Hope in God’s Promise, 29 March 2020

Joyfully Hope in God’s Promise
Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
Jeremiah 31

Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

Big Idea: God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him.

I did it! It took a while, but I finally did it. I know I was given an extension, but seeing those two letters from the federal government for days—weeks?—led me to just do it. I went online and did the US Census!

I couldn’t remember what questions would be asked. It’s been ten years! I expected to answer my name and address. I wasn’t surprised by the race question. I marked the “White” box. But then it asked me for more detail. The Census website says,

The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.

There was a blank under “White” and it wanted more detail. German? Yes. Irish? I don’t think so. Of course, many have been surprised by their results. I’ve never taken one of those tests, but I’m fairly confident of the ethnic heritage of both of my parents.

What is your ethnicity? Do you know much about your family of origin, your nationality?

By the way, I believe there’s only one “race…” the human race!

Few people groups on the planet have endured more hardship and persecution than the Jews. They’ve had and lost land. They’ve had and lost their temple. Thousands of years after God’s covenant with Abraham, the Jews continue to follow and break that covenant. Fortunately, there’s a new covenant…and Jews and Gentiles alike are invited to participate in it.

This month we’ve been looking at the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to speak some uncomfortable truths to the Jewish people. After Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land. The Jewish nation divided and became the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 11-12). Even worse than their relationship with one another was their relationship with God. It seemed to change like the weather. There were moments when they worshipped God and moments when they turned to worship idols…sometimes even in God’s temple! There were times when they were repentant of their sins—ashamed of their behavior—and other times when they were proud of their rebellion and evil. Like a roller coaster, their righteousness went up and down, and along with it, their relationship with God.

The remarkable thing about God is grace. He is a God of second-chances. He is a God of mercy and forgiveness. But we must repent. We must turn away from our sin and return to God. When we repent and return, He will restore us into a right relationship with Him. That’s where we find true joy—not in circumstances, but in a relationship with God.

Some people flippantly say God loves everyone. While that’s true—for God so loved the world—a relationship requires two parties. I may love you, but if you reject me, we won’t have fellowship. We’re all on God’s “bad list” until we repent and obey.

God and the Israelites have had a complicated history, a relationship that is sometimes hot, but usually cold. Quite simply, the people were usually more concerned about being like their neighbors than living a radical, counter-cultural lifestyle devoted to the LORD.

This might sound familiar. This might describe our nation. Whether or not we were ever a “Christian nation,” we seem to trust the money which bears the slogan “In God We Trust” more than God. That was, at least, until COVID-19. Is God getting our attention? Is God getting your attention?

He has a way of doing that! He gives us freedom. We weren’t created to be robots. Every day we choose whether to follow God or the world. Every hour we make such decisions.

Our text today is from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 31. God has expressed His displeasure with the people and begins to cast a vision for the future, for a time when the people will return to Him, trust Him, make Him LORD, and obey.

“At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)

He declares they will be a united people. The sins of King Solomon and his foolish son Rehoboam which divided the Jewish nation will be reunited. The land will be restored. People will accept responsibility for their sins.

The next nineteen verses speak of a restored Israel. In the end times, God will restore the Jews to their land (Ephraim is a reference to the northern kingdom of Israel). Verses 21-26 talk about a restored Judah. People will experience the blessing of the LORD as people come together in harmony despite their past differences.

Are you with me? It’s about to get good!

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

God had made a covenant with the Jews, but they repeatedly broke it. Unlike a contract, a covenant is a solemn commitment. In biblical times, it usually involved the sacrifice of an animal, the shedding of blood. God made such a covenant with Abraham. Abraham and his descendants would be God’s people, and through the Jewish people, all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). The old covenant was made with Abraham, but now God describes a new covenant, a future relationship.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

This was God’s plan from the beginning, to be LORD, to be their guide. In the old covenant, people would receive temporary blessings as they turned back to God (as they did under Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Hezekiah and Josiah). They had moments of revival, but they didn’t last.

The great evangelist Billy Sunday was once told revivals weren’t necessary because they didn’t last. He replied, “A bath doesn’t last, but it’s good to have one occasionally.”

This new covenant is more than just renewal or revival. It’s not just something for the people to obey, but something in both their minds and hearts, not on stone tablets. It’s personal. Instead of focusing on conduct, the new covenant changes character. God is saying in the future, a beautiful relationship will emerge.

The new covenant is internalized in minds and hearts.

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

All the people will know God…not just about God, but actually know God, be in a relationship with God. The Hebrew word here for “know” is “yada,” implying a relationship more than just facts. Within that relationship, God will forgive—and forget—their sins. That’s good news! That’s great news!
The new covenant involves the forgiveness of sin.

I need to pause and say these words were not written to us, but they were written for us. Remember, God is speaking to the Jewish people.

