Owning Up

We knew she had them, but we never saw them – eyes in the back of her head.   Like the answer to the children’s catechism question, “we could not see them, but they always saw us.”   Just when we thought we were under the radar and outside maternal surveillance, we were called to account.  But parental omniscience is not just the province of mothers.   Fathers can have it too.   My father was very in tune with my sinful tendencies.   One particular example from my youth is seared into my memory.  

My friends and I were going downtown, but the train did not come as far as our neighborhood. So we drove to the station in Decatur.    The station did not have much parking, but was happily located right across the street from the Maud M. Burrus Public Library.   The library had plenty of free parking, each spot adorned with a warning — “library patrons only, all others will be towed.”  With dire words and prophecies of doom, my father warned me against the temptation to park there.   But my 1973 Goldenrod Impala needed space.  It yearned for free parking and lots of it.  So, as children often do, I disregarded my father’s instruction.

When we returned at day’s end, to my horror, the Impala was gone.   It was the sum of all fears.   Adrenaline surged.  A dreadful panic seized me.  Where could it be?  How will we get home?  And how would I explain this grievous crime to my father?  Then I saw it, a sight worse than any scenario I imagined.   Parked in a corner of the lot, far from where I left it was the Impala.   He knew!   He knew I was not to be trusted.  He knew I had ignored his wise warning.   The ugly truth could not be concealed.   I had deliberately disobeyed.   Wriggling out was not an option.   My only option was to own up and to accept whatever came.

Much to my surprise, the consequence was not as severe as it could have or should have been.   My father knew the shock of his masterstroke was, itself, quite potent.    His goal was not to punish, but to discipline – to instruct me in the pain of disobedience and lead me to the freedom that comes from submission.    Indeed, punishment and discipline, though both painful, are radically different.

Punishment’s goal is to inflict, to harm, to exact.   It covers the debt of justice by demanding the value of what was taken by the hand of a perpetrator.   It seeks no redemption, no rehabilitation, and no restoration.   It is guided by wrath not mercy.   Vengeance is its telos — an eye for every eye, and a tooth for every tooth.  But discipline is quite a different matter.   Discipline is concerned for growth, change, fruitfulness, and maturity.    It is guided by love and governed by relationship.   Discipline is redemptive, rehabilitative, and restorative.   This is what it seeks.   It teaches us that freedom and fruitfulness come from submitting to yokes not breaking bonds.

We see this truth remarkably laid out for us in Hebrews 12:5-11

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” …For at the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

How will we respond to the Lord’s discipline?  When afflictions come.  When frowning providences are the only providence we know.   When we encounter many trials of various kinds?  Will we be like the God’s enemies in Psalm 2 who say, “Let us burst [His] bonds apart and cast away [His] cords from us.”   Or like God’s sons, who will “take [His] yoke upon us, and learn from [Him].”   

Punishment is for God’s enemies.   They will be destroyed by it.   They will rail against it and resist it.   They will not repent, but only raise a clinched fist.   They will call to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”   But children receive loving discipline if they will submit to it.   Though it may be painful it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness in the end.   How willing are you to submit to the discipline of God?  Is your desire of comfort and relief greater than your desire to be conformed to the likeness of Christ?  

The Lord chastised Judah in Jeremiah’s day.  The best and brightest had been carried off to Babylon.   Zedekiah was placed on the throne only as a steward.   But the people were not content to submit to the God’s discipline.  They plotted rebellion.  And Jeremiah warned them with a powerful illustration.

This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord.  “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.… Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel…  I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes….  But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand.”

Jeremiah 27:2-8

If they submit they will live.  But if they rebel, they will experience the just punishment of God.   What about you?  How will you respond when God lays a heavy hand upon you?  When he brings discipline because of sin?   Will you own up?  Will you submit?  Will you put your neck under the yoke?   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 27 and consider what it means to submit to the Lord’s discipline.  

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

Choose Wisely

I admit it.  I am absolutely syncretistic in my speech.   Wherever I live, the local accent and expressions find their way into my own.    On a recent family movie night, an ancient VHS tape surfaced of a presentation I gave in 1988.   Two things were notable.  First, I had as many verbal ticks then as now.  And second, my accent – it was positively “down home” – vintage Georgia.    I am without a doubt a verbal chameleon.  Yet, this is true for most of us. 

