Why We Preach The Gospel!

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Nations!

Over the last couple of posts we’ve mentioned that only as the church returns to the mission that Jesus gave her— to preach the Gospel & make disciples; only then will the church become relevant in the world once again! According to the Apostle Paul’s 1st chapter of his letter to the Church of Rome, we note several reasons why it’s necessary to preach the Gospel. First, because it remedies the needs of every nation: “We have received grace and apostleship through Him (Jesus),” Paul writes, “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name” (1:5).  All the ills of every nation are healed by the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel. Through Jesus, we receive grace to take the Gospel to the nations.

-We Have Supernatural Support!

In context, Paul is saying that grace is the supernatural “support” that Jesus gives us to carry out the commission that He’s given us. Grace is not just supernatural in the way that a totally depraved soul comes to salvation. Grace is also God’s supernatural “gift” of support that He gives us to do the ministry He’s called us to do. The biggest need of our nation is not to place the 10 Commandments in front of every courthouse. It’s not to overturn Roe v. Wade (although we pray that it would be overturned). Those types of issues are just symptomatic of a deeper spiritual problem. Our nation needs to obey the Gospel! Our nation needs to repent of our sin & come to Jesus for salvation. That’s why we must preach the Gospel. That’s how we see our nation change—by making 1 disciple at a time! 

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Godless!

And then, we preach the Gospel not only because it remedies the needs of every nation; but because it remedies the needs of the godless. Have you ever assumed that the lost are perfectly content & happy in their sin? That they wouldn’t be interested in the Gospel if we shared it with them; because they love their sin too much? I have! It’s a mistake to make that assumption! Oh, they may have initially been tempted by the fun sin promised. But, sin turns into a cruel slave master. It enslaves our friends and loved ones! The sin that started as fun becomes an addiction; and, they turn to treatment centers & counseling because their lives & their families are ruined! The Gospel of Jesus Christ remedies that.

-Jesus Is The Answer & The Solution!

Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution! Jesus is the solution to everyone’s sin problem. His sacrifice on the cross appeased the wrath of God toward our sin. Look at what God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write next: “For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v.18). Sin has its own built-in wrath. It creates pain in people’s lives, and they often become open to the Gospel because of it.

-God Delivered Them Over!

We also preach the Gospel because it remedies the needs of the sexually impure. “Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity,” Paul continues, “so that their bodies were degraded among themselves… For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error” (1:24-27). If you’ve ever tried to help someone caught in the trap of sexual sin, it’s extremely painful to watch. Their lifestyle of sexual sin came about because they “…exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” We live in an incredibly confused world sexually speaking; and, the carnage is piling up! Only God has the answer for true sexual satisfaction because He created sex!

The Indwelling Holy Spirit!

-He Lives Inside You!

In recent posts, we’ve talked about the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. Perhaps the greatest benefit we enjoy, as true disciples of Christ, is the Spirit’s indwelling. If you believe God; if you trust Jesus to be your Savior, the Holy Spirit moves inside you & takes up residence! He can’t possibly get any closer to you! He lives inside you! Jesus describe the Holy Spirit to His disciples like this: “He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). At the time Jesus shared this, He was speaking prophetically.

-Events About To Take Place!

He was foretelling the events that were about to take place. He told them He would be die; that He would be raised from the dead; He would ascend to the Father; and He would send the Holy Spirit as a gift, Who would indwell them. The Apostle Paul wrote, in his letter to the Church of Rome, that, “…the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:7-9). The Spirit of God “…lives in you…” Paul said; and you are “…in the Spirit…”

-He Is Our Internal Counselor!

The Holy Spirit is in you & you are in the Holy Spirit! And anyone who does not have the Spirit, Paul says, does not belong to Jesus. And, then, Jesus also taught His disciples that God, the Holy Spirit, is our internal Counselor. “I will not leave you as orphans” Jesus tells them at the end of John 14, v.18; and, then v.25, “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”  Two chapters later, in John 16, Jesus continues to teach His disciples about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in them: “…if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”

-He Is Our Internal Compass!

