How to Receive God’s Mercy

Yesterday we looked at Jeremiah 2 and saw ourselves in Israel’s rebellion. Like the Israelites, sometimes we choose to abandon God and go find substitute gods. We stop trusting the Lord and trust ourselves instead. We lose our awe of the Lord; we harden our hearts; we refuse to call sin sin.

We leave God with every right to abandon us. We have not loved Him well. In some cases, we have not loved Him at all. He has given us everything we have, including our lives themselves… but our twisted hearts have chosen to dishonor Him. We’ve opted to do things our way instead, loving ourselves and others more than God.

The Lord would be totally justified to wash His hands of Israel and of us forever.

But He doesn’t.

Instead, He says, “Return, faithless Israel…I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful…I will not be angry forever,” (Jeremiah 3:12).

What kind of God is this that loves the undeserving? How can anyone, much less the GOD OF EVERYTHING, extend this kind of mercy to the very people that have abandoned Him?

My brain cannot process this love. It makes no sense to humans. We don’t practice this kind of love, so we’ve never experienced it. It cannot be real. There must be some kind of catch. The verse says “return”… but that can’t be all one has to do to receive God’s mercy.

God goes on to say, “Only acknowledge your guilt–you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,” (Jeremiah 3:13).

Jeremiah 2 gives us the two-step plan to commit idolatry.

  1. Abandon God
  2. Find God Substitute

And Jeremiah 3 gives us the two-step plan to receive God’s mercy.

  1. Return to God
  2. Acknowledge Your Guilt

Simple. But not easy.

Oh, how my pride flares up at that second step! I know I have sinned, but I refuse to admit it. God knows I have sinned, but I still refuse to admit it.  WHY?

I am not the only one who struggles with step two. Many people will never accept Jesus’ gift of salvation because they staunchly refuse to acknowledge their guilt – their need of such a gift.

I’m sure a psych major could confirm there are several reasons why we dig in our heels when it comes to acknowledging guilt. Some of us have egos the size of China, and we are actually unwilling to believe we can do wrong. Some of us have the self-esteem of Eeyore, and we are afraid people won’t love us or value us if we admit we did something bad. Those of us who are particularly depraved oscillate between these two extremes.

But if we get hung up on “acknowledge your guilt”, we miss God’s heart in all of this.

Hear what God is saying.

“Return, faithless people…I will choose you…I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding…No longer will [you] follow the stubbornness of [your] evil hearts…How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation…Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding,” (Jeremiah 3:14, 15, 17, 19, 22).

Look past “acknowledge your guilt” and see the mercy and love God offers us! I want Him to choose me. I want knowledge and understanding. I want to stop following my stubborn heart. I want the blessings He has for me. And I want to be cured of my backsliding!

When we begin to understand the richness that can be ours, acknowledging guilt doesn’t seem so terrible. And when we start to realize, “Surely the [idolatrous] commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel,” the less we want our own idols (Jeremiah 3:23).

Whatever idol you are choosing – yourself, another person, another thing – it is a DECEPTION. Salvation is in the Lord. Return to God. Acknowledge your guilt. And feel His mercy and love wash over you afresh. He will frown on you no longer. He is merciful.

How to Commit Idolatry

One thing I love about the Bible is that it’s about me.

And we all know how much I love me.

I’m my favorite subject.

I was reading Jeremiah 2 and 3 yesterday and saw myself in nearly every verse. That’s really bad news if you know anything about Jeremiah 2. But it’s really good news if you know anything about Jeremiah 3.

I’m coming out of a season of pure rebellion against the Lord. No, I didn’t shave my head, renounce Jesus, and join a hippie commune. But, in my heart, I told the Lord He could keep His way of doing things to Himself; I wanted to do things my way.

That’s basically what God is accusing Israel of in Jeremiah 2. Their rebellion might look worse than mine because they were outwardly worshiping idols. But, don’t be fooled. I was inwardly worshiping myself by continually choosing my way over God’s way.

The Lord says to Israel, “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves,” (Jeremiah 2:5).

Do you hear the sadness in the Father’s voice? The disappointment. The hurt. My soul stung as I read this verse, confirming the truth of the statement that following worthless idols makes us worthless. I’ve experienced that in my rebellion. God didn’t love me any less or value me any less, but I was of no value to the Kingdom, unable to do my part in furthering the Kingdom while my heart was turned away from the Lord.

God goes on to charge Israel: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,” (Jeremiah 2:13).

