Dear Members and Friends of St. John,
In recent weeks my daily devotions have been leading me through the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was written as Jerusalem was being destroyed by the Babylonian army around 587 B.C. As Jeremiah was inspired to write his book, the people of Judah who weren’t killed were being taken into exile to the land of Babylon. It was one of the darkest times for God’s Jewish people. Jeremiah is not my favorite book to read.
Much of what God inspires Jeremiah to prophesy is a call to repentance. The people of Jeremiah’s time were constantly breaking God’s laws in regard to justice, in regard to sexual purity, and especially in regard to idolatry. Time and again God’s chosen people are called to turn away from worshiping idols that were not truly gods. They were called to turn back to worship of the only true God. Nevertheless, time and again the people of Judah, as all Israel before them, gave in to their temptations and their sinful desires, and damaged their relationship with God. God called His people to sorrow for their sin. He called for a new heart that would turn from sinful behavior and show itself in faithful behavior. But the people of Jeremiah’s day failed. They did not want to repent or to change.
As the horror of last week’s school shooting in Florida sinks in, a new set of behaviors rears its head. As I watch the fallout from this tragic act of evil, it seems everyone is seeking for someone else to blame for the tragedy. In the news I have heard blame placed on law enforcement, on the nation’s laws, on families, on school policies. But, while I have heard people blame others, I haven’t heard one voice of repentance, of someone admitting their own part in this societal problem that has led to so many school shootings. I have not heard a willingness of anyone to change themselves for the good of all. No one wants to repent.
This weekend the Confirmation classes and families will go on a retreat to Victory Bible Camp. We will focus on God’s call to live holy lives, lives that are set apart for God and different from the ways of the world around us. What we will find is that we have failed in this calling and need new hearts and new lives.
The words of Psalm 139 reflect an attitude that could help people of all times, especially in their relationship with God. The last two verse of this Psalm read, “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NKJV) In this Psalm David is asking God’s help to do what the Israelites of Jeremiah’s time did not seem to want to do. David asks God’s help to do what most in America seem to shy away from. David asks God to help him see his own sins. David is praying that God would lead him to change his own life to “the way of life everlasting.”
The real God-inspired wisdom of David in this verse is that, instead of trusting himself, instead of trusting his heart, his feelings, his thoughts, David looks to God for guidance. David knows that his own heart and mind are damaged by his own sinfulness. But God does know our hearts. And, David knows that God desires eternal life for David and for all people.
In the New Testament God tells us that the way to life everlasting is found in a life of faith in Jesus. Paul writes about new life in 2 Corinthians 5. “15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. . . 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:15, 17)
How do we turn from selfish living for ourselves, to life that is lived for God? When we see the loving sacrifice of God, that Christ Himself died for sinners like us, then we want to live, not for ourselves, but FOR HIM. When we are in Christ, God makes us new. He cleanses us by forgiving our sins. He gives us new hearts to love him because He loved us. We can admit our own failings because we are forgiven. We can live for God, loving Him because He loved us.
Such new life of repentance and faith is not a one-time decision. All we need to do is look at the book of Jeremiah. Time and again the people tried and failed to live as God called them to live. We can also look at how people in our own country respond to tragic evil, and consider our own part in that problem. The same problems seem to keep happening. But, thankfully, the love of God continues to call us to repent and believe in God’s love for us in Jesus. The love of God in Jesus continues to forgive the sins of those who turn to Him in faith. The love of God continues to work to change our hearts.
I pray for my country on a regular basis, not so much for prosperity, as for hearts that repent of sinful attitudes and behaviors and turn to God. I pray for my fellow Christians daily, not so much for healing of their bodies, though I do pray for healing. But more so, I pray for a faith in Jesus that gives new life. “ . . .if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” May God work this new life in each of us.
A Child of God, Seeking a Life of Continual Repentance and Faith in Jesus,
P.S. Here are some pictures from our Ash Wednesday Fellowship meal served by the Carlsons, the Christiansens, and the Martins. https://photos.app.goo.gl/9UJDpyxouCQxO8Bd2
P.P.S. I went fishing with granddaughter, Annabelle, and St. John member and friend, Kymberly Miller on Monday. Here are some pictures. https://photos.app.goo.gl/LsONap70UMOhWFNS2
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ - I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am regularly adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.