Monday, September 21, 2020

Cleansing Rain & Living Water--Jeremiah 2

Last week, the smoke from fires burning all over the West made the air quality in Idaho absolutely awful.  The sky was a grayish brown, and all those wonderful things that mark the vista of living in a valley--distant trees, mountains on the other side and a warm glowing setting sun--were gone.  I couldn't see the mountains, the trees disappeared in the haze and the sun went from a fiery orange to a salmon pink disc from sunrise to sunset.

I live up on a rise in this valley and I love to look out my window and see the broad vista that I have.  It was gone, enveloped in a haze that was relentless.  

Did I start any of the fires that are consuming the West?  No.

But I am subject to their effects. Why?   Because I live in a community.  I am not alone.  My decisions affect others and others' decisions affect me.   

I fear we have entered a time when everyone wants to do their own thing, and consequences are either dismissed, are not allowed to be commented on, or viewed as those eggs that must be broken to make a societal omelette. 

Jeremiah, on God's behalf, laments,

My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jer. 2:13)

Before I moved to Idaho, I never really thought about water on a daily basis.  I grew up in Los Angeles, and just assumed that every time I turned on the kitchen or bathroom faucet, water would come out. Our lawn was green, and the neighbor's pool was always full of sparkling blue water.  We went to Malibu every weekend, and there was the ocean, proudly displaying its abundance.

Later, when I was married, my husband and I took a trip up US 395 to the Owens Valley.  The area was  a vast desert, with a long aqueduct running parallel to the valley floor.  My husband said that in the early part of the 20th century, the developers of the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles needed water.  Lots of it.  The amount available locally would not be enough to support a burgeoning area, with people and lots of agriculture.  So, this aqueduct was built to take water out of Owens Lake.  Once the locals realized what Los Angeles was doing, they started blowing up the aqueduct.  The city of L.A. used the National Guard to protect the building project.  The aqueduct was completed and the water from Owens Lake was siphoned out, until no water was left.  

When I visited the area, in the early 80s, a large dust devil was all that greeted us over what was once a beautiful verdant valley and lovely lake.  We traveled up the 395 further to Mono Lake.  It retained some of its grandeur, and local people then were fighting L.A. tooth and nail to prevent history from repeating itself.  "Save Mono Lake" bumper stickers were everywhere.

The need and greed for water drove L.A. to seek alternative sources, and all of this is recounted in a wonderful book called, Cadillac Desert.  It made me realize how water wars have shaped the West, for the simple reason is a lot of people want to develop, live, and farm here, but water was and will always be in short supply. 

But wherever I lived, it seemed we always had enough water.  These water wars and environmental concerns seemed out there, beyond directing affecting me.  

Now I live in Idaho, and water is not abundant.  People worry about the snow pack every winter replenishing the  reservoirs here. I am sure as this valley continues to grow, (and it is) water will become a topic of deep concern, calling out for better management.  I had lived in the mountains, where we had to drop a well.  I live off a well here now as well, and every now and then I worry that my lawn may use too much water, and our well will go dry.

Wells not regularly replenished by rain go dry.  It may take a long time, for much water has accumulated underground.  But still I wonder.  

God's lament over His people is they were no longer drawing life from the Source of all life itself: God.  He equated Himself to a "spring of living water."  In a desert, this is not just water for green lawns; it is fresh rainwater, caught and held in cisterns that are clean and maintained, to keep the water in them fresh.  Bad water or no water:  both are terrifying prospects in the desert.  Without fresh water, crops fails, animals and humans thirst, and people sicken by having drunk unsuitable water out of desperation.    

What did these people then do?  They built their own cisterns, that were "cracked" and could not hold water "at all."  Not just poor water was found in these makeshift cisterns; their cisterns held no water at all. Whatever water was caught leaked out and the people, who thought they had something, had nothing.

How long did it take to run out?  When did the people notice that the water they needed was not there?  Did they just go dig another one, only to find the same result of water disappearing over time due to cracks?  

The water used by people in Jeremiah's day was still provided by God in the form of rain.  (God could have ceased the rain to fall, but in His longsuffering love for His people, the seasons still came and went.) But the water went in and then disappeared, for the hearts of the people had cracks in them--cracks made by disobedience, spiritual adultery, ignoring God, blaming God, choosing not to serve Him, wicked behavior and ultimately not returning to Him, seeking forgiveness and restoration.

