Faith Basics: Salvation

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Sermon Sept 3, 2021

Today we are going to begin talking about the Basics of the Christian Faith. If you are a Christian or if you are not, this series entitled Faith Basics is for you. If you don’t know anything about the Christian faith, I assume you are open to learning more about it since you are listening to (reading) this message today. Perhaps you come from a background where religious groups have distorted the message of the bible. Maybe you came from a family or church that preached things that it didn’t live out. My hope is that at Viroqua Nazarene you will find that not only do we understand and believe what the bible says about God, Jesus, Sin, and salvation…but you see it reflected in the love and fellowship of believers who gather regularly here.

If you are a Christian, these messages are still for you as well! I find the toughest thing that most  Christians deal with is being bogged down by discouragement when it comes to sharing their faith. So the methods I’ll use each week to share the message about the Faith, you can use them as well. 

I’ll try not to over complicate things with big words, but know that if I do use these words I will define them for easy use. I went through numerous courses in college and kept forgetting what the meaning of this one word ment. The word was “Soteriology.” Any time you hear the ending “ology” it means “to talk about or the study of.” But what does Soteri mean? (Bible.org source)

It comes from the Greek word “sorteia” which comes from another Greek word “soter” (σότερ) meaning savior. So Soteriology is the study or the talk about Salvation or the work of salvation.

Whether you grew up in church or this is your first time, you’ve probably heard Christians talking about the need to “get saved.” Today, that’s what we are going to talk about and I hope to illustrate it in a way that this act of God (Salvation) is clear enough that we could easily share it with someone else.

Mankind’s main problem in Life is SIN.

Sin separates us from a relationship with God. Sin says, “I want what I want…even if it’s not what God wants.” Sin Says, “I know what is right, but I’m doing otherwise because It’s convenient.”

Around here, our beliefs and teachings are guided by God’s word, the bible. So don’t be surprised if I quote it to support each week’s Faith Basic. We look to The Bible because we believe it is the authoritative Word of God and the only perfect guide for all things concerning salvation. We’ll talk in more detail about the Bible in a different week, but I think you need to know this…before we go any further today: Christians believe in the authority of God’s Word. In God’s word we find all the details for God’s perfect plan of salvation. 

And God’s word tells us that mankind has a problem and it’s called SIN.

James, Jesus’ brother once wrote:

 “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

James 4:17 NIV

Former persecutor of Christians, Paul of Tarsus wrote about how all mankind has had to deal with this sin problem.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—”

Romans 5:12 NIV

So not only do we have a sinful condition because one man (Adam) sinned…it leads us to make sinful choices which ultimately lead to death. 

One day, Jesus was trying to explain to some people that what comes out of a person, their words and actions – that’s what defiles them and makes them unclean…rather than eating or drinking the wrong thing. Gospel of Mark chapter 7:20-23 NIV

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:20-23 NIV

Jesus spells it out for us, just in case we didn’t know what some prime examples of sin were. So we’ve all got this sin problem. We have desires to live in ways opposite of what God’s best is for us. But that’s not the worst part about sin.  

Sin Separates us from God

I know, forgive this very rudimentary drawing. We’ve got a cliff on either side. God’s on one side and we are on the other. I’m going to tell you right now, no illustrations are 100% perfect. So go with me on this one, if you will. 

Sin gets between us and God. 

A very good example of this comes from Isaiah 59. Isaiah was a prophet of God. God would tell him what to say to the Israelites and he would tell them. What he said wasn’t always pretty or even encouraging. He tells them:

“But your iniquities have separated

    you from your God;

your sins have hidden his face from you,

    so that he will not hear.”

Isaiah 59:2-3 NIV

You might say, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” “My mama says I’m perfect! My Granny says I’m perfect.” Maybe you just say, “Well I’m a good person, I don’t know anything about this ‘sin’ stuff of which you speak…”

I’ve got news for you. Romans 3:23 makes it very clear:

“23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

Romans 3:23 NIV

Not only are we born with the desire to put our desires before others’, especially before God’s desires, but we practice it regularly!

It’s that sin that creates a chasm…between us and God. Our Sin…His holiness. And the thing we dislike most about this situation is that…

We can’t fix this problem ourselves.

Are you an Olympian or a track and field star? No? Awesome. No one can call me out for not knowing what I’m talking about. 

So, in Track and Field there are various events with similar goals:

With the Long jump it’s all about who can go the farthest. With the High Jump and Pole vault, the goal is to get over the bar without knocking it over. They keep raising the bar to see who can get the highest jump or vault.

