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Lamentations 2:1-14: Stay true to truth

How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
    with the cloud of his anger!
He has hurled down the splendor of Israel
    from heaven to earth;
he has not remembered his footstool
    in the day of his anger.

Without pity the Lord has swallowed up
    all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has torn down
    the strongholds of Daughter Judah.
He has brought her kingdom and its princes
    down to the ground in dishonor.

In fierce anger he has cut off
    every horn of Israel.
He has withdrawn his right hand
    at the approach of the enemy.
He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire
    that consumes everything around it.

Like an enemy he has strung his bow;
    his right hand is ready.
Like a foe he has slain
    all who were pleasing to the eye;
he has poured out his wrath like fire
    on the tent of Daughter Zion.

The Lord is like an enemy;
    he has swallowed up Israel.
He has swallowed up all her palaces
    and destroyed her strongholds.
He has multiplied mourning and lamentation
    for Daughter Judah.

He has laid waste his dwelling like a garden;
    he has destroyed his place of meeting.
The Lord has made Zion forget
    her appointed festivals and her Sabbaths;
in his fierce anger he has spurned
    both king and priest.

The Lord has rejected his altar
    and abandoned his sanctuary.
He has given the walls of her palaces
    into the hands of the enemy;
they have raised a shout in the house of the Lord
    as on the day of an appointed festival.

The Lord determined to tear down
    the wall around Daughter Zion.
He stretched out a measuring line
    and did not withhold his hand from destroying.
He made ramparts and walls lament;
    together they wasted away.

Her gates have sunk into the ground;
    their bars he has broken and destroyed.
Her king and her princes are exiled among the nations,
    the law is no more,
and her prophets no longer find
    visions from the Lord.

10 The elders of Daughter Zion
    sit on the ground in silence;
they have sprinkled dust on their heads
    and put on sackcloth.
The young women of Jerusalem
    have bowed their heads to the ground.

11 My eyes fail from weeping,
    I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground
    because my people are destroyed,
because children and infants faint
    in the streets of the city.

12 They say to their mothers,
    “Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like the wounded
    in the streets of the city,
as their lives ebb away
    in their mothers’ arms.

13 What can I say for you?
    With what can I compare you,
    Daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you,
    that I may comfort you,
    Virgin Daughter Zion?
Your wound is as deep as the sea.
    Who can heal you?

14 The visions of your prophets
    were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
    to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
    were false and misleading

These ‘Lamentations’ are the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah. For many years Jeremiah had prophesied to the kingdom of Judah. He had warned of the disaster to come if they refused to turn to God, and away from their sin and idolatry. Now the worst had befallen them, and Jeremiah laments over the tragic (and unnecessary) consequences. At the end of this graphic detailing of Judah’s suffering we find the words of verse 14. If I may put it like this, the preachers had failed in their solemn duty to proclaim God’s Word. They could have prevented all of this pain and misery if they had been true to their calling.

Every clergyman/woman in the UK (for starters!) should read this verse and take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. When we speak out of our own imaginations, saying what we would prefer to say, and what we think people will most want to hear, it is a dereliction of duty. We are heading for disaster personally, and we are responsible for leading many others over the precipice with us. This is no trivial matter. What authority do we have to say anything which does not agree with the revealed Word of God?

PRAYER: Lord, we pray for all leaders in all churches that, despite the pressures to conform, they will stay true to your truth,

Lamentations 1:1: Postscript

How deserted lies the city,
    once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
    who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
    has now become a slave.

Further to yesterday’s post about ‘faded glory’, I happened to read these words today in Wayne Jacobsen’s excellent book ‘In Season’ (p.167).

‘Grapes are not a one season crop. They produce crop after crop, year after year. The cycle of growth continues in our hearts as well, and as with all living things we are either growing or withering. Many a believer has made the mistake of assuming that just because God is doing things in their life, that alone will be sufficient to sustain their relationship with him. How many of us have seen men and women move in some incredible gifts, only to watch them suddenly take a great fall. The vineyard teaches us that such falls are not sudden at all. They result from days of not remaining in the vine and drawing on its life.

When our own relationship with the vine gets compromised, no matter how great the harvest we’re in the midst of, we have begun to wither…

At all costs, cling to your friendship with Jesus as more valuable than anything in this life.’ (Emphasis mine).