The Spirit is our internal spiritual compass! He “...convicts the world of sin, righteousness & judgment…” It is the Spirit’s ministry to bring us to the point of conviction over our sin; and our need for Jesus to be our Savior. Additionally, the Holy Spirit helps us pray: “…the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings…. He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

-Ask The Spirit’s Help To Pray!

If you struggle to pray, ask God to help you know how to pray; and with what to pray for! The Spirit intercedes for us in our prayer life. He works in us, from within! By the Holy Spirit’s work, God changes us; and produces spiritual fruit in our lives. Paul reminded the Church of Galatia of this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit “ (Galatians 5:22-25). That’s the fruit; or the evidence that the Holy Spirit indwells you! He will produce His fruit in you! And, remember that Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “…Spirit of Truth…” And, because Jesus also said, “…I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” that means the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ! Contrary to what the world says, there is absolute Truth in Jesus!

We Observed His Glory!

-That “Ah-Hah”” Moment!

One of my favorite movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller, “The Sixth Sense” because it got me! If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t watched it yet; but, the story is about a troubled boy who believes he sees & speaks with dead people; and, an equally troubled child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, who tries to help the boy even as he struggles to save his dying marriage. The movie takes several twists & turns; but, the biggest twist takes place at the very end when the truth is revealed to the child psychologist; and, you realize that the whole movie was not at all what it seemed. With that one vital piece of information, every scene, in the movie, is altered! It blew me away! It was that “ah-ha” moment!

-One Vital Piece Of Information!

In so many ways, that illustrates, to me, the way the majority of people, on this planet, live their lives— with one vital piece of information missing! And, that is that the most unique person to ever walk this planet was Jesus Christ; and, that the purpose for His arrival will alter the way you view everything about your life once the truth has been revealed & believed! It’ll be your “ah-ha” moment! Once you understand the implications of who Jesus is, it’ll change how you interpret & understand every event in your life. You’ll even begin to find meaning & purpose in the failures, the pain; and, the suffering in life.

-A Significant Scripture Text!

Chapter 1, of John’s Gospel, is one of the most significant texts of Scripture in the entire Bible. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, the Apostle John puts the entire world in its proper perspective in the person of Jesus Christ. If you start reading the Bible from the book of Genesis; and, continue reading through the entire Old Testament, you’re left with the feeling that the story is incomplete. You’re left waiting for the arrival of someone who would set the world right; like, a reboot! God’s Old Testament prophets wrote that a Messiah was coming; and, John’s Gospel announces that He’s here—His name is Jesus!

-So That You May Believe!

And, if you’ll flip ahead to chapter 20, of John’s Gospel, he announces his purpose for writing his Gospel:  “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name” (vs.30-31). John wrote his Gospel by divine inspiration to help people believe in Jesus so that they might have eternal life; so, God intended to use John’s Gospel to awaken faith in you! In essence, Jesus concealed the glory of His fame (that He was, in fact, God!) in the form of an earthly frame— He was a man! Jesus was the God-man!

-A Stunning Revelation!

What John says about Jesus is stunning; and, if it wasn’t factual; if it wasn’t verifiable by hundreds & thousands of witnesses, we would think it was the stuff of science fiction! That it was just a great story! But, when John confronts us with the description of Jesus, we cannot remain ambivalent toward Him. We’re forced to make a decision; because He reveals that Jesus was divine! He was deity! He was God incarnate; which means He was made flesh! John opens his Gospel with these words:  “In the beginning was the Word…” (v.1). Right from the start, we understand that this is no ordinary “Word.” It becomes obvious that the Word is a person; and, “…the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as of the One and Only Son from the Father…” (v.14).  And, even though he doesn’t mention Jesus by name until v.17, it’s clear that the “Word” is Jesus! Come back for more next week!

The Good News Of The Gospel!

-The Beginning Of Jesus’ Gospel!

At Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer said:  “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about” (John 1:29-30).  The Biblical writer, Mark, opens his account of Jesus’ life like this:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “gospel”; or, “euangelion” in the original Greek language, means “good news”; and, it’s found more than 100 times in the New Testament Scriptures. It’s used in the context of “justification”; or, becoming a born again believer; and, “sanctification”; or, spiritual growth as a follower of Jesus; and, even “glorification”; or, the completion of our salvation when we get a resurrected body like Jesus’ body.

