When was the last time you heard a sermon on Lamentations?  We barely even know what this book is about, let alone have we studied it in depth at all.  We are far more interested in books that teach short, “sound-byte” lessons or encourage us.  We want to do something because of what we read, or learn something new, or be able to translate it into a to-do list.  This is our culture and we are products of it.

But this book of Lamentations is just that, laments about the fall of God’s people.  Through poetry, we get this wonderful lament, a cry of mourning for our sinfulness that leads to such destruction.

Another reason we don’t like this book is it attributes Israel’s pain to God, claiming all of their woes to be God’s doing.  And given their worldview, this is no surprise.  They believed that God was sovereign in all things, so anything that happened had to be God’s doing or they were denying God’s control over the world.  While they leaned away from scientific inquiry for the sake of theology, we lean too far the other way.  And so we have a hard time understanding how anyone could think a loving God might cause such suffering.

And so, maybe there is something we can learn from this book after all, if we’ll allow ourselves to.  God is truly sovereign and in control of the activities of this world.  Is it any more wrong to deny that for the sake of our scientific logic about God’s will and free will?  Maybe we can learn through our reading of Lamentations to pay a bit more heed to God’s sovereignty.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on Lamentations?  We barely even know what this book is about, let alone have we studied it in depth at all.  We are far more interested in books that teach short, “sound-byte” lessons or encourage us.  We want to do something because of what we read, or learn something new, or be able to translate it into a to-do list.  This is our culture and we are products of it.

But this book of Lamentations is just that, laments about the fall of God’s people.  Through poetry, we get this wonderful lament, a cry of mourning for our sinfulness that leads to such destruction.

Another reason we don’t like this book is it attributes Israel’s pain to God, claiming all of their woes to be God’s doing.  And given their worldview, this is no surprise.  They believed that God was sovereign in all things, so anything that happened had to be God’s doing or they were denying God’s control over the world.  While they leaned away from scientific inquiry for the sake of theology, we lean too far the other way.  And so we have a hard time understanding how anyone could think a loving God might cause such suffering.

And so, maybe there is something we can learn from this book after all, if we’ll allow ourselves to.  God is truly sovereign and in control of the activities of this world.  Is it any more wrong to deny that for the sake of our scientific logic about God’s will and free will?  Maybe we can learn through our reading of Lamentations to pay a bit more heed to God’s sovereignty.

The entire Jewish world was made of concentric circles, closing in on God as the center.  Outermost was the world, surrounding Israel, which made up the next circle.  Within Israel, Jerusalem was the next layer, and the temple was the next.  Within the temple, you had the court of the Gentiles, then the court of the women, followed by the court of the men.  Inside this circle was the court of the priests.

The final two circles were obviously the most important.  The Holy place, described for us today in Hebrews, contained the table of showbread, the altar of incense, and the lampstand.  And inside this was the final circle, the Holy of Holies.  Here was the single room in all the world where God dwelt, for in this innermost circle was the Ark of the Covenant, containing the 10 Commandments, the budded staff of Aaron, and a jar of manna.  But most importantly, since the creation of the Ark, it was here that Moses and every High Priest after him had communed with God.

For the Jews, these circles were how they kept the unclean and unworthy away from God.  As you can follow with the concentric circles, each circle moving in toward God indicated one more step of righteousness.  Gentiles weren’t as righteous as women, who weren’t as righteous as men, who weren’t as righteous as priests, etc.

In fact, when you got to the innermost circle, the Holy of Holies, only one man (the High Priest) was considered righteous enough to enter, and then only one day each year (the Day of Atonement).  Nobody else could ever enter that room and stand in God’s presence under penalty of death.

Understanding this helps us to understand the importance of the tearing of the veil at the moment of Jesus’ death.  That veil was the one that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, and having it torn apart opened the Holy of Holies to everyone, righteous and unrighteous alike.  For the first time since the garden of Eden, we all have access to God.  Relationship, not just worship, is possible; prayer doesn’t have to go through a mediator; and through Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, we are finally declared righteous by God Himself.

Praise God!

The entire Jewish world was made of concentric circles, closing in on God as the center.  Outermost was the world, surrounding Israel, which made up the next circle.  Within Israel, Jerusalem was the next layer, and the temple was the next.  Within the temple, you had the court of the Gentiles, then the court of the women, followed by the court of the men.  Inside this circle was the court of the priests.

The final two circles were obviously the most important.  The Holy place, described for us today in Hebrews, contained the table of showbread, the altar of incense, and the lampstand.  And inside this was the final circle, the Holy of Holies.  Here was the single room in all the world where God dwelt, for in this innermost circle was the Ark of the Covenant, containing the 10 Commandments, the budded staff of Aaron, and a jar of manna.  But most importantly, since the creation of the Ark, it was here that Moses and every High Priest after him had communed with God.

