Peeking At Pastor’s Mail

Episode 30

I Timothy

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We’re shifting gears a bit in our Survey as we transition from Paul’s letters to Churches to his 4 letters to individuals. Those are the two letters to Timothy, the one to Titus and one to Philemon of the Church in Colossae.  Together, they are known in Theological Circles as the ‘Pastoral Epistles’. That’s because here, Paul is writing as an older Pastor to his younger protégés.

From a 60k foot level the books, especially those to Timothy and Titus deal with how to lead a ministry and how to develop future leaders.

If you could sneak a peek at your Pastor’s mail or e-mail, would you? In a sense, that’s what these ‘Pastoral Epistles’ are. They are very personal glimpses into the lives and ministries of Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Paul. And they are quite insightful.

Frankly, they can be a bit difficult for 21st century minds because there are several topics that run counter to modern cultural understanding and can frustrate those who are new believers or aren’t yet deeply committed to the authority of scripture. For that reason, I don’t recommend Timothy and Titus as letters to read early in your plan. In fact, in future editions of my reading plan, I think I’m going to move Timothy and Titus to right before Romans, Jude and Revelation. That’s not because there is anything wrong with or in those letters, but they are written specifically to mature leaders and contain some material that requires extra discernment.

I hope that makes sense, but if not, email me your questions, or use the comments section of the show notes and I’ll be glad to try and clear things up for you.

The letters to Timothy and Titus are among the last that Paul wrote before his execution at the hands of Nero.  It looks like the precise order of these letters may be Philemon, 1 Timothy, Titus, 2nd Timothy.  They are grouped roughly according to length in the New Testament.

So, let’s move from an overview of this section and look a little closer at First Timothy.

From as early as I can remember, Timothy was my New Testament hero. Sure, I loved Peter, John and Paul, but Timothy was the guy I most related to. Primarily, that was because of his youth.  I would guess young pastors everywhere have a special soft spot for Timothy.

Timothy is from the Galatian City of Lystra. His mother is a Jew, his Dad is a gentile. His mother and grandmother are believers, but Dad does not appear to be. Sound familiar?

We read about Timothy joining Paul and Silas in chapter 16 of Acts. Timothy stands in stark contrast to Mark, who went with Paul and Barnabas on their travels, but got homesick and went back. Timothy, however, stays the course and becomes one of Paul’s greatest understudies.

Don’t let the obvious contrast between Timothy and Mark lead you to hasty conclusions, as we’ll see next week, both stories have happy endings. One merely got off to a better start than the other.

Every Timothy needs a Paul.  Someone older and experienced to help keep him grounded and focused. It’s easy to chafe against it, because we want to run off and slay dragons, but we are wise if we follow Timothy’s example and find a mentor.

I was no exception. I am, by nature, extremely independent and strong willed. It’s a wonderful trait and a dangerous one. I was fortunate to have a number of Paul’s in my young days as a Pastor in ministry.

Dad taught me how to be a man, Wayne Smith taught me how to love preaching and live with integrity, Woody Phillips taught me how to be a missionary rather than an American abroad, Alex Barr taught me how to be a Pastor rather than a clergyman, Dale McCann taught me how to preach with the end in mind rather than merely being an orator and how to love the Church in hard times as well as good.  There were others, but, like Timothy and Paul and Silas, there is wisdom in multiplying teachers.

Now that I am older, I am eager to be Paul and Silas to young Timothies, but we’ll talk more about that next week.

Back to the letter. The first chapter of first Timothy is dedicated to Paul encouraging Timothy to remain strong doctrinally and morally in the face of widespread hypocrisy and false teaching.  Our standing, like our salvation, is not based on our talent or training, but by grace.

Paul begins Chapter 2 by reminding Timothy to be a man of prayer, regardless of political views. This is a hard and mission critical teaching.  It’s well worth an episode all its own, and one day we’ll do that, but for now let’s just remember that God doesn’t take sides in Political debate. God looks on the heart.

From there, he gives some instructions on gender behavior and gender roles. This is one of those places that grates on a 21st century view of gender distinctions.  When we are able to spend a few weeks studying this letter we’ll dive more deeply, for now, it’s important to note that Paul does not hate women and he does not downplay the role of women in the Church. In fact, there are many places he commends brave, strong women for their efforts in the kingdom. He does, however, say that just like all humans carry a burden from the fall of Adam and Eve, women have a specific role and secondary leadership place in the church, but a primary one in the home via ‘childbirth’.