The attitudes and expressions of those around us together with the images and phrases we’ve invited into our souls will bubble up to the surface of our lives through our speech.  Beyond accents, inflection and expressions, movies, books and music often implant phrases into our psyche that become mainstays of our expression.  Brando’s eerie mantra from Apocalypse Now – “the horror,” and Ham Porter’s refrain from The Sandlot – “you’re killin’ me Smalls,” are go-to phrases for me.   But a favorite is the admonition of the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – “choose wisely!”

After navigating the “leap of faith from the Lion’s Head,” Indy enters into a shine to the Holy Grail, guarded by an ancient knight.   The room is filled with different cups — elaborate and simple, some of precious metals and jewels, others of simple wood or glass.   In order to save his father’s life, Indiana Jones must choose the one true Holy Grail from the vast display.  But the first choice must be the right choice, for the Grail Knight warns him.

“You must choose, but choose wisely, as the true grail will bring you life and the false grail will take it from you.”

Indy must choose a cup to drink.  He must drink.  No other option is on the table.  He must choose – and choose wisely.   Life or death hangs on the choice.

We see a similar picture come into focus in Jeremiah 25.   The prophet is told to take the “cup of the wine of God’s fury” and make all the nations drink from it.   It is no mild vintage.  It has no smooth flavor.  This wine is neither light-bodied nor flavorfully rich in tannins.  No hints of this or notes of that.  And it does not finish well.  It is hard drink.  The cup of judgement.   Those who drink it, drink it down to the dregs.   It has no mild or pleasant effect.  The drinker becomes raging drunk and violently ill.   Bold drinkers think they can handle this liquor, but it reduces them to complete stupor.   But what if men simply refuse this choice?  What if they will not drink.   Note what the Lord says.

Thus, the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it…. And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink!’” 

Jeremiah 25:15, 28

Not to drink is not an option.   And there is no milder vintage.  But is there another cup?   The cup is a common picture of God’s judgment in the Bible.   But scripture reveals a remarkable promise —  that God, himself, will graciously take the cup from us.

Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
    who are drunk, but not with wine:
Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
    your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; 

Isaiah 51:21-22

But what is more, God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, drinks our cup for us.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, … he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  …Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Matthew 26:36-42

And then He gives us another cup, a different cup – the cup of blessing which we bless.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew 26:26-28

Jeremiah was told to take the cup of the wine of the wrath of God and to make all the nations drink of it.  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.  The Grail Knight spoke more than he knew when he cautioned, “choose, but choose wisely, as the true grail will bring you life and the false grail will take it from you.”  What cup will you choose?  The cup of the fury of God’s wrath?  Or the cup of Christ?

Join us this Lord’s Day, September 6, as we examine Jeremiah 25:15-38 and consider the choice God sets before us between grace and judgement. 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

Adulting

Language is never static.  It always has a backstory.  Languages are living things, constantly changing to reflect a culture.   Like rings on a tree, linguistic change charts cultural change.  Words indexed to outdated ideas or behaviors become, ‘archaic.’  And new words are created to reflect cultural realities our forefathers could not have imagined.   This process can occur very quickly, especially as technological change accelerates the use of jargon.    The English language grows most prolifically by the addition of new verbs formed out of of old or proper nouns.   For example, we ‘google’ and we ‘message’ – and we ‘adult.’   As accessories to these ‘nouns gone verbal,’ we add the corresponding gerund – e.g. “adulting.”

The recent proliferation of the new word, “adulting,” demonstrates well how language grows to communicate changing social mores.  The Urban Dictionary defines “adulting.”

Adulting (v): to carry out one or more of the duties and responsibilities expected of fully developed individuals (paying off that credit card debt, settling beef without blasting social media, etc). Exclusively used by those who adult less than 50% of the time.

Laura Shear offers an insightful critique of the word ‘adulting’ and the idea behind it, in a blog post entitled, Growing Up Vs. Adulting.  She notes.

These days, evolving into an adult appears to be less a reality than a choice. Young people in their late teens and early twenties flirt with adult-like behavior, try it on for size, or push it off a few more years. When they embrace it, they post it.  It’s all right there on their Instagram feed: paying off a credit card, changing the oil in the car, roasting a turkey… #adulting.

