Monday, August 13, 2007

Jeremiah Study, Week 2

Week 2: Part 1

Read Jeremiah 11, 12, & 13

Jeremiah’s not feeling too popular right now. People are tired of what he has to say, and they are ready to do away with him! They have even told him Jeremiah they will kill him if he doesn’t stop speaking in the Lord’s name.
I wish I had an ounce of Jeremiah’s boldness. I’ve never been faced with death for proclaiming Truth in the Lord’s name, and I don’t know how I would respond if the Lord asked me to stand in public with a bullhorn and declare God’s judgment. I hope I would be obedient, as Jeremiah was. People were now plotting his death, and Jeremiah goes to the Lord. God assures him that his vengeance will come upon these people. So Jeremiah keeps on preaching.
In chapter 12, Jeremiah brings a complaint to God. I love to see the picture of this close and intimate communication between Jeremiah and the Lord. We think of the God of the Old Testament being distant, but He is not! He has never been far from those who love Him. His desire is to walk closely with and communicate with us. Jeremiah goes respectfully to the Lord and complains asking “Why are the wicked so prosperous?” He says “But as for me, Lord, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts.” Why not be honest with God? It’s not as if we can conceal our thoughts, attitudes, feelings from Him, as we skillfully (or not so skillfully) do with people. Jeremiah had an intimate communication with God. He must have spent a lot of time in prayer, talking to God, and just as much time listening to God. If you’re like me, you might do a lot more talking than you do listening.

The Linen Belt Analogy
I love that the Lord uses illustrations to make a point! It makes so much sense to me! The Lord tells Jeremiah to go buy a linen belt, put it around his waist, but do not wash it. I think it’s interesting that even though Jeremiah felt the freedom to share his feelings and thoughts with the Lord, there is no record of Jeremiah questioning the Lord when he gives him these bizarre instructions. It doesn’t say he stopped, with a quizzical look, and said “Come again!?” Nope. It says “So I bought the belt as the Lord directed and put it around my waist.” Was God concerned with Jeremiah’s fashion statement? What was going on? Then the Lord tells him to do something even stranger. He tells him to take his brand new belt, go to the Euphrates river, and bury it in a hole in the rocks. And he simply did just as he was told. He didn’t wait another two days, listening for another message that made more sense. He just did it, without question. Then it says “A long time afterward…” a long time passed, and don’t you think Jeremiah was wondering ‘what was the deal with that belt?’ But then God told him to go back and retrieve it. He did, and of course it was nasty. It said the belt was “mildewed and falling apart.” Gross. And then the Lord makes a very profound statement.

10 These wicked people refuse to listen to me. They stubbornly follow their own desires and worship idols. Therefore, they will become like this linen belt — good for nothing! 11 As a belt clings to a person's waist, so I created Judah and Israel to cling to me," says the LORD. "They were to be my people, my pride, my glory — an honor to my name. But they would not listen to me. Jeremiah 13:10-11 NLT
God created us to cling to Him! To bring glory and honor to Him! This is our purpose. If you’ve wondered what your exact purpose is in life, THIS IS IT! We are designed to make God famous. To bring glory is defined as “being a source of honor, fame, or admiration.” Synonyms to the word glory are “fame, eminence, celebrity”. Our lives are to make Him known, and to show our total admiration of Him. People who know us, know of God! Are we fulfilling our purpose? Do people who know us think more highly of God than they did before? Do we live our lives to bring Him glory, or ourselves?
Let’s look at where the people of Israel and Judah went wrong. Instead of clinging to God and being His pride, glory, and honor, what did they do? (Look back at the verses above.)
They followed their own desires and worshipped idols. How much of what I do every day is based off of my own desires? Do I live to please the god of ME, or do I really and truly live to please God? Do I make the plans, and expect Him to get on board and bless them, because I said so, or do I ask Him what He wants for me every minute of every day? A lot of questions. Am I making your brain hurt? I just have to wonder…we want to think we are so different from these people, but I’m not sure we are. The passage just underneath this one says “Listen! Do not be proud, for the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God before it is too late.” (13:15) Pride will keep us from realizing where we are going wrong. How can you begin to bring glory to God with every ounce of who you are?

Look at 1 Corinthians 12, especially verses 4-7. What does it say about spiritual gifts? Who gives them? What are they to be used for?

What are your gifts and strengths? What are you using them for? Phil. 2:3 says “Don’t live to make a good impression on others.” Do you use your gifts and abilities to make yourself look good, or are they solely for God’s glory?