With our illustration here, we try things to get to God. We try “being good” or being a nice person. We back up really far, we take off in a dead sprint, we jump forward with all our might and all our goodness and niceness…and we fall short. We can’t get over that Sin pitfall by being nice or “good.” 

What if we jumped and put an extra little flourish to our jump, jumping higher. What if we said this was going to church…maybe saying “I’m religious” or even “I believe in God.”  These are things we might say that look like we are putting in a bit more effort to reach God…But just like before, we fall short. The pitfall of sin is what we can’t get past through being religious or being a church-goer.

What if we used a tool like pole vaulters use a pole to get over that super high bar? This might be doing good things: “I volunteer at a (fill in the blank). I DO lots of good and nice things. I teach Sunday school.” What about “I’ve dedicated my life to being a missionary” or “given it to religious service? I always recycle. I help clean trash on the side of the road. I encourage others to do good and nice things. I don’t just say I’m good or nice, I do nice things!”

OSLO, NORWAY – JUNE 28: Jeff Hartwig of the USA comes second in the mens Pole Vault during the IAAF Exxon Mobil Bislett Games at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo , Norway on June 28, 2002. (Photo by Christopher Lee / Getty Images )

This is that Pole in Pole vaulting. Have you ever seen a vaulter who fails to cleanly get over the bar? It’s disheartening. It’s sad. It’s embarrassing. It is the same with people who equate good works with a way over or past Sin. If that is their method, rather than the fruit of a tight relationship with God, they will knock that bar off everytime. They will not make it.

So believing we’re good enough isn’t enough. Being religious isn’t good enough. Doing “good” things isn’t enough. What’s it going to take to get over sin and to God? 

Fixing our sin problem takes an act of God 

God wants us to be close to Him. He wanted it so much that he took steps to help us cross that ravine. In the middle of the night, Jesus is teaching a religious leader, Nicodemus, about the Kingdom of God and the extent that God has gone to get us to him. He tell Nicodemus in John’s gospel, chapter 3 verse 16-17:

16 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 NIV

Jesus was of course talking about himself. What was the Son supposed to do to save the world?

He was to lay down his life as a sacrifice to fix the sin problem in our lives. That pesky thing that drives a relational wedge between us and God.

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Cor 5:12 NIV

Peter, an early leader in the Christian faith proclaimed this boldly:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 NIV

This is one of the most challenging pieces for some folks. 

  • I want to be saved, but I’m going to get it by being good
  • Or I’m all good for the “afterlife” because I believe in this god or that god. I pray three times a day to that god.
  • Oh my salvation is found at the bottom of a bottle.
  • I’m part of a secret society that does good stuff for the community. I can’t tell you anything about it, but I’m sure that’s enough to get wherever I’m going.

There are countless other examples. 

So fixing our sin problem takes an act of God. God sends his Son, Jesus… 

And Jesus lays down his life as a sacrifice for you and me. He makes a way for us to get to God.  That bridge comes by his sacrifice on the cross. 

John 14:6 paints a clear description of what we see here today in this illustration.

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 NIV

The Key point to this message of salvation is this: JESUS is the only way. This is an essential basic piece to the Christian Faith. If someone believes or acts as though they believe something other than Jesus fixes the sin problem and restores our relationship with God, they are incorrect. 

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 3:36 NIV

Jesus also describes himself as the gate in John 10:9

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

John 10:9 NIV

There is only one way to:

  • God
  • Heaven
  • Salvation
  • Forgiveness
  • Redemption
  • Wholeness
  • Holiness
  • Restoration

That is through Jesus Christ.

The question is, where do you see yourself in this illustration? Firmly planted on your side? Trying to run and jump over the chasm? A couple inches onto the bridge? Half way? All the way?

Smashing Pottery

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Sermon – Jeremiah 19

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

If you’ve got your bibles, go ahead and turn to Jeremiah 19, we will be looking at this whole chapter and then toward the end of the message we’ll fast-forward to see what happens down the line in the story of Jeremiah. 

Today, at some point in my sermon, I’m going to break something. I’m not going to tell you when. And right now, I’m not going to tell you what I will break. But I’m going to break something and I hope you will be caught off guard by it. If you want to prepare yourself, that’s fine…just know, it’s coming.

That being said, have you ever had a dish or a bowl you really liked, and it breaks? I mean really broken beyond repair. And I mean you really liked this bowl, cup or plate. It had sentimental value.