Amidst this rapidly changing social landscape, millennials and Gen Z kids are reinventing what it means to mature. And, crucially, when it happens. Studies show that the trajectory of childhood into adulthood has lengthened, making room for a new, relatively prolonged adolescence…. Researchers have labeled this new life stage “emerging adulthood.”

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.  While older generations tend to criticize Millennials for their lengthened “trajectory of childhood” and their “ambivalence about adulthood,” it is at the core of mankind’s fallen, sinful nature to avoid responsibility.   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.

The men of Jeremiah’s day tried to avoid responsibility.  For forty years the prophet pronounces the sin of the people of Judah and God’s threatened judgment.   They lived with their backs to God, but Jeremiah calls them to turn back.   When they do actually listen, they make excuses, but never repent – they never accept responsibility for their sin.   It is always someone else’s fault.   And eventually, they no longer even listen.

In Jeremiah 24 we encountered the doctrine of election.  As Nebuchadnezzer subjugates Judah, God gives Jeremiah a vision of good and bad figs.  Through this vision God declares that he has chosen some for destruction and others for deliverance.   Though they all deserve, judgement, God determines to be merciful to some.  Our reaction to this doctrine of grace should be relief, but too often it is evasion.

Paul anticipated this when he discussed election in Romans 9.   He points out that God, “has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.”  Then immediately writes, “you will say to me, ‘Why then does he still find fault?  For who can resist His will?”  God’s sovereign decrees are never a theological excuse to evade responsibility for our sin.   When we look at Esau, Judas, and Pontius Pilate in scripture, we see men who had chance after chance to repent and turn back.  Yet they freely rejected Christ, despite many warnings.   Scripture presents two complimentary truths.  God is sovereign and we have real, free will.   It is a mystery, but it is true.  No matter what God decrees for us, we are responsible for our own sin.  Jeremiah 25 points to this truth in a remarkable way in regards to the pagan King Nebuchadnezzer. 

“Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for…  Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants…. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord.”

Though he did not know it, Nebuchadnezzer is God’s servant.  In his free, wicked actions, he serves God’s purpose.  But this does not absolve him of responsibility for his atrocities.   God sovereignly decrees his conquest, but also holds him responsible for the sinful way he went about it.   In this same way, we cannot say, “it does not matter how I live, God will do what God will do.”  The doctrine of election is not fatalism.   It does not destroy the accountability of free moral agency that God has given to men.   We will be held accountable for our sin.  We cannot blame others.  And we certainly cannot say of God, “why does he still find fault?  For who can resist His will?”

Jeremiah called to the men of his day and us to repent.  “Turn now, every one of you, from [your] evil way and evil deeds… Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke [God] with the work of our [your] hands.”   When God declares our sin, it is not enough to merely ‘adult.’  No, it is time to take responsibility through confession, repentance, and faith. 

Join us this Lord’s Day, August 30 as we examine Jeremiah 25:1-14 and consider the call to take responsibility through confession and repentance. 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 Horrible Doctrine

In a recent study, Steven D. Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) discovered that people who decided to make major life decisions — quitting a job, getting engaged, getting divorced — were happier than those who took no action, and stuck with the status quo.  But what he also discovered was that, for many, the decision to shake up their lives was not the result of careful thought and deliberation. It was the result of a coin toss.   Would you decide to change jobs or relationships with a coin toss?  Or bet everything you have on the flip of a coin?

Most of us despise nothing more than for our success or failure, gain or loss, salvation or condemnation to be wholly dependent on others or, even worse, mere chance.   Despite its wretched theology, we tend to resonate with William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus as he rages, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”  Yet we don’t have to live very long to recognize the delusion in this mantra.  

We are not so free as we like to believe.  And fate and evolution, to which so many ascribe, are, indeed, horrible doctrines.  Outcomes ruled by nothing more than time and chance destroy all hope of meaning, purpose, and lasting significance.  But at least victimization at the hand of impersonal time and chance, gives us little room to legitimately complain of injustice.  All we can say is “these things happen.”