The first sin is forsaking God, abandoning Him. We, too, put God on the shelf when circumstances don’t seem favorable. When obeying God – submitting to what He asks us to do – doesn’t feel like it’s in our best interest, we tell Him, “No,” forsaking Him.

That’s bad enough.

But that’s not all.

We are made to worship, and if we refuse to worship God, we instinctively search out something or someone else to worship. We dig our own cisterns, looking for alternate water. In other words, we go find idols who suit our fancies, the second sin.

  1. Abandon God
  2. Find God Substitute

Yes, I have done this. Recently. The Bible is about me.

God appeals to Israel – to all of us. “Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” (Jeremiah 2:19).

There comes a point when the rebellious realize their cisterns are broken, their idols don’t satisfy. Indeed, they can’t satisfy. Not fully. Reprecussions from our idolatrous choices begin to show themselves. Our relationship with God is strained. Our relationships with others are breaking. Our days become dark, joyless, evil, and bitter.  And, slowly, we begin to understand it’s because we have no awe of the Lord anymore. We haven’t respected Him or trusted Him. We’ve lost our healthy fear of Him and are no longer motivated by love for Him. We’ve done this.

I’ve done this.

As I read the words, “…you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” my soul cried out, “Lord! May it never be!” And He whispered, “Kelly… it already was.”

My soul ached. He was right. Just a couple months ago. It already was. I had no awe of the Lord.

Even in the midst of the rebellion, God had tried to warn me of the path I was on. But, like the Israelites, I said, “‘I am not defiled; I have not run after [idols],” even though I knew I had (Jeremiah 2:23). I thought if I didn’t admit my sin was sin, it wouldn’t actually be sin. I could still pretend it was acceptable.

But, finally, Israel and I could no longer deny our sin.  We both exclaimed, “It’s no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them,” (Jeremiah 2:25). We made excuses. True, the pull of sin can be strong. We can feel unable to resist temptations.

But we are not powerless! We have the very power that raised Christ from the dead IN US (Romans 8:11). The power of God can help us resist the “foreign gods” we love, but we have to want to resist.

The Bible is about me. And it’s about you, too. Where are you in this story? Are you acting like Israel right now? Stop and feel the weight of your rebellion. Be broken by it.

And then take heart, Jeremiah 3 is coming.

 

 

The Truth About God’s Promsies

Sometimes the Old Testament seems irrelevant.  I yawned my way through the dividing of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel (Joshua 13-21).  And when I was just about to nod off, one gem of a verse caught my heart and made all that boring reading worth it.

When the land was completely allotted, the Israelites finally got rest from their enemies.  The years of fighting off the natives came to a close, and Israel rested in full victory, just as the Lord had “predicted” in Genesis 12:6-7 (Joshua 21:44).

Reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness, Joshua writes, “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled,” (Joshua 21:45).

You mean God’s trustworthiness wasn’t affected by Israel’s disobedience?

You mean God didn’t change His mind and not deliver on His promises because Israel rejected Him for a golden calf?

You mean Israel’s constant grumbling about the Lord’s choice of leaders and disbelief in the Lord’s power didn’t cause God to abandon them all together?

He could have walked away from Israel completely.  From a human perspective, He would have been totally justified in doing so.  But He didn’t.

And that is relevant news for us today.

The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament and beyond.  God’s promises are reliable.  There is nothing you or I – believers in Jesus – can do to make God go back on His Word.  If He said He will do something, He will do it, regardless of the many persuasive reasons we give Him not to.

Not one of the Lord’s good promises to me will fail; every one will be fulfilled.

Know those promises.  Trust those promises.

Does God Care HOW We Worship Him?

image via westmainbaptist.com
image via westmainbaptist.com

There is a popular idea out there that it doesn’t matter how you choose to worship, as long as you are sincere.  Within this idea is an unspoken conclusion that, somehow, no matter which religion turns out to be right, the god(s) of that religion will honor the valiant efforts of those who believed falsely, as long as they believed with passion and commitment.

(Why a god would reward wrong is beyond me.)

It is true that God cares about the heart.  He is deeply concerned with our motivations, our intentions, and our emotions, especially in worship (Deuteronomy 10:12).

But is God also concerned with the way we worship?  Sure, we need to be sincere, but does the how also matter?

Well, the Old Testament has two entire books – Leviticus and Deuteronomy – dedicated to laying out the means by which Israel was to worship God.  God is painstakingly specific and is serious about the Israelites worshiping Him in just the right way.

Why?

To distinguish the Israelites from the idolators around them (Deuteronomy 12:31).