-The Gospel In Everyday Life!

So, we need to ask by the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been limited, in many churches, to Easter Sunday sermons; and, to altar calls, as though it only applies to our getting saved; and, not to our growth or sanctification in Christ? If you ask most Christians, “How do you apply the Gospel to the everyday stuff of life?” they wouldn’t know how to answer! I submit to you that the Gospel has everything to do with every single thing you go through in your life. Here’s how we need to unpack the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  “Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution!” That’s not original with me; but, I have no recollection where I first heard it! But, I can’t think of a more complete; but, simple way to define the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

-We Never Graduate From Jesus!

What Jesus accomplished on the cross, for you, has everything to do with your family, your work; and, even the painful struggles of life. You need to grab hold of that truth if you’re a follower of Jesus; or, you will flounder greatly in your faith. The Gospel, of Jesus Christ, isn’t just for salvation; or, your justification! We never graduate from Jesus and His Gospel. Whatever you’re questioning in life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer; and, whatever the problem you’re facing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution! One of the biggest flaws in the way that we have made disciples is we’ve taught them how to successfully navigate the Christian life; or, to grow in their sanctification, without Jesus! One of the biggest flaws, in our prayer life, is that we pray that God will change the circumstances! Rarely will God answer that prayer!

-The Prayer God Wants Us To Pray!

He wants us to pray, NOT for a change of circumstances; but, for a change of heart; and, that only happens as we apply the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is activated as you prepare the way for Him to enter your life. As Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptizer prepared the world for His arrival. We have to prepare the way, in our own private world, for Jesus to enter. I mean, by that, that we must give proper place to Him. We must denounce all other competing loves!

-Not Worthy Of Me!

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (10:37-39). To prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah to enter your heart, you must see Him as the ultimate value! He is of greater value than all of our other loves! His worth is infinitely greater than even the great worth we attach to our mothers & our fathers & our children; and, to our own lives also! Jesus is the ultimate value of the universe; and, the good news of His Gospel tells us that as much meaning & enjoyment as we may experience in the pleasure of God’s created things around us, none of these will do for us what the Gospel of Jesus Christ will! And, so, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts & lives.

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Well Done Daniel!

-Action Thrillers!

You don’t have to know me very long to know that I love “action” movies like Star Wars; and, Marvel Comics movies; and, Mission Impossible! That kind of stuff! Those are the kind of books I love to read also— thrillers; like Ted Dekker & Joel Rosenberg books! That’s probably why I became such a big fan of the Old Testament book of Daniel after I came to faith in Jesus as a Junior Higher! I remember sitting by the record player (do you all remember those?); and, listening over & over to a recording of the action highlights of the book of Daniel being dramatized! The lion’s den! And, his 3 friends in the fiery furnace! I loved it! I couldn’t imagine a more action-packed story.

-The Back Story To Daniel!

When I went off to Bible college I became fascinated with all the end-time prophecies in the book of Daniel. I remember evangelists preaching in chapel; and, using the book of Daniel to show us where we were on God’s prophetic calendar. As I’ve gone deeper in God’s word; and, matured in my faith, I’ve discovered another storyline that weaves through Daniel’s book that was hardly broached in Sunday School; or, even in Bible college. It’s the back story of the lion’s den & the fiery furnace. It’s the story of Daniel’s faith in God; and, how he lived out his faith in one of the most wicked environments the world has ever known.

-Well Done, Good & Faithful Servant!

Through Daniel’s story, God shows us how to live a, “well done, good & faithful servant” kind of life. Let me explain! In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, we find one of Jesus’ parables recorded, “The Parable Of The Talents.” In the parable, God is represented as a master who gives various talents to his servants; and, to those who use their talents faithfully, he says:  “Well done good & faithful servant.” If you’ve ever read the book of Daniel, you know that, despite of great pain & disappointment in his life, Daniel lived that kind of life—a “Well done good & faithful servant” kind of life! I long to use my life; and, I pray you long to live yours in such a way that you would hear those words someday when you stand before Jesus; and, give an account of your life:  “Well done good & faithful servant!”