But what if the decision that ordains and decrees the outcome of our lives, both temporally and eternally is made by a personal, all-powerful God without reference to our foreseen merit or demerit or consideration of our favorable or unfavorable circumstances?   On the surface such an idea is repugnant.  Though he taught it, Calvin labeled this a Decretum Horribile, or “horrible doctrine.”  Yet, this is exactly what the Bible describes as it unfolds the doctrine of election, and its theological corollary, reprobation.   Biblical support for these doctrines is copious.  But perhaps no passage is clearer than Romans 9:10-23

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory

Romans 9:10-23

In the middle of Paul’s great exposition of grace, we find this “horrible doctrine.”  A doctrine which, in our pride, tempts us to accuse God of injustice, of being the author of sin, and of commanding apparently useless tasks such as evangelism or intercessory prayer.  In our hubris, 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.”  Every aspect of our lives is affected by the guilt and presence of sin.   “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)   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.  

In scripture, these doctrines are always proclaimed to offer us assurance, not fill us with hopeless dread.  Such is the case in Jeremiah 24.   As the long-threatened judgment begins to unfold.  Nebuchadnezzar captures and conquers the land of Judah.  God gives the prophet a vision of two baskets of figs.   Through this vision, God declares his intention to save and restore some but to judge and condemn others, giving hope to the hopeless and warning to the heedless.  

On what basis do you appeal to God for his mercy?  Is it your works?  Your circumstances?  Your piety?   Is it enough?   Or is your hope in something much more solid?  Only in the calling and election of God is there assurance.   Have you answered His call? 

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out….  this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:35-40

Join us this Lord’s Day, August 23 as we examine Jeremiah 24 and consider the doctrines of election and reprobation – doctrines of grace, not horrible doctrines. 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

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

Time for a Change

In our family, the Fourth of July ushers in the year’s second half with watermelon, a far-flung fireworks pilgrimage and, of course, home-made ice cream.  We usually gather with family and friends on the Fourth to share our best home-made ice cream and patriotic recitations, capped off by a reading of the Declaration of Independence.   While we are all familiar with the famous Jeffersonian platitudes on human equality and self-evident truths, the real meat of the Declaration is found in the “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” which required our forefathers to “declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The Declaration’s rationale and sense of compulsion is remarkable for its clarity.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The modern reader would do well to pay close attention to the “history of repeated abuses and usurpations” of the late King of England by which he abolished the free System of English Laws.  For the litany of his tyranny reads like it was ripped from today’s headlines.  The governmental overreach that drove our forefathers to pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to resist is met in our day with sighs of resignation.    The Achilles Heel of any Republic is that it may easily throw off one tyrant for a more corrupt collective tyrant.   As John Adams noted.

“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Our leaders are a reflection of “we, the people.”  Our rulers are not hereditary kings or vassals of some foreign power.   They are our vassals.  They reflect our interests and our character, good or bad.  In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln observed that we have a government, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”  But what kind of people are we? 

Nothing is more devastating to the life of a nation than for its people to live with their backs to God.   Every nation has some king.   While that king may not be a monarch on a throne, nations are ultimately governed by what its people seek to serve.   As Judah drew near to the brink of destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, the prophet Jeremiah’s calls to turn back to the Lord fell on deaf ears.  Like their forefathers in Samuel’s day, Israel had forgotten that the Lord is their only King. 

Israel’s kings were not dynastic.  They ruled by the assent of the people.  The people were not hapless victims of tyranny.  Their kings, like ours, reflected their concerns and character.  Though God had graciously given them a wise and godly ruler in Josiah, their loves and lives longed for the idolatry of Manasseh.   

As Jeremiah called them to turn back, they sighed, “It is hopeless, for [we] have loved [foreign gods], and after them [we] will go.”  When Josiah died, the people sought out his sons, who looked more like their great-grandfather, Manasseh, than their father.   Jeremiah noted that prophets, priests and rulers ruled by lies and deceit, because “my people love to have it so.” (Jeremiah 5:30)   

Today, our nation is awash in anarchist fervor.  The cry goes up to tear down and overthrow.  But the tyranny that grips us is not the tyranny of presidents, senators, representatives, judges, governors, mayors, or police.  No, the tyrant that rules our nation is “we, the people” living with our backs to a gracious and loving God.   We have sought every king except the King of Kings and served every lord except the Lord of Lords.  Jesus struck a nerve when he declared, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin… [but] if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:34-36

Who rules your heart?  Who reigns over your strength, mind, and soul?  Where do you look for deliverance and freedom?  In Jeremiah 21-23, the enemy is at the gates.  God’s judgment is at hand.   After forty years of resisting God’s call to repent, Judah’s king finally seeks an audience with the prophet.  Zedekiah vainly hopes for a miraculous deliverance as in the days of Hezekiah. 