Chapter 3 details what are called the qualifications for Elders and deacons. These guidelines are primarily a reminder that we shouldn’t advance or promote just any one into leadership, because leadership in a local Church is a serious responsibility. This again, deserves at least one episode of its very own because it is misinterpreted by many congregations on many levels.  For now, let’s leave it with the fact that leaders need to take their walk with Christ and their relationships within and without the Church seriously. The world is watching and our behavior is our witness.

Chapter 4 is interesting because Paul zeroes in on what happens if we don’t choose our leaders wisely.  We will have all kinds of false teachers. Some will be crazy legalistic, while others will be extremely immoral, while others will just make up doctrines. Timothy is advised to stay strong morally and doctrinally despite the fact that some will reject him because of his youth.

In Chapter 5, Paul gives Timothy some exceptional advice on how to deal with other people, both men and women.  The easy part is treating younger men as brothers.  When it comes to younger women, Paul not only tells Timothy to treat them as sisters, but adds, with all purity.

He also gives some specifics on older men and widows. It’s really interesting and again, deserves it’s own episode. The widow part is particularly insightful. There is no hint that the state should look after the elderly. It is first the responsibility of the family, then the responsibility of the Church. I am convinced that this, and other scriptures show the error of modern teachings on Social Justice.  I want to stay here a while, but we can’t. Let me just say that here in 1 Timothy, Paul teaches personal responsibility and gracious mercy.

Paul finishes this first letter with wise counsel regarding ministry and money. How many Pastors, heck, how many people, have allowed the desire for money to get in the way of effective living and ministry.

Interestingly, the Bible has more to say about money than almost any other topic, including heaven and hell. Hmmm…

He warns about the pitfalls of great wealth as well as the temptation of craving great wealth. The key verse in all this is ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’

We often hear criticism of certain famous preachers and their riches. Sometimes those are well deserved, while they are often exaggerated.  Most preachers are NOT overpaid and often struggle to make ends meet. Especially young ones. The temptation to crumble under the weight of that pressure is intense. Paul offers very sound advice to Timothy…and to us.

The letter ends rather abruptly at this point, which suggests to me that Paul always intended to write another one.  We’ll look at that one next time.

For now, that’s all I got.

 

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Why I’m Looking Forward To ‘The Jesus Centered Bible’. Say What?

Jesus Centered Bible
Jesus Centered Bible

Are you a podcast lover? I sure am. Some people listen to podcasts during their daily commutes to work. I listen to them while I’m doing farm chores in the morning. There is nothing like listening to something uplifting and inspiring while carrying buckets of water or hay bales to start your day.

On Monday, while feeding the rabbits, I was listening to ‘The Church Boys’ and heard an interview with Rick Lawrence of Group Publishing concerning the recent release of a project called, ‘The Jesus Centered Bible’.  I got so excited about the interview that I nearly forgot to feed the cows.

Anyone who ever went through one of my ‘Route 66’ classes will likely remember our Old Testament Survey was called, “Jesus in the Old Testament” and we searched for prophesies and promises concerning Jesus and the gospel in each Old Testament book.

Just a few weeks back, in a ‘(Re)Discovering the Bible‘ class, I shared that the key to reading and understanding the Old Testament was to ‘look for Jesus in every book’.

Looking for Jesus is exactly what the Jesus Centered Bible is all about. In addition to notes and insets with interesting information, The JCB has highlighted in blue more than 600 OT passages that speak of Jesus.

I can’t tell you how excited this project makes me. Ok, to be fair, I’m a little jealous that I didn’t think of it, especially since I’ve been teaching the concept for years and have multiple Bibles in my library, already marked up with prophecies and references to the Messiah, but I’m so happy someone has taken the time to develop this very special study Bible.

Currently, it is only available in The New Living Translation, but that is not a bad thing, as the NLT is a fine, trustworthy, easy to read version. It is not yet available for Kindle or as an app, or even paperback. As far as I can tell, you can get it in hardback or imitation leather.

I can’t give a detailed review or a thumbs up/down, because I haven’t received my copy yet. I ordered a hardback for $19.95 from Amazon. That’s neither a bargain nor is it price gouging. The price seems to be reasonable for all the information advertised.

