Friday, November 23, 2012

Touching Base! Part 189

Jeremiah was a bullfrog? - Part 7
What Are You Inhaling?

(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Think about our culture, and how true the following statement is:
“We expect anything and everything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. We expect to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, active and reflective, kind and competitive …. We expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly, to go to a "church of our choice" and yet feel its guiding power over us, to revere God and to be God. Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could offer.” (Daniel Boorstin, The Image)

Do we live in a world wondering about the validity of the things in which we have put our hope and trust?

This morning we talked about idolatry. Approximately 2600 years ago, a whole nation (Judah) was guilty of idolatry - the act of placing the creation above the Creator, the act of willfully setting aside God and setting up idols who receive the worship only God deserves.

Key Text: Jeremiah 2:13
Notice the two actions that they were involved in.
“Forsaking” - Which means to abandon, or leave behind.
“Digging” - literally means to cut or to carve.
On Sunday I likened forsaking to exhaling and digging to inhaling. When we exhale, we remove from our lungs the air that is present and immediately replace it by inhaling the air that surrounds us. This physical reality illustrates what we can do with God. We exhale God from the center of our lives, from being in charge and inhale whatever else is out there, that we deem worthy of our worship and that we think will give us life.

Big Idea: Idolatry is when we exhale God and inhale whatever else is out there.

Here are four observations of this exchange process referred to in our text.

1. Moving from a godly orientation to an ungodly orientation.

The context of Jeremiah is that these are a people that once followed God, but have moved to an ungodly orientation. Notice Jeremiah 2:1-4: they are inhaling God. God is central, God enlivens them, excites them - He is their object of worship. But then note (v.)5 they have exhaled God, removed God from that central place and inhaled what? Worthless idols!

It is a rearranging of life, a choosing of a new priority, a reversing of what God has done and where He has been in the believer’s/nation’s life. He has moved from the center to the margins, from the throne room to the back room.

Listen to what Stuart Macalister says in Catalyst Magazine:
“Christianity demands a change of focus and orientation. The scriptures call for self renunciation as a core aspect of the life it envisions. The heart, and its ordering is of course central to this. The tragic view of humanity, and the understanding of the heart’s inclination or orientation, means we need to be careful in monitoring what captivates and captures our hearts.”
Note, “we need to be careful...” In other words this process (exhale, inhale…) that can change our orientation needs to be guarded against. Jeremiah 17:9 confirms this: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Ever experienced the temptation to move from a godly orientation to an ungodly orientation?
Some writers refer to the heart as an idol factory. How can your heart become an idol factory?

Be careful what you inhale!

2. If you do the first- exhale (forsake) you will do the second inhale (dig).

“My people have committed two sins” - Not one but two. Why is that? Let’s refer to our theologian friend Bob Dylan. What did he so eloquently write (and by some standards, poorly) sing? You Gotta Serve Somebody. Just as it is impossible in the physical realm to exhale without inhaling (unless of course you are dead) so too in the spiritual realm, it is impossible to forsake God and just remain neutral. There is no neutral territory. Judah was never in a state of “not” worshipping, following, something or somebody. When you say no to God you immediately, just like taking your next breath, say yes to something or someone else. Agree, disagree?

Here is the great danger, what we inhale can be anything. Nothing, not even the cutest little kid on the block, is exempt from becoming an idol in someone’s life. I have heard it said that the reason fighting terrorism is so challenging, is because there is no country to attack, no army in military garb to target. Likewise, you can’t say “these five things”, “these three items” are the idols to avoid. Anything, even Bob’s Big Boy Hot Fudge Cake can become an idol.

Got any good things that are idols, that have robbed God of being priority #1?
Be careful what you inhale!

3. It can be a subtle process - exhale, inhale

V. 2:13 is a picture of what can be a very subtle process. Forsaking and digging are not always accompanied with loud noises, like bashing pans together. Sometimes the shift is subtle, like a silent killer. It can start ever so subtly in the Christ follower’s life.

Group exercise: Sit as a group and see if you can hear each other breathing. Yes, I know this is weird but then so am I. Just do it - you will feel much better. What do you note? In most cases you cannot hear a person breathing. Yes there are loud talkers, but rarely do we think to ourselves “Wow that person breathes loud!” Ever been in a movie and had someone say, “Please don’t breathe so loud, people are trying to listen to the movie!” Ever heard someone say, “If you are going to breathe so loud then take it outside, I am trying to watch the news!” Doubt it!

Likewise, our act of idolatry can be silent and subtle.