But Jeremiah offers only the gospel.   He calls out the sins of Judah’s kings, calls the people to repent, and points them to a new king – a king of righteousness, justice and peace, King Jesus.   We are facing God’s judgement.   We cry out for some miraculous deliverance and God offers the gospel.  Repent, trust in His grace, and serve a new King.   It’s time for a change.  It’s time for new leadership.  It’s time for a new King – King Jesus.

Join us this week, August 9, as we examine Jeremiah 21-23 and consider what king we serve. 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 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

Lost and Found

Before we posted our souls on social media, we had bumper stickers.   Back in the day, the bumper was the place to vent malcontentment.  And those posts were indelible.   But now the younger generation has taken up the ancient mantle.   No minivan is complete without its stick family of 5 and twin soccer balls emblazoned with the children’s names.   And every hipster’s Subaru rear window has Nativ© headlining the Get-Out-There motif – a gallery, never complete without a quote from Tolkien — “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Indeed, not all wanderers are lost.  But many are.  And lost people want deeply to be found.   You don’t have to read too many castaway stories or play hide and seek with many small children to realize that lost people are consumed with being found – they just don’t always understand what that looks like.   The problem with being lost is that it is easy to be overlooked.   Lost people are notoriously hard to see and recognize.   How many lost hikers have heard the helicopters overhead and the calls of searchers long before they were found?   

Children learn early that it is easy to be overlooked.   When they play hide-and-seek they quickly grow impatient with lostness and hiddenness.  The real object of their game is not to be hidden, but to be found.    If not quickly discovered, they rustle the curtains or mimic wild animal noises from behind the couch.   Nothing is more terrifying than the thought that Daddy won’t find them and they will remain hidden and alone.   Lost people want deeply to be found.

But there is a lostness much more profound than the lostness of the castaway or the children’s game.   To be lost from the love, care, and comfort of our Creator – to be aliens and strangers to the God’s promises and, by nature, children of wrath is a lostness the Bible describes as “deepest darkness.”  When the Lord warned Adam, “you shall not eat [from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” He was speaking a death more crushing than mere physical death.   In his first sin, Adam plunged himself and us into spiritual lostness and ruin. 

The lost can feel the weight of their lostness, but cannot find any way to be found.    And when you are this lost, it is easy to believe that you will never be found.  Will anyone see us?  Will anyone recognize that we are lost?  Will anyone look for us?    Does anyone know where we are?  Will anyone care enough to come?  These are the questions that keep us awake.  We often speak of ‘finding ourselves,’ but only another – a rescuer — can find us when we are this lost.  

Zacchaeus – the wee little man – in Luke 19 was lost.   He tried to find himself in work and in wealth.  And, in both he was at the top of his game.   He was no mere tax collector, but the chief-tax collector.   He oversaw all tax collection in Jericho, a fabulously wealthy and progressive city.   And he was fabulously wealthy.   But it came at a cost.  Success cost him his identity and his integrity.   His name, Zacchaeus, meant “righteous one.” But his reputation was that of an odious sinner.   All he had gained was nothing compared to what he had lost.   He was lost and longed to be found.

Perhaps Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus.  That he was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”   The religious establishment had no place for Zacchaeus in their lives or their religion.   But maybe this Jesus would be different.    Casting aside all pretense at dignity, he sought a vantage point from the branches of a roadside Sycamore tree.   What kind of man was Jesus?  He had to see.  You might think at first glance that Luke 19 is a story about Zacchaeus looking for Jesus.  But it is actually quite the opposite.  It was Jesus who came to Jericho looking for Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus was unable to see Jesus because of the crowds and because of his size.  But Jesus knew exactly how to seek and find this wee little lost man.   Obstacles may obscure our view of Jesus, but are never unseen to Him.  He knows how to seek and to find us.   That was what He came to do.   In this story Jesus is only days from the cross, but he pauses to seek and find Zacchaeus.  Luke 19:1-10 is a remarkable story about the power of the gospel and the love of God for those who have wandered and are lost.  Join us this Lord’s Day, July 26 as we examine this passage and see how God’s love for us unfolds in the seeking and the saving of Zacchaeus. 

