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Two Prophets, Two Messages
By: David Church
Every so often while reading the Bible, I get flashbacks to my years in Sunday School. Most of those flashbacks come from the 'memory verses' I had to memorize each week for Sunday School. It never ceases to amaze me that thirty years later those verses are still stored somewhere in my memory.
Recently, while reading the book of Jeremiah, I had one of those flashbacks and it led to a deeper study of this story.
You will probably recognize these words just as I did;
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
What a powerful verse this has been to me and to many others over the years.
Imagine comforting and powerful this must have been for Judah to hear. Judah had been taken captive by Babylon. They had no future. Their land, their possessions and their children had been stripped from them. They thought God had abandoned them. They thought God was done with them. Then, the prophet Jeremiah brings this promise of hope and deliverance.
As comforting as this was to Judah, most of us overlook an important detail of this prophecy found in the previous verse;
10 For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
The promise of deliverance was given, but it would take seventy years for deliverance to come. An entire lifetime for most. That meant almost every person who was taken captive would die in captivity. Imagine receiving a promise that your answer has come but then discovering you would have to wait seventy years to receive it. That is like receiving no answer at all.
During Jeremiah's time there were many prophets sharing many messages. In this particular story, there was another prophet named Hananiah. Hananiah shared what sounded like a similar message to Jeremiah's, except for one slight variation;
2 Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.
3 Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord's house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon:
4 And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon, saith the Lord: for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.
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I recall the story of the most famous of all the prophets. Elijah was one of the most powerful prophets of God. Nobody doubted his calling, his prayers brought results. When Elijah prayed, fire fell from heaven. When Elijah prayed, rain fell from the sky. Through his prayers, Elijah altered the course of an entire nation. He was one of only two men in scripture who did not see death. There is no doubt that Elijah was in the perfect will of God.
Having said that, the book of 1 Kings reveals a time in Elijah's life when it seemed like the all of hell was rising up against him. Israel had forsaken the ways of God, the altars had been destroyed, the prophets of God had been slaughtered. Elijah found himself all alone and began to wonder if God was still with him. He decided to run for his life, in fact it got so bad, he asked the Lord to take his life.
1 Kings 19:1-4
1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.
2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.
3 And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.
The wicked queen Jezebel had been threatening Elijah's life for some time. Now it was heating up. Jezebel had just informed Elijah by way of messenger that he would be dead by the same time tomorrow! This was a man hunt, she had people looking for him everywhere, he was a wanted man, dead or alive. Elijah could feel the heat and he couldn't take it anymore.
It is hard to picture the most powerful of all of the prophets backed into a corner by the enemy and running for his life. Often times that is where we find ourselves. Yet, in the midst of running, God sends an angel to feed him. That ought to be enough to confirm that God is with you Elijah. I know if an angel visited me, I would be ready to do whatever God asked of me. Still, Elijah kept running.
The meat the angel brought to Elijah sustained his life for forty days and nights. That might be a hint that God is with you. Finally he finds a cave to hide in and the word of God came to him there, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
God wasn't asking about Elijah's physical location, He was asking about Elijah's spiritual condition. God wanted to know why Elijah had given up. Listen to Elijah's response...
1 Kings 19:10
10 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.[ read more...]
Without fail, every time I fly, I am amazed at what I can see from the window of an airplane. Whether it is scenic mountains and lakes or large cities, I love to see the view from above the world.
I live about forty miles from Chicago and I drive the Chicago highways quite frequently. What a horrible mess they are. Often it takes two hours or more to get from one side of the city to the other. Many times I have sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic wondering what the problem is and promising myself that I will never drive that highway again. Yet, when I fly over the city I can see all of the highways at the same time. I can point out all of the trouble spots in just a few moments. I can see the bottlenecks, I can see the accidents. New perspective is gained.
If you have been through Chicago more than once, you have probably heard of the 'Hillside Strangler'. It is a notorious section of highway near the town of Hillside where two interstates and a road merge into a single lane to enter the Eisenhower Expressway. It has long been dubbed one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the world. It will literally stop you dead in your tracks where you won't be able to move for a long, long time. A few years ago they spent over a 100 million dollars to fix the problem. They widened the entrance to three lanes. However, after all of the time and money they spent to fix this, the traffic flow is only slightly better. People are just as frustrated as before. When you see this area from above, you can see that the congestion has only been pushed further east. The problem is easily seen from the sky, three lanes are not enough for this traffic merger, and they need more lanes stretched out over more distance. The estimated cost to rebuild this section of highway is now well over one billion dollars.
It is amazing how crystal clear the answers are when seen from above. The perspective one can receive from the skies is like receiving new revelation.
