Just men reading, memorizing and studying the bible together!

Alternate Plans
Bible Order: Ezekiel 1–3
Old Testament Only: Psalms 85–88
New Testament Only: 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5
(Current Plan is Chronological)

On The Willow

Jeremiah 51, Psalm 137

Willow TreeI know I’ve written about this before but Psalm 137 reminds me of the play “Godspell”. I performed in that play as a freshman in High School. There is a song in that play entitled “On the Willows” and it uses as its chorus the following verses from this Psalm.

Psalm 137:2-3 ESV

“[2] On the willows there we hung up our lyres. [3] For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’”

Now at first I wasn’t really sure how this psalm related to the story of Jesus as it was used in the play. It is sung as the Last Supper is acted out. I don’t know if I’ve figured out the writer’s intent, but I think I do see a connection. This psalm was written about the Babylonian exile. Babylon is an analogy for the World; it takes us away from God and keeps us distracted from Him; a kind of self-imposed exile. Jerusalem is an analogy for Heaven; that is to say living in God’s presence. The following verse is also in the Godspell song.

Psalm 137:4 ESV

“How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?”

Indeed, how can one be happy enough to sing a joyful song when separated from God? Now it is important to remember that the Israelites held in captivity in Babylon are not analogous to the Lost, but rather to the Saved. This is a story about what happens to a Christian who loses his focus on God; when we let the World distract us from whose we are. Living like, and focusing on, the World robs us of our joy. It is very hard to sing a joyful song to the Lord when we are so far from Him.

The connection between these verses in Psalms and the Last Supper as used in Godspell is the disconnection that was about to happen as Christ went to the cross. The Disciples were about to be separated from Jesus for a time. The song “On the Willows” is a song about loss; about separation. Like the psalm from which the lyrics come, it is a song about joy lost.

The Lost are without hope, but while they may hurt because of their separation from God, they are by and large ignorant of their condition. The Saved are the ones whose hearts truly ache when they lose their focus, for with the Holy Spirit residing within us, our separation becomes unbearable. We once knew joy due to our closeness with God at the time we submitted our life to Christ. As the cares of the World have dragged our focus away from God, that joy has diminished. The good news is there is nothing we can do to lose our salvation, but why would we choose to live our new life in Christ so far from Him? It doesn’t make any sense does it? Brother, if you want to reclaim the joy you have in Christ, refocus your life on Christ. Don’t let the World continue to distract you. Remember that Christ is the vine and you are the branch; apart from Him you can do nothing.

Have a blessed day!

Your brother and servant in Christ,

Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

Alternate Plans
Bible Order: Lamentations 1–5
Old Testament Only: Psalms 82–84
New Testament Only: 1 Corinthians 1:1–17
(Current Plan is Chronological)

Evil Used For Good

Jeremiah 49-50

Jesus on the CrossWell, we are wrapping up Jeremiah. We still have a couple more chapters to read after today’s reading but we are close. I don’t mean to sound like I’m tired of Jeremiah but I’m kind of tired of Jeremiah. The message seems to be the same to everyone and after a few versions of the same message you kind of feel like you get the point. Perhaps, however, there is a greater point than simply conveying a message of doom for those who reject God. Here at the end of book we hear prophecies for specific kingdoms of the day. Each of these prophecies came to pass; at least those that did not address the end times.

The instrument for much of the destruction prophesied in this book is accomplished by the nation of Babylon. This was a brutal, bloody, evil nation and yet God used them to distribute judgment. Of course this doesn’t mean that Babylon gets a pass. In today’s reading we find a prophecy concerning the coming judgment for Babylon.

Jeremiah 50:6-10 ESV

[6] “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. [7] All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, ‘We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the LORD, their habitation of righteousness, the LORD, the hope of their fathers.’ [8] Flee from the midst of Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as male goats before the flock. [9] For behold, I am stirring up and bringing against Babylon a gathering of great nations, from the north country. And they shall array themselves against her. From there she shall be taken. Their arrows are like a skilled warrior who does not return empty-handed. [10] Chaldea shall be plundered; all who plunder her shall be sated, declares the LORD.”