David Clarkson distinguishes between external idolatry, which consists in literal bowing down to a physical image, and internal idolatry, which consists of an act of the soul. “When the mind is most taken up with an object and the heart and affections most set upon it, this is soul worship; and this is… the honor due only to the Lord, to have the first, the highest place, both in our minds and hearts and endeavors.” The worship of our idols in some cases is not as obvious as bowing own to Molech, Baal or Zeus (the three stooges).

Think of the subtle ways we shift allegiance as we walk through the day. Exhale, inhale... On Sunday I gave several examples.

Another reason for the subtlety is because we can actually be doing the right thing but be motivated by an idol in our heart. For example, I can attempt to preach my best sermon to satisfy my need for affirmation, validation and praise. Ya, I know ugly eh!

Be careful what you inhale!

4. What is so subtle can be so evil.

2:13 is a picture of adultery, treason and self-salvation. Not a pretty picture.
- Adultery - check out Jer. 2:32; 3:1b-2,6-10,14; 5:7,8
- Treason/Disloyalty - check out Romans 1:25,26
- Self-salvation - check out Jer. 2:28

Just in case you are not yet convinced of the evil, check out Jer. 2:5 “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” This is a theme all throughout Scriptures. Idolatry is not good for the soul. Note what is said about when we take good things and turn them into idols. Imagine what can happen when we take worthless things and turn them into idols.
“What many people call “psychological problems” are simple issues of idolatry. Perfectionism, workaholism, chronic indecisiveness, the need to control the lives of others- all of these stem from making good things into idols that then drive us into the ground as we try to appease them.” (Timothy Kellar, Counterfeit Gods.)

Be careful what you inhale!

Here is your assignment in preparation for next week. Ask God to sensitize your heart this week to the number of times you exhale, inhale. Ask for God to show you where an idol is in control, not God, where anything other than God is more greatly shaping, leading or influencing you.
And then list what your top 5 idols could be, like Bob’s Big Boy Hot Fudge Cake.

Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” Are you?


If interested in joining or starting a small group contact

Friday, November 16, 2012

Touching Base! Part 188

Jeremiah was a bullfrog? - Part 6
What's on the Inside Matters

(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

What’s on the inside matters! Anyone question that? Anyone think that is a nonsensical statement? Take a few minutes and write down what’s on the inside. Think of these questions:
  • What are your dominant emotions?
  • Who are they directed at?
  • What are the thoughts that captivate you?
  • Who did you most recently have an intimate conversation with? What did that reveal about your heart, what’s on the inside?
  • What would be the image/picture that would best describe what’s on the inside these days?

In our study of Jeremiah, we discover that he revealed more of his inner feelings and personal reactions towards God and men than did any other prophet in Old Testament times - there are 7 main texts that are Jeremiah’s “confessionals”. Jeremiah speaks in the first person - he unloads! He talks to God about the great swells in the ocean. At times he is filled with praise, and at other times.... well, let’s just take a look.

Let’s look at a few of these texts as we unpack our big idea, What’s Inside Matters!

For sure, Jeremiah found himself in some pretty lonely places.
  • A prison - Jeremiah 37:11-16
  • A cistern - Jeremiah 38:4-6 (a type of well)
  • Stocks- Jeremiah 20:1-6

These places are not like a Starbucks or busy malls at Christmas. These are lonely places. What are your lonely places?
  • Leadership can be a lonely place at times
  • Your walk home from.....
  • Your home - especially after someone has died or the kids have moved away or....
  • A sea of faces - crowded loneliness -
  • A hard or unpopular decision can represent a lonely place
  • Lying in bed at night with just your thoughts can be a lonely place
  • A season can be lonely - Christmas.
  • Transitions can be lonely times.
  • What is your loneliest time of the day or day of the week?

Here is the interesting tension for Jeremiah. See if it is yours - turn to Jeremiah 15:15-17. Why is he alone? What has got him here, in this predicament?

Jeremiah is lonely because this is exactly where God has allowed him to go. It’s exactly the place obedience would take him. In fact disobedience could have solved his loneliness problem. But remember Jeremiah 1:17-19? God told Jeremiah to get ready for the lonely road. You see the reason what’s inside matters is because God can use those experiences, and consequently, the feelings to do a deeper work in our hearts. We live in a culture that moves away from the negative - like loneliness- but perhaps for some, God is speaking and wanting us to grow because of it.

Discuss this (from Bob Goff. Love Does.):

The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides people into failure. He made us be born as little kids who can't walk or talk or even use a bathroom correctly. We have to be taught everything. All that learning takes time, and He made us so we are dependent on Him, our parents, and each other. The whole thing is designed so we try again and again until we finally get it right. And the whole time He is endlessly patient.