During a time of terrible persecution and uncertainty, the Apostle John was banished to the Isle of Patmos. There was no way out. Facing the darkest hours of his life, John had many questions on his heart. He couldn't think his way out. He couldn't see his way out. Though he lived to an old age there, he didn't know he would do so at the time.
However, Jesus knew some things John didn't know. Jesus was about to invite John up into the heavens. Jesus wanted to give John some new perspective and some fresh insight.[ read more...]
It began with the outpouring of the Holy Ghost in Acts chapter two, but was continued and maintained, in part at least, by the giving and sacrifice of the first century church!
The bible says that they gave their all and laid it at the Apostles feet. They sold houses and land, possessions and goods, and parted them to those who had need of them.
Were these new, born again, Christians giving of their all, simply out of faith, or was there some precedent that had been set by the words and actions of the Jesus and His disciples?
Obviously, these Christians did not yet have the New Testament writings to refer to...but they were there in person when Jesus taught, instructed, and acted as their example in all things.[ read more...]
There are a number of great ways to preach the Word of God, but one of the most effective is expository preaching.
Stephen Olford defines expository preaching this way;
"Expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of God's Word with due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical and doctrinal significance of the given message or given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ transforming response."
That is a pretty heavy definition, let me simplify; "The text does the talking, the preaching, the teaching and the transforming." The message is already there, you just have to open it up and discover it for yourself. Expository preaching forces the man of God to open his own heart first and allow the scripture to change him before it ever changes his audience.
An expository sermon comes from a portion of text that is usually at least one paragraph in length, and where at least a good portion of the story is told in its context. For an expository sermon to have impact, the story of the text must be opened up to your audience. A casual reading and retelling of the scripture is not quite what it is about. Nor is it a step by step outline of each verse. There is a message in the story of the text that must be shared in a meaningful way.
There is a pressure in our culture today for preachers to be 'relevant' to their audience. In doing so, expository preaching has become less and less popular. Many insist that it is no longer effective. Most of today's mainline preachers have adopted the 'topical' style of preaching in their attempt to become relevant. In this style of preaching they choose a topic and then go to the Word to see what the scripture says about it. The danger in this is that they become so topical in their preaching that there is very little of the Word of God left. The one or two scriptures they do use are often taken out of context and used in ways that alter their intended meaning. I would like to say that there is nothing more relevant for our culture today than the Word of God. The Word of God transcends time, tradition and culture. The writer of Hebrews declares that the Word of God is quick enough, sharp enough and has enough power to pierce into the thoughts and hearts of every person.[ read more...]
Five Things you must do to get Unstuck!
Has your church replaced truth with tradition? Have you done the same things for so long that neither God nor man could change things at your church? Do committees and programs substitute for the moving of the Holy Ghost? Has your church become boring and predictable? If so, your church may be stuck in a rut and may be unable to see a way out.
In his book, Rut, Rot or Revival, A.W. Tozer states,
"The treacherous enemy facing the church of Jesus Christ today is the dictatorship of the routine, when the routine becomes "lord" in the life of the church. Programs are organized and the prevailing conditions are accepted as normal. Anyone can predict next Sunday's service and what will happen. This seems to be the most deadly threat in the church today. When we come to the place where everything can be predicted and nobody expects anything unusual from God, we are in a rut.
The routine dictates, and we can tell not only what will happen next Sunday, but what will occur next month and, if things do not improve, what will take place next year. Then we have reached the place where what has been, determines what is, and what is, determines what will be. That would be perfectly all right and proper for a cemetery. Nobody expects a cemetery to do anything but conform. The greatest conformists in the world today are those who sleep out in the community cemetery. They do not bother anyone. They just lie there, and it is perfectly all right for them to do so.
You can predict what everyone will do in a cemetery from the deceased right down to the people who attend a funeral there. Everyone and everything in a cemetery has accepted the routine. Nobody expects anything out of those buried in the cemetery. But the church is not a cemetery and we should expect much from it, because what has been should not be lord to tell us what is, and what is should not be ruler to tell us what will be. God's people are supposed to grow. As long as there is growth, there is an air of unpredictability. Certainly we cannot predict exactly, but in many churches you just about can. Everybody knows just what will happen, and this has become our deadliest enemy."[ read more...]
One of the most exciting and powerful methods of preaching is to share the story (biography) of a character in the Bible. This method is extremely valuable in building people and moving people from one level of ministry to another. God's desire is to grow His Kingdom. His Word is full of ordinary and less than ordinary people who He used to accomplish this purpose. It would behoove us as pastors and leaders to use this method of preaching a lot more than we have in the past. There is nothing more powerful than the testimony of a life that has been transformed by the power of God.