In fact, the most terrible crack of all was the claim that, "I have done nothing wrong.  Surely God isn't angry with me!" (2:35)

Then, with that claim on their lips, the people,

First here, then there—
    you flit from one ally to another asking for help.
But your new friends in Egypt will let you down,
    just as Assyria did before.
In despair, you will be led into exile
    with your hands on your heads,
for the Lord has rejected the nations you trust.
    They will not help you at all. (2:36-7)

The man in the White House, the political party you adhere to, the church you go to, the conspiracies you believe sound right, the claims and evidence from this news source or another, your friends on social media...These allies "will let you down."  Why?  Because they are as cracked in their hearts as you are.  As I am.  

Fresh rainwater being siphoned from one cracked cistern to another will not work at solving the fundamental problem.  Why?  The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. 

My heart.  Your heart.  The heart of this country. 

A recent rain storm cleared our valley up somewhat, and we saw blue sky again.  We all rejoiced.  It was temporary, however.  Why?  The fires themselves are still burning.

Whatever cistern, whatever ally we are seeking, unless it is an remorseful return to God, His Word and asking for a new heart, the water we need will disappear.  

Why?  Because the problem is our hearts--our angry and arrogant attitudes, our claims to be on the right side of the political divide, and how our sin (because it is really rather small compared to everyone else's!) doesn't affect anyone but ourselves.  Wrong. 

But the distant fires' smoke is once again taking over our Idaho skies.  We need rain--refreshing cleansing rain that will wash our skies clean and put out the fires.

We need His living spring water that will wash our hearts clean and bring our sinful fires under control:

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

We choose.  


Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Eleventh Commandment--Jeremiah 2

You didn't know there was an 11th Commandment, did you?  It is rather simple: "Do not get caught."

But we are getting caught in America. 

Light is shining in, exposing those who seize and destroy women and children by trafficking them.  

Christian leaders whose behaviors speak of the idol of self and an utter disregard for Christ.

Sex addiction surveys that show how deep people have gone to fulfill their cravings, and how many of those sit in church and preach from the pulpit are caught in snare of porn. 

How nihilism (nothing matters) and moral relativity (my truth) have resulted in our cities burning, and how the real issue is not racism, but hatred:  hatred of America, the rule of law, and our ideals. We may have been imperfect in fulfilling our ideals, but they remain a goal to always strive for. But these ideals are now deemed worthless, kicked to the curb because of hypocrisy.    

Law and law enforcement are optional; those who seek to destroy are allowed to and those who question this are silenced.  There are differing standards and different groups are expected to adhere to them; this hypocrisy has led to a scofflaw attitude, even on the part of otherwise law-abiding citizens.  

The light that is exposing the darkness in America is there to bring out sin.  Sin, like a disease, must be exposed, diagnosed and then removed.  We love to quote John 3:16, but look at its larger context:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:16-21)

Getting caught means full exposure to the light and to the Light:  Christ Himself.  The standard of what is dark and light, good and evil, is not each other, the past from the present, or between the races.  It is God Himself.  He is the standard, and all of us fall short.  

Paul hammers down on the same theme of the Light's purpose in Ephesians 5:1-7, and how we live in the light as Christ Himself did:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Paul then goes on to why the Light is so essential and our response to it:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” 

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

So when His light comes in, and shows us who we really are, what do we do?  How do we react when we are exposed?  How did Judah react when God's light shone on them?

They were aggrieved, not because of their sin but because they got caught:

How can you say, ‘I am not defiled;
    I have not run after the Baals’?
See how you behaved in the valley;
    consider what you have done. (2:23)

The shameful evidence was all around Judah, and yet upon exposure, the nation reacted with utter denial.  She would not own her complicity in her sinful ways, but blamed God when things went badly:

As a thief is disgraced when he is caught,
    so the people of Israel are disgraced—
they, their kings and their officials,
    their priests and their prophets.
They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’
    and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
They have turned their backs to me
    and not their faces;
yet when they are in trouble, they say,
    ‘Come and save us!’
Where then are the gods you made for yourselves?
    Let them come if they can save you
    when you are in trouble!
For you, Judah, have as many gods
    as you have towns. 

Why do you bring charges against me?
    You have all rebelled against me,
declares the Lord.
In vain I punished your people;
    they did not respond to correction.
Your sword has devoured your prophets
    like a ravenous lion. (2:26-30)

Instead of allowing exposure to turn to repentance, the people of Judah became defiant, denying God and then blaming God.  The correction God gave them, once His light exposed their deeds, was meant to restore the relationship between Him and His people.  

Earlier, Judah had said, 

 Long ago you broke off your yoke
    and tore off your bonds;
    you said, ‘I will not serve you!’
Indeed, on every high hill
    and under every spreading tree
    you lay down as a prostitute. (2:20)

When did America throw off its "yoke"?  When did it became post-modern and post-Christian?  When  did it decide that the Bible was an antiquated document, filled with repugnant morality that limited free sexual expression and needed to be removed from public life?  