My copy is scheduled to arrive on Friday of this week. After I’ve had a chance to go through it, I’ll offer a final opinion, but this is a 9 (only misses being a 10 because NLT is not my favorite translation) on my anticipation scale.

It has long been my goal to teach people to love and understand the Old Testament by showing that just like the New Testament; the old covenant was all about Jesus. He is the central figure of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.

If you’re looking for your own copy, check with your local bookstore, search for it on christianbook.com , or do like I did, and order off of Amazon.

Five Surprising Things Farming Has Taught Me About God’s Relationship With Us

old-stone-barnFarming is one of the great joys in my life. I never ceased to be amazed at how much can be done, or how much work there is to do, even on just the few acres we have. Often, it is not the idyllic life I once imagined in my farm fantasies, but I still love it.

For example; vacations are things other people take. It’s very rare that my wife and I can go anywhere exotic or romantic together for more than a day.  Someone has to be there for the garden and animals.

Also, the myth of the rich farmer is just that, a myth. Money is always tight, except when it’s not there at all. Yes, we have many things money can’t ever buy, like beautiful sunsets over our front pastures where Brittan and I can sit side by side in our rocking chairs, sipping iced tea, enjoying the animals romping together in the fading light as the sun slips over the horizon. Those stuck in commuter traffic rarely get to take time for such pleasures. Still, gorgeous views don’t pay the electric bill.

Did you know that it’s possible to get sick of zucchini? Are you aware that a human can only eat fresh chicken or lettuce or green beans so many days in a row before we begin to crave something really unnatural, like Krispy Kreme donuts or Dairy Queen?

When I used to dream about having a farm, and imagine the infinite joy it would bring, I never once considered weeds, or how stubborn and prolific they could be. I only saw rows of corn and bushels of strawberries.

Yes, farming is sometimes just plain hard. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. How could I ever measure the joy of listening to roosters singing their morning songs as I wander out to begin my day? How could I describe how much better it is to watch a flock of geese on their seasonal commutes than to watch the cars and trucks on I-75 in theirs? How could I ever compare sitting on our deck staring agape at the multitude of stars in the Milky Way lighting up the night sky to the street lights and headlamps of city living?

I think, though, that some of the things I love best about farm life are the lessons I’ve learned about God and His incredible relationship with us. There are far too many to count, but with your indulgence, I want to share five of them

  1. It’s Messy. If farming is anything, it’s messy. For one thing, there is poop everywhere. Cows poop.  Chickens poop. Pigs poop. Rabbits, turkeys, quail, goats and donkeys all poop. Everything that hath breath goes number 2. It smells bad and, like Visa, it’s everywhere you want to be.

Where there’s not manure, there’s mud. At certain times of the year mud is a fashion style and a food group. Then, just when you think things are starting to dry out, a water line bursts somewhere and you’re up to your waste in mud again, trying to mend the pipe.

I suspect that’s how God must feel about us, sometimes. We make messes everywhere, all the time. The stink must be awful and He must have one heck of a set of chest waders. Yet His love for us looks past our stench and our stains and He wallows in the sheer joy of fellowship with us.

Each morning, when I head out back to feed the pigs, they surround me. There are four of them. Each one has done their best to out mud the other three. As I pour some soaked feed into their trough, they take turns rubbing their snouts all over my legs. It’s their way of saying good morning. By the time I’ve finished with them, my entire lower body is covered in Georgia clay and snot. But I am still compelled to take time with each pig, scratching behind their ears and along their backs. They wiggle with delight and smile up at me, hog jowls dripping with swill.

I can’t help but think how God delights in our special moments with Him, despite the sheer volume of grime we get on Him.

  1. It’s Emotionally Draining. There is great joy in seeing a pantry filled with freshly canned produce, a freezer filled with meat for the winter, or a garden ripe and ready for harvest. There is also enormous satisfaction in watching a pasture full of baby goats or calves suckling on their mothers or chasing each other around the farm at sunset. Yes, those are pleasure that silence the pain, but I assure you there are many hard days and tearful nights leading up to those happy endings.

It is extremely frustrating to walk out to feed your chickens only to find thirty carcasses scattered around the field, having been tortured and mauled by neighborhood pets, a weasel or some other ambassador of terror. You can almost feel the fear in the survivors, and even emanating from the corpses of the dead.