The proper definition of biographical preaching is;
The method of preaching that expounds a Bible character, based on careful exegesis, to deduce the principles that regulated his or her life and to apply the principles to the modern listener. A simpler definition is; Biographical preaching is preaching that provides a biography of the life of a person from scripture and draws a moral lesson or message from that story.
It is essential to understand that all preaching in its most basic of forms is (or at least ought to be) expository in nature. By that I mean that every scripture you share in a sermon should be exposed and expounded upon. Even when only one verse is used in a topical sermon, there is a degree of exposition that takes place. In the same sense, biographical preaching is a type of expository preaching. You are telling the story of an individual rather than the story of a chapter or a book. Instead of exposing a passage of scripture, you are exposing the life of a person in scripture. Your text may include several passages of scripture about the character.[ read more...]
What are Icebreakers?
As the name implies, an icebreaker session is designed to "break the ice" at an event or meeting. It is a technique that is best used with people who do not yet know one another very well. Ice breakers ease people through those uncomfortable moments that come with getting to know strangers.
Most people know us by our profession. We are known as a teacher, carpenter, doctor, housewife, etc. Some may know us from church, but they don't really know us in a meaningful way. Whether your group has known each other a long time, or has just recently gotten together, icebreaker sessions allow a group to get to know one another more intimately. A great icebreaker stirs us to talk about our hobbies, personal experiences or even our family backgrounds. A group that’s more in tune with each other makes better decisions. They feel a sense of trust and are able to work together more productively[ read more...]
In one of our recent family devotions, my wife and I sat our three children down to talk about the importance of 'family.' We do this ever so often because our children, and probably yours as well, often withdraw into their own world of fantasy and ignore the rest of the family. They each have their own room and their own ideas about how to spend their free time. If we allow them, they will shut themselves out from the rest of us to do their thing. While this can be cute when they are very young, my wife and I have noticed that it lends itself strongly to an attitude of selfishness. It becomes all about 'me' and less about others in the family. When the kids do get together, it becomes a war of words or worse, as each of them stand up for what they feel is 'their rights'. They have no sympathy or compassion for their siblings. It is almost as if they desire to build their own little 'kingdom' or 'empire' in their own little space.
As I was thinking about this it struck me that this is also a danger for all of us in ministry. If we are not careful, we can allow ourselves to get caught up in building 'our kingdom' instead of building 'His Kingdom.' Even though we feel like we are doing the work of Christ, it can become more about 'me' and less about others. There is a grey area here where the lines of demarcation become blurred. 'His Kingdom' begins to blend into 'my kingdom.' Motives become mismanaged. Desires turn dangerous. And it is not too long until 'my kingdom' becomes more important than anything or anybody else. Because of this danger, we all need to test ourselves every so often. We do this by asking; How do I feel about the others in this Kingdom? Do I truly have sympathy and compassion for their needs? Or, are my desires more important?
As we all do, I understand the importance of caring for others, but recently, while listening to a Jewish Rabbi, this understanding became crystal clear.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin was speaking of the typical Orthodox Jewish family. I paraphrase his words;
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Why is it that everywhere in the world the Jewish people are so successful and wealthy? Why are their families so close knit and strong? Why is there very little divorce?
The obvious answer is they put God first. However, beyond that, it is because of their strong sense of 'family'.
The origin of the Hebrew word for 'family' means; to serve. A family is not a family unless they serve one another. Brother serves brother. Sister serves sister. Husbands serve their wives. They put others needs in front of their own. The Jewish people live this way.
It is so important that we recognize our need for close friends.
38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
During His ministry, Jesus had many friends and many people that He was friendly to. Yet Jesus was only very close to a few people. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were three of Jesus' closest friends on this earth. This family of brother and sisters lived just outside of Jerusalem in the town of Bethany. Jesus would often stay with them on His journeys into the city. He became very close to them. You may all remember the story in this scripture...Mary and Martha heard that Jesus was coming. Martha immediately dropped everything that she was doing and began to prepare the house and the food and all of the things that are necessary to host a guest. Instead of helping her sister, Mary chose to sit at the feet of Jesus to hear His word and to fellowship with Him. This so upset Martha that she went to Jesus and vented her feelings on Him. Jesus responded and said, "Martha, you are so upset about this, don't you understand that what your sister has chosen to do is a needful thing!" What was this needful thing that Jesus was referring to? It was the communing together of close friends!
Jesus needed this and so did Martha. In fact what stands out to me about his story is what Martha was doing was also a needful thing. What host would not clean the house, prepare the food and make sure everything was in order? That was important. Yet Jesus made it very clear that a special time of sharing between friends was much more important than hosting a guest! You must find time, you must make time to spend with your closest friends. Even at the cost of neglecting something important! I call this 'planned neglect'. Make plans to neglect some things so you can spend some quality time with friends. It has to happen, it is of outmost importance![ read more...]