This is what the LORD says,

he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the LORD Almighty is his name:

“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the LORD, “will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” (Jeremiah 31:35-36)

If you know the story of the Prodigal Son, you know God is a loving Father who never gives up on His children, even when they walk away and break His heart.

This is what the LORD says:

“Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:37)

The imagery is beautiful. God will never break His promises to Israel.

The new covenant involves a new city, a new Jerusalem.

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the LORD. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.” (Jeremiah 31:38-40)

When I visited South Korea many years ago, I was surprised to learn the small peninsula had been invaded many times throughout history, some saying as many as 2000 times! While many historians disagree, South Koreans live with an awareness of both past invasions and the potential for a future disruption, demolition, uprooting.

The Jewish people were well-aware of such upheaval throughout their history. This prophecy is wonderful, the promise of God filled with hope.

So What?

The book of Jeremiah was written around 600 BC, so it’s about 2600 years old. Did God keep His promises to the Jews?

Yes…and not yet.

One of the challenges with biblical prophecy is discerning what has been fulfilled and what remains to be fulfilled. The story of humanity is not complete, as I hope you know! There are many events described in the Bible which remain in the future.

The great marker in history was Jesus. He ushered in the new covenant on the cross (Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20). Gentiles have been grafted in with the Jews to participate in the new covenant (Romans 11:12-32; Ephesians 3:1-6), which is why these ancient words have relevance for non-Jews today. All followers of Jesus share in the new covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:14-18). They are born again, made new, alive in Christ, new creations, regenerated into the family of God (John 3:1-21; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:13).

I mentioned biblical covenants involved blood. Jesus’ death on the cross involved blood. He was the perfect sacrifice. I often say First Alliance Church is not about religion, but a relationship…with Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you know Jesus? I don’t mean do you know about Jesus, but do you know him? He came to connect us to our heavenly Father. He showed us what it means to be human. He taught timeless truths which have literally changed the world. His death and resurrection conquered sin and shame, making it possible for all of our failures to be forgotten, all of our mistakes erased, all of our brokenness mended.

Jesus is the Messiah the Jews were anticipating. He’s the one prophesied in the Old Testament. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He’s seated now at the right hand of the Father (Luke 22:69; Ephesians 1:20), awaiting the moment when he is instructed to return to earth, not as a baby in a manger, but a triumphant king to rule and reign forever.

Some treat the gospel—the good news—as going to heaven when you die. If that’s the case, what do we do in the meantime? The gospel—the good news—is Jesus is LORD, and we get to go to heaven before we die. We get to experience joy, peace, meaning, satisfaction, and love now. Heaven is where God is, and He wants to do life with us now! He wants to lead us now! He wants to be with us now! When you follow Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too, God the Spirit living inside you to fill you with gifts and fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Many of the things described in Jeremiah have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, yet some things remain.

It might be simplistic to say, but the Old Testament was about the old covenant, given to Moses. The New Testament was about the new covenant, rooted in Jesus.

One thing that remains is God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him. I’m glad—especially as a Gentile—that I’m living on this side of the cross, a participant in the new covenant. I love grace—unmerited favor—and need a lot of it! I’m grateful for the cross and empty tomb and the forgiveness and freedom it offers.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ friend John who said,

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9)

This pandemic will eventually be over, but the greater enemy in our world is sin. The good news is there is a cure that can wipe away all of our sins…Jesus. He is inviting you and me today into a relationship with him that will last for eternity, both now and in the life to come.

Tragically, many people have rejected God. They did it in Jeremiah’s day and they do it in ours. They think they’re wiser and smarter than God, or they simply want to do things their way. I urge you, don’t be like the fools in the Bible who rejected God. Repent and receive the abundant life Jesus offers. Choose today, tomorrow, and every day to surrender to Jesus.

I don’t understand why COVID-19 is ravaging our planet, but I know who does. I think God might be trying to get our attention, reminding us of the things that really matter, and inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him.

The vision God paints for Jeremiah is beautiful…unity, righteous living, forgiven sins, a new city, and most of all a relationship with Him. Our scripture today is packed with hope for those who follow Jesus, the Messiah who ushered in the new covenant available to every man, woman and child on earth.

Today can be your day to begin your spiritual journey…or get back on the path. Don’t wait another moment to get right with God. He knows you, He loves you, He’s inviting you to do life with Him. God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him. The best is yet to come.

Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • You can watch this online worship experience here.
  • Trust God's Sovereignty, 22 March 2020

    Patiently Trust God’s Sovereignty
    Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
    Jeremiah 12

    Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

    Big Idea: God is sovereign and He can be trusted, despite what we see, think, or feel today.

    Why? It might be the most common question asked by children.

    Why do I have to get out of bed?
    Why do I have to brush my teeth?
    Why do I have to eat breakfast?
    Why do I have to go to school?

    Come to think of it, these are all questions adults ask, too!

