Daily Archives: August 18, 2005

The Jeremiah Challenge

Many of the reality (?) TV shows are formed around a challenge.
Participants are called contestants; they are given objectives and
criteria to meet; they are given guidelines and then challenged to come
up with the results. Far from reality though, these programmes are
contrived to illicite certain results and should not in any way be
considered to resemble what is real-life. People dream of their
opportunity to be a part of these contrived “real life” experiences.

Yet today every believer has the opportunity to participate in eternal
reality of far greater consequence and far greater reward for those who
stay the course. Like a reality show only those who reach the end share
in the prize. Entering the show does not a winner make! The prize
however is enough for everyone. This is no dog eat dog contest but a
genuine team enterprise where all may participate and all may win (cf
Phil 3:12-16).

I believe we are drawing closer to the conclusion of the earthly
portion of our eternal reality and today we are being called to respond
to the Jeremiah Challenge. If ever there was a time when Jeremiah’s
ministry was needed it is now. Many Old Testament leaders have been
used as types to symbolise leadership for today, people like Moses,
Joshua, Deborah, Esther, and David. Essential leadership qualities can
be gleaned from their exploits. Devotion to God, faith, courage,
determination, strength of character, obedience etc are characteristics
of kingdom living.

The Jeremiah Challenge however is a little different. It is not a study
of character or devotion but a challenge of principle that is essential
for ministry in the 21st century church. If you believe that the
contemporary church is doing very well thank you very much, then this
challenge is probably not for you. If on the other hand, you believe it
is no longer a time for “business as usual” but a time for “unusual
kingdom business” then maybe this is for you.

Jer 15:19

19 Therefore this is what the LORD says:
“If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you
utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this
people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. (NIV)

Jeremiah’s Commissioning
Jer 1:9-10

9 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said
to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint
you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and
overthrow, to build and to plant.” NIV

Jeremiah was commissioned to give God’s perspective on the state of
God’s people. His work would be to “uproot and tear down” to “destroy
and overthrow”. Then he would “build and plant”. Certainly this
process of uprooting, tearing down, destroying and overthrowing is the
beginning of any work of God.

The Apostle Paul states we “died” – that’s right, we have died – so
that we might live. Therefore we are called to “put to death” things
that belong to the earthly nature; put off the old self and put on the
new self which is being renew in the knowledge of God. (Colossians
3:3-11)

The most painful part of “new life” is that of putting to death the
old. When kingdom builders endeavour to build into peoples’ lives they
must eventually face the reality that uprooting, tearing down,
destroying and overthrowing, is an essential prerequisite for building
up and planting incorruptible seeds of life.

The experiences of those who have walked this pathway have discovered
that people generally have their identity wrapped up in their sin. Try
to suggest to an overweight person that they should lose weight and you
will know what I mean. It is socially unacceptable to identify
another’s faults regardless of the purpose. When kingdom builders see
faulty character and destructive behaviour in those entrusted to their
leadership they naturally want to help uproot, tear down and destroy
the behaviours of death.

In 1 Timothy 1:3 the apostle Paul instructs his representative Timothy,
to “command” certain men and then in verse five goes on to say that the
goal of this command is love. To uproot and to tear down has as its
goal building strong Christ-like churches.

The sin nature however does not die willingly. Like Jeremiah, if you
are called as a kingdom builder you will first be required to tear down
and up root. Like Jeremiah, you will discover that people will not like
nor appreciate such ministry and many will fight you to their own
destruction.


Jeremiah’s Discovery

In chapter fifteen, Jeremiah complains about his lack of acceptance or
popularity. He says why was I born? Why is everyone against me? “I have
neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me.” (15:10)

This is an amazing discovery. When God calls men and women to partner
with him as kingdom builders there can be a sense of euphoria and a
naïve belief that at last the man or woman of power for the hour is
about o come forth and amaze God’s people. The reality however is that
true kingdom builders are going to have to tear down and destroy.

In the Old Testament popular prophets spoke popular words and won the
popular following. Prophets of God spoke the Word of God and
encountered opposition and rejection. Is leadership in the 21st century
any different? Are people different?