When did the church decide that music and a "Sunday Experience" was more important than having the Word front and center?  

The evidence is everywhere.  Our country is more steeped in sin, chaotic and in bondage than it was when I was growing up.  No, nothing was perfect then, but marriage was still an honored institution, and certain behaviors were wrong because God's Word was everywhere.  Even if the family Bible was never opened, it was considered an important element in the home, for its presence spoke to a transcendent set of values that culture couldn't change.

Now, His light is shining and exposing our sin.  

God called Judah to examine closely how God has provided for Judah and blessed this nation, even with its hypocrites, sinners and saints.  Judah's response?  They killed the messengers because the message was spot on:

In vain I punished your people;
they did not respond to correction.
Your sword has devoured your prophets
like a ravenous lion.
You of this generation, consider the word of the Lord:

Have I been a desert to Israel
or a land of great darkness?
Why do my people say, ‘We are free to roam;
we will come to you no more’?
Does a young woman forget her jewelry,
a bride her wedding ornaments?
Yet my people have forgotten me,
days without number.
How skilled you are at pursuing love!
Even the worst of women can learn from your ways.
On your clothes is found
the lifeblood of the innocent poor,
though you did not catch them breaking in.
Yet in spite of all this
you say, ‘I am innocent;
he is not angry with me.’
But I will pass judgment on you
because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’ (2:30-35)

Wow.  God's judgment comes only after exposing the sin and offering the remedy:  a return to Him and His values, His ways, His ordering of society.  

What is our response?

Let me conclude with this.  As I sit here in my office in a small town in Idaho near Boise, the sky is enveloped in a dirty gray.  If the wind blows in just the right direction, the smoke from all the western fires is pushed out of the Treasure Valley.  We have high mountains that surround us and they tend to hold in whatever comes into this valley.  

For a few days this past week, we have some lovely blue skies, mild temperatures (for summer in the high desert) and we could almost forget that the West is on fire to an unprecedented level.  But today?  No.  The wind has changed direction, and now all that smoke from Oregon, Washington and California, coupled with local fires, is rushing into Idaho.  

Our landscape is bleak.  I cannot see the distant mountains from my window, and the sun rises and sets a pinkish orange.  

The air quality is horrible.

The only hope in this rather disquieting time of the year is the possible arrival of some rain early this week.  

Even in this rather bleak landscape that is America right now, we still have hope.  Hope has a name: Jesus.  Sometimes we are able to forget how America is careening out of control with the blue skies of family, friends and sunny summer days.

But the sky is gray.  Are we willing to repent and call out to God for forgiveness?  

I pray so. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Our Idols are Not Idle--Jeremiah 2

In chapter 2 of Jeremiah, God charges Judah with committing spiritual adultery.  She wandered away from her spiritual Husband, Who had selected her to His Bride.  He called Jeremiah to speak God's very words, and remind Judah of all He had done and would do if she repented of her adultery.

God called the Jews His people not because of anything they had done.  He gave them the Promised Land out of His affection for them.  He nurtured them out of His affection for them.  He wanted them not to commit spiritual adultery, so upon entering the Promised Land, they were to forsake all others (gods):

This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Deut. 7:5-6)

Why did God pick these people? 

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. (Deut. 7:7-10)

Judah saw how Israel, who went down the exact same road years before, was warned and because they refused to turn form their wicked ways, disappeared into the dustbin of history when the Assyrians swept in and destroyed them.  

Judah watched how God was true to His word.

Yet, they did not repent.

We have their history too as a warning.

Will we repent?

God, who loves us so, will not stand idly by while we are consumed with our idols.  He will confront us, tell us where we have sinned and show us the way back to full restoration.  Is America in any way like Judah?  Are we God's people, and having turned away to lust after modern gods, will be both wooed and warned in the days to come? 

Yes.  America was founded by people who wanted "a city on a hill." They wanted the Bible front and center and they knew that God's blessings still were in operation to a people dedicated to Him.  

We didn't replace Israel, but our founders desired to have a country where the Judeo-Christian ethic was fully in view, and informed both public and private life.  Were our founders hypocrites for holding slaves and yet declaring that "all men are created equal"?  

Yes.  But show me people who aren't.

Church and our American past doesn't have the corner market on hypocrisy--despite all the claims being made today.  If you don't want to be around hypocrites, then stay home. would still have yourself to deal with.  How so?

The word for "hypocrite" in the Greek comes from the word for actor--that is, one who wears a mask.  Ancient Greek theater was held in large amphitheaters, and the actors wore large, highly stylized masks of character types: the old man, the old woman, the ingenue, the servant, etc.  People could see these rather large representations of the human face and its corresponding character type from a distance. Of course, the audience knew the actors had masks on, but for the length of the play, the actors assumed another persona. 