For the Jews, these circles were how they kept the unclean and unworthy away from God.  As you can follow with the concentric circles, each circle moving in toward God indicated one more step of righteousness.  Gentiles weren’t as righteous as women, who weren’t as righteous as men, who weren’t as righteous as priests, etc.

In fact, when you got to the innermost circle, the Holy of Holies, only one man (the High Priest) was considered righteous enough to enter, and then only one day each year (the Day of Atonement).  Nobody else could ever enter that room and stand in God’s presence under penalty of death.

Understanding this helps us to understand the importance of the tearing of the veil at the moment of Jesus’ death.  That veil was the one that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, and having it torn apart opened the Holy of Holies to everyone, righteous and unrighteous alike.  For the first time since the garden of Eden, we all have access to God.  Relationship, not just worship, is possible; prayer doesn’t have to go through a mediator; and through Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, we are finally declared righteous by God Himself.

Praise God!

Today’s reading from Jeremiah is the longest warning of the whole book.  Turning from the warnings against Israel and Judah, Jeremiah has been warning the surrounding nations – Moab, Ammon and the like – and now turns at last to Babylon itself.  As the source of Judah’s punishment, God has used Babylon against Judah, but even in this Babylon has sinned and now will be punished itself.  “From the North will come your doom,” is Jeremiah’s foretelling of the coming of the army of the Medes, and sure enough, under Cyrus and later Darius, the Medes conquer and decimate Babylon and it’s surrounding regions.  Jeremiah is proven true by history itself.

But in the midst of this woe, as always, we find grace, peace, and mercy.  For Jeremiah tells us God’s word about His children Israel, “‘In those days, at that time,’ declares the Lord, ‘search will be made for Israel’s guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare.'”  And again in our Hebrews reading, in v.12, we find God’s grace and mercy:  “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

I was talking with a friend recently and was reminded once again of this great truth:  “God plays the long game.”  In our impatience and short-sightedness, we often see only the immediate turmoil while God sees the long-term blessing.  For Israel, in one of the most exaggerated examples of this, they see their exile while God sees their return and blessing.  For us, maybe we see our current desolation and fear it will never end.  But God always plays the long game and sees much further than we can.

I almost left the ministry a decade ago, and as I sat weeping inconsolably on my kitchen floor, I had no perception of the spiritual growth that was going on, or the maturing I was having to endure.  But as I look back – and no, I don’t think this is just unrealistic optimism – I see God’s plan a bit better.  Did He cause my pain?  Not exactly, but He always uses what we give Him in our lives to remind us of His redemption and love for us.

It may take a while for us to see it, but always remember that God plays the long game.

The original tithe was the amount given by the 11 tribes of Israel to the 12th tribe, Levi, because Levi was given no land.  Instead, they were commanded to be the tribe of priests, caring for the tabernacle and then the temple.  Land was money, so instead of land, the Levites, who wouldn’t have time to farm land or raise livestock, were given a tithe of everyone else’s produce.

The author of Hebrews makes the point that while Jews gave their tithe to the temple and thereby to the Levites, the first tithe was given by Abraham to Melchizedek generations before there even was a Levi let alone a tribe of Levi.  This first tithe was give for a different reason – because Melchizedek was worthy of it.  It goes on to say that since Jesus wasn’t of the tribe of Levi (He was of the tribe of Judah), He could not be a Levitical priest.  Therefore, Jesus’ priesthood was like that of Melchizedek.

Because of this, we owe Jesus our tithes not because we have to support Him as a Levite, but because He is worthy of our giving.  And so, the concept of the tithe remains, according to the author of Hebrews.  What does this mean specifically?

When we give our tithes – let me learn from Paul here and digress for a moment.  The word “tithe” literally means “10%”, so if we are not giving at least 10% of our income (I’ll let you argue with God over whether that is gross or net), we cannot claim to be tithing.  We may be giving if, like the average church-goer, we give 3.4%, but we are not tithing and cannot claim to be doing so

When we give our tithes, we give them not out of duty because God has required us to give to the Levites, but simply because Jesus, like Melchizedek, is worthy of our giving.  We give out of thanksgiving, with joy (“the Lord loves a cheerful giver”), and freely.

Can you imagine what we could do if every person in our church began to tithe?  Oh, the ministry we could do.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

Our kids have been pretty frustrated with school.  Sadly, while we fight for the rights of those who learn at a slower pace than others, we don’t do so as well for those who learn faster.  Our kids are quick learners and we discuss and teach much at home, so they have been bored with most of their classes.  And when they advocate for themselves with their teachers, seeking a faster learning pace, other materials they can learn, or another class that might help, they are told to “just hang in there; it will get better soon” yet it never does.  We are once again teaching to the lowest common denominator so that no one is left behind.  But this also means no one can stretch ahead either.