I chose this passage to illustrate that doom was prophesied for Babylon because it also illustrates how God felt about His people whom He had to discipline. Just because God used Babylon to discipline His children does not mean that He condoned Babylon’s brutality or that they would escape punishment. In a similar way God is using Satan and his demons to discipline the world. He is cleansing for Himself a remnant of humanity just as he cleansed for Himself a remnant of the people of Judah. Many will be destroyed in the process and those who God used to discipline His children will find themselves punished in the end. Just like Babylon was allowed to maul the Middle East so that God’s purpose would be accomplished, so too Satan and his minions have been allowed to maul humanity.

God is accomplishing His purpose even in the midst of evil. He takes responsibility for His creation so it may seem that God caused Babylon to do evil. I think there is a big difference between causing something to happen and allowing something to happen. God does not cause evil, but He does use the evil that others do to accomplish His purpose. Aren’t you glad God used the evil done to Jesus to save you?

Have a blessed day!

Your brother and servant in Christ,

Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

Alternate Plans
Bible Order: Jeremiah 52
Old Testament Only: Psalms 79–81
New Testament Only: Romans 16
(Current Plan is Chronological)

Real Encouragement

Jeremiah 45-48

Jesus saves Peter on waterWe live in troubled times. I imagine every generation thought that to be true. There have been many mighty nations that have come and gone. They would rise to world prominence and sometimes even world dominance – or at least dominance over a big portion of the world. In every instance of a nation becoming a dominant power, that power is eventually lost. Sometimes those powers were wiped away completely and sometimes they were simply reduced to a second rate or even third rate nation. The Greeks, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Romans, and the British all conquered major territories only to lose almost everything. The Greeks continue to exist as a nation, and the British do as well; each in a much diminished capacity.

Russia took territory after the Second World War and today it has lost almost all of it; though the current tyrant seems hell-bent on gobbling it all back up again. America has been a world power for maybe 100 years or so. I for one don’t view America’s rise to power as something that came about by conquest, though some may feel otherwise seeing as how prior to European colonization the land that became America was populated by people whom we call “Native Americans”. I view this differently because we didn’t become a world power until after we stretched from coast to coast.

However we got here, I fear our time is limited. Every great power has fallen and it has fallen because it got away from what made it a power in the first place. Inevitably the people of these nations became indolent, perverted, and decadent. Their culture and their shared morality declined to such a state that they no longer had what it took to maintain their power. Now some of the powers listed above were evil from their inception so they didn’t have far to go in terms of moral decline, but America started at a very high level of moral clarity and rectitude. We had a much larger distance to travel to hit the bottom of the gutter. Still, it seems we’ve made the journey in record time.

Our culture is morally bankrupt. Our leadership is morally bankrupt. We have moved from a nation that believed in personal responsibility to believing in getting something for nothing. Mainstream thought in America today turns morality upside down claiming right is wrong and wrong is right. Our elected officials pass laws to advance the wellbeing of their supporters over that of everyone else. We’ve become a nation of “pay to play”. If you don’t pay the politician for special treatment you will find yourself the victim of those who did.

We took a system that worked and turned it into dysfunction. Looking outside our boarders the world is coming apart at the seams and it seems this is happening because America has abdicated its leadership role in the world, creating a vacuum into which the most unsavory, and frankly downright evil, characters have rampaged. America suffers from this moral decline and as a result the rest of the world suffers as well.

Have I thoroughly depressed you? I don’t see how I could be the cause of your depression as I’m sure you already knew all of this without my telling you. No, I bring this up in order to give you hope. You see at the beginning of today’s passage we read about a message God gave to Baruch through Jeremiah. Baruch was Jeremiah’s assistant. It was he who wrote down what Jeremiah prophesied. It was he who took messages back and forth for Jeremiah. It was he who served Jeremiah through thick and thin. It was he who would follow Jeremiah into exile in Egypt.

Baruch lived in troubled times. If you think we have it bad now, you must think Baruch was living a nightmare. And you’d be right. He cried out in sorrow and God heard him. This is what instigated God’s message to Baruch.

Jeremiah 45:4-5 ESV

“[4] Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. [5] And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.”

The world in general, and America specifically, is falling apart. It is falling apart because of the innumerable self-centered, evil choices we have made. The world has chosen separation from God and it is suffering because of its choice. Do you seek great things for yourself in the midst of this turmoil? The Lord your God has given you the greatest gift of all, eternal life. If you want a life in this world without trouble, strife, and worry, you have unreasonable expectations.