Sound familiar?  Do we wear masks that influence how our "audience" sees us?   Are we nice and patient in church and a hellion on the road? (Yes, sadly, that would sometimes be me.)  Are we one way with our kids and kick into another way when our friend calls?  

We have all done it.  

In a culture that now prides itself on tolerance and suspending judgement, the current cancel culture does nothing but judge, with people in the past being a favorite target.

In fact, judgment, self-righteousness, failure to acknowledge personal wrong-doing and excoriating those who dare to disagree with us is the new idol we bow down to in America.  

Idols don't demand we repent and become contrite over our poor treatment of others.  Idols are there for it to be all about us.  Judah loved its idols for the very same reason:  The idols stood by while the people sinned.  They did not exhort the people to consider a morality tethered to a higher set of values.  The idols said, in their complicit silence, 

It's all about you and your needs, your values, your wants.  Who cares about others?  We don't.  We care about you and what you want to keep your little universe operational.  So, if your child has to burn to death in the arms of a hot metal idol, it's a small price to pay.

Who told them these lies?  The people in charge.  

Who believed these lies?  The people who listened to the people in charge.

But everyone knew the Mosaic covenant and history of God and His commandments for His people.  No one could claim ignorance.  

Everyone was involved with turning away from God's word.

Today, we are turning our backs--leaders and people alike--from God's Word.  It details all we need for a just society and for living lives that reflect God's standards.

But we are listening to the silent message from our idols:  It's all about us.  

What are our idols?  

Sex:  Tolerance, no judgment, lust, affairs, underage, non-binary, non-everything that the Lord has designed.  Even the Biblical design of male and female is being reframed to where our identities are our choice and no one should say anything to us or about us that is less than celebratory.  

Social Media:  Conspiracy theories, stories that must be "true," selfies, a verbal gladiatorial arena that mocks, scorns, derides and then eliminates the competition.

Entertainment: Distractions, virtual reality and video games that take us deeper into the dark side of imagination.

Politics:  If we agree, then we can strut around with self-righteousness and excoriate those who disagree with us--fellow and non-believers alike--and if we disagree, woe unto you.  The man in the White House is either celebrated or vilified, and we are absolved of any responsibility because we want him to do our job.  

Greed:  It's everywhere.  We want more and yet we scorn those billionaires who have made money providing that "more" to us.

Our reaction to all of this?  Are we growing quiet, and seeking God's face with a contrite heart, or are we plunging deeper into sin, running away from our conscience and wanting more our words than God's?

God says this of Judah:

"My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water...

Your wickedness will punish you;
    your backsliding will rebuke you.
Consider then and realize
    how evil and bitter it is for you
when you forsake the Lord your God
    and have no awe of me,”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty. 

"Long ago you broke off your yoke
    and tore off your bonds;
    you said, ‘I will not serve you!’
Indeed, on every high hill
    and under every spreading tree
    you lay down as a prostitute.
I had planted you like a choice vine
    of sound and reliable stock.
How then did you turn against me
    into a corrupt, wild vine?'  

I find these word especially sad and convicting:

As a thief is disgraced when he is caught,
    so the people of Israel are disgraced—
they, their kings and their officials,
    their priests and their prophets.
They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’
    and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
They have turned their backs to me
    and not their faces;
yet when they are in trouble, they say,
    ‘Come and save us!’
Where then are the gods you made for yourselves?
    Let them come if they can save you
    when you are in trouble!
For you, Judah, have as many gods
    as you have towns.

Why do you bring charges against me?
    You have all rebelled against me,”
declares the Lord.

If we are not blaming God for our woe, we are blaming everyone we disagree with or scorn. We blame America.  We revile God's light as we bask in the fire light of burning cities.

But it starts with us:  Are we truly seeking Him?  Living in Him and for Him?  Acting like a child of  God or are we, like Judah?

On your clothes is found
    the lifeblood of the innocent poor,
    though you did not catch them breaking in.
Yet in spite of all this
     you say, ‘I am innocent;
    he is not angry with me.’
But I will pass judgment on you
    because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’

God is angry at the sin, to be sure, but He is very angry at the lack of remorse and a willingness on Judah's part to acknowledge it and repent from it.

Are we any different right now?   




Monday, August 24, 2020

Jeremiah One, Not Jeremiah Won

We are going to walk with the prophet Jeremiah, whose words are so current, it's as if he is speaking to us today.  God's words is never out of sync with human nature.  Because we humans never change, nor does His Word.  