I read an article recently by a minister highlighting areas of change
needed in the modern church. He expressed some of the problems in our
activities etc and identified some positive changes. The rebuffs were
immediate and ferocious. Ministers (?) everywhere began to defend the
modern church telling this “prophet” to leave it alone. They concluded
he obviously does not understand that the church was made up of sinful
people and was far from perfect. Yet to my way of thinking, doesn’t
such defence only enforce the need for regular evaluation, a lifestyle
of putting to death the sin nature within the church?

We need to remember that the cross is an offensive message to those who
are perishing and kingdom builders must be ready to associate with that
offence to save people from perishing.


Jeremiah’s Complaint

In verses 15 to 18 Jeremiah rehearses his faithful service and then
complains that his reward has been to “suffer reproach”. “I sat alone”
he says, “because your hand was on me”. Jeremiah then concludes by
asking if God would be “like a deceptive brook, like a spring that
fails?”

Does God indeed promise so much and deliver so little? This is a
dangerous time for the prophet and for all who are called to be kingdom
builders. Opposition plus little results equals failure to the modern
mind. In our churches God’s blessing is equated with popularity and
prosperity. Speaking against sin, against excesses in the church and
against a church culture that is more attuned to the world than to God
will inevitably bring not popular success and prosperity but reproach.


The Jeremiah Challenge

At the end of chapter fifteen God gives Jeremiah a very clear challenge:

Jer 15:19
19 Therefore this is what the LORD says:

“If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter
worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people
turn to you, but you must not turn to them. (NIV)


Repent

The challenge begins with repentance. A number of years ago I was going
through a difficult time and was being helped by one of my mentors at
the time. Like Jeremiah, I was listing my complaints about others. My
confidante paid no attention to my complaints, gave no thought for my
“feelings” but was intent on tearing down to save me from destruction.
He firstly challenged my view of God and then likened me to a minister
for whom I had little respect. That hurt, because I thought I was so
far above that person in character and integrity. My mentor showed me
that my sin was not in my actions but in the attitude of my heart and
in my perception of God. My flesh wanted to leap out and attack but my
spirit knew that this was true.

Like Jeremiah, I served God though I believed he was deceptive and
offered water from an empty well. I would not have thought this
objectively in my conscious mind, but it was evident in how I served.


Discern what is in your own heart

God wants spokesmen who know the difference between their words and
God’s word, between kingdom activity and worldly activity. John Kelly
in his book “End Time Warriors” describes a vision of soldiers in God’s
army standing in a circle not engaging the enemy in warfare but
competing with each other. The enemy, expecting to be engaged, were
surprised and stood around the army of God mocking it and throwing
stones at it. The army then returned to their camp rejoicing that they
had engaged in war when in fact all they had been was to “spill God’s
incorruptible seed” on the ground and be an object of mockery without
even knowing it.

It is not enough for us to stand around wasting God’s gifts and talents
yelling that we are at war but in reality we are playing our own games
like children in the market place.

The church is doing business as usual while the enemy is building
fortifications. It is time to tear down and root up the practices of
ineffective or inconsequential activity. The NASU version says it this
way, “If you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become My spokesman.”

What is in your heart? Are you a true shepherd or a hireling? If you
minister out of pure motives then and only then are you God’s
spokesperson.


God’s Mission

Market research is a strategy used by business to identify peoples’
wants and needs and then access the best techniques to get them to
respond to a product and advertising strategy. Much of what the church
does today fits into this marketing strategy. The contemporary church
markets itself as the church of the people. The method and the
practices of the church are designed to “attract” todays unchurched.

While it is not about how we do church that is the issue it is the
“Why” that raises questions. For example, the worship team at Living
Way is led by my 19 year old son. The musicians and singers range in
age from 16 to 30. The majority of the congregation is young families
and as a result our worship tends to be contemporary. Our youth
dominate the worship and so our practice of worship reflects this. We
do not have beat-y up tempo music to impress the world; our music is a
reflection of who we are.

The Jeremiah Challenge is this – “let the people turn to you, you must not turn to them.”

If popularity and prosperity are the aims of our churches and ministry
then we will turn to the people. We will do our market research and
find out what they want and minister to that want. If we are “spokesmen
of God” we will not care about popularity or prosperity but rather
about turning people to God. We will minister what God says not what
people want. And we will accept the reproach associated with kingdom
service.

