen is pastor of America's largest Protestant church.  On one occasion he was speaking on the Oprah show about his 'I am' sermon. Oprah invites him to lead the audience in a chant of positive declarations.  He gets them to stand and repeat after him: 'I am strong', 'I am secure', 'I am victorious', 'I am disciplined', 'I am beautiful' and 'I am looking forward to my future'.  No admission there of the reality of sin or the desperate need of God's forgiveness.  What a contrast to the honest, God-given and plain-speaking words of Jeremiah.

This morning we will get a picture of how ugly our hearts are without Christ and are reminded of the beauty God wants to create in us.

Base your assurance on transformation (7:1-8:3)

At the beginning of chapter seven Jeremiah is told to go to the gates of the temple and preach.  Notice that he is speaking to people who believe they were worshiping God.  People like us!

But these people had separated worshipping God from obedience to God.  Their religion was superstition and their assurance was false.  They chanted 'this is the temple of The Lord, the temple of The Lord, the temple of the Lord' (7:4).  They believed that because the temple was in their city God would never let disaster come to that place.  Such assurance was false assurance.

What's your assurance based on?  Is it based on the fact that you prayed a prayer of commitment many years ago at a religious meeting?  Is it based on the fact that you attend church?  These are not reliable guides as to whether you are a Christian or not.

Being a Christian is about being forgiven and transformed.  God punishes his Son for our guilt and gives us the righteousness of Christ. God gives us the Holy Spirit so that we have new desires and power to reflect his character.  It is this fruit of his presence in our lives that demonstrates we are born again.  It is his beauty in our lives that shows we belong to him.  So in his first letter John warns that those who make a habit of sinning have not been born of God (3:9); that if we aren't willing to share our wealth with fellow Christians then God's love does not abide in us (3:17); and that if we won't listen to God then we don't know him (4:7).

Have a teachable spirit (8:4-17)

The problem with Judah was that they rejected God's instruction.  Their prophets and priests were like an incompetent doctor telling a terminally ill patient that they in the fullness of health.  The people themselves would admit to no wrongdoing.  'None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, "What have I done?"' (8:6b).  Judah doesn't know how to find God. 'Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration.  But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord' (8:7).  

They chose to listen to false teachers who told them what they wanted to hear.  False teachers who 'dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.  "Peace, peace," they say, when there is no peace' (8:11).  Judgement was coming but the false teachers told them all was well.  We need to warn people that apart from Christ they are enemies of God who are awaiting his judgement.  Yet in Christ we can have true peace with God. 

They did not understand what God required of them and they chose to listen to false teaching.  One of the most important things we need in the Christian life is the discernment to recognise teaching that reflects Biblical truth and teachable spirit that is willing to be conformed to what the Bible says.  Do we look for God to shed his light on our lives?  Many people sit in church hoping that other people will be convicted by the sermon.  They are aware of other people's failings but don't want to face their own.  But all of us are on a journey towards increased Christ-likeness.  All of us need to look to the Bible for guidance.

Be influenced by the Spirit of truth (8:18-9:9)

Jeremiah is deeply upset by the spiritual state of Judah.  However he doesn't simply sit in smug judgement over them.  He weeps for them.  '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' (9:1).  He weeps for them but he also pleads with them.

One of the things that upsets him is their dishonesty.  'They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies' (9:3a).  'For every one of them is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer' (9:4b).  '... They have taught their tongues to lie ...' (9:5).  '... in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares The Lord (9:6).  

It doesn't matter whether you are lying to the state or to a friend.  It doesn't matter whether you are lying for financial gain or to make yourself look good.  It doesn't matter whether it is exaggeration or deceit. It is all lies.  Remember that the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth and the devil is called the father of lies.  Who do we please when we act with integrity?  Who do we please when we act deceitfully?

In Romans the apostle Paul cites deceit amongst the evidence of universal human sinfulness.  When we witness the tug of our hearts towards dishonesty we are to be awoken to our need of the forgiveness Christ offers.  A day of judgement awaits and we need to take hold of the free gift of grace offered to us in living relationship with Jesus.

We need to experience a change of heart (9:10-26)

I don't know how a preacher like Joel Osteen handles a text like this.  Jeremiah did not go to the people of Judah and get them to chant 'I am successful', 'I am beautiful' and 'I am looking forward to my future'.  I can't see Oprah applauding a Jeremiah sermon.  He said to the people 'you are wicked', 'you are corrupt', 'you are unloving', and 'you are doomed'.

On our own all of us are spiritually repugnant but God offers to make us beautiful.  Jeremiah pointed out that while their foreskins were circumcised their hearts were not.  They needed forgiveness and they needed to experience God-given inner change.  'What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!'  In him we become beautiful.  In him we are made clean.  God even gives us new desires so we become more like him.

‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me; that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord (9:23-24).  We have a beautiful God and we should want to experience the beauty of godliness.

Anything minus God equals nothing (10:1-25)

Finally, in chapter ten we are reminded that the chief sin that God will judge is idolatry.  Idols are empty and God alone is the creator and Lord.  'Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk' (5a).  'But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King' (10a).

The problem with idols is that they cut us off from the only source of salvation.  An idol, by definition, is anything that gets in our way of having a full-hearted relationship with God.  For the rich young ruler his wealth was an idol because he would not let Jesus be more valuable to him.  For some their idol is revealed in the fact that they will not let Jesus tell them what is sexually permissible.  For others bitterness is an idol that keeps them out of the kingdom - they will not forgive and so they will not be forgiven.  

God wants to make you beautiful.  He wants to wash away the ugliness that you sin has created.  He wants you to experience forgiveness and change.  He wants to begin a process of making your character more like that of Jesus.  But the people of Judah did not want to be made beautiful.  So Jeremiah told them that the Babylonians would come, conquer them and take them into exile.  'Listen! The report is coming – a great commotion from the land of the north!  It will make the towns of Judah desolate, a haunt of jackals' (10:22).

If Jeremiah was to speak to us he would address our idols, our lies and our greed.  He would remind us that all the unrepentant face a judgement far worse than exile.  But he would also point to a gracious God who calls people to repent; a loving God who punished his Son so that we could escape punishment; and a God who wants to make us beautiful by making us like him.