God intentionally led Jeremiah into loneliness, a place of dependence and growth.
So what’s your conversation with God like these days, as you have moved through a season of feeling alone? Perhaps that season has passed. Think back to what your conversations with God were like back then.
What is He teaching you?
What is inside matters. God might be saying - let me shape you through this!

Anger and Hurt
Ask an angry person who or what hurt them and they will probably have an answer. Hurt often lies behind our anger. Agree? Now note Jeremiah’s anger and hurt in Jeremiah 15:18a. Remember he is not talking about a physical wound but a wound to the soul - inside stuff!
Note the direction of his anger:

1. God (v.18b) A deceptive brook was like a mirage, one of those streambeds in the desert that looks as if water should be flowing in it but when you arrive at its banks, it’s dry. What he is saying is “God you have tricked me. You promised but you did not deliver.” - “God You over-promised and under-delivered.” Ever felt like that?

Jeremiah has some more words for God. Read Jeremiah 20:7-10. A blunt but literal rendering of v7 is “First you seduced me, then you raped me.” This is what you call a “ tell me how you really feel prayer”- blunt, honest, no holding back!

Eugene Peterson says “Believers argue with God; skeptics argue with each other.”

2. People (v.18:18-23) This is another “tell me how you really feel” kind of prayer. Note it says they attacked him with their tongues. Quite the image. Tongues can do to the soul what a bullet can do to the flesh.

Here is the question - Where did Jeremiah learn to talk like this with God? Who modeled this kind of deep soul language, honest, at times brutally honest. I would suggest that Jeremiah learned this from none other than the God he worshipped. The book of Jeremiah is filled with language that reveals the (at times, angry) heart of God.

Discuss the following
I think in some cases we have cleaned up the language of God, the strong emotion, and consequently weakened our perception of God. The emotion, this passion of God’s has been translated into sterile doctrinal statements, codified, predictable, and sanitary. Consequently our prayer language has not really touched into what is going on inside.

What is interesting is that at the end of these confessionals who do we hear responding? Check out Jeremiah 12:5;15:19. God is engaged with Jeremiah. God responds to Jeremiah at a deep “soul wound” level because Jeremiah has prayed a “tell me how you really feel” kind of prayer. What’s inside matters! God uses the inside “stuff” to do a deeper work in Jeremiah’s heart.
What is your “tell me how you really feel” prayer?
What is He teaching you?
Did you grow up in a context where honesty with God was encouraged?
How do you draw the line of disrespecting God in prayer vs. being honest about what’s inside?

What’s inside matters. Don’t ignore it! It can be the source of great growth!


If interested in joining or starting a small group contact

Monday, November 12, 2012

Remembrance Day 2012

Lest We Forget, Remembrance Day Service 2012
A Canadian Soldier and Christian in Rwanda in 1994

Our guest speaker, Major (Ret.) Brent Beardsley, was born & raised in Ottawa, Cobourg and Montreal. After completing university, he joined the Canadian Army and served across Canada and around the world until he retired from active service in 2009. In 1993-1994 he served as the personal staff officer to then Canadian General Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda, before and during the Rwandan genocide that engulfed that nation and ultimately claimed the lives of approximately 1 million people in 100 days. This past Sunday he gave a powerful presentation reflecting on his experience as a Christian Soldier in Rwanda during those terrible days.

A recording of this presentation will be available here.

The slideshow used during the presentation will be available here.

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact

Friday, November 2, 2012

Touching Base! Part 187

Jeremiah was a bullfrog? - Part 5
What are you catching downstream?

(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

When we lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, it always amazed us (when observing some of the locals) how someone could be upstream in a river relieving themselves, then a little further downstream, someone would be washing dishes, then a little further downstream the locals would be scooping up drinking water and swimming. We concluded that it must not be self-evident that what goes on upstream affects those downstream. How many would want to stand in the river downstream? What happens upstream can affect us downstream, can’t it?

In political arenas, this principle is being discussed heatedly. Here’s how the discussion goes: “If we who are upstream (the older generation) do not curb our spending habits and bring greater accountability to our budgets, we are going to place a crippling debt in the laps of our children (downstream).” We have even seen how the younger generation is growing increasingly angry at inheriting such a heavy debt.

If you are discussing this TB in a small group, take a few minutes to think of examples in life of this “upstream, downstream” principle.

Big Idea: What happens upstream affects us downstream.

Now before we jump into Jeremiah, check out Proverbs 20:7 as well as 2 Tim 1:5 and see how this principle can be a great blessing. How many of us would be able to identify some great blessings in our lives? Would you be able to connect that to your family line?

