09/13/2020 | “Worst Case Scenario” | Jeremiah 26

We love to proclaim and sing about being the salt of the earth and a city set on a hill, but Jesus speaks of this as a faithful response to persecution.  Today’s cancel-culture wants to silence the gospel and the truth of God.    How are we to respond?  Are we to soften our message?  Conform it to the differing expectations of culture?  Reassess our calling or the sphere in which we execute it?   These are all questions Jeremiah faced.   In Jeremiah 26, the prophet preached one of his earliest and most memorable sermons.  Jeremiah was probably optimistic as he preached.   But the moment the sermon ended the cancel-culture attacked.   “You shall die” was the response of the religious establishment.   “Jeremiah, conform or be cut off.”  How would Jeremiah respond?  How will we respond?  Listen to “Worst Case Scenario” as we examine Jeremiah 26 and consider the Jeremiah’s response to the cancel-culture of his day.

“Cancel Culture, Jeremiah 26”

Worst Case Scenario

I have a diverse library.  Every “ology” can be found – theology, technology, sociology, anthropology, and mythology, just to name a few.  Widely varied genres and perspectives live on my shelves.  My catalog runs the gamut from ancient to contemporary, orthodoxy to heresy, and the profound to the absurd.   Seriousness and satire have a home in my world of ideas – a cosmos framed both on shelves and in clouds.    

In the outer reaches of this cosmos is a book entitled, The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook.   Supplied to me by a bookstore-owning friend, who usually plied me with theology, this little quod absurdium purports to give strategies for life’s worst-case scenarios.  For example, when aliens invade, it is imperative to construct a headpiece of tin-foil.   As is well known, aliens are telepathic.   Only a tin-foil headpiece can foil their telepathy.   The only alternative is simply to stop thinking.   Just don’t think about anything.   Clear your mind.  This is the only foolproof way to avoid alien domination.

Perhaps this explains why critical thinking seems to have disappeared.  Maybe our culture is preparing for an alien invasion.  We have clearly stopped thinking – at least any thoughts other than the mantras du jour fed to us by (anti)social media.   Critical thinking, and its expressive corollaries, free speech and robust dialogue are now anathema.   Dialogue has been replaced with cancel culture – a group-think which refuses to admit any narrative other than that clearly delineated by a viral hashtag. Meanwhile everyone and everything at odds from the approved narrative is declared “dead to us.”  While I am not sure that Central, Central Intelligence or Big Brother and his Ministry of Truth are behind the cancel-culture, it is certainly enforced through social media.

But cancel-culture is not new.   Media campaigns and boycotts are as old as the Fall of Mankind.  Public shame and commerce have long been powerful tools for policy change, for better and for worse.  What is new is the amazing speed with which shame and commerce is effected through social media.   The uneditable and unanswerable animosity unleashed by social media cancels without appeal.  The “brakes” of time – and therefore reflection — were never installed.  Time to reflect, to think carefully, to analyze motive, context and deeper intent is missing.   There is no time for thoughtful action, only violent and immediate reaction.   As social critic, Neil Peart, noted, “conform or be cast out.”  These are the options – the only options.

Cancel-culture strikes at the core of the Christian’s identity.   Christians are animated by the gospel.  Thought, speech and actions are to be transformed by the renewing of minds not conformed to the pattern of the world.   Thus, christians are fundamentally at odds with the ethos of cancel-culture.   Truth is not socially determined, but authoritatively revealed.   And that authority is not Twitter.   On the continuum of “conform or be cast out,” Christians will always be castaways.  The received and revealed gospel is the compelling means of grace for our lives and our world.  Our compulsion, our commission is to share it, preach it, declare it and defend it.    Yet, the gospel’s presupposition of a brokenness no state or hashtag can fix is obnoxious to the cancel-culture.   In its opposition to Christianity, cancel-culture reduces Peart’s “conform or be cast out” to only one option – “conform,” willingly or unwillingly.