About 4-5 years ago, in all the hustle and bustle of life, we broke a few bowls and plates in our good dish set. We purchased this set of dishes when we were first married. We didn’t really have people over for meals, so 16 plates and 8 bowls lasted us a long while before having to do dishes. Then for some reason we started having more dishes to wash…something to do with having kids and that they enjoy food like adults…I guess. Somehow dropping two of these bowls into a sink with soapy water can lead to breakage. At least that is what happened with a couple of the bowls. It’s a bit sad when you look at something attached to memories and know it’s destined for the dumpster. You pick up the pieces and no matter how good you are at glueing things, you probably wouldn’t want to eat Christmas dinner off it. 

Other breakables, such as nick-nacks, can be repaired with glue and maybe some touch-up paint. Such as my little Garfield the cat figurine. Decades ago, his arm needed to be glued back in place. Unless you look very carefully, you probably couldn’t tell. 

not my real nick-nack

Breakable things. Some breakable things can be put back together when they are broken. Others, such as jars and cups, really can’t or should not be put back together. They no longer can serve their intended purpose. We end up replacing them or living without them. 

Something similar is presented to the leaders of Jerusalem and Judah. Last week’s illustration of the potter breaking down the clay and making a new jar…that didn’t sink in enough for the people Jeremiah told it to. Let’s look at the first few verses of Jeremiah 19.

“This is what the Lord says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests 2 and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you,”

Jeremiah 19:1-2 NIV

I can’t tell you how jealous I am of Jeremiah. Well maybe not so jealous of how well his message is received, but seriously! Coming up with object lessons and visual aids to help drive home the message that God is trying to get across? That can be like 50% or more of sermon prep! I have learned that not everyone is a visual person or needs the visual aids to assist in communication. However there are just some people who just WON’T concentrate or listen unless you do something tangible, something to connect the spiritual realities you’re talking about with their physical every-day life. I know, because I’m one of them!

God tailor makes these object lessons for Jeremiah to present. Jeremiah records “God told me to go to a place…and I did. God told me to buy a thing…so I bought a thing.”

He even tells him who to get to listen to the message.

“the elders of the people and of the priests.“ He tells Jeremiah, “this is for the leaders among you. They are the ones who need this message.” The judgement that will flow from the message also means that the leaders are responsible for leading the people astray. Their veering so far off course should have been corrected by the leadership if they had also not been caught up in the same sinful acts Jeremiah is about to call them out on.

If bad things happen within the organization, it’s the leadership who will be looked at, questioned and potentially fired.

It’s so true. Leadership of any group, religious or otherwise, are responsible for their organization’s direction. If bad things happen within the organization, it’s the leadership who will be looked at, questioned and potentially fired. Let’s keep reading…

“There proclaim the words I tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.”

Jeremiah 19:2c-3 NIV

I want you to stop and think of a sound that makes your ears tingle. Perhaps, sets you on edge. When I’m working at the store and my head is buried in the cooler, all I hear are the humming of the fans. That is until someone, from out of nowhere calls out my name or starts talking to me without me knowing what’s going on. Each time, I startle a bit, but then I figure out what has happened. Maybe for you, you’ve been out to a restaurant before and through the normal noise of plates, cups and mumbled conversations of about 50 different people, a loud CRASH coms from across the room. It seems everyone stops and looks, trying to find the source of the frightening sound. Perhaps a waiter or waitress dropped a tray and all the plates and glasses are on the floor. Other employees come to aid their colleague in cleaning up the mess. As adults we know that is about as far as we respond to this startling noise. When you are a highschooler and someone in the cafeteria has just dropped several plates making a tremendous amount of noise, you stop and look and then you clap and hoot and holler. It can be extra embarrassing for the person who dropped their stuff.

This is the tingle that God’s talking about. A sudden, shocking disaster that will get the attention of all who hear it and cause some sort of reaction. My guess is shivers up and down their spine or at least some goose bumps.

Why is God bringing this calamity? Let’s read on.

“4 For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. 5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. 6 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. 7 “‘In this place I will ruin[a] the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. 8 I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. 9 I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’“

Jeremiah 4-9 NIV

God is Calling them out for their ungodly behavior.

For their choices, including but not limited to:

  • Making their land a place for foriegn gods
  • Burning incense to “new” gods
  • Filled the land with the blood of the innocent (This is a reference to child sacrifices.)
  • Building high places on which to do the sacrifices

Essentially, by their actions Judah and Jerusalem’s allegiance had switched. They were the people of God, of Yahweh. Now they are the people of whatever god feels good at the time. They might call themselves the sons and daughters of Abraham. But they are not holding up their part of the promise. They are unfaithful and have broken trust and relationship with the one true God.