2 Corinthians 3:18 says we are to be “mirrors who brightly reflect the glory of the Lord.” Put in your own words how that should really look in your life.

What changes can you make in your life to “cling” to God, walking in intimacy with Him, and bring Him ALL the glory for your life?

Week 2: Part 2

Read chapters 14- 16

Chapter 14 begins with Judah’s terrible drought. The people are starting to feel the consequences of their total rebellion towards God, and they are whining. It sounds like repentance on the surface, but remember, the Lord knows the difference between our true repentance and our distaste for the consequences of our sin. Here’s a little of what they have to say in verses 7-9 of chapter 14.

7 The people say, "LORD, our wickedness has caught up with us. We have sinned against you. So please, help us for the sake of your own reputation. 8 O Hope of Israel, our Savior in times of trouble! Why are you like a stranger to us? Why are you like someone passing through the land, stopping only for the night? 9 Are you also confused? Are you helpless to save us? You are right here among us, LORD. We are known as your people. Please don't abandon us now!"

Even their cries for help are manipulative and self-serving. Like ‘What is wrong with YOU Lord?’ Their mouths are saying that they know they have sinned, but in the same sentence, they can’t figure out where God is…what is He doing…is He confused? Is He helpless?
God is neither.
He replies to them, saying ‘you love your sin so much, now you will finally be punished for it.’ Jeremiah has been preaching this judgment would come to them for their constant assault of God that has become their accepted lifestyle. They have been utterly unconcerned for God up until now, and in their hearts, they still are.
There are times when I am disciplining my children and I have to decipher between their true repentance for what they have done, and their tears because they were caught or are in trouble. Sometimes they say they are sorry, but on further investigation, they are not. They still cling to their justifications for what they have done, and there is a refusal in their heart to back down. It is my job to teach them the difference between real repentance in their heart for sin, and being sorry they face the consequences. Later in this chapter they say this:

20 LORD, we confess our wickedness and that of our ancestors, too. We all have sinned against you. 21 For the sake of your own name, LORD, do not abandon us. Do not disgrace yourself and the throne of your glory. Do not break your covenant with us. Please don't forget us!

The Lord has not been the one to break their covenant. These people, who were supposed to be God’s special possession, have abandoned Him. Just like my kids, they can certainly turn things around.

Jeremiah Questions God
Jeremiah sounds tired. I think I might be too. He is alone, standing for God, and is the most unpopular guy around. He has refused to take part in their “merry feasts” and has suffered alone for the cause of God’s righteousness. He has been God’s spokesman, warning the people of their sin and the consequences coming. But now they are out to kill him, and he’s feeling them breathing down his neck. His confidence in what the Lord has called him to do is shaken, and he’s momentarily unsure of God’s faithfulness. (Can you recall a similar moment in your own walk with the Lord? I can.)
The Lord is good! He completely reassures Jeremiah. He says return to me, and I will protect you, I will make you as strong as a fortified wall, I will protect you, I will deliver you, I will rescue you, and certainly keep you safe.
God had already said practically the exact words to Jeremiah, but he reminds him again of His promises. Jeremiah had started to look around at his circumstances, and doubt God. He lost focus of God’s promises, and that God always follows through. It reminds me of Peter, when he walks out to Jesus on the water, his eyes focused on Christ. He actually stepped out in intense faith, stepping on water! But what happened next? (Matt. 14)

30 But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. "Save me, Lord!" he shouted.

As soon as he looks around at the high waves, his faith evaporates, and he begins to sink. And even though Peter lost his faith in a milli-second, Jesus reaches out, grasps him tightly, and reminds him of His own faithfulness, and Peter’s lack of faith.
Jeremiah shifted his focus from a faithful God who was speaking directly to him and communing with him, to the high waves around him. It’s hard not to see the high waves, in our humanity! Many times in our own lives, we may feel like we’re drowning, and where is God? But we have lost sight of God’s promises, and His perfect faithfulness. We can instantly forget everything God has done for us in the past. That He’s never failed us. That He’s always been bigger than the high waves. Always.