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

Beyond Repair

When something grips Noah’s interest, he is all in.  He reads everything he can find, then trolls Amazon for outlets to express his latest passion.   I know he is onto a new thing when he comes and asks, “Dad, what can I do to earn $30?”  I have learned to ask, “Noah what is it that you want?”  Then we will discuss the wisdom of this new pursuit and the merits and demerits of his particular choices.  And Noah never comes to me uninformed.  He has researched his pursuits very carefully.  He knows I will demand four or five compelling reasons to spend his, as yet unearned, money.

Not long ago, the passion du jour was a drone.  He studied the topic, scoured the offerings, and presented his business plan.  He worked tirelessly, performing some labor intensive and unpleasant jobs to earn the requisite $49.   I had a few misgivings, but decided to let him make the purchase.   For days Noah scanned the horizon for UPS trucks and closely monitored Amazon delivery notifications.  The day finally arrived and Noah immediately set about configuring his drone for adventure.  Within a day or two the not-so-robust-drone had endured more rough landings than its Chinese manufacturers had anticipated and it was beyond repair.  Even many hours with his clever older brother and more hard-earned replacement parts were not enough to restore the drone to active duty.   And so, to Noah’s great sadness, the drone sits, unusable and unrepairable – broken beyond restoration.  Nothing can be done, nothing can be salvaged.  It is destined for the trash.

But Noah’s sadness is nothing compared to the sorrow over lives that are broken beyond restoration.  Sin breaks our lives beyond restoration.   Sin breaks everything it touches.  We were made to have fellowship with God and with one another, yet every relational disaster in our lives is the result of sin.   We are tainted by it and so everything we touch is tainted by it.   And we cannot undo what we have done.   Sin breaks us beyond repair.   Unless the Lord remakes us by His grace, there is nothing that can be done, nothing that can be salvaged.  We are destined for the eternal dump, a place the Bible calls Hell.

When Jesus talked about Hell in the gospels, he used a word picture, familiar to His hearers.  He called it “Gehenna.”  Gehenna was the local land-fill, the trash dump, to the south of the city of Jerusalem.  It was the place where unrepaired things were carted and thrown out.   Jesus described hell, Gehenna, as the place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”   It was the picture of the trash dump, in which the decomposition of things thrown away produced extreme heat and a haven for worms.  Jesus’ vivid illustration of Hell emphasizes that sad truth that Hell is the place where men, broken by sin and unrepaired by grace, will experience the full measure of their brokenness forever.

The gate of the city that opened out toward this dump was the Potsherd Gate, sometimes called the Dung Gate.  It was at this gate that the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to go with the elders and the priests of the people to give them a vivid illustration of the hard truth that no one can weather the justice of God unless they turn back to Him and seek His mercy.    The Lord had become to the people of Judah, just one more god among gods in a mythic pantheon.   They denied his sovereignty and did not fear His judgment.  They were backslidden, living with their backs to the Lord.

They presumptuously trusted in the works of their own hands.   They thought that they could endure God’s anger over their sin.  How bad could it be?  He relented in the end?  Surely, we can wait out his anger.  Surely it will blow over.  They rationalized, presumed, and lived in denial.  They thought that whatever problem God had with them, they could fix it or simply ignore it.   But their generation was beyond repair.   Jeremiah’s sermon from the Potter’s House had reminded them of God’s sovereignty and his ability to reshape them, despite the fact that they were bad clay.  Jeremiah proclaimed God’s offer of 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

Even at this late hour God 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, 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

They rejected their only hope and continued to live with their backs to God.  What about you?  Have you lived with your back to God?  Are you unconcerned about his sovereign justice?   God offers us sovereign grace, but if we turn away from it, all that is left is sovereign judgement.   We should all be concerned.    Join us this Sunday, July 19, as we examine Jeremiah 19 and consider the dangers of living life with our backs to God. 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