We witness in Jeremiah a prelude to a catastrophe.  Jeremiah is sent to warn Judah of the future.  An unrepentant Judah will be trampled under a frightful army; a repentant Judah will remain free to worship and serve God and its capital, Jerusalem, will continue to send up the sweet aroma of sacrifice.  

It's the people's choice.

God is extremely precise in what He requires of them to do to avert His judgment.  He is specific in His accusations against His people.  He calls out their attitudes and their resulting behaviors, and how these are violating His law and insulting His nature.  God displays anguish and anger.  He pleads through His prophet for His people to return to Him.  

This nation of God's, so blessed and so dearly cared for, is now hardened by sinful behavior and an attitude of, "Who needs God?"  The church serves the people's interests only, and its priests do not tell the people the truth of their sin, for they no longer prioritize God's Word over the culture.  The nation's leaders are corrupt and care not a wit for the poor, the oppressed, or the broken.  In fact, their very leadership is  creating a very abusive society, where everyday people mattered not at all.

Judah or America?  Hard to tell, huh?  

So, let's begin.  Jeremiah is called by God when he was in the womb.  His complaint that he is too young is met by God's assurance that He will put His words into his mouth.  In a sense, Jeremiah is right:  without God's guidance and words, he is a child.  God's words/Word is sufficient; it accomplishes its mission to fully inform the audience of God's heart. 

God's Word is still all we need to understand God's heart.  We have purpose here on earth; God knew us as we were being knit together in our mother's womb.  But His Word is what guides and shapes our hearts and thoughts. 

God gives Jeremiah a vision, and asks him, "What do you see?" (1:11)  God is asking Jeremiah to have a clarity of vision, an accurate description of what he witnesses and a faithful recording of it.  

Do we really see what is going on right now?   Do we have clarity of vision, an accurate description of what we witness and do we faithfully relay what we see?  

The people of Judah went to their priests and prophets for information; these people will be excoriated by God as being every bit as much of the problem as the people's reprobate behavior.  

We go to social media for our information; our information is filled with passionate and misinformed opinions and lots of anecdotal evidence, and is every bit as much of the problem as our citizens' reprobate behavior.

God has every right to call out across the cosmos: "Game over!" No warning.  No time for repentance.  But that is not the kind of God we serve:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-10)

It is His love that compels Him to warn His people of not only their transgressions but of His awaiting mercy, if they are turn from their wicked ways:  

But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:17-18)

So, with His people in Judah, sinful from the top of the society to the bottom, He outlines  exactly the evils that are being committed by His people.  He will send Jeremiah to tell the people and He will protect Jeremiah as he speaks His words:   

 I will pronounce judgment
    on my people for all their evil—
for deserting me and burning incense to other gods.
    Yes, they worship idols made with their own hands! 

Get up and prepare for action.
    Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say.
Do not be afraid of them,
    or I will make you look foolish in front of them.
For see, today I have made you strong
    like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
    like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
    the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.

    For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken! (1:16-19)

God says that He is "watching, and I will certainly carry out all my plans." (1:12)

God is watching.  I draw great comfort from that but also a sense of impending doom.  God doesn't just sit idly by, like an indulgent parent, and watch His children run amok.  He also doesn't just sit there, lightning bolts in hand, ready at the drop of a hat to smite His own.  

He watches, warns and waits, with His Word being sent out. In America, despite many of its churches having been co-opted by the culture, there are many where the Gospel is central and it is being preached without apology:  that Jesus bore the wrath for our sins on the cross; that He died, was buried and resurrected and that new life in Him is available to those who humble themselves before God. 

 But did Judah listen?  Are we listening?  Or, are we, like Judah, too involved with our gods to notice God's warnings and hear His call to repent and return?  

Are we, who want to really follow Jesus, too afraid if we step out and call a sin a sin that we will be left out in the cultural cold?  What does God tell Jeremiah that he will be?  "Strong." 

God calls him a "fortified city"; an "iron pillar" and a "bronze wall."  Not only that, God will provide the words for Jeremiah to speak. 

Jesus promises the same to us:   

The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (Rev. 3:12)

Jesus wants us to rest on His provision as we speak out:

On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matt. 10:18-20)

One final thought:  What exactly does the word "repent" mean?

It comes from the Hebrew word, naham, which means to "repent, comfort."  Vine's Dictionary is instructive here: "Scholars assert several views in trying to ascertain the meaning of naham by connecting the world of a change of the heart or disposition, a change of mind, a change of purpose, an an emphasis upon the change of one's conduct." (Vine's, 201)

A change.  Not any old change, but a change emanating from deep within the mind and heart.  A change that shows the warning has been listened to and acted upon.  A change that shows that the current course of action was no longer satisfactory to God and a change was merited.  