Protection and Peace
The thing about sin is it is blinding. Sometimes we are knee-deep, and we don’t even know it. Sometimes we’re neck-high in it, and we still don’t know it. We’re asking ‘what’s the deal, God?’ like the people of Israel and Judah. But they had chosen, generations ago, to walk their own path of disobedience. They made their own way, choosing their gods and total abandon of God’s plan for them. And why? God had given them this land and everything they needed to live in it with Him. But the allure of sin is a lie from the Enemy, and they had swallowed the hook a LONG time back. They followed their own evil desires, as the Lord often put it. Because of that, the Lord says in chapter 16 “I have removed my protection and peace from them.” When we walk in obedience to the Lord, we are protected, and can have peace, no matter what. His peace is good. It defies all logic to have peace when the waves around us are high! Philippians 4:6-7 says:

6 Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

That’s the kind of peace that can be ours. But when we choose to step out of God’s will for our lives, we step out from under the umbrella of His protection, and we forfeit His peace. We face the consequences of our sin, and feel the discipline of the Lord.
The Good news! Hebrews 12.

Heb 12:5-6
5 And have you entirely forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his children? He said,

"My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you,
and don't be discouraged when he corrects you.
6 For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes those he accepts as his children."

Heb 12:10-11
But God's discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening — it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

If we truly know the Lord, and have a relationship with Him, when we step outside of His will for our lives, His umbrella of protection, we step into the pouring rain. And we’re going to get wet. But His discipline is good. No one likes it in the moment, but we ought to welcome it. Afterward, we can walk even more intimately with the Lord, and be wiser for having endured it.
My kids don’t like discipline. I don’t particularly like giving it either. But the Bible says that if I love them, I will discipline them and train them in the way they should go. Without it, they would never learn to live according to God’s desires. They would continually follow their own desires, and that leads to death. (Proverbs 22:6 & 15, 23:13, 13:24) And even my young children know that discipline means love.
We can hold fast to the promise of “a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” There is nothing better than that.

What is the difference between true repentance and being sorry for the consequences you face? Can you site an instance in your own life?

Is there a situation in your life in which you are focused on the high waves, rather than God? Are you seeing your circumstances rather than God’s faithfulness? Read Matt. 8:23-27. Do you identify with the disciples?

Look back on your life as a believer, and think of a time when you endured God’s discipline. Did you learn from it, and are you grateful for it now?

Week 2 Part 3
Read Jeremiah 17, 18, & 19

Jeremiah 17 has one of the best passages in the book, if you ask me! (I guess you’re asking me, since you’re reading this.) Let’s look at 17:5-8.

5 This is what the LORD says: "Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, on the salty flats where no one lives.

7 "But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.

The Lord gives us two categories of people to contemplate: those who put their trust in humans, thus turning their hearts away from the Lord, and those who trust fully, confidently, and wholeheartedly in the Lord.
Is there a third category? Those who sometimes trust the Lord, and sometimes trust themselves? No. I think that bumps you directly to the first category. We’d like to think that our hearts can belong to the Lord, but sometimes putting our trust elsewhere is okay. The Lord says not only is it not okay, but you are cursed. Let’s examine the difference.
Those who trust in mere humans and turn their hearts from the Lord: I like that he says “mere humans” because humans are not trustworthy. Not a one of us, unfortunately. We’ll get to the ‘why?’ of that in a minute, but when we are looking to ourselves, or anyone else in our life to meet our needs, fulfill us, pull through for us, we are in big trouble! We are like stunted shrubs in the desert…we cannot grow…we are not even in the position to have what we need to grow! We are without nutrients in the desert. We have no hope for the future. We are looking for something great to happen, for someone to pull through for us, but this is as good as it gets…living in the “barren wilderness” and “on the salty flats.”
Those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence: Oh, this is a beautiful word picture! I love scriptural word pictures, have I mentioned that before? This is a good one. They are blessed. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. What contrast to the desert! Such a tree would never stop growing and producing! It has access to water all the time. God is many times called the living water, or a fountain of living water, in this book. They can drink from this fountain, and never stop!
What does it say next? The trees will never experience the heat or drought? The climate will always be perfect. The temperature a constant 82 degrees. Nope. There will be heat. There could even be long months of drought. But does the tree die? No, it says “such trees are not bothered…”. And why should they be? Their hope is where? Their confidence is where? In the Lord. Their leaves do not turn brown and nasty. They do not cease producing fruit. It says “their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.”
What happens to us when the heat bears down on us and we even experience some extended periods of drought? When difficult times come? Has God abandoned us? No. He’s given us everything we need. But I fear as soon as things get ugly for us, our “leaves turn brown.” We are no longer pleasant to look at or be around. We become a mess. Depression, anxiety, fearfulness sets in. Even more so, we stop producing fruit. There is no fruit in our lives, because we are completely consumed with the “drought” in our lives. So where is our trust? Clearly, not in the Lord. We are definitely in the first category, even if we claim to be in the second.
How badly I want to be a tree planted along the riverbank! I want deep roots that are completely tangled up in the never ending supply of living water! I want to be utterly unbothered by the heat. Even in times of drought, when things would seem hopeless from a category #1 perspective, I want people to see green, green leaves, and delicious fruit. Do we trust Him? Is ALL of our hope and confidence in Him? All of our eggs in one basket, completely depending on Him alone? We have to be! We have to stop living in the desert! There is no hope in the barren wilderness! He is truly enough.