Lamentations 1: Faded glory

Oh, oh, oh . . . 
How empty the city, once teeming with people.
    A widow, this city, once in the front rank of nations,
    once queen of the ball, she’s now a drudge in the kitchen
(1)…

…Jerusalem, who outsinned the whole world, is an outcast.
    All who admired her despise her now that they see beneath the surface.
    Miserable, she groans and turns away in shame.

She played fast and loose with life, she never considered tomorrow,,, (8,9a),

I have quoted just a fraction of Lamentations 1. Please do read the whole chapter. But you should be able to see from the above verses that it paints a sad picture of former glory,

Tragically, it happens, and we have to say of someone: he/she are not what they once were.

It can happen to anyone of us, so let’s take guard. The grey almost imperceptibly begins to grow and gather ground on the once dark crown. The muscles start to atrophy. The joints stiffen and movement becomes progressively more difficult. In most cases it doesn’t happen overnight, but there is a slow decline through the years. The tide gradually recedes.

In Judah’s case, in today’s passage, the fading of outer glory was the manifestation of an inner spiritual rot. When things go wrong on the inside it will eventually show on the outside.

Recently, I heard an esteemed older colleague speak in public, and he said it was the first time he had done so in a number of years. My thoughts were, ‘He has lost nothing.’ The old clarity and power were there – and the impact. For those who genuinely seek to walk with God, it doesn’t have to be a case of faded glory.

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’
(Psalm 92:12-15).

Proverbs 26:3-12: The definintion of madness

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
    and a rod for the backs of fools!
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Sending a message by the hands of a fool
    is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison.
Like the useless legs of one who is lame
    is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
Like tying a stone in a sling
    is the giving of honor to a fool.
Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand
    is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
10 Like an archer who wounds at random
    is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.
11 As a dog returns to its vomit,
    so fools repeat their folly.

12 Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?
    There is more hope for a fool than for them

As a dog eats its own vomit,
    so fools recycle silliness.
‘The Message.

You may have heard it said that the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing but expect a different outcome.

In the summer of 2012, Jilly and I spent a long weekend in the Spanish city of Barcelona. We decided to leave our hotel very early on Sunday morning and walk to the beach while it was still cooler. Day was just dawning, and as we walked towards the front, hundreds of mainly young people were streaming our way, as the night clubs closed, and people started to head home. Many looked rough, and some were clearly unwell, and needed assistance from friends. We commented to each other about the anomaly, that most of them would probably be back the next weekend, to repeat the formula, knowing that it would not satisfy them at all.

Madness! A recycling of ”silliness.”

There is something about the fallen human psyche that is drawn to its ‘drugs’, whether literal or metaphorical. We have to keep ‘popping’ those pleasure pills, even though they put us at risk, endanger our lives, and leave us hungrily wanting more of that which will never fill us.

David H. Wheaton writes about 2 Peter 2:13 in one edition of the ‘New Bible Commentary’;

‘Sin attracts with its offer of pleasure, but in the end he who indulges finds that he has no pleasure at all.’ (It is noteworthy that towards the end of 2 Peter 2, the Apostle quotes Proverbs 26:11).

Psalm 119:105-112: Take the next step

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.
106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
    that I will follow your righteous laws.
107 I have suffered much;
    preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
    and teach me your laws.
109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
    I will not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a snare for me,
    but I have not strayed from your precepts.
111 Your statutes are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart.
112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees

If it seems a bit random to drop into Psalm 119 at this point, I need to explain that, basically, since beginning to look at Habakkuk, I have been following the pattern in my ‘Bible in a Year.’ So, going forward there will be a mixture of Old Testament and New Testament readings (including Psalms and Proverbs from time to time).

In Psalm 119 the psalmist has made a commitment to obey God’s Word (see especially verses 106 and 112). It is clear that he is in danger, but the ”set” of his life is in the direction of faithfulness to God and His Word. The world around us is all pervasive in its influence. It is so easy to get ‘squeezed’ into its mould. There must be a determination on our part that, with God’s help, we will go His way. The Bible shines a clear light on our path amid the encircling darkness

Verse 105 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. David Pawson said it refers the the shepherd’s lantern in Israel which gave just enough light for the next step. Then when you took it you would have light for the next, and so on.

It reads like this in ‘The Message’:

By your words I can see where I’m going;
    they throw a beam of light on my dark path.