Believe it or not, what God said to Baruch was an encouragement. Trouble would come but God would sustain him through it. Brother, Jesus Christ made the same promise to His followers. He told us we would have trouble in this life. The good news is that we will come through it with Him at our side and with our eternal life secured. This is our encouragement. We will not be encouraged by a world that is suddenly peaceful and plentiful. It won’t happen. We can be encouraged by the promises of our Savior if we rid ourselves of unrealistic expectations and focus on Him. Don’t let the sad state of this world and our nation get you down. This has happened before and yet the followers of Christ still have Him and have eternity. That really is all you need.

Have a blessed day!

Your brother and servant in Christ,

Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

Alternate Plans
Bible Order: Jeremiah 50–51
Old Testament Only: Psalms 77–78
New Testament Only: Romans 15:14–33
(Current Plan is Chronological)

Pride

Obadiah, Psalms 82; 83

The Treasury of Petra, a city of Edom.

The Treasury of Petra, a city of Edom.

The book of Obadiah is the shortest in all of the Old Testament. It is only one chapter long. It foretells of coming destruction of Edom. This area has been identified in the Bible by several names; Edom, Seir, Hor, and Esau. This is the area where Jacob’s brother Esau took up residence and where his descendants continued to live. It is located to the southeast of Israel, across the Jordan River in what is today called Jordan. It is a mountainous, rocky place. Many caravans traveled through this area as it was as major North to South highway. The Edomites were able to charge tolls for passage through their territory and the geology of the place made it easy to defend. They must have felt very secure in their mountain fortress as the rest of the world fell to the many warring nations over the centuries.

The book of Obadiah tells us that Edom was being punished for the sin of pride. Perhaps its pride came from its strong defensive position; it seemingly couldn’t be conquered by outside forces. When we feel we are in a strong position we tend to think we don’t need God. We have confidence in ourselves and God is at best an afterthought. To the modern American pride doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but pride is the very sin that led to Satan being cast out of Heaven as related to us by the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 14:14 ESV

“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

It was also pride that led all of humanity and creation to fall. Adam and Eve both wanted to be like the Most High. This is why they ate of the forbidden fruit. They wanted to be their own god. I view pride as another word for self-centeredness. This is the greatest sin, for from it all other sins find their root. Now it may not seem like pride when we fail to seek God in matters concerning our family life, our business, our health, or any other area of our life. It seems we seek God only after we’ve tried to take care of things in our own power and everything is crashing down around us. Is that not also pride? Praying for God’s guidance, and for His will to be done in every aspect of life, puts Him on the throne of our life. Going off on our own, puts us on that throne.

Brother, you need to stop trying to be God. It is an exhausting job and frankly you just aren’t up to it. It is also exhausting and discouraging to even attempt the job. What do they say – let go and let God? Don’t get me wrong, we always have our part to play. I’m not suggesting that we just sit around waiting for God to magically put food on our plate and heal our ailments. All I’m saying is this; the time to seek God’s guidance on what you should do is before you do it, not after you mess it up. Let go of your pride.

Have a blessed day!

Your brother and servant in Christ,

Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

Alternate Plans
Bible Order: Jeremiah 48–49
Old Testament Only: Psalms 73–76
New Testament Only: Romans 14:13–15:13
(Current Plan is Chronological)

Seek And Do God’s Will

Jeremiah 41-44

MazeYou know it is easy to proclaim our desire to know and do God’s will. It is easy until we actually hear that God’s will is opposed to our own. “Oh Lord tell me what you would have me do.” And then when we hear what He asks of us, we say “That can’t be right.” For some reason we assume that God’s will and our will are one and the same. When we find out God’s will differs from our own, we are faced with a crisis of belief. Our response to His will says more about what we believe than does our request to know His will. In today’s reading we see a case in point.

Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, killed Gedaliah whom the Babylonians had made governor of Judah. This murderer also took captive many of his own people and was in the process of taking them over to the Ammonites when Johanan came against him with an army. Like most murderers Ishmael was a coward. He ran away and in so doing released all of his prisoners. This little group, however, was afraid of the eventual repercussions of Ishmael’s act. They were afraid the Babylonians would come and kill them all because of Ishmael’s treachery. In their human wisdom they thought it would be best to run away to Egypt. They showed some wisdom in wishing to hear what God had to say in the matter and so went to Jeremiah to get the good word.