The Human Heart
As the Lord grows me, I find myself constantly gauging what I think and believe. Is it from the world, or is it from the Word? I’m always shocked to find how much of what I say and think is really from the world, and not from the Word of God. What does this chapter say about the human heart?

9 "The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? 10 But I know! I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve."

I think the world, about a million church-going people included, would like to think that people are good. We are really good people. You’ve heard that said, right? ‘You’re a good person.’ Actually, we’re not good. We’re the opposite of good. Our hearts are “most deceitful and desperately wicked.” That’s pretty clear. But we don’t like to think that about ourselves. I think even people who go to church, or grew up in church, know that we are sinners. But it’s much more appealing to cling to the idea that there is good in all of us, and we all “deserve to be happy.” Heard that one too? I heard it just this week. If we really believe that we deserve to be happy, then we don’t understand our human sinful nature. We are born with a “most deceitful and desperately wicked” heart. The only good thing about it is that we have the knowledge deep inside of us that we need a Savior. Praise God! When He redeems us, we go from sinner to saint…saints who sin. But God has made us Holy! What a miracle our salvation is! Because of Jesus’ blood sacrifice, we are made clean. But we still need to know that we walk in the flesh of a fallen world. The things of God don’t come naturally to us. I heard a preacher say recently, ‘don’t believe it? Just have kids!’ So true! We are all born selfish, me-focused, with the inclination to rebel. Only the Holy Spirit in us can set these things right. If we are trusting in ourselves AT ALL, we are in that first category, living in the desert. As far as “deserving to be happy”, I haven’t found that in the Bible yet either. The only thing I found was that we deserve hell. But what I do know is that the Father showers us with good things! James 1:17 says “Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above.” The Psalms say He delights in every detail of our lives, watches our every step, thinks about us countless times in one night, knit us together with His own hands, guards us, protects us, and gives us the desires of our heart. All of those things make me happy! But we have some confused ideas about what true happiness is. This statement also alludes that the purpose of our life is to find personal happiness. Our only purpose in life is to glorify God. When we are walking with Him and bringing glory to Him with our lives, that is our bliss.

Clay Pots
Again, God speaks to Jeremiah. What I love about how He speaks, is He gives him tangible, meaningful pictures that are memorable for Jeremiah, and for us. He tells Jeremiah to go visit the pottery shop. He takes the task of molding one of these clay pots, and destroying it if it doesn’t bend and obey the potter’s hands, and makes it yet another warning for these stubborn and rebellious people.
He then asks Jeremiah to take a clay pot and destroy it in front of the people to illustrate that God’s destruction is coming for those who continue to follow their own evil desires and refuse to turn back to the Lord.
Does God ever speak to you in this way? Do you see something, in nature, or an everyday task, and realize there is a great spiritual truth hiding in it that suddenly hits you! I believe that He is always speaking to us, but we are rarely listening. Jeremiah was listening. We isolate our communion with God to a couple hours in church on Sunday, or to the allotted time we give Him in our morning, but really, all of our lives, all of the time should be spent in communion with Him. He should have our full attention as we go about our lives, all the time. Imagine what we might hear if we were really listening, instead of being caught up in us and our to-do list. Let’s perk up our ears. Stop. Listen. Take every opportunity to see your life through the lens of a God who speaks to us in tangible, memorable ways.

In what might you be trusting rather than the Lord? Can you look back and think of a time when you were living in the desert because you were not depending on Him, but on someone or something else?

What drought are you currently experiencing? Read James 1:2-4, and Hebrews 12:1-12. What fruit can be produced in you because of it? Are you letting Him produce that in you?

Examine your current beliefs about the human heart. Do you depend on “being good” based on your own abilities? How? Read Galatians 5:22. What will be produced in our lives when the Holy Spirit fills and controls us? Make a list and circle the ones you know are lacking in you.

Can you think of a time when God spoke to you through a picture, like He did with the clay pot and Jeremiah? What was it, and what did you get from it?