Warren Wiersbe comments: ‘God gives you the light you need a step at a time. If you want more light, you must obey what He says; then more light will come (John 7:17).’

Elizabeth Elliot asks:

”Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person’s seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.”

Titus 1:10-16: Living Evidence

 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”]13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

They say they know God, but their actions speak louder than their words. (The Message)

There is a repeated emphasis on good works in this short letter. It’s not that we are saved by works, but we are saved for them. The new birth creates a new person with a new heart and character (3:3-8). Good deeds are the outward expression of the Spirit’s inner work.

At the beginning of the chapter we saw that knowledge of the truth leads to godliness. At its conclusion we find that it is possible to claim to know God but fail to back it up in the way you live. It is by our fruit that we are known.

These words remind me of a story I heard about the famous author Edgar Wallace. Wallace lived in the same street as a sincere elderly Christian man. (In fact, I think he may have been a clergyman). Apparently, the writer said, ‘As long as I live in the same street as that old man I cannot doubt that there is a God.’

PRAYER: Lord I ask that my life may be living evidence for your reality

Titus 1:5-9: Walking the walk

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

As I indicated yesterday, elders are to embody the principle that knowing the truth leads to godliness. They do have to be able to ‘talk the talk’ (9), but even more they have to ‘walk the walk’ (6-8). It is surely worthy of note that whenever the New Testament describes the qualifications required for eldership, it emphasises good character rather than giftedness or ability.

This is how today’s passage reads in ‘The Message’:

I left you in charge in Crete so you could complete what I left half-done. Appoint leaders in every town according to my instructions. As you select them, ask, “Is this man well-thought-of? Is he committed to his wife? Are his children believers? Do they respect him and stay out of trouble?” It’s important that a church leader, responsible for the affairs in God’s house, be looked up to—not pushy, not short-tempered, not a drunk, not a bully, not money-hungry. He must welcome people, be helpful, wise, fair, reverent, have a good grip on himself, and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it.

It’s interesting that verse 10 goes on to say:

”For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers…”

It seems a contrast is deliberately drawn between the elders who live truth, and others who talk about it, who have the vocabulary, but not the lifestyle of godliness.

(By the way, Warren Wiersbe points out that ”sound doctrine” in verse 9 means ‘healthy doctrine’ – that which leads to the health of the church.

PRAYER: Lord God, we pray for your special grace on all those who lead your church. May they always teach by life and by lip.

Titus 1:1-4: Character

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,

To Titus, my true son in our common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

It seems to me that character is a unifying theme in this first chapter of Titus.

Paul knows nothing of a Christianity that does not show itself in life change. If we know the truth it (He!) sets us free from sin. It’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. But the more we know the truth the more we are progressively freed from sin. The ”knowledge of the truth”…”leads to godliness.” (As we will see tomorrow, elders are meant to be an example of this).

Just over a week ago we said farewell to John Lancaster in a wonderful thanksgiving service held at ‘Bridge Community Church’, Leeds. John was one of the greatest preachers I ever heard; but his life was an even greater sermon. More than anything else I will remember John the godly man, and who can estimate the power of a truly godly life?

Funnily enough, after writing the above paragraph, I saw an advert for a book by Steve Norman entitled ‘The preacher as sermon: How who you are shapes what they hear.’

Habakkuk 2:1: A final thought from Habakkuk

I will stand at my watch
    and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
    and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

As we take our leave of this wonderful book, I want to share one more thought from F.B.Meyer:

‘He looks forth for God’s answer. This, to say the least, is respectful in our dealings with the Almighty. Too often we ask questions, and do not wait for replies; shoot prayer-arrows into the air, without stopping to see where they alight, or what quarry they strike. We are in too great a hurry to take time and trouble for climbing the watch-tower and awaiting the divine reply…

…How often God’s answers come, and find us gone! We have waited for a while, and, thinking there was no answer, we have gone our way but as we have turned the first corner the post has come in. God’s ships touch at our wharves; but there is no one to unload them. His letters lie at the office; but no one calls for them. It is not enough to direct your prayer unto God; look up, and look out, until the blessing alights on your head. When we ask according to his will, we receive while we pray.’ (‘Great Verses through the Bible’, p.355)

PRAYER: Teach me Lord to expect your answers, and give me patience to await them.

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