So God (through Jeremiah) pronounces terrible doom upon them. Disgraced deaths, horrible living conditions requiring them to survive through cannibalism, and their “great city” will be reduced to something to scoff at.

Then Jeremiah reaches into his brown paper sack and brings out a baked potter’s jar. This isn’t metal or wood. It’s made from expertly formed, hardened clay.

10 “Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, 11 and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 12 This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the Lord. I will make this city like Topheth. 13 The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth—all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.’”

Jeremiah 19:10-13 NIV

HULK Jeremiah SMASH!

This is the abrupt, shocking, physical representation to the people he is speaking to. CRASH! BANG! BOOM! He breaks this item in their viewing and hearing. It’s a message of condemnation. It represents:

  • The broken relationship between God’s people and God
  • The sudden and shocking nature of the consequence (tossing a plate or jar to scare and frighten)

I know I’ve said this a time or two, but one of my favorite Old Testament characters is Gideon. During one part of his story God gives Gideon instructions for overthrowing the Midianite camp. Thousands of Midianites and only 3 groups of 100 men each. Just 300 men armed with their voices, torches, jars, and horns to sound a battle call on. They smashed the jars, all at the same time. The midianites heard they were surrounded by a great noise. It only grew worse as shouts of “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” followed by noisy trumpet like blasts came from groupings of flaming torches on the hillside surrounding them. This was psychological warfare! The noise was the weapon and it worked. The Midianites panicked and began to turn their swords on one another.  Sudden, shocking noises can make us realize how much trouble we are in. This was true for Midian. It was also true for Jeremiah’s audience. When something breaks, very rarely can it be properly repaired. Which leads me to the last point of the smashing of the pottery. It represents the…

  • The finality of the judgement – It’s going to happen. It can’t be repaired (like the potter’s jar can’t be repaired.) We learned last week that before a jar is fired in a kiln, or the clay is completely hardened, there is still hope for tearing it down and making something new out of it. It can be rewetted, merged together with other pieces of clay and the potter starts all over again with a hunk he or she shapes into a new item.    In the hearing of THIS particular pronouncement, it was final. But here is why:
  • Not because God had given up on the work of restoration. He’s still open to doing his part. He sent Jeremiah to warn the people before it was too late. No, not because of God but because of the hardened hearts of man. The people had already made up in their hearts and minds who they would serve. God saw and knew this. He knew the path they would take. It broke something. God’s heart.

The last two verses of this chapter are what we hear from Jeremiah before the people begin to retaliate against his message. Remember, they already did all they could to discredit his warning in chapter 18. They attacked his character instead of debating and considering the message he brought.

“14 Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the Lord’s temple and said to all the people, 15 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’”

Jeremiah 19:14-15 NIV

They didn’t waste much time after this pronouncement by Jeremiah. I talked about it a bit just a couple weeks ago. Pashhur, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord…had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord’s temple.

There were much more severe consequences for Jeremiah, yet he continued to speak what God had called him to speak.

In Chapter 24 exile begins to happen. And later, in chapter 26 it seems we have a flashback to the early days of King Jehoiakim, King Josiah’s son, happening before the exile. Jeremiah is giving yet another warning:

‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, 5 and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.’”

Jeremiah 26:4-6 NIV

For this warning, the prophet received a death threat and a semi-formal request to the religious officials for his execution.

At this point you might think Jeremiah was toast. Though the fact this is a flashback chapter AND that we still have 30 more chapters in Jeremiah help us to relax a bit. The Officials finally get their heads on straight. They reason that someone who has brought messages from the Lord shouldn’t be executed, especially just because we didn’t like the message! 

18 “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “‘Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.’

19 “Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the Lord and seek his favor? And did not the Lord relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!”

Jeremiah 26:18-19 NIV

It’s the ultimate, “don’t shoot the messenger” scenario. We’ve heard this one before! They didn’t kill the prophet in the past, why start now?

Conclusion

This passage from Jeremiah is about one main thing: a warning. The abrupt smashing of a pot. The shock to the system. Danger Will Robinson, Danger! And like any other passage, head knowledge is great and all but it’s got to apply to us today. So, how many warnings will it take before “the jar” is smashed in our lives?

In our families?  Community?  County?  State?  Country? World?

How many loud, abrupt, irreverent crashings need to happen before we turn back and make a change? Only you can answer that for yourself.