Week 2 Part 4: Chapters 20-23

Kings, Prophets, and Shepherds

We see in these chapters the Lord’s great anger towards the leaders of the land. In fact these four chapters are pretty much devoted to them. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has begun his attack, and King Zedekiah is panicking. Jeremiah had just been whipped and put in stocks for speaking out for the Lord. But here comes a spokesman for the king…the king Jeremiah has been desperately trying to convince that God’s judgment was coming and calling for his repentance. There’s a knock on his door. Jer 21:1-2
The LORD spoke through Jeremiah when King Zedekiah sent Pashhur son of Malkijah and Zephaniah son of Maaseiah, the priest, to speak with him. They begged Jeremiah, 2 "Please ask the LORD to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has begun his attack on Judah. Perhaps the LORD will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies."
I wonder how Jeremiah felt in that moment? He was a prophet of the Lord, but he was also a man. Do you think he felt an inking of satisfaction? Nonetheless, he had a message from the Lord for this messenger. The Lord was in fact NOT going to do a miracle to save their tails now! No, on the contrary, the Lord was going to be fighting against them! He said he would make their weapons useless! You might wonder, now they’re asking for help? Why won’t God help them? Remember that God always sees our hearts and our motives. They were not saying ‘We see the error of our ways! We have rebelled against the Lord, broken our Covenant with Him, and broken His heart! We want to repent, and ask for the Lord to save us!’ Not exactly. They simply wanted a way out of the consequences to their sin. There was not even a mention of repentance. Jeremiah had been warning them for years that this was coming. They had been thumbing their noses at him the whole time. But now that it was actually happening, they had the gall to ask the Lord for a miracle to save them from what they had brought on themselves!
We have to remember that God is just! In fact, his great anger on the kings and prophets we read about in this section is because of the great injustice they are heaping upon the helpless. God is always defending the poor, widows, and orphans. Their injustice has invoked God’s wrath.
Jer 21:11-12
11 "Say to the royal family of Judah, 'Listen to this message from the LORD! 12 This is what the LORD says to the dynasty of David: Give justice to the people you judge! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Do what is right, or my anger will burn like an unquenchable fire because of all your sins.”
In fact, Jeremiah then was sent by the Lord to speak directly to the king with this message. Jer 22:1-5
2'Listen to this message from the LORD, you king of Judah, sitting on David's throne. Let your officials and your people listen, too. 3 This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! 4 If you obey me, there will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem. The king will ride through the palace gates in chariots and on horses, with his parade of officials and subjects. 5 But if you refuse to pay attention to this warning, I swear by my own name, says the LORD, that this palace will become a pile of rubble.' "

His message about injustice continues for King Jehoiakim. Jer 22:13-17
13 And the LORD says, "Destruction is certain for Jehoiakim, who builds his palace with forced labor. By not paying wages, he builds injustice into its walls and oppression into its doorframes and ceilings. 14 He says, 'I will build a magnificent palace with huge rooms and many windows, paneled throughout with fragrant cedar and painted a lovely red.'
15 "But a beautiful palace does not make a great king! Why did your father, Josiah, reign so long? Because he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him. 16 He made sure that justice and help were given to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn't that what it means to know me?" asks the LORD. 17 "But you! You are full of selfish greed and dishonesty! You murder the innocent, oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly."

Verse 16 is piercing here. Dealing out justice to the needy among us… “isn’t that what it means to know me?”
But are we giving justice to the oppressed among us? Who are they in this day and age, and what can we do?

‘The Oppressed’
The Orphan…
We know that God calls for justice for the oppressed, not only in this book, but throughout scripture. James 1:27 says
27 Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.
That very verse was incredibly meaningful to my husband and I as we were deliberating over taking in another baby to foster and possibly adopt. We weren’t looking for that opportunity, but it came looking for us. In light of this verse, we felt it was clear. Praise God we listened, and have been blessed with a beautiful baby boy in our home!
What are we doing for the orphans among us? Some families I know are fostering. Some are adopting. Some are financially supporting or even visiting orphanages in other parts of the world. I seriously don’t know if our family is doing enough, but I do know that there are orphans among us, and all over the world, and we ought to be greatly burdened and asking the Lord what we should do to help these oppressed little ones. Doing nothing is probably not an acceptable answer. What excuse do we have for this?