After waiting anxiously for a doe goat to get through her pregnancy, it is draining to sit with her as she struggles for hours with babies turned wrong or underdeveloped only to have three born dead. Your heart breaks for her, and for the money you will not be getting from the sale of those kids that was going to pay for seed for the garden.

It is almost impossible to describe the anguish of coming home from Church to discover your future milk or beef cow, down in the pasture unable to rise because of some disease or attack.

There is a real sense of shock and awe in stepping out of your house only to discover that in the night, something has gotten into the garden you’ve tended to for months and have devastated it. Seeing the tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans and squash all eaten to the ground can truly create a sense of loss and hopelessness.

Birth and death, disease and health, Joy and heartache, abundance and famine are all a part of the farmer’s life. And it can be exhausting. I just can’t help but think about how emotionally draining we can be for our Heavenly Father. We read in the Bible about God ‘inhabiting’ the praises of His People. In Luke 15 we read all about the joy of lost sheep found, lost coins discovered, and lost sons coming home. The same Bible tells us how human sin caused our loving God to ‘repent’ of ever making the Human race. During the Israeli’s 40 years in the wilderness there were times God told Moses to stand aside so He could wipe out the people. We are an exhausting species.

  1. No Matter How Much He Gives, We’re Never Satisfied. When I go out in the mornings to feed, usually just before 7, the chickens and rabbits are already at the gate awaiting their breakfast. Sometimes they risk life and limb by jumping into the yard to escort me to be barn. We have two collies in the yard that have a real taste for fresh chicken and rabbit, but the thought of food drives all fear from the hearts of my birds. That, and the fact they have brains the size of salted in the shell peanuts.

By the time I’ve gotten to the barn, the pigs are climbing on the gate, and each other, unable to wait 4 more minutes for their grub.  Even the cows will come running straight for me if they catch sight of a bucket in my hands.

When I return an hour or so later to top up their water, all the animals are begging for more food. This is despite the fact that I have never missed a day of feeding them, or that they have an entire farm full of edible pasture available to them 24/7. The simple fact is, they are never satisfied. They always want more.

Aren’t we that way with God? Regardless of how much or how frequently He provides for and blesses me, I always want more. I cry and whine and complain like a hungry boar hog. If he gives me shoes, I want boots. If he gives me a shirt, I complain that I wanted a suit. If He gives me potatoes, I whine that I have no gravy.  I have so very much, but greed drives my appetite, begging for more, more, more. Dear God, have mercy on me.

  1. When We Run To Him, It Gives Him Pleasure. This morning, after giving some hay to the cows and filling their water tank, as I turned to head in for some coffee, two things caught my eye. First, the sun had risen over the house creating a magical scene as its light sparkled in reflection off the dewy pasture. My heart leapt inside my chest. At that very instant, the second sight stopped me in my tracks as Lady, one of our two collies, came flying through the gate running across the field towards me as fast as her legs would carry her. She ran to me, jumped up on me and showered me with kisses before dropping like a stone to the ground so I could rub her belly. Needless to say, I was grinning from ear to ear as I gladly obliged her and fulfilled her wishes.

Anytime I step into the back pastures where the chickens hang out, they come running to me as fast as their little legs will carry them. They waddle and wiggle all at the same time. I have seen this same sight multiple times a day for 6 years, and it makes me smile every time.

God wants to be in a relationship with us, and when we run, or waddle, towards Him, it makes Him smile. He is no absentee Father, He is among us, enjoying our adoration and our company. We make him Happy. Our fellowship gives Him Joy.

  1. Our Needs Are More Important Than His Pain. Farming is not for the faint of heart or self-centered soul. My wife and I have crawled out of bed with fevers, injuries, colds, flus, headaches that would drop a bull moose in his tracks, and more, for no other reason that there are things that MUST be done.

Last week, I injured my foot and it resulted in the agony of Turf Toe. I could not begin to describe the pain associated with Turf Toe (tearing of the ligaments in the knuckle of the Big Toe.  It feels just like gout and lasts two to three weeks with proper care. There is no proper care in farming. Period. I’ve had fever, body aches and much pain from the injury. I would gladly cut off the toe to stop the pain, but I do the chores regardless, because they need to be done. I’ve known farmers who go to work despite crushed discs, pulled muscles, pneumonia, broken limbs, or even cancer, for no other reason that it needs to be done.