And it’s true because the solution is you making a change. It’s taking personal responsibility, something the people of Judah and Jerusalem were not doing. It’s personally removing idol worship in your life. Sure you probably don’t have household gods (although you might have a Ganesha or a Budda statuette on your mantel), but there are plenty of other things we worship in this life that need to be knocked down to size. Cell phones, news and TV, career ambitions and how we look in the mirror. All can be idol worship that needs cleaning up. 

Judah no only had a problem with idol worship…by giving time and attention to gods other than Yahweh, they would sacrifice their children. This was literal, but children figuratively stood for a person’s future. Your legacy dies with you when you don’t invest it into the next generation.

Today we literally and figuratively sacrifice children at the behest of our own benefit.

  1. Literal child sacrifice today – abortion, abandonment, absentee parents (provide financially, not there relationally)
  2. Caring more about your career, making money than caring for your family
    1. I don’t think it would surprise you to know that pastor’s families are not immune from this. The pressure to perform, achieve goals, or just keep things afloat…can get in the way of ministry leaders being there for their spouse and children.
    2. If we succeed in business, in growing a large church but sacrifice our families to do so…we’ve already lost.

So we remove sacrificing our future, our children, the next generation, for the immediate benefits that might come our way if we do.

Judah, in their worship to other gods, burned incense. I see this as a reliance on something other than the God of all the universe and everything. People still do this today.

They rely on whatever it is to fix all their problems.

  1. Technology – better phone, car, computer…
  2. Money (touched on career and money earlier)
  3. Status…We don’t have Lords, Ladies, Dukes and duchesses but you know when you see someone with status. They generally look down their nose at those without status.
  4. Politicians – Looking to laws and rules and funding to fix the woes of society.
  5. Medicine/Science
    1. Have you ever listened to those commercials that say, “Ask your Doctor if medicine “so and so” is right for you?” They legally have to list off all the potentially harmful and unwanted side effects of taking the drug in order to deal with another problem in your body. The funniest ones (not really funny) but happen to be anti-depressant meds with side effects of potentially suicidal thoughts!
    2. Medicine has given us some wonderful things, but we often rely on it to be our “magic bullet” and solve our medical problems.
    3. Science and scientific data is another one that we can cling to…yet eventually, if you wait long enough…you’ll be let down. New, better discoveries will be made. Scientists might rush things in order to be first and most famous.

We might find out that in 1883 the Paleontologist, Charles Marsh “discovered” the Brontosaurus. He actually had a nearly full skeleton of a dinosaur he dubbed “Apatosaurus” but it lacked a skull. He then included a skull from a different dinosaur in order to make the discovery first. Later a skull was found and he declared that one to be from a “brontosaurus” but it was actually a more complete skull for the skeleton he already had. (Source)

So even science can let us down and mislead us.

So what do all these things have in common? Fully trusting in, worshipping, and obeying God solves it all. Trust, Worship, Obey. The very things the people of God needed to do were the very things they ran from. Let’s run to these things and not end up smashed. Not end up broken like a jar. It no longer serves its purpose of holding liquid. It no longer can be repaired and be of any use.

Let’s Trust God. Let’s Worship God alone. Let’s Obey God.

To hear what I broken during this sermon…listen to the recording. It’s best to hear it for yourself.

Proverbs 26 – Bad Archery

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“Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.”

Proverbs‬ ‭26:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Have you ever hired an employee before? More likely you’ve been an employee. Perhaps you’ve worked with someone that you just wonder why was that person hired?

I can imagine being Human Resources at a business is a hard job. But, sometimes you just need people who might not be the best skilled or experienced at the job they are hired for (but hey, you got to get experience somewhere and sometime.)

This passage stresses the importance of hiring the right person for the job. Don’t hire fools. (Hopefully the interview process weeds out the fools) and passerby’s just might not be faithful.

I think as a person who has been hired for jobs (you probably can relate) I want to be the kind of person who isn’t a fool. And I want to be wise (and not harm my team) when I hire new people.

Question for you: have you ever worked with a person and felt, “did HR fire at random?” What was your experience?

Proverbs 25 – Refreshing News

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“Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.”

Proverbs‬ ‭25:25‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Have you noticed that we live in a world saturated and obsessed with bad news? When I was a kid, I always wondered why my parents read the newspaper at night or bothered to watch the evening news. Now I’m an adult with a family of my own and I find myself drawn to news and info. And 99% of it is bad or at least sassy news. YouTube news videos and news article frequently have “so and so destroyed this person who has bad ideas and does bad stuff!”