The Widow…
Being a widow in Bible times meant that you were unable to earn a living yourself. You were forced to depend on others, on the church. I think this could include anyone who is unable, physically, to make a sufficient income to live on. Today our financial structure is a little different. The elderly are, at the very least, supposed to have Social Security benefits and Medicare to help with their medical needs. That way we are absolved from our responsibilities to them. (Or so we think.) Yet being on Medicare makes it difficult to get good medical care or affordable medicines. There are doctors who won’t even accept any Medicare because it pays very little and they are a huge bother. In most cultures, the elderly in the family are cared for by their families, within their own homes. Not so in our culture. The elderly are turned out so much of the time, and left to survive on very little. We see them as a nuisance. Unpleasant. The irony is we will be them one day, and we don’t even see that. This is what Timothy says about the widow, and abandoning the elderly in our families.
1 Tim 5:3-4
3 The church should care for any widow who has no one else to care for her. 4 But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much.
Verse 8
8 But those who won't care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied what we believe. Such people are worse than unbelievers.

Is that unclear? Yet, I have seen in my own family, battling amongst the family in providing for aging parents. We are worse than unbelievers when this happens! Timothy says our first responsibility is to show godliness AT HOME! If we aren’t Christians in our own home, it doesn’t matter how spiritual we act everywhere else.

The Poor and Needy…
The Bible is also clear about how we should feel about our money. We should hold on very loosely! Let’s read again from the Word.
1 Tim 6:17-19
17 Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of real life.
1 Peter 4:9
9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.

Have you ever seen how people in third world countries live on a daily basis? If so, you know that we in America are “the rich.” I think the first thing we must examine is how do we feel about our money? What are we to use it for? Are the poor and needy living around us benefiting from what God has given us? Or are we just storing up our own treasures, our own pleasure, our own comforts?
In Acts it said that the first church shared everything they had, and if there was a need among them, it was met. What has happened to us as a church? When did we start seeing our own money as “our own”? The percent of church members that even tithe their 10% is unbelievably low! We aren’t even willing to support the church that we belong to! We are so off-base when it comes to money! I want God to change our hearts and minds, starting with me, about how to share our finances with the poor and needy constantly! Our hearts must first be broken by our own hard-hearted selfishness, and I am afraid of what that is going to take.

Shepherds and Prophets
After he tears into the highest leaders of the lands, the kings, he moves on to the leaders underneath those…the shepherds and prophets. Shepherds are those leading the people spiritually, and the Prophets are supposed to be spokesmen for the Lord, teaching God’s Truth based on revelations from God. Let’s hear what he has to say to the shepherds.
Jer 23:1-4
"I will send disaster upon the leaders of my people — the shepherds of my sheep — for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for," says the LORD.
2 This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: "Instead of leading my flock to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them. 3 But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from wherever I have driven them. I will bring them back into their own fold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 Then I will appoint responsible shepherds to care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one of them will be lost or missing," says the LORD.

All of us have the privilege of leading someone. Look behind you. There’s someone following. For me, I look behind me, and there are four tiny people there. They are stair-stepped in height, singing “following the leader”, that song from Peter Pan. Man, they’re cute! My job, and my husband’s job, to lead them to Christ and a life of holiness, is scary to say the least!
Behind them is a string of adorable college-age girls. They are precious to me! They are my friends. They make me laugh. They love my kids, and I love them! For some reason, they’ve gotten in line, even for just a short season of their lives.
Behind them are people watching us that I’m not even aware of. I can’t really see them. They’re WAY back there. But I know they are there.
We have the perfect example of a Shepherd in the Bible. In Matthew 18, Jesus illustrates how the Father loves us by saying if one out of 100 sheep gets lost, the Shepherd will go and search for him. And when the lost sheep is found, he will rejoice over him! In the same way, the Father desires that not even one of us is lost!
But in John 21:15-17, Jesus has a memorable scene with his disciple, Peter, when he asks him three times if Peter loves him, and three times Peter says “yes!” Then Jesus responds by saying “Feed my lambs”, “care for my sheep”, and “feed my sheep.”
If we love God, we will do that. We will do not only what we want to do, spend our time on us, make decisions that concern only us, but we will be always mindful of the sheep following behind us, so that not even one is lost!

When you look behind you, who is following? Look closely. There’s someone there. What can you do to ensure that you are leading them to the Father?

What are ways that you can help the needy, oppressed, or orphans? What opportunities does your church provide? Take some time to pray about your own involvement.

Take a financial inventory. Look over your checkbook and credit card statement, or just keep track of where all of your money goes for a week. How much is spent on someone beside yourself? Allow the Lord to speak to you about how you feel about your money, and what He wants to do with it.