Jeremiah 42:1-6 ESV

“[1] Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near [2] and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the LORD your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us—[3] that the LORD your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” [4] Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to the LORD your God according to your request, and whatever the LORD answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” [5] Then they said to Jeremiah, ‘May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the LORD your God sends you to us. [6] Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.’”

They have done and said all the right things here haven’t they? They want to know the Lords will. They promise to obey whatever the Lord tells them to do. Well God gave Jeremiah the word and the word was that if they would stay in the land God would build them up and that He would relent of the disaster that had so far befallen them. He also said that if they did not obey Him and ran off to Egypt, they would die there by sword, by famine, and by pestilence; there would be no survivor. Sounds like an easy choice to make doesn’t it? Did they follow through on their promise to do what God commanded of them through Jeremiah?

Jeremiah 43:2-4 ESV

“[2] Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The LORD our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ [3] but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” [4] So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the LORD, to remain in the land of Judah.”

Nope. They went to Egypt. Now why ask for direction if you are not willing to follow those directions? Boy we can be very pious when we think God will answer us the way we want Him to, but the moment we hear something we don’t like, we refuse to believe it is from God. We sometimes want God to “rubber stamp”, to automatically approve of, our own plans. Who is really God in this situation? If we are free to disregard what God commands is He really our Lord? If we feel free to ignore the leading of God are we not saying that we are the ultimate authority in our life?

The challenge in this scenario is that God wants what is best for His children. If He tells us to do something it is ultimately for our best. In this case God told them good would happen if they stayed and bad would happen if they left, but they were so convinced that staying would be a disaster that they would not listen to what God did have to say. Isn’t that the same reason you and I fail to listen to what God has to say to us? Don’t we often come to God with our mind already made up? In such cases we are not looking for guidance but approval of our own plan. This is far more foolish than not seeking God’s will to begin with. At least if you don’t seek God’s will you aren’t putting yourself in position to disobey.

This brings me to the question as to why we seek God’s will in the first place. It is extremely wise to seek God’s will for our life every step of the way. We seek His will because we trust that He wants what is best for us. We don’t do what He asks us to do, however, because our trust is not very deep; we trust our own wisdom more than His. We truly endanger ourselves when we don’t seek His will, and we multiply that danger when we refuse to do what He asks. So brother, the lesson here is seek God’s will and then do God’s will; anything else will only lead to disaster.

Have a blessed day!

Your brother and servant in Christ,

Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

Alternate Plans
Bible Order: Jeremiah 43–47
Old Testament Only: Psalms 70–72
New Testament Only: Romans 13:8–14:12
(Current Plan is Chronological)

Details

2 Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles 36:1-21, Jeremiah 52

PlansGod had many just reasons to punish the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel. The greatest of their offenses was to worship man-made gods, but this was just one of many ways in which they turned their backs on God. They ignored the prophets God sent to them. They ignored temple worship. They ignored the sacrificial system designed to cover their sins. They even ignored God’s requirement that they give the land a Sabbath. In fact, it seems that for 490 years they neglected to observe the Sabbath year for the land.

Leviticus 25:1-5 ESV

“[1] The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, [2] “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. [3] For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, [4] but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. [5] You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.”

Today modern farming science knows that we do indeed need to give the land a rest from time to time. God’s laws are not given simply to force people to jump through a bunch of unnecessary hoops. His laws are given for our own wellbeing. We ignore His laws at our own peril. When you consider all of the laws the people ignored, you’d think this one would be rather minor, and yet this abuse of God’s law is mentioned in today’s reading and in fact it is factored into God’s punishment of Judah.

2 Chronicles 36:19-21 ESV

“[19] And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. [20] He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, [21] to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”

Here God mentions that the people of Judah would remain in exile long enough to allow the land to “catch up” on the missed Sabbath years. A Sabbath year is every seventh year. Seven times 70, the number of years of the exile, equals 490 years. Not only is God using the exile to preserve a remnant of Israel for Himself, but He is using it to restore the soil of the Promised Land as well. Let me tell you, the plans of men are nothing compared to the plans of God. He has not only the big picture well in hand, He also has absolute control of the details as well. Whatever is going on in your life brother, God has a plan for you and He has control of the big picture and the little details. He will see you through if you will only continue to seek Him with all your heart.

Have a blessed day!

Your brother and servant in Christ,

Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!