-Responding To Everyday Issues!

It is my intent, over the next few posts, to show you how God helped Daniel respond to the everyday issues of life. Right from the start, God shows us how to respond when life isn’t happy! Daniel’s story begins, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God…” (1:1-2). This is the result of God’s judgment. All God’s warnings to Israel, through the prophets, went unheeded; so, the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar to lay siege against Jerusalem! This was God’s Sovereign work— “The Lord handed Jehoiakim…over…”

-A Story Birthed In Pain!

No one would have made a movie out of the start of Daniel’s life. His story is birthed in pain, suffering & separation! Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, was not a very nice man! History records him as one of the most brutal, powerful & ambitious kings the world has ever known! He was arrogant & ruthless! His strategy for assimilating a conquered foe was to remove young royalty, like Daniel, from their homes; usually, killing their parents right before their eyes! Daniel’s world was flipped upside down. He was uprooted from his homeland; and, carried off to a middle eastern country he didn’t know to learn a new culture & a new language. And, Daniel shows us how to live even when life doesn’t have a happy ending. The rest of chapter 1 finds him determined to stay faithful to God. He refused to defile himself by the ungodly culture around him; and, God blessed him for his faithfulness! We’ll dig into that in our next post!

Hope In Suffering!

-We’re Permitted To Grieve!

We opened our Bible to the O.T. book of Lamentations, in our last post; and, discovered that the Prophet Jeremiah & the nation of Israel were in a world of hurt! Jeremiah feels it personally; and, for his people! And, God’s word tells us that there is a place for that. The N.T. book of Romans tells us to, “weep with those who weep.” We’re permitted to grieve! But, we’re also told not to grieve in the same way that unbelievers do; like, those with no hope! Lamenting is appropriate in times of pain & struggle. But, we’re also instructed that the pain & struggle should give way to repentance & hope!

-God’s Faithful Love Offers Hope!

Because of God’s faithful love, there is hope in suffering! “I call this to mind,” Jeremiah writes, “and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:21-24). And, let me remind you that “hope” in Scripture is completely different than the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that the word means in today’s culture. The “hope” in God’s Word is a “confident expectation.”

-A Confident Expectation!

Jeremiah— inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write this— has “hope”; or, a confident expectation despite his suffering and pain; because, of God’s faithful love. He chooses to focus on God’s character rather than the circumstances of his pain & suffering. “I call this to mind,” he says; that, “God’s love is faithful.” He refuses to live under the circumstances! To neither dwell on the past or the current suffering; but, to be forward in his thinking; that, God’s love is faithful! Whatever our current state of life, God’s love is not negated! The ESV translation says, “…the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” The MESSAGE paraphrases it, “God’s loyal love.” God is loyal to us!

-Don’t Doubt God’s Loyalty!

Don’t let the undesirable events in your life give you any cause to doubt God’s loyalty! If you’ve believed in Jesus you’ve been adopted into God’s family. And, while the enemy hopes to crush you under the struggles of life, God is acting like a loving Father & He’s acting on the junk in your life, intending to grow your faith & give you “HOPE”—a “confident expectation” that He will continue to come through for you! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome that “hope” is produced through our suffering:  “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” Romans 5:2-5.

-Rejoice In Afflictions!

God is showing us His faithful love toward us by choreographing the painful struggles into our lives, Paul says; because they are for our good! He uses them to help us grow spiritually; so, rejoice in the “affliction” because it produces “endurance” which produces “character” which produces “hope”—that “confident expectation” in God’s ability to use the struggles to strengthen our faith! So, don’t fight Him! Enduring the struggles will always eventually produce hope if we’re submitted to God’s Spirit because that’s what the Spirit produces in us; and, He uses the painful stuff in life to generate it. But, then, Jeremiah says that there is hope; or, a confident expectation, even in suffering, because God’s mercy never ends (v.22). Some translations say, “…through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not…” This is what Jeremiah called to mind! We need God’s help to call these same truths to mind.

Put Your Hope In God!

-The Uncertainties Of Life!