A change of heart.

A change of mind. 

A change of purpose.

A change of conduct.

Repenting is not changing for the sake of change, or to try a newer, faddish idea, whim or program.  It is a change coming from a heart that has become tender to the voice of God and His Word, and is being replaced with His heart:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Will Judah repent?  Jeremiah starts out hopeful.  

Will we repent?  I am not so hopeful anymore.

Monday, August 17, 2020

I am Back! Jeremiah Inspired Me to Return

Good morning!  I took what I thought was a permanent leave from blogging.  I must confess I was tired.  But what has ensued since?  Covid-19 with its rather relentless pursuit of us; BLM, protesting, Antifa and wanton destruction; police ordered to stand down in the face of destruction; more and more the belief that Trump is the root of all evil; and the beat goes on.

And on.

And on.

A dear friend of mine and I have been meeting and studying Jeremiah together.  Holy wow!  The verses we are reading have taken our breath away.  Not in a "look how every verse is a fulfillment of newspaper headlines and we are definitely in the End Times!" kind of way.  We see America and its hardened heart in the verses.  We see how America, like ancient Judah, has turned its back on God and it now being warned of impending judgment.  Yet the verses are also filled with God's devastation at the unfaithfulness of His people and His call to come back.  He reminds His people of all the blessings He has given; the protection and the beauty of His presence among them and how repentance and obedience to His Word will restore the relationship.

Holy wow.  

When did this hardening of America's heart begin?  My friend and I labored over a timeline.  

The early 1960's with its removal of prayer from public schools?  Not to honor other faiths, mind you, but the ranting and raving of an atheist whose argument caused the Supreme Court to agree.

The 1960's with the introduction of the Pill?  Sex without consequences, commitment and its message that pleasure is the sole goal of humanity?

The 1970's with its skyrocketing divorce rate?  Families and marriage were pitched into the abyss of "I am not happy" and fathers and mothers left in droves.  Kids waited for the parent who would never return.

The 1980's with its title of the "Me Decade?"  The wealthiest decade America had yet experienced but with AIDS, drug use and an endless pursuit of pleasure marring the gaiety.

The 1990's with Columbine and the message that if you are not happy, people must die.

Gay rights.  Gay marriage.  Transgendered rights.  Fluid labels of sexual identification.  Now happiness is determined by sexual orientation; if you are not happy it's because you are not free to express who you really are.

BLM.  Racism.  Your happiness is being taken away by oppression.  Remove the oppression--cops, Trumps, whites and their privilege--and all will be well.

Happiness is the sole goal of humanity now, and whoever or whatever gets in the way is evil and must be removed.

Have I oversimplified the argument?  Yes, but the underlying current of "You do you" has made the legitimate argument of reform, accountability and reasonable policies drown.  "It's all about me!" is the modern battle cry and if America must be burned to the ground, so be it.

Where is God, His Word and His reformation of our hearts in all of this?  Jesus and Paul never stood on a street corner decrying slavery, Roman oppression and immorality in all its forms.  Why?  Because they correctly identified the source of the problem:  the human heart.  

Jesus said, "For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” (Matt. 15:19-20 NLT).  He was responding to His audience's deeply held belief that without ceremonial washing, a man is defiled.  Jesus quickly corrected them.  The human heart, unreformed and uncleansed by His blood and the Word will never lead to anything positive personally or societally.

Paul too, knowing well what His Lord said, reiterated that our flesh--our sinful heart using our body to act out its sinful desires--must be changed:

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph. 2:1-10)

There it is.  If Jesus changes the heart of a person, then that person will not seek happiness as the only goal in life, but will seek a life pleasing to God.  

Racism will be disdained.  Violence will be cast aside.  Identity will be in Christ.  The cry for "Rights!" will be replaced with a cry for repentance and a life lived in God's will. 

Overly simplified?  No.  We make reform way too complicated, and it rarely starts with us.  It always starts with something or someone "out there."

 Let's  start with the heart--yours and mine.

Join me as I pursue the message of Jeremiah and his call for repentance and reform of his nation.  You will hear my friend and my heart's cry for our nation as we meet on Saturday mornings and labor over the Word.  You will hear the plan for change as Jeremiah weeps over the sin that has polluted his beloved nation.   

God's judgment is always preceded by words of warning and of hope.

Are we listening? 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Vine and the Branches

So, after all is said and done, how do we live a life that is moving away from codependence? How do we live a life of interdependence on Jesus?

Let’s Visit the Vineyard
Let’s go to another place where fruit grows: the vineyard.

Jesus used the vineyard to teach us some important ideas of what it means to live in Him.