And so, Christians find themselves is a familiar place – the place of persecution.   This is nothing new.   As Jesus unfolds the ethics and expectations of a life animated by grace, he concludes with are remarkable statement. 

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  

Matthew 5:10-16

We love to proclaim and sing about being the salt of the earth and a city set on a hill, but notice how Jesus connects these to a faithful response to persecution.  The cancel-culture wants to silence the gospel and the truth of God.    How are we to respond?  Are we to soften our message?  Conform it to the differing expectations of culture?  Reassess our calling or the sphere in which we execute it?   These are all questions Jeremiah faced.   The “Temple Sermon” was one of his earliest and most memorable sermons.  Jeremiah was probably optimistic as he preached.   But the moment the sermon ended the cancel-culture attacked.   “You shall die” was the response of the religious establishment.   “Jeremiah, conform or be cut off.”

When God called Jeremiah, he warned him that this would be the case.

But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.

Jeremiah 1:17-19

How would Jeremiah respond?  How will we respond?  As Paul wrote to a young Timothy, “indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)   It is only a matter of time before you face the ultimatum, “conform or be cast out.”  What will be the response to this worst-case scenario?

Join us this Lord’s Day, September 13, as we examine Jeremiah 26 and consider the Jeremiah’s response to the cancel-culture of his day. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP

09/06/2020 | “Choose Wisely” | Jeremiah 25:15-38

Jeremiah was told to take the cup of the wine of the wrath of God and to make all the nations drink of it.  Its effects are terrible.  And no one can refuse.  But there is another cup.   For those who choose wisely — who trust in Christ, not in themselves, who acknowledge God’s righteous judgment of sin, yet plead for His mercy upon sinners, there is the cup of blessing.  What cup will you choose?  The cup of the fury of God’s wrath?  Or the cup of Christ?  Listen to “Choose Wisely” as we examine Jeremiah 25:15-38 and consider the choice God gives us between grace and judgement. 

“Choose Wisely,” Jeremiah 25:15-38

08/30/2020 | “Taking Responsibility” | Jeremiah 25:1-14

To practice adulting, you don’t actually have to be an adult.  You only have to play-act at responsibility long enough to make the post.  When “adulting” becomes mundane or challenging, we can step out of the hashtag.   Adulting gives us the perfect cover for evading hard things.  Avoiding responsibility it is at the core of mankind’s fallen, sinful nature.  We love to take cover in immaturity and irresponsibility, but faith calls us to grow, mature and to take responsibility.   The scriptural remedy for sinful failure is confession and repentance, not excuse making.   Christians take responsibility for sin, even if we have a good excuse.  Jeremiah called to the men of his day and us to repent.   When God declares our sin, it is not enough to merely ‘adult.’  No, it is time to take responsibility through confession, repentance, and faith.  Listen to “Taking Responsibility” as we examine Jeremiah 25:1-14 and consider the call to take responsibility through confession and repentance.

“Taking Responsibility,” Jeremiah 25:1-14

08/23/2020 | “The Horrible Doctrine” | Jeremiah 24

In our human pride, the doctrines of election and reprobation are indeed “horrible doctrines.”   Yet as we carefully consider what the Bible says about the total depravity of our fallen condition, these “horrible doctrines” soon become “doctrines of grace.”  Were God to base His decision to save on anything in us, we would be hopelessly doomed.  The early American pastor, Jonathan Edwards, once declared, “we contribute nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”  And Jesus taught that “unless a man is born again [from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”    Those horrible doctrines, which at first fill us with indignation and accusation toward a Holy, Sovereign God, become gracious doctrines when the Holy Spirit enables us to see the depth of our sin.   Listen as we consider the comfort and power of God’s calling and election from Jeremiah 24.

“The Horrible Doctrine,” Jeremiah 24

08/16/2020 | “Spotting the Fake” | Jeremiah 23:9-40

How well can we spot the fake?   Can we discern a false teacher from a faithful one?   Have we loved truth or falsehood?   Are we wary of those who attempt to “heal our wounds lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” Listen as we examine Jeremiah 23:9-40 and consider the prophet’s guidance regarding the sources, symptoms and solutions to the problem of false teaching.