Yesterday, I stepped in a hole, twisting my ankle on the already swollen, aching foot, adding insult to injury. With each step the pain grew in intensity and walking became more and more difficult. I wanted to sit down and have a good cry, then take the rest of the day off. But I didn’t. I am not particularly noble, or brave or strong. The simple reality is, the animals and garden need cared for regardless of my comfort. Their needs are far more important than my pan.

Today, as I grunted and hobbled through throbbing toe and ankle during my chores, it dawned on me that in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, God truly demonstrated that our need for a savior was more important to Him than His own pain. God’s very Son took beatings, endured scorn, carried a cross and bore the agony of the nails all because our need was greater that His pain. By comparison, I have endured nothing.

I love farming. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth whatever I’ve sacrificed. It gives me more back than I ever put in; but more than anything, what I love about farming is how it’s revealed to me just how much the Great God of the Universe loves me. By the way, He loves you, too.

 

Why I No Longer Call Myself A Conservative

Image result for labels imagesLabels; I have never been very fond of them, especially politically charged ones.  I’m not a rebel, but I also don’t like to be pigeon holed.  In our current political atmosphere, labels and stereotypes have become synonyms and they alienate half the country.

The simple truth is, while I have very strong political views, my faith has led me to depoliticize, at least publicly. I am a Christ Follower, and as such, my faith drives my views issue by issue and point by point. On some issues, I fall cleanly in the Conservative camp. In others, I align more with liberals, and in still others, I find myself identifying with a Libertarian position.  There are times, too, that I can’t support any of the traditional viewpoints.

Just as I have renounced the label, ‘Conservative’, politically, I reject it, theologically, also. As far as I can tell from the Bible, which is my source for doctrine and practice, there are not multiple brands, flavors, levels, streams, or camps in Christ’s Kingdom. There is ‘in’ and there is, ‘not in.’

Labels like, Conservative, Liberal, Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical Left, are polarizing and divisive. Besides, I can’t find them in the Bible.

The two driving forces in my life are A. The Pursuit of those far from God (regardless of age, nationality, race, language, or gender) with the hope and love of Jesus, and B. The unity of all Believers in Christ.

Based on Jesus’ prayer in John Chapter 17, the fulfillment of B. will promote A.  “If those who believe in me are united, then the world will know that You sent me (verse 21).”

To the best of my ability, the Bible drives everything I believe.  I interpret my experiences by the Bible, rather than interpreting the Bible in light of my experiences. Sometimes, the Bible makes me appear liberal and other times I look pretty much like a fundamentalist. What I want to look like is, Jesus.

One of my favorite scriptures is Acts 4:13, ‘when they saw the courage of Peter and John and that they were just ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus’.  My heart’s desire is that people would say that of me.

At the end of the day, I want to be known as Christian. It is a perfectly good name. Some have worn the title with honor, some have shamed it.  It is not my religion. I’m not particularly fond of religion. It is my identity.  It’s who I am. It’s Whose I am.  And it’s label enough for me.

Why The Command To Love Your Neighbor As Yourself Is So Hard – You May Be Surprised – Hard Teachings Part 2

SamaritanMat 22:39 The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  (Good News Translation)

Somebody out there is shaking his or her head saying, “I don’t think I’d pick this verse out as one of the hard passages, Sambo. Challenging, yes, but hard?  I think just maybe that farm of yours has had you working too long out in the sun. Just sayin’.”

I totally understand that sentiment. Most sermons and lessons on this text are built around the, ‘as you love yourself’ part. And I get that.  Loving your neighbor sounds vague and nebulous as a stand-alone concept, but by adding, ‘as you love yourself’, it has depth and focus and raises the stakes.

In my opinion, focusing on that last phrase alone misses the mark. I want to spend a moment on the word ‘neighbor’, because I think that’s what makes this command so tough.

When we read those words, “Love Your neighbor…” it’s really takes some effort not to picture Mr. Rogers, in his cardigan, singing, as he changes into his slippers. ‘Neighbor’ is a good guy word. It’s safe. It implies proximity, barbecues,  connection, coffee, relationships worth investing in…or does it?

In Luke Chapter 10, after Jesus quotes this commandment, in verse 29 we read that one of the Jewish leaders asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?’  It is Jesus’ surprising answer that moves this teaching into the ‘hard’ category.