Let’s check out this principle at work in our book of study, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 2:1-9
Identify the upstream (previous generation) verses.
Identify the downstream (current generation) verses.
What words indicate that the current generation are guilty of the very same sins of the previous generation?
Note what God says about “your children’s children.” V9b. God recognizes the strength of the current that will flow to future generations not even born yet.
Have you ever had to draw a boundary and say, ”as for this generation, this behaviour (attitude, sin) stops here and now!”
Do you think “kicking” a habit is harder when it is embedded in our generational DNA? If so why?

Jeremiah 7:21-29
Identify the upstream (previous generation) verses.
Identify the downstream (current generation) verses.
Note v.26 - they did more evil than their forefathers - in other words, it can get worse. Like a snowball, it starts off small, gets bigger the further it rolls down the generations. One writer says “We have observed a tendency toward escalation from generation to generation.” For instance, parents might be very nominal in their faith, cool even, and then the next generation is frozen solid.
Ever seen this? Ever seen the opposite? What accounted for that?

In light of this principle/big idea, how important is it, therefore, as a parent to deal with sin or just destructive habits?
To make it clear - if I use the river as a place to relieve myself and then downstream my kids are using the same water source as drinking water, how healthy is that?

My actions as a parent become even more important or significant when I understand this principle and take it to heart. I think this principle keeps us all humble and needing God’s grace.

Some points to note:
  • This is a principle that can be applied to leadership as well. We are all leaders in some capacity, and those we lead “downstream” can and will catch the good, the bad and the ugly of our lives. This is why healthy leadership in organizations and churches is so important. What is flowing downstream from the leadership circles of your organization?

  • This principle also helps us understand why breaking free from some patterns, habits, or sins can be more difficult than others. If we have been immersed in something all our growing-up years, we may need to walk through some strong discipleship to find freedom. 

  • Nowhere in Jeremiah or elsewhere will you find a “the-devil-made-me-do-it” mentality. “I’m not responsible; I’m just a victim, because of my environment, my past.” No: each generation is responsible and accountable. On this note, let’s look at the next text.

Lamentations 5:7 – Jeremiah is believed to have written this as a lament over the fallen state of Jerusalem.
Notice the upstream-downstream principle

Does this mean that I am guilty for my parent’s sin?
Scripture is very clear- each one of us is responsible for his own sin (Ezekiel 18:20 - a contemporary of Jeremiah, I think they may have chatted once via email…)

What does this mean? This current generation is exiled to Babylon, their city lies in ruins, and their national identity is shattered like a dropped plate. The present generation was not claiming to be suffering unjustly for their forebears’ sins (Lam. 5:16), but saw their punishment as a logical conclusion to their ancestors’ folly - their forefathers’ willing submission to godless nations was now bearing bitter fruit.

You can bear the load, but not the guilt, of a previous generation. Just ask the exiles in Babylon that question.

Can you identify the “Babylon” that some people wrestle with because of what went on in a previous generation?
For example, some struggle with a severe sense of rejection - that is their Babylon. It’s not their sin, but a burden they carry because of a previous generation, i.e. a father or mother that did not love them.

What I find interesting is that many, not all, but many of the issues we struggle with have an upstream connection, an upstream story line. But here is what we need to note, as we look way upstream we discover the genesis of this stream, Romans 5:12. Why did death come? Because all sinned. All are guilty. Sin has never skipped a generation - just read your history books. Just check out the current percentage chance of dying (100%!), which according to Scripture is the evidence of sin (missing the mark). This upstream-downstream reality has a profound impact on all of us: death - both physical and spiritual.

But here is the good news - THE RIVER OF GOD - the righteous branch (Jer. 23:5) that Jeremiah spoke of - and Isaiah wrote about (Is. 53:4-6) - has come to forgive and heal. As we stand in His River, He heals us and forgives us. As we come before Christ, acknowledging our sin, He breaks the power of generational sin that flows from Adam. He makes it possible for us to walk in accordance with truth, and break free from generational patterns and postures that have come down to us from previous generations that are unhealthy. It can be a new day, and it can start with your generation.

Do you stand in the river of God? Have you asked Christ to break the power of generational sin flowing like a river right into your DNA right from the time of Adam? What, as a Christ follower do you need to confess? Just because we are Christ followers does not mean the river is clean (1 John 1:9)

As a parent, the importance of a godly walk cannot be overstated: is there anything you need to deal with? Do you need to go to a son or daughter and say “sorry!” You can impact the purity of the river’s current!

Also as a friend/leader, our undealt-with sin can negatively impact those around us. Anything you need to deal with?
What in your generational family river/tree are you thankful for? What in that river/tree do you need to draw a boundary around and get help on?


If interested in joining or starting a small group contact