    One of the most universal questions throughout history has been, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” I’ve asked it. I’m sure you’ve wondered it. Job did (12; 21). The psalmists (37; 49; 73) and Habakkuk (chapter 1) and Malachi (2:17; 3:15) did. Jeremiah did, too.

    I hope today we can answer that important question…and draw closer to Almighty God.

    We’re in the middle of a series on the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a bullfrog…and a prophet! God’s chosen people, the Jews, had repeatedly broken their covenant with God. Last Sunday we looked at their disgraceful practice in the temple, worshiping other gods. The difficult life of a prophet involved speaking for God to disobedient people, warning them of the consequences of their actions.

    In chapter one, Jeremiah was understandably reluctant to accept God’s call for him to be a prophet and obey the LORD. Last week in chapter seven, Jeremiah told the people their sins and evil were too much for God. They had willfully chosen to walk away from God.

    Today we’re in chapter twelve. It begins,

    You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. (Jeremiah 12:1)

    This is a great start. Jeremiah understands God is right. God is always right. God is always righteous. That’s His nature, His character. He can do no wrong. He cannot sin. He cannot fail or make a mistake. He is perfect in all of His ways.

    It’s vitally important for all of us to understand God, to know God. We cannot fully comprehend Him, of course, but He is knowable. He wants to be known by us. He has given us the Bible to discover His wonderful attributes, including his righteousness.

    I realize you might not agree with Jeremiah. You may think He’s forgotten you, made a mistake, or failed you. I can assure you though it may feel that way, you will someday understand why…

    • - Your loved one died
    • - You lost the job you loved
    • - That relationship failed
    • - You were born with those challenges
    • - There’s no toilet paper at the store!

    Jeremiah acknowledged that God is always righteous, always right when a case is brought before Him. Now Jeremiah does just that; he brings a case before the LORD.

    Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jeremiah 12:1b)

    There it is! Why do good things happen to bad people? Jeremiah admits God is righteous, but is He a God of justice?

    It’s ok to question God. Some have been taught they should never doubt or question, but this is one of many good, honest questions directed toward God. He wants to hear from us. He can handle anything we throw at Him! He’s God!

    Jeremiah continues,

    You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. (Jeremiah 12:2)

    They talk about You, but they’re far from You, LORD. Don’t you see what’s going on? They are religious but not righteous. They’re fakers, actors, hypocrites. Why don’t you punish them?

    Yet you know me, LORD; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! (Jeremiah 12:3)

    How do you really feel, Jeremiah?! Jeremiah was set apart by God and he wants God to set apart the wicked…for their day of slaughter!

    How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.” (Jeremiah 12:4)

    God had sent a drought, yet the people refused to acknowledge their sin and God’s judgment.

    Why do you permit it, LORD? Perhaps a better question than, “Why?” is, “What are You up to, LORD? He is sovereign and in control, even when it doesn’t seem like it. He’s good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

    I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t ask a question for which you don’t want the answer! God responds to Jeremiah…and it’s not what he expected.

    “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5)

    God says, “Jeremiah, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

    Your relatives, members of your own family—even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you. Do not trust them, though they speak well of you. (Jeremiah 12:6)

    This is a disturbing verse. God warns Jeremiah to not trust his own family…or their words.

    Warren Wiersbe notes, “Jeremiah was asking, ‘How can I get out of this?’ But he should have been asking, ‘What can I get out of this?’”

    We are to live by God’s promises, not explanations. Of course, we don’t understand everything that happens in this world. If so, we’d be God!

    We like easy, comfortable, and safe. We like sunny days at the beach, but the only thing that grows at the beach is your waistline! Growth requires testing, discipline, pain, challenge, and…change. Often the very things we want removed from our lives are the very things God is using to grow us, mature us, shape us, and make us like Jesus.

    And life’s trials should always draw us back to God, enhancing our relationship with and dependency upon God. Maybe today’s trials are designed to create tomorrow’s miracles. Singer/songwriter Laura Story penned these words in her song Blessings:

    'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops/ What if Your healing comes through tears/ What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near/ What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

    Trials are an opportunity to trust.
    Trials are an opportunity for others to pray and support us.
    Trails are an opportunity for God to show His power.
    Trials are an opportunity for us to grow.

    But I still don’t like them…and neither did Jeremiah! God continues,

    “I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies. (Jeremiah 12:7)

    This may not seem like love, but sometimes love has to let go. For God, sin cannot be tolerated.

    I know of someone who recently broke up with his girlfriend, not because he didn’t love her, but because he did. He knew he couldn’t meet her expectations and released her to pursue her desires. I think that’s what God is doing here. The people had broken their covenant with God. They turned their backs on Him. He tried and tried and tried to get their attention and urged them to repent—to turn back toward Him. They refused and chose to follow the ways of their ungodly friends and neighbors and finally God says enough. It’s sad. It’s tragic!