He says in John 15:1-4:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (NIV)

Jesus teaches us that His Father is the one who takes care of the vineyard.  He tends all the vines and makes sure they are all growing healthy fruit. 

The “true vine,” Jesus, is the One who pleases His Father.   He is not just any vine.  His fruit will be the only kind with an eternal quality. 

If a branch doesn’t produce fruit, His Father will cut it off.  Jesus may be warning His listeners that not having a relationship to the True Vine will have eternal consequences.

But those branches that produce fruit will be pruned.  The pruning is not a punishment, but God acting with love to make the branches—you and I—more productive in His Kingdom. 

A branch laying on the ground by itself, or attached to another vine will not bear fruit for the Father.  Fruit comes only from the True Vine.  His vitality, His life, flowing in us produces abundance, for only He can give us what we need to grow and prosper.  We then, just like the Son, will please His Father.   

Lessons From My “Vineyard”
Many years ago, I lived in northern California.  The house we moved into had a vine from an old vineyard that the previous owner’s father had.  The owner had taken a vine and planted it in a box.  He built a pergola for the branches to climb. 

When we moved in, the branches had grown across the pergola.  The leaves and grapes hung down.  It was like a small slice of Italy in our backyard.  The grapes looked a bit sad, and the vine didn’t seem very robust, but I knew nothing about grapevines.

I just let it be. 

One day I noticed, while in the backyard with my children, that some of the branches had made their way up my roof and were almost to the top.

Whoa. How did that happen?  I asked around and someone explained that all the energy of that vine was going into those wayward branches.  They needed to be cut off.  The whole vine needed some serious pruning.

I was an inattentive gardener and my vine was going haywire. 

Up the ladder I went, and brought down several ten foot long branches. 

I would like to say the vine jumped into high gear.  But it was still in a box.  So, its growth was limited because what it could draw from the soil was limited. 

It was sad vine.  We moved many years later.  I hope someone with far greater knowledge than I had knew what to do with that vine with its sad branches and measly grapes. 

It is the same prayer I have for you and for me:  I know I am in the hands of Someone who knows how to love and tend this sad branch. 

He wants abundant fruit in me, so I must accept the pruning shears along with the sunshine.  I must accept the liquid plant food along with the manure. 

I cannot fear the shears.

I cannot disdain the rain.

I cannot run from the sun.

I cannot toil in the soil.

But:  I can wait for His sap, His Spirit, to fill me, flow through me and guide me as I grow in the Vine.

This is the last blog I will be posting.  After ten years, and having being read by many loyal readers, I am going to stop blogging. It has been fun and I do hope this blog has blessed you.  

All of my books are available on  Amazon.  The postings you have been recently reading will become my latest book:  Desert No More--Overcoming Christian Codependency.  It will be available in a few months.

All of my books are listed under "R.L. Thorne Cramer" on Amazon.

Blessings in abundance! 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Beauty of God's Orchards

The beauty of God’s orchards—the fruits of His Spirit and how He crafts each fruit in us, means that we can leave our bruised fruit behind. This last chapter is dedicated to redefining the fruits of the Spirit away from a CoDeMo perspective and allowing God’s Word to define what they are.

Jesus said that the truth sets you free. So, if we have these fruits in our lives, guided only by the Word and not defined by our or anyone else’s brokenness, we will have freedom. Jesus said so!

I will give you a few scriptures to reconsider your broken definition with God’s definition.

Love of the Spirit 
1 John 4:7-21 is the best operating definition of love:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (ESV)

Wow. How do we apply these beautiful words to us? We are loved by God so much He sent His Son to die for us and to live in us. We can’t earn God’s love—it is freely given. We are His and He is ours. He came to us in our greatest point of need: to be saved from sin and death and to live an abundant life in Jesus.  If our love is fearful, needy, seeking approval from others and never feeling “good enough,” we need to grab a hold of this fruit and live like our life depends on it. Because it does.

Joy of the Spirit
Here we go:

Then I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will be glad because he rescues me. (Psalm 35:9 NLT)

There I will go to the altar of God,
to God—the source of all my joy.
I will praise you with my harp,
O God, my God! (Psalm 43:4 NLT)

The Lord is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. (Psalm 28:7 NLT)

I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
and draped me in a robe of righteousness.
I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding
or a bride with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10 NLT)

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:11 NLT)

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 NLT)

Joy in found in God alone. Serving others comes from having joy in God. If we derive joy from anyone or anything other than God, our joy will flee. Joy isn’t just an emotion; it is knowing how much He cares for us and how much He desires to walk with us.