This in no way allows for arrogant leadership that pays little regard
for people. As Jesus said to his disciples, we need to be as wise as
serpents and as gentle as doves. We need to understand that we have
clear objectives laid out by our commander in chief and we are called
to use wise strategy in fulfilling those objectives.

We are not to become the church of the people; we are to remain the church of Jesus Christ.


Concerning Calling and Anointing

Jeremiah was called by God, neither because he had good theology nor
because he was “ready” but because God chose him. Like Jeremiah, a call
into service is not an affirmation of spirituality. It is not a
statement of maturity. Jeremiah was far from “mature” spiritually or
naturally when he was called. Commentators put his age when called,
between 14 and 20 years of age. Throughout his ministry he is described
by commentators as timid, shy and constantly complaining. Barnes’
describes him as follows:

Of all the prophets there is not one who so frankly lays open to us his
brooding melancholy nature. He discloses to us his innermost thoughts.
We find him sensitive to a most painful degree, timid, shy, hopeless,
desponding, constantly complaining, and dissatisfied with the course of
events, with the office which had been thrust upon him, and with the
manner of the Divine Providence.

(NOTE: For example, He accuses God of injustice because all Jeremiah’s
efforts seem to be without result. Bad men prospered Jer 12:1; false
prophets resisted those who had the divine commission Jer 14:13. No
miracle was performed by him or for him. No prediction was suddenly
verified in a startling way. No demonstration of power was granted to
him in common with the prophets of old, and therefore “the word of the
Lord was made a reproach unto him, and a derision daily” Jer 20:7.

His one task was to foretell the downfall of his country because of its
persistence in sin. And his reward was to be a man of strife and of
contention to the whole earth: everyone “doth curse me” (Jer 15:10;
compare Jer 20:7). And, for this apparent failure, he was not prepared.
He contrasts the joy with which he had entered upon his office with the
disappointment of his hopes Jer. 15:15-18, 17:16 ; and when put in the
stocks Jer 20:2, he even accuses God of deceiving him, and determines
to abandon his office Jer 20:7-18.)

(from Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Jeremiah is constantly readjusting his position with God. He is told to
repent and doing so he remains faithful the call. Jeremiah has one
obvious strength, despite all, he boldly ministers God’s word and never
uses the anointing to further his own ambitions.

Most ministers realise that the training begins AFTER they start to
serve. The danger is when people think service is God’s affirmation of
them. The anointing is not God’s affirmation of the anointed; it is for
those he is called to minister to.

I knew a minister who preached for me once and during the service, even
though people were ministered to, I felt uneasiness toward him. Later
he spoke of the anointing he felt and wonder what God was going to do
through him. He believed the anointing he felt was a confirmation of
his ministry. I explained that the anointing was not for him but for
those being ministered to. The next day I discovered that man was
committing adultery and had to subsequently remove him from ministry.

People often ask how someone can be anointed and yet serve themselves
rather than God. Though Jeremiah never failed morally; the
principles of anointing which answer this question, can be identified
through his life and calling. The call and the empowerment to minister
are not subject to people’s level of spirituality. However, to continue
in the calling and anointing of God it is essential to grow into the
calling. Remember, God calls the things that are not as though they are.

After years of service Jeremiah had to change his understanding of God
and repent of how he was serving God. To fulfil the calling of God –
that is to receive the “well done” of Jesus – growing in God’s grace is
essential.


Conclusion

God’s call is for men and women to rise up and accept the Jeremiah
Challenge. It is to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow the
systems of the world that have become entrenched in they way we do
church. The challenge is to build and plant according to God’s pattern
(Jer 1:9,10) impregnating the church with the incorruptible seed not
mixed with corruptible seed (1 Pt 1:23 nkjv).

God’s pattern for the church is that of an army (see appendix A below)
led by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, officers
of God’s army given by Jesus to the church (Eph 4:8,11,12). Each
ascension gift of Jesus must be in order by recognising their rank and
fulfilling their role/duty, willingly following the lead of God’s
apostolic generals.

The church needs to be released (rescued?) from the control of
businessmen and care workers and empowered through the strategic
guidance and leadership of apostles (cf Lk 7:8,9). Members of the body
of Christ must be equipped as soldiers in God’s army, prepared for
battle and trained to obey. Soldiers committed to pleasing their
commander rather than their own agenda (2 Tim 2:3,4).

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