    My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her. (Jeremiah 12:8)

    They have been opposing God and He’s had enough. The Hebrew word for hate can also mean turn against. The people roared at God like an angry lion.

    Has not my inheritance become to me like a speckled bird of prey that other birds of prey surround and attack? Go and gather all the wild beasts; bring them to devour. (Jeremiah 12:9)

    Speckled or colored birds stood out from the other birds, and consequently the others would surround and attack the odd creature. This is Judah.

    Now there’s a series of images God uses to describe the devastation that lies ahead.

    10 Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard
    and trample down my field;
    they will turn my pleasant field
    into a desolate wasteland.
    11 It will be made a wasteland,
    parched and desolate before me;
    the whole land will be laid waste
    because there is no one who cares.
    12 Over all the barren heights in the desert
    destroyers will swarm,
    for the sword of the LORD will devour
    from one end of the land to the other;
    no one will be safe.
    13 They will sow wheat but reap thorns;
    they will wear themselves out but gain nothing.
    They will bear the shame of their harvest
    because of the LORD’S fierce anger.”

    Can you image God saying these words to us? I sometimes wonder if He’s not! Our money says, “In God We Trust” but we seem to trust more in our money than in our God. We’ve marginalized faith in the public square, passed laws that are in direct violation of scripture, and become so self-absorbed that there’s no time or energy left for the relationship we were created to have with our Creator.

    Is God angry with the USA? Is He angry with the world? Is the coronavirus a punishment? The best answer I can give is “maybe.” Keep in mind, this passage was not written to 21st century Christians in Toledo…but it was written for us. We’re told that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We’re told that if we disown Jesus, he will disown us before the Father (Matthew 10:33).

    I have a pastor friend who posted this last week:

    Pestilences (pandemics) and plagues don't come from satan. They come from God. There is not one instance in the 130+ mentions of pestilences and plagues in the Bible where they are attributed to the demonic realm. EVERY one is said to have come from God, even if it's by the agency of angels. We don't rebuke pestilences and plagues. We REPENT. (Joe Sazyc Sr.)

    That’s what the Jewish people failed to do…repent. Will we?

    This is what the LORD says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. (Jeremiah 12:14)

    Is anybody ready for some good news?

    But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. (Jeremiah 12:15)

    God has remembered the land. It’s His land, only loaned to the Jews. The people would spend seventy years in captivity and then be allowed to return to their land and restore the nation and temple…and their worship of God.

    And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the LORD lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 12:16-17)

    In this instance, God is pro-choice! He gives the people the choice to follow Him or the false god Baal. They get to determine their own destiny, the consequences of their allegiance. Even today, nation who follow Jesus receive a certain blessing, while those who ignore Him will pay the price…now and/or in the future

    So What?

    What in the world can we learn from this dark chapter in a book written thousands of years ago? First,

    We all experience suffering because of sin.

    The good and the bad both experience pain, loss, and suffering. It’s easy to be envious of the wealth, pleasure, or power of others. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, right?! But as long as sin is a part of the human condition, we will be hurt and we will hurt others. Social media begs us to compare ourselves to the highlight reels of others, but that’s the point…we only see the highlights…the smiles…the Instagrammable photos. I promise you, ever person you’ve ever met or seen has suffered. They may be in agony at this moment, just unwilling to be honest and vulnerable.

    Perhaps you could care less about others. You’re struggling now. You’re doubting or questioning God now. God for it! He’s listening. He cares. It might not feel like it, but He’s at work. He’s up to something.

    Your story is not over.

    Every good story has a moment of tension—the climax. Have you ever heard a good story where the main character is just happy, happy, happy from beginning to end? No! There are moments of suspense or crisis that are followed by resolution. The same is true for your story.

    When you ask, “God, what are You up to?” you open up to the opportunity to see how God will heal, redeem, restore, or otherwise answer your prayers. We don’t like moments of trial, but that’s how we grow. Today may be excruciating, but there’s bright hope for tomorrow…and He is with you today, whether you like/know/acknowledge/feel it or not.

    The same can be said for the wicked. Their story is not over. Judgment Day is coming…for all of us. “Vengeance is mine,” says the LORD (Romans 12:19). The bottom line is…

    God is sovereign. He can be trusted,
    despite what we see, think, or feel today.


    If anyone had a right to ask why good things happen to bad people, it was Jesus. After all, he was the only truly “good” human to walk this earth. The people who denied, betrayed, sentenced, and executed him could all be considered “bad,” yet he loved them and prayed for them.

    Jesus never asks us to do anything he wasn’t willing to do…and we have the same Holy Spirit to give us the love, grace, courage, and strength to do it.

    There’s a question more common than, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” and that’s, “Why do bad things happen to good people.” The worst possible thing happened to the only good person as he was beaten, mocked, and crucified for you and me. We often say it’s all about Jesus and as we’ve gathered here to worship Jesus, we close with a song which talks about his life, death, and victory…a victory which is ours as we trust God and follow Jesus, regardless of the temporary injustices we may see around us. The best is yet to come!

    Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Temple of Doom, 8 March 2020

    Temple of Doom
    Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
    Jeremiah 7:1-15

    Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

    Big Idea: God wants our heart, soul, mind, and strength…24/7/365.

    Are you superstitious? This Friday is Friday the…13th! That number is superstitious to some. On a recent trip overseas, I was surprised to see a thirteenth-floor button in the elevator!

    People are superstitious about many things…black cats, rabbit’s feet, …even religious practices. Have you ever heard of people superstitious about a building, one which would offer absolute protection? It’s in the Bible, and you might be surprised at how you can relate.

    My name is Kirk and last Sunday we began a look at the book of Jeremiah…not your friend, the bullfrog, but the prophet from long ago. God told Jeremiah to confront the Jews after they wandered away from God, pursuing things of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

    I often say context is critical in understand the Bible…or any writing, for that matter. Here’s some additional background leading up to Jeremiah chapter 7:

    God made a covenant with the Jews, promising to guide and protect them so long as they followed Him and not the gods of their neighbors. He wanted to be their king, but they insisted on a human king, so Saul became the first king of Israel, followed by David, Solomon, and a host of no-so-good kings who led the people away from God and into idolatry and other evil practices.

    Josiah was a good king, concerned about his people. He was a godly king—one of the few—who had a wonderful relationship with God. By the time he had become king, the temple had become a shambles.

    King Josiah initiated the cleansing and restoration of the temple and removed the idols. While doing so, the book of the law of God was found and the people began to return to God. Unfortunately, King Josiah was wounded in a battle with Egypt God warned him about and taken to Jerusalem where he died (2 Chron. 35:20-27).

    Josiah’s son Jehoahaz was on the throne for three months before being replaced by his brother Eliakim who the Egyptian king named “Jehoiakim.” He reigned for eleven years, leading the people of Judah back into idolatry.

    Josiah removed the idols and his son welcomes them back, bringing idolatry into the temple courts, making the LORD one of the many gods the people worshipped.

    Although the people realized the error of their ways, they felt unstoppable because they thought nothing bad could happen so long as they were in the city of God’s holy temple. They were, after all, God’s chosen people, so they were invincible…or so they thought! They superstitiously believed the temple would protect them, even if they disobeyed God.

    The first chapter of Jeremiah tells of God’s call to the prophet. He is to alert the people of their sin and God’s displeasure.

    Chapters 2-6 record prophecies Jeremiah gave during the first 5 years of his ministry, beginning when he was around 20 years old. Chapter seven begins with a series of prophecies given after finding the law in the temple after it was cleansed under King Josiah’s rule.

    I want to warn you, this is a challenging passage. Let’s begin:

    This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Stand at the gate of the LORD’S house and there proclaim this message:

    “ ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:1-2)

    The focus of this prophecy is on the people, of course, and the temple. After restoring the temple, it became a center of activity, but not all of it was good.

    This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. (Jeremiah 7:3)

    The people of Judah were returning to the temple, but it had no impact on their lives the rest of the week. It was nothing more than a religious activity, going through the motions.

    Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4)

    The people of Judah were excited about the temple, but not the LORD! It was like a giant good-luck charm or talisman to them. Buildings are great—I like ours—but they are merely one place where we worship, they are not what we worship.

    If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

    That’s good, right? God is saying, “Change and everything will be okay. Return to me. Stop oppressing the foreigner, the orphan, the widow. Stop your violence and bloodshed. Most of all, get rid of your idols and worship of other gods.

    But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. (Jeremiah 7:8)

    The people thought they could do whatever they desired so long as they had—and visited—the temple. This seems crazy to us, but like so many things, it’s easy to get caught up in the culture, political-correctness, the leadership, in this case the evil king.

    Jeremiah’s audience had a false security in

    • - The temple
    • - Religious activities and rituals
    • - Emotional experiences
    • - Godly heritage
    • - Knowledge of the scripture
    • - Faith in God without true repentance (deceptive words)

    Does that sound at all familiar? Here we are gathered together wearing our “Sunday best,” doing our religious duty, giving God His hour or so, perhaps making mom or grandma happy,…so we don’t feel so guilty about what we do the rest of the week.

    Don’t worry, I’m not talking about you…or am I?

    This whole church thing, this whole God thing, this whole Bible thing is not about religion and ritual. It’s not about superstition or super-spirituality.

    It’s about a relationship with your Creator. It’s about Jesus! Our faith is all about knowing, loving, and obeying Jesus.

    That last one’s tough. Sure, we all want to know and love Jesus. He’s the most famous person to ever walk the earth. He loved people, healed people, and taught with great wisdom. He died and rose from the dead to forgive us of our sins. Who doesn’t like that? It’s easy to say, “Jesus, save me.”