“Spotting the Fake,” Jeremiah 23:9-40

Spotting the Fake

Fake news is not new.  It was not invented by Russian hackers or media moguls during the 2016 Presidential campaign.   Fake news has been around since man first listened to the “Father of Lies” in the Garden.   News reporting is always saddled with some level of intentional or unintentional, benevolent or malevolent bias.  That news media has always been funded by advertising should make this obvious.  Persuasion is at the heart of most of our words, but unhinged from moral restraint, persuasion quickly descends into exaggeration, mis-construal and flat-out lying.

Fake news is not new.  What is new is that no one seems to care if their news is fake.  Fake news is no longer ‘news worthy.’  The mantra of post-modernity, “true for you, but not for me” has given way to a lack of concern for truth, so long as the story is moving.  The cardinal value for today’s man is emotional resonance not intellectual verity.  Does it grip me?  Does it grab me?  Does it move me?  These are the questions that have replaced, “Is it true?”  Neil Postman’s prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, rightly predicted a society in which “truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

But man was not created to live in society where truth is drowned in irrelevance.  Truth exists – absolute truth, truth that is revealed and not discovered.  Without this truth there can be no beauty, joy, peace, redemption, mercy, forgiveness, justice or love – only “how I feel.”  Without this truth there is never any “us,” only a “me.”  Truth matters.  But can we spot what is true and what is false? 

Back in my school days, my classmates clamored for quizzes that were True/False.  The logic was simple. It gives us a 50/50 chance.  But who wants to get 50% on a test?   I despised True/False quizzes.  Give me an essay question any day rather than statements that, if properly or improperly qualified, had so many caveats that truth or falsity was murky.   None of us are as good with True/False questions as we like to believe.   We do a poor job at spotting the fake.  Game shows, icebreakers, and fashion counterfeiters have abundantly proven this point.

Gullibility and a love for the sensational makes us easy prey for deceptive news.   We scroll over a shocking headline on social media and, without any credibility filtration, share it copiously.  Only later realizing that our integrity has just taken a very public nosedive.   In an article from the Freedom Forum Institute, Samantha Smith offers a quick guide to spotting fake news.  She warns us to check out sources, resist click-bait, look carefully at an article’s URL, compare the story with reputable news sources, beware of sloppy writing and the absence of quotes, and use media literacy sites such as snopes.com or factcheck.org.  Nothing she says amounts to rocket science, but the simplicity of her analysis shows how easily we can be duped.    But if we are so easily deceived regarding things that can be seen and verified, what about eternal and spiritual truths?

Jeremiah expressed himself most in lamentation.   Reading Jeremiah is exhausting.   The weeping prophet laments the coming judgement of God, the idolatry of the people, the oppression of the powerful, and even the wasting of the land because of the sin of the people.   But Jeremiah’s greatest lament was for the deception of the people through the false prophets and lying priests, even though he knows the people love it that way.   In Jeremiah 21-23, the prophet offers a scathing rebuke to the kings of Judah for their unfaithfulness, then in Jeremiah 23:9, the prophet brings the hammer of God’s word down on the false prophets.  And in his rebuke, he offers his beloved people a warning. 

Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ 

Jeremiah 23:16-17

Jeremiah pleads with the people to discern the false prophets, reject their message, and turn back to the Lord.   But this warning is for us, as well.  We live in a world brimming with false teachers who ‘despise the word of the Lord’ and say ‘it shall be well with you’ to those who stubbornly follow their own heart.’   Their teaching is a ‘dark and slippery’ path that leads to death.   How well can we spot the fake?   Can we discern a false teacher from a faithful one?   Have we loved truth or falsehood?   Are we wary of those who attempt to “heal our wounds lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”

Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 23:9-40 and consider the prophet’s guidance regarding the sources, symptoms and solutions to the problem of false teaching. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP

08/02/2020 | “In the Valley of the Shadow” | Jeremiah 20

Jeremiah preached hard words to hard hearts.   For over four decades he did the work of a prophet, yet saw no profit from it in the people’s lives.  No repentance, no returning, no reformation – only the unrelenting judgment of God against his beloved Judah.   He was beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, despised, outcast by foe, friend and family.   He was kidnapped.  He was denied every earthly relationship that might bring joy.   Little wonder he was the weeping prophet.  He wept for his people, but he also wept for himself.  In Jeremiah 20 we find the prophet in a valley of deepest darkness.   His grief, anger and frustration carry him close to the border of apostasy.  Jeremiah’s struggles, just like Jeremiah’s preaching, are written for our instruction.  How do we walk in the light when God leads us into the Valley of The Shadow? Listen to “Valley of the Shadow” from Jeremiah 20.

“Into the Valley of the Shadow,” Jeremiah 20

The Valley of the Shadow

Going to work with Mama was a special treat.   It was rare to spend time just with her.   At home she was busy with the demands of family, but at work her schedule was more relaxed.  Only there could I have her full attention.  She worked part-time as a secretary at the Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church in east Atlanta.   On Fridays, Pastor Obert “visited the Greens.”   All that was pressing was the printing of bulletins.   I still remember the smell of mimeograph ink and the bluish-purple stains on my mother’s hands.  By one o’clock she was done and we were off to Arby’s for Beef-n-Cheddars and then to Mrs. Mowery’s for Mama’s weekly hairdo – and, of course, the jar of butterscotch and toffee.

While my mother finished up at the church, I was explored the curiosities of Pastor Obert’s office, listened to stories of Mama’s childhood, and designed the next generation of spacecraft.    Her office was warm and inviting.  And Pastor Obert’s office was spacious, more library than office.   Mama would also allow me to go up to the sanctuary – a beautiful worship space with large windows, flooded with so much light that it seemed as much like heaven as a ten-year-old could imagine.  

But not all the spaces at Ormewood Park were warm and luminous.   In order to get to the sanctuary from the office, I had to pass through a dark, ancient hallway.   Its musty smell, noisy tile floor and penetrating dark, terrified me.   It seemed sinister and menacing.   Running was the only way to make the passage.   And I knew that whatever I did, whatever I heard, I must never look back.

Darkness is like that.   In the dark, common comforts become sinister uncertainties.   In the dark, we can’t distinguish between what is real and what our fears project.   We were not made for the dark.  Before God did anything else in creation, he turned the lights on.   Almost every dimension of life depends upon light.  Even in the black depths of the deepest sea, creatures use natural luminescence to survive.

We are afraid of the dark because we were created to live and walk in the light.   The Bible notes that heaven is a place with no night – lit eternally by the Eternal God who, himself is its light.   In the Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly draws attention to the contrast between light and dark as a metaphor for our emotional and spiritual condition. 

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. John 3:19

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. John 12:46

And Jesus’ disciple, John, would later write.

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7

But walking in the light can be hard to do.   Even believers with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, may experience consuming spiritual and emotional darkness.  Three times the Bible uses the phrase, “shadow of death.”   We usually read this as a metaphor for death.   But in each instance, the Bible refers to the experience of the living, not the dead.   The ancient language literally reads, “the shadow of deepest darkness.”   It is a darkness so black it is palpable, penetrating every nook and cranny of heart and soul.  Grief, doubt, fear, sickness, and adversity easily shadow our lives with deepest darkness.  Little grows well in this darkness except questions.   Where is God?  Why is he silent?  Why has he allowed this?  Will the darkness ever end?  Can I trust him?  Follow him?

Jeremiah was a bold and persistent prophet.   He was set apart before his birth.  God promised to deliver him from all his enemies.  Jeremiah confessed that even if he wanted to forsake his calling, he could not. 