If we start to drown in all that bad news, it can make us weary. We need to be refreshed. Enter: Good news. Good news from afar doesn’t care about your cynicism. It just is good.

I felt at church we were focusing on negative and sad news. We needed a counter balance. I found some by looking at Nazarene News. I found news stories there of encouragement. People and churches who were learning to care for their community in new an desperately needed ways all across the globe.

Perhaps you need some good news today. Here is a link to their site so you can see for yourself how God is refreshing people with His good news all over the world.

https://nazarene.org/news

Proverbs 22 – Tornado Ahead!

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“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls, but those who would preserve their life stay far from them.”

Proverbs‬ ‭22:3, 5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Alrighty! We’re back to movie inspired devotional thoughts! Have you ever seen “Twister?” Yes, the movie about tornado chasers, not the party game with colored dots.

In Twister (spoiler warning) there are of course the main crew of chasers who we are suppose to relate to, care about most and root for. The there is a groups of chasers who are trying to beat our heroes to collecting the scientific data first…making the breakthrough discovery on tornadoes first. (Sounds childish if you think about it that way, but competitive adults can be childish.)

In the film there is a time where our heroes sense that a tornado will easily shift directions, so they don’t choose the obvious route to the tornado. They turn off a different road. The leader of the competing team sees this and decides to stay on course with the tornado, pushing to make the scientific breakthrough first, no matter the cost.

Our heroes do the right thing and try to warn the other team of the impending danger but the leader of “team corporate” doesn’t listen and tells his driver to keep going. It ends up getting the two of them impaled and exploded.

When we are cautious about something, that’s not a bad thing. But it is very unwise to not heed the wisdom of others. You might be taking others along with you up into a tornado.

Proverbs 20

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“Ears that hear and eyes that see—
the Lord has made them both.”

Proverbs 20:12 NIV

How many times do we take for granted our ability to hear and see? Perhaps right now you can’t see and you are using a screen reader to participate in this blog devotional. Maybe your eyes work just fine but you are deaf or hearing impaired, making it difficult to focus in on concepts that people tell you about.

This verse just simply tells us of the creator of these wonderful things: eyes and ears. They are complex parts of the body and they serve different purposes but both deal with information gathering and perception.

When we see something good God made, let’s praise him for it. When we hear good things God has done, let’s give him praise.

Proverbs 19 – The Judge

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Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels.com

“A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and whoever pours out lies will not go free.”

Proverbs 19:5 NIV

Boy do we wish this was a passage that clearly describes all legal systems in the world. More often than not, we see false witnesses (and false accusers) walk away with little to no prosecution. However the Bible isn’t a book that’s interested in our concepts of justice. God is the ultimate judge and that judgement is final.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

It may be no comfort to us now, we who want the liars to pay now for the lies they’ve spread. But we’ve got to remember that God is not only the ultimate judge, He is patient. He is patient with them and with you and I. He is waiting, patiently for us to come back to him and stop pouring out lies.

Proverbs 18 – Man Caves and She-Sheds

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“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
    the righteous run to it and are safe.”

Proverbs 18:10 NIV

Did you ever have a club house or a treehouse when you were a kid? Maybe you still do. I’ve heard of “Man Caves” and also more recently “She-Sheds” when people can unwind and enjoy things like video games or working on their hobbies. (I have NO idea what goes on in a She-shed. I’ve never been invited.)

In this passage the imagery is likening the NAME of the Lord (Yahweh) with a fortified tower. A tall, secure structure that grants safety to those it lets in. The verse says, “The righteous run into it…”

Righteous means being in right relationship with God. If you are in right relationship with God should be clear who you can trust in, in who’s name you will be safe. (Hint: it’s God’s!)

What did you bury under there?

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Message from 9/12/21 Jeremiah 13:1-13

Unless you are the world’s best communicator, you probably have had a moment or two when you’ve tried to communicate something to another person or group of people and they just don’t seem to “get” it. No logic or reasoning will get them there. You can lay out all the facts, figures and pie graphs and they just don’t understand. I feel like this happens to me a lot. I think I’m being clear in my explanation or my understanding of what someone is telling me and NOPE! We are not on the same page. This happened to me just the other day at work. I was trying to help a customer find a product, but I just couldn’t picture what they were looking for. We both pulled out our smartphones and started googling. I looked up what I thought he was talking about, he tried to locate what he was actually talking about. I even tried a series of clarifying questions to see if we could get something close to what he was wanting…but alas, it seems we didn’t have what he wanted. Even though I never really got the full picture of what he was asking for, the other person with him reassured him that she knew what he was talking about.

Communication. Sometimes it is SO CLEAR you can’t believe it: “It can’t be that simple, can it?” And other times messages can leave you with more questions than answers and that might make you feel uneasy, uncomfortable and possibly angry.

I think that’s why visuals are so helpful in communicating messages, telling stories that not only get the facts right, but also get the tone right. The real feeling behind the words that speaks not to our heads, but to our souls. Today and for the next couple of weeks, our messages will be a “Sermon from a Sack” style. I’ll have an item hidden in this sack that relates to the message at hand. You won’t get to see it until then, so it’ll be a mystery.

Today we look at Jeremiah 13:1-11. God begins giving Jeremiah special instructions concerning the messages he would present to the people. God gave extra care to have Jeremiah use visual aids to get the point across. We will find that not only do these people “get” the message and still have trouble with it, people down through the ages have struggled with God’s choice of visual aid and have not “gotten” the full force of the warnings we will hear in today’s passage.

13 This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water.” So I bought a belt, as the Lord directed, and put it around my waist.

Then the word of the Lord came to me a second time: “Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks.” So I went and hid it at Perath, as the Lord told me.

Many days later the Lord said to me, “Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there.” So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “This is what the Lord says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless! 11 For as a belt is bound around the waist, so I bound all the people of Israel and all the people of Judah to me,’ declares the Lord, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’

Jeremiah 13:1-11 NIV

Was it really a belt?

(I pulled out a cloth belt form a brown paper sack.) Now you might think this is just a piece of cloth. And you’d be RIGHT! Perhaps you’ve seen or participated in a biblical reenactment before. Bible-times characters wearing what we think is representative to what they actually wore. One long flowing tunic, potentially a head covering, possibly a sash (especially if you are playing Jesus) and a belt around your waist made from rope or another color of cloth. As we read the scripture, did you picture something like this? I know I have. I thought about what it might have sounded like for Jeremiah to “Go Shopping.” 

“Excuse me shopkeeper, I’d like to purchase a linen belt to go around my waist” says Jeremiah.

“Well you’re in luck. We’ve got a wide selection of belts. They absolutely will keep your pants from falling down…if you wore any.”

Usually we think of the belt as something to keep the tunic in place, or at least help it not look like a big dress on a dude, right? Perhaps you’ve heard about in 2 Kings where Elisha, the prophet gives his assistant some very succinct directions:

“Elisha said to Gehazi, ‘Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.’” 2 Kings 4:29 NIV

Other translations use the phrase “Gird up your loins” instead of “tuck your cloak into your belt.” Weird, huh? The idea for Gehazi is this: be prepared to run and not get tripped up.

But what’s the deal with the linen belt in Jeremiah? Why would God make such a big deal about it? Seems like a standard piece of clothing for a bible-times guy to wear.

Here’s the trouble with the linen belt. It’s most likely not a linen belt.

Fashion choices aside, what is the purpose of a belt? To keep your pants up! Excuse me for just being a bit more embarrassing but, why is it important to make sure your pants stay up? 

Because they cover you…in places that are not meant for everyone to see. That wouldn’t be as big of a deal if a person were wearing an undergarment.

So here’s the kicker, some older translations (and the commentary that helped me prepare for today) go back to the original Hebrew and the context of the surrounding verses and do not picture a “belt.” Instead they read it as a loincloth

A what now? Yeah, a loincloth. Have you ever seen a person in a loincloth? The most appropriate pop culture references I can think of are Mowgli from Disney’s “The Jungle Book” or perhaps Tarzan. There’s a reason people don’t just traipse around in loincloths, because it’s basically underwear.

“Pastor, You’re telling me that it wasn’t a belt God commanded Jeremiah to buy and put on and never wash it…but actually bible-times underwear?”  That’s what the scripture leads me to believe. You can feel free to still think about it as a belt if you want to, but the imagery of a loincloth expresses so much more than a simple belt could ever hope to. 

What’s so special about this loincloth?

First off, the linen loincloth was there for modesty. It keeps everything hidden that is not supposed to be…on display…so to speak? The thing is that modesty was a big problem for the people of Judah and Israel as they worshipped on hills at Asherah poles. Their form of worship was intimate in nature, and put on display for all to see. So wearing this item would keep them from embarrassment and shame, should one’s tunic accidently get blown by the wind…if you get my drift. Also, it seems that not everyone wore loincloths. It was, however, part of the priestly attire. 

42 “Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. 43 Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.”