    But talk is cheap. See, Jesus wants to be your Savior, but also your LORD. That means he wants to change you…to become like him. He wants you to obey.

    Our culture hates this. We want it our way, whatever makes us happy, whatever we feel or “identify” or led to do. Just when I think our society can’t get any more bizarre, I read of some radical new self-expression exalted on a pedestal that all of us are supposed to bow down to, have a parade for, celebrate, or honor with an award.

    Family, that’s fine for the world. It makes sense for the world to act like the world, but we’re the people of God, which mean we are to obey God. We are to repent—turn away from our sin—and live not for ourselves and our pleasures, but for Christ. Jesus said,

    The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    Repent means to turn. Believe here means to do, to entrust, to take action. It’s not a nice thought in your head, but living proof that you are a follower of Jesus, no longer a slave to sin and selfishness.

    The Jews thought if they went to the temple, they’d be saved.
    Some people today mistakenly think if they go to
    church, they’ll be saved.

    What God desired for them and what He desires for us today is one thing: relationship. That’s why we were created! If you have a child who constantly disobeys, it’s hard to have a right relationship with them. The same is true for our Heavenly Father. It’s not that He wants to spoil our fun with a bunch of rules, but rather that Daddy knows best. He knows how this life thing works. He wants us to experience the ultimate joy, peace, and satisfaction in life, which can only come from knowing Him, loving Him, and obeying Him.

    The prophet Isaiah wrote of true worshippers:

    Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7b)

    Jesus referred to this text when he went postal on the money changers in the temple centuries later.

    “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:13)

    The people of Jerusalem had done this, too. Jeremiah continues,

    “ ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,
    burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:9-11)

    The people didn’t change their ways. They continued to sin, even following other gods!

    They thought the temple would protect them, using it for their gain. Only God could protect them, for His glory.

    They had broken at least five of the Ten Commandments, yet they were told the temple would bring them blessing and protection from God. This isn’t salvation, it’s superstition! The people were making the temple unholy rather than being made holy in the temple. God’s holy temple had become a den of thieves. It had become a temple of doom.

    Warren Wiersbe notes, “Any theology that minimizes God’s holiness and tolerates people’s deliberate sinfulness is a false theology.”

    God wanted the people to repent, to turn, to change, to flee their sin both to escape His judgment and the avoid the consequences of their sins. He didn’t want fake, empty worship. He didn’t want religion for an hour or two a week. He wanted 24/7 obedience, and that’s what He wants from us today.

    We can all see how you behave here on Sunday morning. That’s easy.

    How do you live at home?
    How do you live at the office or school?
    How do you live on social media?

    Where were you last night?
    How will you live out your faith this week?

    Jeremiahs words don’t get any easier. God tells him,

    “ ‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. (Jeremiah 7:12-13)

    I wonder how many times I miss God’s calling. We live in a noisy world filled with distractions. There are so many messages bombarding us, whether it’s on a billboard, the radio, social media, television, or even our friends and family. Sometimes we get busy because we’re afraid of what we might discover if we are still and quiet.

    Silence and solitude are two ancient spiritual practices or disciplines which quickly reveal the condition of our souls before God.

    He is speaking. Are you listening? Remember, the primary way God speaks today is through the Bible. Are you reading? Are you studying? He’s got great news for you! His Word will set you free from fear and anxiety. The scriptures are packed with promises of His patient love for you. Those who seek Him will find Him, but those who ignore Him will find themselves distant (Matthew 7:7; 25:31-46).

    God says,

    Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’ (Jeremiah 7:14-15)

    Archeologists believe the village of Shiloh was destroyed about 1050 BC, likely by the Philistines. God is saying what happened to Shiloh He would do to the temple.

    In chapter 7, the LORD tells Jeremiah four things:

    1. 1. “Their worship does no good” (1-15)
    2. 2. “Your prayers will do them no good” (16-20)
    3. 3. “Their sacrifices will do them no good” (21-26)
    4. 4. “My discipline and correction do them no good” (7:27-8:3)

    The people of Judah had abandoned God—even though they looked religious—and God was going to respect their choice and thrust them from His presence. What a tragedy!

    So What?

    It’s hard not to think about the Pharisees and religious leaders from Mark chapter 7 when reading about these people. They looked good on the outside, but their hearts were detached from their worship. The LORD became one of many gods.

    What would God say to us? To you? To me? What is He saying?

    I hope the application is obvious. Are you going through the motions, devoting an hour or two a week to God, or do you live for God…24/7?

    I’m glad you’re here. I think God’s glad you’re here, too. But Sunday morning’s not enough. He wants all of you.

    Some of you have given your whole heart to God, but you’ve lost your way. Maybe you’ve been attending here for fifty years but you’ve lost your first love. My guess is some of you have wandered off the path. You might be the only one who knows it. You might just now be aware of it. It’s time to recommit your life to Jesus. It’s time to return to your first love, Jesus.

