With a very hectic travel schedule for the past several weeks, I haven’t been able to write on this blog as I’d like, but the end is in sight!
In the meantime, I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with Dr. Damian Efta, Pastor Andy Huber, and Elder Kevin Gentzler, all shepherds at Church of the Open Door in Leavenworth, Kansas (www.opendoorinfo.org).
The church has a weekly podcast named “Sheep and Shepherds,” whose audience is primarily their local church body. In the first podcast we recorded in my time with them, I explained what IFCA is, a bit of our history, and why a church or individual might want to join.
You can listen to this particular podcast episode here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/sheep-and-shepherds-podcast
“As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you! But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster.” Jeremiah 44:16–17 (ESV)
“As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”” Hebrews 3:15 (ESV)
It is amazing how hard the heart of man can become. The Bible likens it to a stone because it can become unfeeling and unbending like rock. But the metaphor of a rock falls short when it comes to the depths of that unbending attitude.
In Jeremiah 44, the prophet once again declared the coming judgment of God as well as the mercy of God if they would only repent. But instead of repentance, the people doubled-down in their sin. They not only wouldn’t turn from their sin, they would instead make sure that they kept their vows to their false gods and continue to make offerings, just as their wicked forefathers and leaders had done before them.
This people who would not keep their covenant promises to the LORD, were so ingrained in their sin that their hard hearts led them to lock on to their promises to worship false gods like a pit bull onto a piece of raw meat! In this way, they were not like rocks. Rocks don’t get harder, but people’s hearts sometimes do. They don’t just reject God, they go even further and show their open disdain and hatred of God.
But what is even more amazing than the hardness of man’s heart is the grace and mercy of God. In Hebrews 3, the writer of this letter uses the rebellion of Israel in the Old Testament as an example. The failures of Israel become a tool for teaching, showing that God will keep his word and punish those who insist on rebelling. But along with that, even hundreds of years after these events in the wilderness, God is still offering mercy and forgiveness to all who will listen and come to him. What overflowing grace!
The offer of the free grace of God is still offered today. Men and women can dive deeper into their sin so that their hearts become completely unfeeling and their hatred against God and everything else is seething. Or they can listen to the Spirit as he speaks through the Word of God and offers to them salvation and cleansing from all their sins.
Some offers are too good to be true, but not this one. This one is genuine. If you don’t have forgiveness from God, then this offer is for you. Don’t pass it by. Don’t grow colder and harder. There is only pain, misery, and death on that path. Go to Jesus. He receives sinners and turns them into saints.
“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.” (Jeremiah 42:6, ESV)
It is a sad reality that people will sometime gather to hear the proclamation of the Word not truly to be instructed by the Lord, but instead to have their own desires confirmed. They come saying they want to obey, but in reality they have set themselves up in the place of God and instead want God to echo what their own heart wants. An when that doesn’t happen, then they reject both message and messenger.
This isn’t new. When Jeremiah was called to speak his words of prophecy, many spoke of their sincerity to obey whatever it was that the Lord said. But after his words were revealed, the ugliness of man’s heart was also revealed.
There are some churches that say they want expository preaching. They say they want to hear the Word of God explained and then applied. But then, when the Word is delivered, and particularly when their own pet sins are exposed, they reject both message and messenger.
Sometimes the teaching of Scripture is like lemon juice on a cut. Sometimes it is like a deep stab to the heart. Sometimes it is sweet as honey. May God’s people come to receive the Word from the Lord—good or bad—so that they can obey it. And may the messengers of the Lord not be afraid of what man may do to us. May we be faithful to deliver the message whether popular and well received or not, both in good or bad times.