God wanted the surrounding nations to know that the Israelites were not worshiping just any ole god – they were worshiping the One True God.

But there came a time in Israel’s history when they lost sight of the prescribed ways they were to worship.  Frankly, they just weren’t important to them anymore.

And, as a result, “…everyone did as he saw fit,” (Judges 17:6).

Even Israel’s first king, Saul, decided it’d be okay to come worship God however he wanted to.

In 1 Samuel 15 we read that God commanded Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites and everything that belongs to them (1 Samuel 15:3-4).  But Saul says to himself, “I will kill everyone except the king, and I will kill every animal except the best ones, and then I will sacrifice those best animals to the Lord!  God loves animal sacrifices; surely, He will pleased with me!” (1 Samuel 15:15).

What is Saul doing?  He is justifying disobedience.  He is worshiping God the way he wants to, not the way God told him to.  And he is mistaken that God doesn’t care about how people worship.

As a result, Saul loses the kingdom (1 Samuel 15:23).

And Saul is not the only Israelite to ever lose sight of the importance of the proper way to worship God.

In Numbers 3:4 two of Aaron’s sons – ordained priests – “…fell dead before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him…”

Aaron’s sons knew what the Law said.  They knew the proper way to approach the Lord.  That was their job.  But they made the same mistake Saul did – the same mistake you and I make – and decided to worship on their own terms.  And they paid for that choice with their lives.

What does this mean for us Christians?

God is the same today as He was in Old Testament times.  God cares how we worship Him.  He cares that we call Him Jesus and not any other name (Acts 4:12).  He cares that we believe He is the only God (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4).  He cares that we worship Him only and not any other “gods” (Luke 4:8).  He cares that we worship in truth – not falsehoods – no matter how sincere we might be (John 4:24).

It simply isn’t true that we can worship any god in any way and earn eternal salvation on account of our sincerity.  God has a certain way He wants us to worship, and only that way will do.

Do Christians HAVE to Read the Bible?

When we miss the point of reading the Bible, sometimes we ask ourselves (and those in spiritual authority over us) why we have to read the Bible everyday.

“Show me in the Bible where we are commanded to have daily quiet times,” we say, looking for a way to alleviate our feelings of guilt over the fact that we don’t want to take time to read the Bible each day.

We try to build an argument to support the idea that weekly quiet times or monthly Bible reading is sufficient.  We reason that if the Bible doesn’t expressly say we must read the Bible every day, then we have the freedom to read it as frequently (or as infrequently, as the case may be) as our hearts desire.

I mean, that’s just biblical.  Christ has set us free from the Law!

Mel Gibson as William Wallace wearing woad.
Image via Wikipedia

(Insert William Wallace’s “FREEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOM!” cry here.)

The real issue at hand is not what the Bible does and doesn’t say about spending focused time with the Lord alone.  The actual problem at hand is our lack of desire to be with Him.But, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend we really do want to understand the biblicality of quiet times.  More specifically, let’s consider what the Bible tells us about one facet of quiet times – reading the Bible.

When the Lord was instructing Joshua on taking over as the Israelite’s leader, He said, “Be careful to obey all the Law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful,” (Joshua 1:7-8).

How can we obey the Bible if we don’t know it?   How can we speak about it and meditate on it if we don’t know it?  How can we know it if we don’t read it?  How can we remember what we read if we don’t read it often?

But maybe this verse is not enough to convince us of the need for daily Bible reading…  just often Bible reading.  And “often” is the loophole through which our guilty feelings can escape if we only want to read the Word every once in awhile.

If we are going to emphatically dispute the idea that the Bible doesn’t require us to read it daily, we’re going to have to find another verse.

And I found that verse today.

In Deuteronomy 17, God is telling Moses that there will come a day when Israel will no longer be satisfied with God being their King – they are going to demand a human king.  And when that king is appointed, God says of him, “He is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees,” Deuteronomy (17:18-19).

To modernize things, these verses are saying Israel’s leader is to a) have his own Bible, b) keep his Bible with him, and c) read his Bible daily.

Why?

So he may learn to revere the Lord and obey His Word.

You can infer with me that if the king does not know the Word, he won’t know how to revere God or what he needs to do to obey God.

And even though we are not kings of Israel, these commands still apply to us.  Those who know the Bible know how to revere and obey Him.

So it is with us.  The Bible tells us we need to read the Bible.  If you’re struggling with not wanting to read the Word, tell Him about it.  Tell Him why you don’t want to.  Ask Him to make you want to.  He can change your desire.  Just ask.