If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.  Jeremiah 20:9

Jeremiah preached hard words to hard hearts.   For over four decades he did the work of a prophet, yet saw no profit from it in the people’s lives.  No repentance, no returning, no reformation – only the unrelenting judgment of God against his beloved Judah.   He was beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, despised, outcast by foe, friend and family.   He was kidnapped.  He was denied every earthly relationship that might bring joy.   Little wonder he was the weeping prophet.  He wept for his people, but he also wept for himself.  In Jeremiah 20 we find the prophet in a valley of deepest darkness.   His grief, anger and frustration carry him close to the border of apostasy.  

Yet Jeremiah’s struggles, just like Jeremiah’s preaching, are written for our instruction.  How do we walk in the light when God leads us into the Valley of The Shadow?   We feel should feel the weight of this question every time we pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from [the evil one].”   Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 20 and consider how to walk in the light through the valley of deepest darkness.  

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP

The Last Word

Everyone has one – the one person in your life who must always have the last word.  Whatever your great exploits, they have climbed higher, caught more, gone faster.   No story is complete until they have added the exclamation point of their own last word.   Though perhaps otherwise unremarkable, they are grand-masters of one-upsmanship.  Yet their quest for notoriety has gained only infamy.

No one likes a know-it-all.  No one enjoys the one-upsmans’ self-agrandizing sagas.  Far from inviting admiration, the know-it-all only invites scorn.   We all have this person in our lives.  You are not that person are you?  Let this be a lesson.  Don’t seek the last word.  Learn the art of humility.  As Solomon wisely cautioned.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.  Proverbs 27:2

You never know as much as you think.  You are not the smartest or most accomplished person in every gathering.   Praise others and you will be thought praiseworthy.  Learn to exalt others and you will be exalted.   Let another speak the last word.  Exercise restraint against the temptation to focus the lens back on yourself.   To gain discipline in this area helps us to remember that God always rightly has the last word in our lives.   Simon the Pharisee was a know-it-all and learned this the hard way when he invited Jesus to his party and an unexpected guest arrived.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw [a woman of the city touching Jesus], he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:39-37

No one likes a know-it-all.  But what if the know-it-all in your life really did know it all?  What if He knew how everything would turn out.  One who not only knew the future, but determined it.  One who knew you better than you knew yourself.  Who knew how to loved you and knew what you loved better than yourself.   One who knew exactly what trials and triumphs were best for you.   One who, despite knowing all your thoughts and intentions, your failings, your rejections, still loved you better than you loved yourself?  Would you give that know-it-all the last word?  Would you prefer that know-it-all’s last word to your own?

Jeremiah 18 is a well know passage.  Here the Lord sends Jeremiah down to the local Pottery Works to watch and wait for a Word from the Lord.   As Jeremiah saw the potter work and rework the lump of clay on the wheel, shaping and reshaping, the Lord revealed to Jeremiah his sovereignty over all His works.   He has created all things for Himself and He may do with them as He pleases.   No man may complain or command His purposes.  He always has the last word.   And in this passage His last word is ‘grace.’   Even now though God’s people have provoked Him time and time again in the most despicable ways,  God speaks ‘grace.’

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.  Jeremiah 18:5-7

The God who previously declared, “I am tired of relenting,” offers mercy if His people return to Him.   If they repent, He will relent.  God who may sovereignly do whatever he pleases with his marred clay, extends grace – the hope of being reshaped by the loving, careful hand of the master Potter.   But rather than yielding the last word to the gracious Know-It-All, prideful Judah must have the last word – and what a dreadful last word it is.

“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’  Jeremiah 18:12

What about you?  When the Lord speaks the best, last word, the word of grace, will you let that be the last word?  Or must you speak the last word yourself, “following your own plans” according to the stubbornness of your heart.   Jeremiah 18 is a remarkable passage about God’s steadfast grace toward stubborn, ungrateful rebels.   What is the last word in your life?   What last word defines you?

Join us this Sunday, July 12, as we examine Jeremiah 18 and consider the power and beauty of God’s sovereignty exercised toward us in grace. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP