The Greatest Commandment!

-Your Brother’s Keeper!

Did you know that certain actions or inactions, toward another person or group of persons, can find you guilty, in a court of law, of failing to be your “brother’s keeper”? The Supreme Court has addressed such cases under the “Duty Of Altruism.” Altruism is the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others! So, the failure to give a proper warning to others can be judged as criminal conduct by a court of law! If a company fails to adequately warn of any potential dangers, of its product use, it may be charged as liable for any resulting injuries.

-The Original Crime!

Now, the original such crime was committed by the son of earth’s 1st couple, Adam & Eve, against his brother; when, Cain killed his brother Abel in a rage & then responded to God’s question, as to Abel’s whereabouts, with a sarcastic, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” To which God answered:  “Yes! Yes, you are your brother’s keeper!” When Jesus walked the earth, as God in the flesh, He responded to someone’s question about the greatest commandment by, in a sense, restating God’s answer to Cain when He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” Matthew 22:36-40.

-Love God! Love Others!

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is a two-parter— 1st to love God with all your heart, soul & mind; and, 2nd to love every person in the same way that you love yourself! In other words, it’s out of the overflow of genuine love for God that we are even capable of loving others the same way that we love ourselves! So, the reverse is also true. If I do not love others, in the same way, that I love myself then I don’t love God with all my heart, soul, and mind.  Jesus says you can’t have one without the other! So, the way of Cain is to “Look out for #1”; but, the way of Jesus is to “Look out for others the same way we look out for self.

-The Watchmen!

When you read the Old Testament Prophet, Ezekiel, you come to understand that God called His prophets “watchmen.” As watchmen, they were charged, by God, with the responsibility of warning the Jewish people, living in Jerusalem, that the city would fall to an enemy if they did not repent! They didn’t! So, Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar, put the city under siege. But, God, through the Prophet Ezekiel, then pronounced judgment against Babylon; and, 6 other nations that surrounded Israel, because they would not humble themselves before Yahweh! But, then, God gives Ezekiel a new oracle beginning in chapter 33.

-The “Emergency Broadcast System”!

It’s a key transitional chapter; because, the rest of the book, from chapters 34-48, is prophecy related to Israel’s bright future once God has restored the nation to the Promised Land. It begins:  “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, speak to your people and tell them…” So, in context, this word, from the Lord, is for the people, right? In v.7, he continues, “…I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel…” God tells Ezekiel that he was a “watchman” to the people! Long before there was an “Emergency Broadcast System”, the individuals responsible for warning the people of impending danger were the “watchmen”.  And, God intends to convey an obvious prophetic message here:  “To love your neighbor as yourself.”  To warn others of danger is an act of love! That’s what a faithful & alert “watchman” does. The application, for us, seems rather obvious, doesn’t it? Love your neighbor! Tell them when there’s danger!

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!

Clay In God’s Hands!

Who Was Jeremiah?

Jeremiah, the author of the Old Testament book bearing his name, has been called the “Prophet To The Nations” because God gave him an Oracle— or, a word from the Lord— to speak to 9 different Gentile nations; in addition to Judah! Through Jeremiah’s words, which were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, God reveals Jeremiah’s heart more than any other prophet! From his introduction, in the 1st chapter, v.6, we see that Jeremiah was a “reluctant” prophet— questioning his ability to lead God’s people spiritually. He was also known as the “weeping” prophet— which perhaps proves he was qualified to lead because he wept over the sins of the people; and, over God’s judgment of their sins! He was also a “lonely” prophet because God had told him not to marry (ch.16) because of the dread over the judgment that God was bringing on Judah & Jerusalem; and, he also became known as the “persecuted” prophet as he was rejected, ridiculed, beaten; and, falsely accused; all, because he was faithful to proclaim the truth of God’s word! The key phrase in the book of Jeremiah?

-The Word Of The Lord!

“The word of the Lord” is found more than 50 times! And, the “word of the Lord” was this— that God’s judgment was coming! The patience & long-suffering of the Lord had finally been exhausted! Israel’s idolatry & sinful rejection of God’s word had reached its climax! And, her leaders were arguing with Jeremiah that God would NOT turn His people over to Babylon & King Nebuchadnezzar. And, so, in chapter 18, God gives Jeremiah a parable to deliver to Israel’s leaders:  “This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do” (18:1-4).

-God Is The Potter!

Have you ever seen a potter at work? It’s quite fascinating! In the parable, God is the potter; and, Israel is the clay! It’s an illustration that God inspired numerous authors of Scripture to use. The potter and clay illustration is also found in the Psalms, in Isaiah; and, in Zechariah. The Apostle Paul also uses it in the New Testament; and, so does John in the last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation. The concept that God wanted Israel, and us, to grasp is His Sovereignty; or, His absolute, supreme power & authority over His entire creation! That God has the absolute authority to do whatever He wills to do with His creation in the same way that a potter has absolute jurisdiction over the creation he fashions out of the clay! Without the potter, the pottery fashioned is nothing more than a lump of wet dirt; and, that’s true of us as well as Israel.

Molded By The Master Potter!

We are like clay, which has little value until we are molded by the Master potter into the likeness of Jesus! That is a foundational truth that Israel needed to apply! And, that is a foundational truth that we need to apply to our own lives! If you don’t grasp God, the Potter’s, purpose for your life you’ll waste it! You and I are not the Potter! Ultimately, we don’t have any right over our lives. Our lives belong to God who gave them to us! We are a lump of clay & that symbolizes the “potential” we have to be useful to the Potter! But, God, the Potter, has the ultimate right over our lives, to use them as He purposes them to be used! We need to spend some serious time in prayer & meditation on this truth! Will you ask the Potter if He finds you to be moldable in His hands? Will you ask Him to show you where you’re not being pliable; so, that you can repent? That’s God’s point in the parable. Would Israel repent? And, will you repent?

God Punishes Because He Loves!

-God So Loved The World!

The most well known verse, in all of Scripture, is John 3:16. It says, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” In this way, God proved His love— He sent Jesus to atone for our sin by His death on the cross! That’s really the end of the argument against God! For all the doubters of God’s love, mercy & grace there is the One & Only “Exhibit A”— His Name is Jesus! And, He bore God’s judgment against sin so we wouldn’t have to! So that we could be saved!

-Brokenness To Openness!

But, it’s only as we experience our brokenness that we become open to God’s overtures to save us! And, punishment is often the tool He uses to expose our brokenness! So, ultimately, it is because God is love that He punishes us to bring us to the place of brokenness; where, He can redeem us! And, there is perhaps no better Biblical example of that than God’s judgment of Judah & Jerusalem as they are overrun by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar; and, taken into captivity & exile! The Biblical narrative reveals that God first warned them; then, punished them; and, finally, in love, He redeems them! To accomplish God’s purposes in our broken world, He first warns!

-A Skirmish You Can’t Win!

Disobedience to God & His Word will never turn out well for you! When you fight against God, it’s a skirmish you can’t possibly win! When I was young & very foolish I loved to get into fist fights out on the school playground! But, I always sized up the other guy first! There were some guys that I just knew I couldn’t take! So, I would find a way to wiggle out of that fight! I was foolish; but, I wasn’t stupid! I would do everything I could to avoid getting into a fight I knew I couldn’t win! So, why would anyone ever pick a fight with God! You can’t possibly win against a God who is all-powerful! You can’t outwit a God who knows everything there is to know! And, you can’t run away from a God who is everywhere!

-They Despised His Warnings!

And, yet, the Biblical account shows that Israel tried multiple times & lost! So, God warned them & warned them & warned them again! In 2 Chronicles, chapter 36, God reminds them of this:  “But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy” (vs. 15-16)

-God’s Compassion Toward Us!

Did you notice why God said He sent them prophets? Look at the end of v.15. It says He sent messengers to warn them, “…because He had compassion on His people…” God warns because of His great compassion toward us! He warns because He is Love! When you  disobey God’s word you expose yourself to great danger! Sin lies to you! It promises pleasure! But, it always delivers pain! Sin is a destroyer! It destroys lives, families & nations! Just go back and read God’s 10 Commandments; and, consider the pain and suffering that comes to those who break them! The one who steals will be incarcerated! The one who lies will never be trusted! The one who sleeps with someone they’re not married to destroys relationships & families & brings hatred & disease upon themselves! Listen when God warns!