We live in a world so full of uncertainty that organizations have developed “uncertainty indices” to measure the uncertainty people feel over economic policies & geopolitical risk & government corruption! Seems like, whatever the uncertainty, someone has an index to measure it! We deal with escalated uncertainties, it seems every day. We all go through periods where we live with uncertainty over our jobs; and, therefore, our money. There’s uncertainty in many of our relationships; and, even our faith. About the time we feel good & certain about things, life just happens & throws a wrench in there to mess it all up.

-A Routine Doctor Visit!

All it takes is one routine doctor visit to uncover something unexpected about our health; and, that creates anxiety & uncertainty about what’s next. The one seemingly casual meeting, with your boss, can take you from feeling good about your job to look for a new one! Some of you have been blindsided by a fight or an event with your spouse that left you feeling very uncertain about where your relationship stood! Sometimes individuals feel so helpless & their uncertainty so unbearable that they feel like the only way out is to take their own lives. Our hearts ought to ache for anyone who feels so helpless that suicide is their response. Life is a precious gift from God to be cherished.

-Great Purpose In Life!

Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychotherapist who survived the ghastly holocaust at the Nazi’s Auschwitz concentration camp. Frankl’s wife, mother & brother were all murdered by the Nazi’s; and, he concluded, after observing those who survived & those who did not, that “…when there is a driving passion or a great purpose in life, the physical body is more likely to survive.”  He detected a strange phenomenon in those physically intolerable & life-suffocating concentration camps—survival did not appear to depend on the physical health of the inmates! Often, the young, the healthy & the strong would die while the old, frail & sickly would survive! He said that those who did survive had a common sense of purpose & hope for the future.

-A Book Of Lamentations!

If you’ve spent some time reading the Old Testament prophets, you’ve probably noticed a very short book, of 5 chapters in length, right smack dab between Jeremiah & Ezekiel called Lamentations. As you read it you get a sense of the hopelessness that Jeremiah & the Jewish people felt over their uncertain situation. They were under God’s judgment because of their sin! The nation of Babylon had attacked them, killed many of their people; and, taken the rest into captivity. They’d leveled the walls around the city of Jerusalem; and, burned the temple of God to the ground.

-God, My Portion!

Tradition says that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations from a mountain that overlooked the city; where he wept & cried over the desolation. And, I find it significant that amid Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem; and, their punishment & their suffering, that we find a triumphant word of hope in chapter 3, verses 21-24, “Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.” It’s like Jeremiah suddenly reminds himself about God’s character; and, of God’s promise to Israel to return them to the Promised Land one day in the future. Twice he used the word “hope.” Unlike our finger-crossing kind of hope, this hope is a “confident expectation.” Jeremiah remained strong, with confident expectation, despite the suffering he endured!

What About Pain & Suffering?

-Can People Change?

There’s a scene, from the 2005 movie “16 Blocks”, starring Bruce Willis, where a prisoner that Willis’ character has to escort to trial, at the courthouse, tells him that, “People can change,” whereupon Willis’ character responds, “Days change. Seasons change. Not people.” So, what do you think? Can people change? Is it possible for people to change? Can we lose weight & keep it off? Can we do a better job at the job? Can our spouse ever change some of their ways?

-Hoping Church Will Change You?

I have found, through the years, that people often come to church wanting to change! To get better! To kick some old, bad habit! They’re hopeful that God might help them change! I’ve also watched people get frustrated & impatient when the change isn’t enough; or, it doesn’t happen fast enough! And, they begin to question whether faith, in God, really works! Back a couple of years ago I watched the trailer for a movie titled, “An Interview With God.” It dealt with perhaps the most difficult of all difficult questions:  “Why does God allow pain, suffering & Hurt? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it?” The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to address, in part, that difficult question.

-An Interview With God!

Think of it as a kind of interview with God, as we note what God has to say about pain & suffering! In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive message on the subject; but, hopefully helps us put together a bit of a Biblical theology on pain and suffering. Here’s what Jeremiah’s inspired text has to say about it:  God intends to train us, through life’s painful events, to trust His faithfulness & to look forward to redemption. Now, that’s certainly not the way Satan plans to use suffering! The enemy intends to use painful circumstances, in our lives, to destroy us. But, if you’ll trust God THROUGH the painful events, He’ll use those things to change you & to make you more like Jesus, our suffering Savior!