As an answer to this loaded question, Jesus gives an equally loaded response. This is where Jesus tells the famous story of The Good Samaritan. I have absolutely no doubt that the Jewish leaders were outraged when they heard the parable.

Unfortunately, 2000 years of time have separated us from the social and religious context of The Good Samaritan Story and it kind of loses some of its scandalous nature to our 21st century western minds. Please allow me to retell the story as Jesus might tell in in 21st Century Georgia.

“A guy was driving from Nashville down to Atlanta for a big Prayer and Worship conference, when he was mugged at the Georgia Welcome Center just south of Chattanooga on I-75. The poor man was pistol whipped, robbed, stripped, carjacked and left in the parking lot to die.

After a while, a preacher, headed to the same conference, stopped by to stretch his legs at the rest area and saw the man there in a pool of his own blood. He looked at his watch and said, “If I stop here, I’m going to get all bloody and will be late for my sermon. Besides, who knows what kind of guy this is.” Then he drove away.

A few minutes later, a couple of deacons who were also headed for the conference drove into the rest area, but when they saw the victim lying there, they got creeped out and just kept going.

By this time, the poor traveler has lost a great deal of blood, is in a lot of pain and is pretty sure he’s going to die.

Just when he’s about to give up hope, a young Middle Eastern Muslim man pulls up and sees him lying there. The Muslim immediately stops his car, gets on his phone and dials 911. Then while waiting for the ambulance, he does his best to tend to the man’s wounds.

Later, he follows the ambulance to the hospital where he goes to the window and speaks with the E.R. admissions team; “The person just brought in is very badly injured. He has no I.D. or money on him. There’s no way of knowing whether or not he has any insurance, so here.”

At that point, the Muslim stranger pulls out a wad of cash and lays a stack of $100 bills on the desk along with a business card. “If the cash doesn’t cover his bill, this card has my contact information. Call me, and I’ll take care of whatever you are still owed.”

When Jesus finished telling the parable, He looked at the horrified people and said, “Who do you think acted like the injured man’s neighbor?”

“I suppose the one who took pity on him”, someone murmured in reply.

“Exactly,” Jesus answered. “Now you go and do likewise.”

See why I say it’s one of the Bible’s hard teachings? It flies in the face of all our natural, national, religious, cultural and political instincts. But it’s precisely at this point, where our faith claims and the real world collide, that our allegiance to Christ is tested. Real life, real faith, is hard. It is messy and it is counterintuitive.

Remember this next time you want to scream, “Enough! Its time to get rid of those stinking _________, fill in the racial, political, religious, cultural, lifestyle blank.  Every drop of blood that dripped from Jesus’ crucified body was spilled for her/him/them, just as surely as it was shed for you and me.  He loves every single human being as much as he loves me. Wow!

Love my neighbor as I love myself? Man, that’s hard!

Buying Real Estate In Mordor – Hard Passages Of The Bible Part 1.

mordorJer 29:4  “The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those people whom he allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take away as prisoners from Jerusalem to Babylonia:

Jer 29:5  ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them.

Jer 29:6  Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. You must increase in numbers and not decrease.

Jer 29:7  Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too.

Jer 29:8  I, the LORD, the God of Israel, warn you not to let yourselves be deceived by the prophets who live among you or by any others who claim they can predict the future. Do not pay any attention to their dreams.

Jer 29:9  They are telling you lies in my name. I did not send them. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken.’

Jer 29:10  “The LORD says, ‘When Babylonia’s seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home.

Jer 29:11  I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.

Jer 29:12  Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you.

Jer 29:13  You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.

 

Jeremiah 29:11 is a very famous passage among Jesus Followers. “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.”

The verse is (mis)quoted by health and wealth hucksters to help fleece the flock, and it’s quite frequently shared by good hearted Believers to encourage those going through rough patches. Unfortunately, as I see it, even those good hearted people are only partly right in the way they use the verse.

When you read the passage in its entirety, we see the people of God listening to false prosperity teachers telling them to resist their exile. Now God is telling them that these so called prophets are only leading them farther away from redemption.

God tells them first, that the exile is from Him. That He is calling them to repentance and obedience. He tells them to not only accept the exile, but to trust Him and prosper where they’re planted. He even lets them know that the exile is not going to be short lived. It will last for generations.

Then it gets even tougher. God tells the people to work for the good of their oppressors and to pray for them. What? You heard right. Go back and read verse 7 again.