Exodus 28:42-43b

This has got to be the worst or most uncomfortable object lesson known to man. The New Beacon Bible commentary says that the special nature of the undergarment was a metaphor for the intimate closeness with God. Think about it, Do you want comfortable or uncomfortable underwear? (Don’t answer that!) God called this cloth the Pride of Judah and Jerusalem. This was a way for Jeremiah to understand the closeness between God and his people. It, (awkwardly) also represents the kind of closeness a husband and wife would have. It harkens to God as the groom and his people are the bride. I know, right!? The kids would call this topic “Super Cringe.” But Perhaps that’s why it’s interesting. No one wants to go to the weird places in the scripture…we just like our nice safe story about Jeremiah burying a belt. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but at least it doesn’t make too many people uncomfortable.

There’s one more thing about this loincloth that really “Stands out” so to speak.

It’s new and clean at the start…but it’s not that way forever. (Have you ever heard the expression “Mama always said make sure to wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident.”) Jeremiah was to wear it until God told him to go bury it at Perath. He wasn’t supposed to get wet or dip in water, meaning “no spin cycle at the laundromat for his tighty whities.” We don’t know how long it was before God told Jeremiah to head to Perath, but it wasn’t likely the same time he got the first message. It was a second message from the Lord. So Jeremiah does what God tells him to do. He goes and takes his loincloth and buries it until God tells him to come back many days later. 

I’ll just go ahead and read verse 7 again, but this time in the ESV:

“7 Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.”

Jeremiah 13:7 ESV

The cloth was ruined, good for nothing. God’s not a packrat “well we can use it for drying the floor or as a rag if need be.” Nope, Jeremiah tells the truth – it was spoiled to the point it was good for nothing.

God “lands the plane”

I had a pastor friend once talk about sermons like flying planes. The ending, concluding words…the big point that you build to, when you bring that into the picture…that’s what he called landing the plane. Well God makes his point clear. “You want to know why I had you buy a loincloth, wear it, take it off and bury it, and then dig it back up again? Listen close, Jeremiah.”

Let’s listen to vs 9-11 in the English Standard Version:

9 “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. 11 For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.”

Jeremiah 13:9-11 ESV

So if we are landing the plane, here are the pre-landing checks:

  1. God desired intimate closeness with his people. He “Made them to cling to Him…but they would not listen. They wouldn’t hear God’s Words (In fact several chapters later, a priest named Pashhur doesn’t like Jeremiah’s messages and has him beaten and thrown in the stocks) See Jeremiah 20 for more.
  2. Stubbornly follow their own heart – What I want is what’s best. You’ve heard “The Heart wants what the heart wants?” 
  3. Served and worshipped other gods. This goes back to the modesty thing I said earlier.  Asherah, the fertility goddess, was worshipped through certain activities that would not be considered rated “G.” Much earlier in Jeremiah 2:20, it says

“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.

Jeremiah 2:20 NIV

This is the serving and worship of other gods. This is the immodesty of the people. This is God calling them out on it.

Conclusion

It’s important when communicating to use imagery as well as clear, simple words to get a message across. Through Jeremiah, God did that. The New Beacon Bible Commentary concludes it beautifully by saying this:

“He called Israel to be a people who would reveal his name–his character and power–to the world (Deut 28:10). Israel was to be the object of Yahweh’s praise and glory. Israel ruined itself and became useless to Yahweh by their habitual rejection of his voice. It no longer clings to Yaweh in a covenant relationship.”

(NBBC, Jeremiah 1-25, pg 174)

How do we stay clean and useful? By listening and accepting his voice. We can be in such a close relationship with him that he can lean over and kiss our foreheads.

Please leave a comment below:

What are you personally hearing from God these days? What directions, instructions of inspirations is he speaking to you? If you aren’t hearing anything right now, are you open to listening?

Proverbs 16 – Abuse of power

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Kings detest wrongdoing,
for a throne is established through righteousness.

Proverbs 16:12 NIV

If you’ve study enough history you’ll see a pattern where historical events truly repeat themselves. Kings, heads of state, governmental leaders are dethroned when they join in on wrong doing. That is to say when they Lord their power over their subjects, abuse it and do not bring real justice in the land. You can be sure that their days are numbered.

But when a righteous leader guides his or her people, they don’t need to deceive or twist arms to get people to join them in the pursuits of their vision. People will line up and volunteer.

As soon as they no longer stand up for justice, for what is right, the people lose all confidence and faith in them.

What kind of leader are you? What kind would you rather follow?