Peace of the Spirit
May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26 NLT)

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. (Jude 24-25 NLT)

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27 NLT)

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 KJV)

God’s peace is one that the world cannot take away, try as it may. It is a bedrock, that while the storms rage, we know our house will not fall. It is because it is a peace found only in Him. That is why the world cannot experience true peace; without Jesus Christ, true peace is impossible. Equally true, we cannot give someone that kind of peace, no matter how hard we try. The person must call on Jesus for it. Peace comes from knowing how God is carrying us through our life. Then, at the end of our life, He will bring us into His “glorious presence” without any fault. How is that so? Because we are robed in Jesus’ righteousness. God sees is His Son in us.  Don’t allow others to steal this precious fruit out of your life’s basket.

Think of the word, “patience” when you consider this fruit.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 KJV)

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; (Eph. 4:2 KJV)

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Rom. 2:4 KJV)

But as it is written, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’ (1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV)

God is ever so patient with us. He waits for us to come to Him, to accept His offer of salvation in His Son and to walk in His power. But we must wait, too. Many people we love and want better for may take a very long time to around.  Longsuffering or patience doesn’t mean indulgence; it means waiting on God and waiting for God to do what He plans to do.

Gentleness of the Spirit
Being gentle to those who are error is important, for anger and arguments will not bring anyone to Christ. But being gentle is not being a doormat. Jesus was very gentle to those He encountered who were in sin, but He did not allow anyone to walk over Him.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Phil. 4:5 NIV)

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:5-6 NIV)

Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17-18 NIV)

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10 NIV)

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:11 NIV)

We can express Jesus’ love and gentleness with how we respond to others, especially those who would use us and abuse us. But remember: Jesus allowed the rich young ruler to walk away from Him (Mark 10:13-31). Jesus did not talk to Herod (who was curious but insincere about who Jesus was) but He talked to Pilate (who wanted to know about Jesus but didn’t want the whole truth).  The Holy Spirit must guide what we say and who we say it to. He must also guide us when to fall silent and when we need to walk away.

Goodness of the Spirit
Goodness comes only as we step more and more out of the way, and allow the Holy Spirit to work His will in the world through us.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:32 NIV)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:21)

The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him. (Nahum 1:7 NIV)

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7 NIV)

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Cor. 9:8 NIV) 

Our goodness must come from God dwelling is us. Otherwise, we will operate from our own definition, which may hurt us or someone else. I love how Peter takes Christian qualities and blends them with other equally important qualities.  Faith blended with goodness means we take what God is doing on the inside and carry to those on the outside. But goodness needs knowledge, so we don’t end up giving our pearls to those who would trample them in the mud.

Faith of the Spirit
Faith itself is a gift. All that we do, including the power to even believe, is a gift from God.

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love. (Eph. 3:16-17 KJV)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV)

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:13 KJV)

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Heb. 11:6 KJV)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:8-9 NIV)

Faith is not some kind of magical substance that we conjure up enough of to make God work. It is not about our faith and how much we have. It is about Jesus and our faith in His resurrection power that lives in us. Thus, we are able to go out in the world with His words and His ways.

Meekness of the Spirit
Meekness is not weakness. Jesus was meek, but He was never weak.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29 ESV)

He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way. (Psalm 25:9 ESV)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13 ESV)

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21 ESV)

The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matt. 23:11 ESV)

Vine’s Dictionary puts this fruit of the Spirit beautifully:  “It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting… In Galatians 5:23 it is associated with… ‘self-control…’ describes a condition of mind and heart, and as ‘gentleness’ is appropriate… to actions…It must be clearly understood, therefore, that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power. The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was ‘meek’ because He had the infinite resources of God at His command…it is not occupied with self at all.” (401)

Isn’t that powerful? We have God’s resources when we ask Him in faith to receive them. We don’t have to focus on what we can or cannot do; He has what we need. We need to ask. We then go out, believing that He will empower His servants for the task ahead.

Temperance of the Spirit
Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world… (Titus 2:12 KJV) 

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour… (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 KJV)

The word that is translated today for “temperance” is “self-control.” (Vine’s 620)  I find that interesting, because it isn’t enough to know God and His love or have this fruit. We must ask Him to grow the fruits in us and then give us this fruit to exercise them. Both come from Him: the fruits and the power to put this fruit into operation.  We still inhabit our fleshly bodies, so self-control applies to not allowing the sins of the flesh to take over as well. It’s a matter of asking yourself, “Do I want the Holy Spirit’s fruits in me, or do I hold back some area of my life, allowing me to be in control?”

It’s an important question. What we do and how we grow is our choice. What we allow and what we resist is also our choice. The Holy Spirit wants us to be in God’s beautiful orchards, living life abundantly and going about the Father’s business.

But if we choose otherwise, and let our brokenness define us, then our orchards will yield only bruised fruit.
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