It’s only AFTER God sets the expectations that there will be no quick fix for the hardships the Israelis are facing, that he gives them the good news that their exile is finite. He has set a time of liberation. He promises more than freedom, He intends to prosper them. And He wants them to hang on to that promise through the long years they are facing.

I find that to be a hard lesson in an age of instant gratification. Our computers don’t move fast enough, our microwaves cook too slowly, even instant pudding takes 5 minutes so we buy little tubs of it already made and filled with highly questionable ingredients, but at least we don’t have to wait the 5 minutes.

The fact is, sometimes our valleys are going to be long and deep. I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want 70 year exiles; I can barely take three days, before I expect my resurrection. I am not good at waiting. Patience is not the most evident aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) in my life.

Not content with the warning, God tells the people to make lemonade out of their lemons. He assures them, that even in this place they don’t want to be, He is willing to bless them if they do their part.

Then adding what we would think is insult to injury, He tells them to work for the prosperity of their oppressors and pray for them. My American Nature cries out, “No Way, Jose! They’re godless Democrats, Republicans, Atheists, Muslims, evil people.”

The simple truth is, God’s people are supposed to handle adversity differently than the rest of the world. Our example comes from the One who pleaded for forgiveness for the soldiers who drove the thorns into his brow and the nails through His hands and feet, as well as for the crowds who mocked Him as He hung suspended between the heaven and earth He created, seemingly a part of neither (‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ Luke 23:34).

These things are much easier said than done. Jeremiah’s message to the Israeli exiles was hard to hear and hard for the people to implement. Similarly, it can be very difficult for us to trust when the path in front of us is shrouded in darkness and fog. Faith is not an easy thing, but sometimes it is the only thing.

The One who conquered the cross and ruptured the grave, has promised to return and make all things new. Let’s hold on to that promise. Let’s hold on to the Promise Keeper. And let’s hold on to each other. There’s strength in numbers. We’re in this together.

 

The Most Secular Cities And States In the USA. Will Number 1 Shock You?

USAWhile flipping through radio stations this morning, I heard someone mention ‘the most secular/non-religious cities in the country.’ Frankly, I kept flipping. As the morning progressed, however, that statement kept haunting me, so about 11:00 I stopped what I was doing and headed for Google.

My search for ‘most secular cities in the United States’ turned up quite a few results, some of which were quite recent, but many were several years old, so I’m sure certain data points have changed. The most recent list comes from April of this year and it’s the one I’m going to share in a moment.

In an obvious follow up, I searched for the most secular States. I found some convoluted pages of fairly recent information, but they were not really easy to make sense of, so I settled for a list from 2009 published on “The Friendly Atheist” page on Patheos.

The lists didn’t surprise me much, but they did hurt my heart. I am committing starting today, to pray each day, for one of the cities and one of the States in a 10 day rotation for 30 days. Essentially then, each of them will be prayed for 3 times during the month. I would love it very much if you would consider joining me. I’m also going to pray for my State, Georgia, and our County, Bartow. I encourage you to pray for your State and County, too.

I’m going Pray for God’s blessing. I will pray for the Leaders, The Churches, The economy, and the people. I will pray that God will send a revival among the Churches and will draw unbelievers to Him. I will pray for peace and wisdom.

Every great revival in history has been preceded by and accompanied by, prayer.  It is time, no past time, for the Church to rise up and stop seeking answers in the voting booth, but in the prayer closet. Vote, yes, but remember that real change can’t be regulated or legislated, because it comes from the inside out.

Please use the comment section to let me know if you choose to join the ‘knee party’.

Top 10 most secular cities (Source: Christian Century, April, 2015)

10: Detroit, MI, 9: Columbus, OH, 8: Boston, MA, 7: Los Angeles, CA, 6: Tampa/St Petersburg, FL, 5: Phoenix, AZ, 4: Denver, CO, 3: San Francisco, CA, 2: Seattle, WA, 1: Portland, OR.

Top 10 most Secular States (Source: The Friendly Atheist 2009)

10: Connecticut, 9: Nevada, 8: Rhode Island, 7: Oregon, 6: Washington, 5: Alaska, 4: Massachusetts, 3: Maine, 2: New Hampshire, 1: Vermont.

 

Today we pray for Detroit and Connecticut. Ask, Seek, Knock.