I have posited not long ago the idea that churches have their education classes based on spiritual maturity rather than age or gender as we currently do.  I believe that this would allow us to follow the above teaching from Hebrews.  Currently, we have to teach the “elementary teachings about Christ” because there are always some who are new believers and need them.  But this means that those who don’t need them have to sit through lesson after lesson of things they have already learned.

What if we had classes on the “elementary teachings about Christ” for young believers, and then classes on “repentance… faith in God… instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement”, but then finally classes where we teach the more mature teachings for those who are more spiritually mature.

We are attempting this by setting learning standards for the church, but even with those we are age-bound.  And I know a number of children who have spiritually surpassed some of their elders.

God’s punishment for sin is not to lash out in wrath or to undermine passive aggressively; it is simply to let us have what we have sought when we have not sought Him.  Sin is seeking anything other than God, His will, and His Kingdom.  And all sin leads to our demise.  So God does not need to hasten our suffering to punish us for sin – He can simply leave that to us.

When we follow God, He stands between us and sin’s consequences.  God says not to get drunk with wine, and so when we obey we are saved from the pain of the alcoholic life.  God says to love one another as He loved us, and when we obey, we are saved from the loneliness and neuroses that come when we seek only our own good.

I’ve been pondering the narcissistic life recently, and have seen that true narcissists cannot follow God because following God requires submission, and a true narcissist cannot submit to anyone else but themselves.  They are incapable of putting the needs of others above their own, and so cannot obey the first rule of Christianity – love others as Christ has loved us.  But further pondering made me question whether any of us, narcissist or not, can follow that rule, and if not, what that means.

Praise God for grace, mercy, forgiveness, and His constant encouragement to try again.

As I write this, the Midterm Elections are happening, and by the time you read this, they will be over.  So I thought it a good day to talk about our relationship as Christians and as churches with the political machine.  Many feel they have this locked up biblicly, but I would beg to differ.

We get a lot of different teaching throughout scripture about how to deal with political leaders.  While most everyone I know can quote Paul’s Romans 13 teaching that we should submit to the governing authorities, assuming they are put in place by God, few think to look elsewhere for other teachings and examples.  Primarily, Christians are afraid of having differing teachings about any topic, feeling this weakens the biblical position on anything, but I beg to differ here too.  I think the bible having different teachings over time and across cultures shows the reality of it and confronts one of the biggest arguments I hear against it, that it is a dead 2000 year old book.

If we look at the OT for examples and teaching, we have to look at the exiles, first in Egypt then centuries later in Assyria and Babylon.  The Israelites submitted to the ruling authorities not out of theological requirement but because those authorities would kill the if they didn’t.  There was no though at the Red Sea that God would want them to resubmit to the Egyptians because He put them in charge in the first place.  In fact, God is the one who stands against these political leaders.

For the sake of time, let’s jump to Jeremiah, who suggests that the governing authorities have indeed been put in power by God, but not for the betterment of the Jews.  No, they have been put in power as punishment for Israelite disobedience.

And by the time we reach Revelation, John’s message about the governing authorities is to endure their evil, for God is coming back soon.

So as we consider our response to our own governing authorities, we have to pray and discern whether God’s call is to see them as simply stronger than we are, to see them as God’s instrument of punishment for our disobedience, to see the as God-appointed and therefore requiring our submission, or to see them as worldly persecution to be endured.

As I write this, the Midterm Elections are happening, and by the time you read this, they will be over.  So I thought it a good day to talk about our relationship as Christians and as churches with the political machine.  Many feel they have this locked up biblicly, but I would beg to differ.

We get a lot of different teaching throughout scripture about how to deal with political leaders.  While most everyone I know can quote Paul’s Romans 13 teaching that we should submit to the governing authorities, assuming they are put in place by God, few think to look elsewhere for other teachings and examples.  Primarily, Christians are afraid of having differing teachings about any topic, feeling this weakens the biblical position on anything, but I beg to differ here too.  I think the bible having different teachings over time and across cultures shows the reality of it and confronts one of the biggest arguments I hear against it, that it is a dead 2000 year old book.

If we look at the OT for examples and teaching, we have to look at the exiles, first in Egypt then centuries later in Assyria and Babylon.  The Israelites submitted to the ruling authorities not out of theological requirement but because those authorities would kill the if they didn’t.  There was no though at the Red Sea that God would want them to resubmit to the Egyptians because He put them in charge in the first place.  In fact, God is the one who stands against these political leaders.

For the sake of time, let’s jump to Jeremiah, who suggests that the governing authorities have indeed been put in power by God, but not for the betterment of the Jews.  No, they have been put in power as punishment for Israelite disobedience.

And by the time we reach Revelation, John’s message about the governing authorities is to endure their evil, for God is coming back soon.

So as we consider our response to our own governing authorities, we have to pray and discern whether God’s call is to see them as simply stronger than we are, to see them as God’s instrument of punishment for our disobedience, to see the as God-appointed and therefore requiring our submission, or to see them as worldly persecution to be endured.