    Maybe you feel inadequate and unworthy to have a relationship with God. You are, which is why Jesus came and died…to reconcile you to the Father. His arms are wide-open to welcome you home.

    As we said last week, God is looking for men and women who will say yes to God and His calling. It doesn’t begin by being a missionary in Africa or going to seminary. It starts with simply giving God your heart, …and your soul, mind, and strength. The greatest command? Jesus said,

    Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

    I Give You My Heart

    Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Boldly Answer God’s Call , 1 March 2020

    Boldly Answer God’s Call
    Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
    Jeremiah 1

    Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

    Big Idea: Obey God’s calling on your life, whatever it may be.

    Mark Twain said that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

    Why are you here…on this planet? What is your purpose? What is your calling?

    Welcome to March! We’re going to spend the next four weeks looking at the life and book of Jeremiah. Although Psalms has more verses, Jeremiah has more words and thus can be considered the longest book in the Bible. It would easily take us the rest of the year to go verse-by-verse through the entire book, but we’re going to examine four key chapters in this book, but first, a little introduction.


    The book of Jeremiah begins…

    The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the LORD came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. (Jeremiah 1:1-3)

    That’s historical background, but the point is God comes to Jeremiah.

    The word of the LORD came to me, saying,

    “Before I formed you in the womb I knew
    you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

    I love those ten words: before I formed you in the womb I knew you.

    Parents have several milestones before they every meet their child. The first is obviously conception, though that moment is not known until the second milestone: the positive pregnancy test.

    I’ll never forget the Sunday afternoon when my bride exited the bathroom and said, “It’s pink!” I had no idea what she was talking about until she said the pregnancy test revealed we would have a baby. I’ve rarely had so many emotions at one time! Thrilled would be an understatement. My world changed that day.

    The next milestone came when we were able to hear the baby’s heartbeat. Wow! A real, human life was growing inside my wife. I had sonic proof I was going to be a daddy!

    The ultrasound appointment literally showed us the baby and, in many cases, the gender (we didn’t want to know with our first two but caved on our third!). Gazing at our otherwise invisible baby is nearly miraculous.

    These days, so much takes place in preparation for a baby—gender reveal parties, nursery prep—the birth might almost seem to be anti-climactic, though it’s amazing!

    I had hopes and dreams for my children before I ever met them. In fact, we started praying not only for them, but their spouses…before they were even conceived! In a sense, I knew our children before they were born.

    The same is true with God, our heavenly Dad. God knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. He didn’t need an ultrasound machine or even a pregnancy test! My favorite psalm says,

    13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
    15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
    16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

    Before you were born, you were seen by God. You were known by God. You were not a surprise or an unwanted child of God!

    He also had a plan for you and your life. It’s different for each of us. God’s calling on your life might be for you to become an incredible school teacher, raising the next generation of leaders in our city and world. Others may have that same mission in the home as stay-at-home parents. Some are called by God to be successful in business, building wealth and generously funding God’s work at home and abroad. Still others are sent to the Jeep plant, the courthouse, the coffeeshop, or the hospital to fulfill their calling.

    I don’t upset easily, but I get angry whenever I hear Christians neglecting their calling or considering it less spiritual than mine. If God calls you to be a pastor, be a pastor. If He calls you to go overseas and be an Alliance International Worker, do it. But don’t think for a minute that being a professional, vocational Christian is any more or less important than another calling.

    We are all called to full-time ministry, but we’re not all called to vocational ministry.

    God has created you with a plan, with a purpose, with potential. Don’t ever settle for anything less…or different! He knows you. He loves you. He wants to do life with you. We’re even told…

    For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4a)

    You’ve been invited to follow Jesus. You’ve been commissioned to make disciples…wherever you live, work, and play. We need disciple-makers—missionaries—all over our city and region.

    Where is God calling you to minister? He told Jeremiah plainly.

    “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

    The Hebrew word for “formed” here is the same word used to describe the creation of Adam (Genesis 2:7). It is a word that conveys close, careful, personal effort. The word “knew” is earlier used to describe the face-to-face relationship between God and Moses (Deut. 34:10). There intimacy between God and Jeremiah…and God desires intimacy with us, too.

    You may think a calling to be a prophet to the nations is a big deal…and it was, but it wasn’t an easy assignment. A prophet declared God’s messages to the people, something we rarely see in our day, partly because we have God’s written word, the Bible, to guide us. Listen to Jeremiah’s response from God.

    “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

    When God called Moses, he had a similar reply.

    Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)

    God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

    The only appropriate response to a calling from God is…yes!!! God knows our weaknesses…and often chooses us because of our them…so He can get the glory.

    God used Noah, a drunkard.
    God used Rahab, a prostitute.
    God used David, an adulterer and murderer.
    God used Jonah, a man who ran away.
    God used Matthew, a tax collector.