-No One Was Coming To Help!

At the time Jeremiah wrote down the words of his book, the end was very close for Judah & Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar & the armies of Babylon are at the gates of the city! Jerusalem has been under siege for more than a year & they’re experiencing severe famine. It says that there was no bread to be found anywhere in the city; and, there was no relief in sight! There was no one coming to help them! That’s the background to Jeremiah, chapters 30, 31, and 32. Here’s why this is important to us:  because the response, of the Jewish people, is so similar to our response to pain. Our default response to pain, suffering, and, struggles is to blame shift! And, all too often, we shift blame to God! We curse Him for our difficulties! That’s true, isn’t it?

-In Time You’ll Understand!

Here’s God’s response:  “Why do you cry out about your injury? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins “ Jeremiah 30:15. Get the picture? In a modern translation, God is saying, “Why are you crying? Stop it! I’ve done this to you! But, it’s not what I wanted to do to you! I wanted to bless you! But, you’re guilty of so much sin I can’t even count ‘em all!” The chapter finishes like this: “Look, a storm from the Lord! Wrath has gone out, a churning storm. It will whirl about the heads of the wicked. The Lord’s burning anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come, you will understand it” (30:23-24). So, God intended to unleash His wrath, against sinful Jerusalem, until they, “…come to understand…” that they were the problem, NOT God. Until they’re broken over their sin! We’ll get into this a little deeper next time!

Relationship Humility With God!

To Know Him Better!

So, God began to reveal Himself to us in the very beginning, Genesis chapter 1. And, as each page of Scripture is turned, we come to know Him better! It follows that we have to be in the Scriptures if we have any hope of really knowing Him & becoming intimate in a relationship with Him! As we come to the Old Testament of Isaiah, we learn that, for us to have a relationship with God, requires humility on our part! We have to humble ourselves before Him! We need to properly assess ourselves—He is God! I am not! You’re not!

We’re Not That Awesome!

Through the Prophet Isaiah, God tells us that:  “All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever” (40:6-8). Huh! That means we’re not as awesome as we think we are! God compares us to grass that withers & blows away! We can deceive ourselves with our sense of personal sovereignty; but, only God is ultimately Sovereign! Only God calls the shots!  “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,” Isaiah continues, “or who gave Him His counsel? Who did He consult with? Who gave Him understanding and taught Him the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding?” (40:13-14). Those are all meant to be read as rhetorical questions. The answer, in other words, is obvious! No one has taught or given God anything!

No Counsel Needed!

God doesn’t need our counsel! Nor, does He need our permission to do anything! When we lift ourselves in pride we become as insignificant as dry grass to Almighty God! But, when we humble ourselves as Jesus did, we enter into a relationship with the Father. Jesus asked the Father to remove His death, on the cross, from His earthly path. But, He ultimately submitted to the Father’s will in humility! God also gave these words to Isaiah to record:  “I am Yahweh, who made everything; who stretched out the heavens by Myself; who alone spread out the earth; who destroys the omens of the false prophets and makes fools of diviners; who confounds the wise and makes their knowledge foolishness” (44:24-25). We need to humble ourselves before Almighty God! Don’t be so sure of yourself! Rather, be sure of Him; because a relationship with God requires His help. We can’t even relate to God without His help! Our sinfulness & depravity get in the way! We’re hopeless & helpless without Him! Be humble about that!  We can neither save ourselves; nor, can we keep ourselves saved! He is our help! He is our strength when we admit that we are powerless.

-The Everlasting God!

Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, Isaiah also wrote:  “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint” (40:28-31) God never sleeps nor slumbers! He never takes a day off or goes on vacation! He’s always available to help! He is the Creator and the Sustainer of everything! Why do we insist on living for ourselves; and, trying to fix life’s problems all by ourselves? That’s faithless! God is big enough to carry our load; and, the other 7 billion people circling the sun with us! Throw your weight on Him! He is the everlasting God!