God our Fortress, The Weeping Prophet, and the Lasting City -Jeremiah 18:5-10, Hebrews 13:14, Psalm 121

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This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 18:5-10 (NIV)

 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, experienced the shame and heartache of his people being taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  God didn’t have good news for him to share with Israel, either.  God generally sent prophets to warn people of judgment to come, and to remind the people who really is in charge- not their princes or governments, or themselves, but Almighty God alone.

Thankfully God has mercy on us. Every single one of us falls short of the demands of the Law and should God judge any one of us on our own merits we earn the penalty of death.  But in God’s love and mercy, He sent Jesus to wipe out our sins- Jesus took the wrath our horrible conduct and our heinous deeds deserve, so that we may receive the reward of life with Him. The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 3 that we who believe Jesus and have faith in Him are judged by His righteousness and not our own.  We have been have been baptized into Christ and made children of God to be with Him forever.

In this world we still experience bad news.  The world around us is still subject to the consequences of sin in general. The sin of the Garden has expanded out, and it has contaminated all creation.  We will experience trouble and trials in this life.  But Jesus is with us.  He is trustworthy. He will get us through our trials.

As the day approaches when Jesus comes to restore heaven and earth, as He warned us, the times are going to get more and more scary.  People will fall away from the faith and people will make fun of us and say we believe fairy tales when we profess our faith in Jesus.  Other people will openly fight and persecute the teaching and preservation of the Christian faith as we see evidence of more and more even in the United States.

Our churches and communities are becoming smaller and smaller, and the demands of our time and resources become ever more strained.  It’s easy to give up hope or drop away, or to resort to infighting or dissent.  Yet Jesus told His disciples to tend His lambs and feed His sheep.  For us it may mean we are called to spread out (as in the scattering at the destruction of the tower of Babel) or to join with other believers of like mind.

How can we best serve as the Body of Christ?  Can we join with another congregation(s) to not only pool our resources, but to serve more effectively?  As much as we want to keep our building, might it be worth investigating joining with another congregation in a similar situation to our own?  Might we want to consider a revolving house church set up such as the early Church used in the days of Acts?

Our lives and possessions on this earth are temporary. Only Jesus is a constant for us. No matter where we may find ourselves,

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”- Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

Seeking the city that is to come does not mean abandoning the “city” here, far from it,  but understanding that the church is not comprised of its building or its resources, but the church is its people, the Body of Christ.  God is our mighty fortress- not ourselves, our governments or even each other.

 

In Psalm 121, the writer lifts his eyes to the hills, on high, knowing that his help is from the Lord.  We may not know what that will look like, but we do know the Lord is our only anchor, our only foundation, the only one we can trust.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
 The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121 (ESV)

 

July 19, 2017 – Do Not Fear, or Be Afraid- Isaiah 44:6-8, Matthew 10-28

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Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before Me. Who has announced from of old the things to come?  Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are My witnesses! Is there any god besides Me? There is no other rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6-8 (NRSV)

Fear is a word that can be taken in a few different ways in Scripture, but the only “fear” that we are told to hold onto is “fear of the Lord.”  The phrase “fear of the Lord” appears 134 times in the NRSV translation of the Bible, so it is an important theme.  However, the English translation, “fear of the Lord” can more accurately and completely be taken as meaning, “an obedient reverence and awe of the Lord.”

God doesn’t want us to be afraid of people or afraid of what people think they can do to us. As much power as some individuals may hold- even up to the power of physical life and death- all power ultimately comes from God.

Jesus tells us-

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (NRSV)

The fear of hell never brought salvation to anyone, and that’s not what Jesus is emphasizing here.  He is underscoring the point that there is a limit to what power other people and earthly circumstances actually have over us.  Life in the physical body is only for a limited time.  The worst thing any human or any condition can do to us is to extinguish the life of our bodies.   That is eventually going to happen anyway. Bodies are temporary.  But our souls live on, and they belong to God.

So God’s the one we need to be concerned with. Not with the fear of other people’s wrath, or the pursuit of stuff, or the fear of scarcity, or the fear of pain, or the fear of anything else.

God isn’t a big fan of people being bullies, or of people living to be trendy, or of people striving to “have it all.” God is a big fan of people living according to His love- bringing mercy and kindness to others, standing up to injustice, and being His hands and feet here on earth.  It’s His opinion of us that matters, because it is life with Him that will last.

What are we afraid of? What (or who) is holding us back?