    God’s not looking for successful people. He’s looking for surrendered people.

    But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:7-8)

    These verses include two of the most common and most important statements in the entire Bible:

    - Fear not.
    - I am with you.

    Do you see the connection?

    If God is for me, who can be against me?
    If God is with me, whom shall I fear?
    If God is in control, I don’t have to be.

    Last week we simply said God can be trusted. If you rebel and do your own thing, it will eventually catch up with you. I guarantee it!

    If you obey God, you’ll never regret it. Sure, it won’t always be easy, but you’ll never be alone. You’ll never be out of God’s will. You’ll find peace even in the middle of life’s storms. There’s nothing greater than the presence of God.

    Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

    God’s equipping Jeremiah for His assignment. Where God guides, He provides. You might not have what you need now, but He’ll equip you…with wisdom, resources, people, vision, whatever you need to accomplish His plans…for His glory.

    The problem is so often we’re concerned about our glory. We worry about our reputation. We focus on our success. We fear our failures.

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve thought about how I need to preach a good sermon, I’d be a rich man! If I could have back every minute I’ve thought about success, I’d probably have time to write a book! If I could harness the energy wasted on worrying about what people thought of me, I could probably power a small town!

    When we serve the King, it’s His responsibility.
    When we serve the King, it’s His battle.
    When we serve the King, it’s His reputation.

    God made promises to Jeremiah…and He always keeps His promises.

    God has made promises to you and me…and He always keeps His promises.

    What’s your excuse? Is your God too small to provide what you need to do what He wants you to do?

    I sat in the office of our District Superintendent not long ago and said I’m inadequate to lead First Alliance Church. He said, “If you ever feel adequate, let me know so I can remove you from your position.” He was serious…and I was thankful.

    I can’t do my job. I can’t make disciples. I can’t transform people to become like Jesus. Sure, I can play a song on the piano. I can give a lecture. I can even lead a staff meeting, but my mission is not to be a manager. I’m not called to maintain an organization. He’s called me—and you—to make disciples. He’s called us to become like Jesus and help others to become like Jesus. The problem is, we can’t…apart from the Holy Spirit. We can’t…apart from God. We can’t…apart from divine intervention.

    I’m grateful for our beautiful, debt-free campus.
    I’m grateful for our competent staff.
    I’m grateful for all of you showing up today and all of the volunteers who serve.

    But we’re not here to distribute religious goods and services. We’re here to restore God’s masterpieces. We’re here to be conduits of blessing to our city. We’re here to change the world, one life at a time. We are inadequate—all of us—but when we are weak, He is strong (2 Cor. 12:10)! We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13)!

    Now God begins to give Jeremiah his assignment. It won’t be glamorous. It will, in fact, be downright offensive, but when God gives you an assignment, it’s not your place to judge it, critique it, or walk away from it. Just do it!

    The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

    “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.

    The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching
    to see that my word is fulfilled.” (Jeremiah 1:11-12)

    The first tree to blossom and bear fruit was the almond tree.

    The word of the LORD came to me again: “What do you see?”

    “I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.” (Jeremiah 1:13)

    Jeremiah must be thinking, “LORD, what’s going on?”

    The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the LORD.

    “Their kings will come and set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem; they will come against all her surrounding walls and against all the towns of Judah. (Jeremiah 1:14-15)

    Disaster was coming because the people had done disastrous evil by forsaking God.

    I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made. (Jeremiah 1:16)

    God’s not happy, and when God’s not happy…

    God calls Jeremiah to call out the people, to pronounce judgments, to warn them of the consequences of their sin. Does this sound like a fun assignment to you? God continues,

    “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:17-19)

    The next 51 chapters describe what happens as Jeremiah responds to God’s calling.

    So What?

    Obey God’s calling on your life, whatever it may be.

    There are three types of people. There are those who have heard God’s call and said no. How’s that working out for you? There are those who have heard God’s call and said yes. Well done. There are those who want to hear God’s call but haven’t…or you’re not sure. Be patient. Seek. Pray. Ask. Knock. Share your thoughts with a trusted friend. I’d love to talk with you.

    Some of you may be waiting for a calling with global impact while you fail to influence those around you now. Maybe you feel like you’re “only” a stay-at-home mom or only a mechanic or only a student or only a retail clerk. Be faithful in the small things and God may give you more (Luke 16:10).

    Maybe He’s calling you into a new assignment, into deeper waters. Perhaps you’re resisting because you feel inadequate and unworthy. You are! Let Him do the heavy lifting. Start by saying yes and leave the results up to God.

    One more thing…

    Jesus was given the most difficult assignment of all. His calling was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). His mission was to leave heaven and hang out here for three decades for the purpose of dying the most brutal, agonizing death imaginable…for the junk, mistakes, rebellion, pride, and sins in our lives.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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