Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 7:47 a.m. – the Lord Jesus put the song in mind, “Blessed Assurance.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Jeremiah 23 (NIV). Due to its length, I will quote some and summarize some. Woe to Shepherds “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. (Cf: Ezekiel 34) Vv. 1-4 A shepherd is “somebody who is responsible for caring for and guiding a group of people, especially a Christian minister” (Encarta). He can be a pastor, an elder, a deacon, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, and/or a Bible study leader, etc. Although I would hope that there are many good shepherds of the people of today, who truly shepherd their flock in the way Jesus Christ intended for them to do so, sadly enough so many do not. Many shepherds within the church today are engrossed in the world, are following all the latest fads and techniques (marketing schemes) for how to grow their “churches,” and are being led more by human philosophy and reasoning than they are being led by the Spirit of God and the Word of Truth. They have adopted the ways of the world in order to attract the world to their “churches.” If you go from church to church, and denomination to denomination, you might find many common threads among them that are cross-cultural, and cross-denominational, but that have little to do with the Word of God or the power and working of the Holy Spirit in their midst. So many are like carbon-copies of the other, using all the same buzz-words and catch-phrases and terminology. They may act like what they have discovered is unique only to them, but it sounds just like a clone of the other guy. Much of the church has become so much like the world that it is barely distinguishable between the church and the world anymore. Entertainment and fun get top billing. Pastors are more like comedians and actors than they are like men of God. The worship service is more like a big show. Movies and books written by mere humans have replaced the Bible in small groups and in Sunday school classes. Gimmicks and giveaways are used to bring people into the church. Many unsaved people find the church of today fun, entertaining, friendly, non-threatening, and non-judgmental, and they feel “at home” there. What is wrong with this picture? The world should not feel “at home” in a meeting of the church. The gospel of Jesus Christ is diluted to make it more appealing, acceptable and palatable to the world, so that the cross is no longer an offense. Coming to Christ seems to be nothing more than a decision to escape hell and to have the promise of heaven, but with no death to sin, and no teaching on repentance and obedience, or on the importance of holy living. The prophets follow an evil course and use their power unjustly. “Both prophet and priest are godless; even in my temple I find their wickedness,” declares the Lord. Vv. 10b-11 Many church leaders are being trained in how to draw in or to target certain people, usually the unchurched, unsaved or nominal Christian who knows little of the Bible, and how to “filter out” those who are not a “good fit,” usually those who know the Bible and who stand on the word of truth and who will challenge false teaching when they see it. These leaders are told to avoid people such as these with “strong convictions,” or to discourage what they call the “doctrine police,” who might point out false teaching, as well as they will sometimes discourage even the presence of Bibles and the teaching from the word as it tends to turn people away, and they don’t want to offend anyone. Movies and movie clips are often shown to illustrate Biblical truth, or at least that is the concept, and yet many of these movies are ones which promote sexual immorality and sinful behaviors, so that would be counterproductive, as these movie clips might lead their people into sin instead of away from sin. Many of these shepherds are addicted to pornography, or to other vices, and/or spend hours upon hours watching TV and movies with sexual situations in them, containing filthy language, or that glorify and laugh at the sins of others. They spend hours upon hours in marketing their church and finding new ways to attract the world and/or in setting up the show and finding all the right props. They immerse themselves in the culture around them and will even utilize what they know is sinful to attract the world, because the more edgy it is, the more the world will like it. They manipulate their congregations with tone of voice, certain phrases, fake tears, quivering voices at just the right place in the sermon, a sad story intended to move people emotionally, fake sincerity, and the twisting of truth to support what message they want to get across and to “sell” to the people. They are more like “used car salesmen” than they are like men of God, born of the Spirit. “And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that not one of them turns from their wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.” V. 14 Because these shepherds of the people dilute the gospel so that it is no longer the gospel taught by Jesus Christ and by the apostles, they give their listeners a false hope of heaven absent of the necessity of dying with Christ to the sins which once enslaved them, absent of genuine new birth of the Spirit of God, and absent of a walk of faith in Christ’s righteousness and holiness. They make up their own version of the gospel that gets people in the door and that keeps them coming back, but that gives them a free license to continue in willful sin and in sexual immorality. They promise these people that God is pleased with them just the way they are, that all is happy, that God will not discipline them, and that nothing is required of them at all in the way of holy living in the power of the Spirit within them. So, the people are convinced that it doesn’t matter at all how they live because they figure God’s grace has it all covered. So, why did Christ die? He died so that we would no longer live for ourselves but for him who gave himself up for us (See 2 Co. 5:15). But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds. V. 22 Many of these shepherds today do not even get their sermons directly from the Lord. They borrow them from each other, or they make them up out of their own imaginations, and yet they declare they are sharing the message the Lord has given to them to give to the people. Yet, God is against them because they lead His “people astray with their reckless lies.” The Righteous Branch “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. Vv. 5-6 This is a prophecy concerning our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. God the Son came to earth, took on human flesh, suffered as we suffer, and was tempted in like manner in which we are tempted, yet without sin. He healed the sick, raised the dead and he preached repentance (turning from sin) and obedience (following him) as necessary to a having a relationship with him and with the Father, and to gaining eternal life with them in heaven. Many of his followers deserted him when he explained to them the cost of being one of his disciples. They said his teaching was too hard. The religious leaders of his day hated him and hounded him, looking for any way in which they could discredit him. They were threatened by his teaching and by his following, as it threatened their own positions of power and influence over the people. They hated him so much that they had him crucified on a cross as though he was a common criminal, and although he did nothing wrong. When Jesus died, our sins died with him. When he rose from the dead, he conquered death, hell, Satan and sin. Amen! When we come to him in faith we willingly submit ourselves to the cross of Christ, dying with him to the sins which once enslaved us, yielding to the Spirit of God in allowing him to transform our hearts and minds away from sin and to God, and we surrender our wills to the will of the Father as we choose to now walk by the Spirit in Christ’s righteousness and holiness. [See: Ac. 26:16-18; Ro. 6-8; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:17-24; Tit. 2:11-14 & 1 Jn. 1-5.] Amen! This is the true gospel of our salvation for it actually delivers us from slavery to sin and it empowers us to live for Christ and to walk in his holiness, and to no longer live for ourselves or according to our own fleshly desires. This is God’s amazing grace! It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled and upright lives in this present age while we wait for his return. Amen! Blessed Assurance / Fanny Crosby Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. Perfect submission, perfect delight, Visions of rapture now burst on my sight; Angels descending bring from above Echoes of mercy, whispers of love. Perfect submission, all is at rest I in my Savior am happy and blest, Watching and waiting, looking above, Filled with His goodness, lost in His love. This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior, all the day long; This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior, all the day long.