One Comment to “Preparing to Run”

  1. Donald McMahon
    January 7, 2019

    “Preparing to Run” (Jeremiah 12:1–13)(1.6.19)
    You see before you in that box, four years of sermons. They represent at least 3,000 hours of preparation, but there is more to it than that. I recently told a fellow pastor that I wake up in the morning thinking about the church and go to bed thinking about the church. Obviously, I am not thinking about this building. I am thinking about each one of you and how we are to serve God in His kingdom coming into being here on earth.
    This week, we start a new year. I asked Hannah to put up a new slide on our programmable LED sign. It says, “Under old management: Almighty God.” We have challenges ahead, as individuals living out our faith in a sometimes hostile world; and, as a Body of Christ hanging on, holding out, and praying for revival. We are for progress. We are for new wine in new wineskins. At the same time, we must not diminish age old truths or tarnish the Good News of the gospel for which Jesus Christ died.
    The more things change; the more they stay the same. Compared to Jeremiah’s context, we have a cakewalk. It seems that the fickleness of God’s people’s faith is a constant. Faithfulness seems to last about one generation. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet and he had a lot to cry about.
    He was a very young priest when God called him to be a prophet. You know things are going to be rough when in the very beginning you hear God say: Jeremiah 1:17 (NIV84) “[Jeremiah], Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.
    The nation of Israel had NOT been walking in Yahweh’s ways. Jeremiah 5:14 (NIV84)
    14 Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty says:
    “Because the people have spoken these words,
    I will make my words in your mouth a fire
    and these people the wood it consumes.
    From this, you can understand why Jeremiah was not the most popular person in his hometown of Anathoth. False prophets proclaimed peace when Jeremiah spoke the judgment of God to come. Although Jeremiah spoke truth, the people hated him for it. The Lord informed Jeremiah that the men of Anathoth are plotting to take his life. The first eleven chapters of this book document the people’s conspiracy against God and God’s prophet. This brings us to today’s text.
    Jeremiah 12:1–13 (NIV84) PG 761; LP 1194
    Jeremiah’s complaint:
    12 You are always righteous, O Lord,
    when I bring a case before you.
    Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
    Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all the faithless live at ease?
    2 You have planted them, and they have taken root;
    they grow and bear fruit.
    You are always on their lips
    but far from their hearts.
    3 Yet you know me, O Lord;
    you see me and test my thoughts about you.
    Drag them off like sheep to be butchered!
    Set them apart for the day of slaughter!
    4 How long will the land lie parched
    and the grass in every field be withered?
    Because those who live in it are wicked,
    the animals and birds have perished.
    Moreover, the people are saying,
    “He will not see what happens to us.”
    GOD’S Reply:
    5 “If you have raced with men on foot
    and they have worn you out,
    how can you compete with horses?
    If you stumble in safe country,
    how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?
    6 Your brothers, your own family—
    even they have betrayed you;
    they have raised a loud cry against you.
    Do not trust them,
    though they speak well of you.
    7 “I will forsake my house,
    abandon my inheritance;
    I will give the one I love
    into the hands of her enemies.
    8 My inheritance has become to me
    like a lion in the forest.
    She roars at me;
    therefore I hate her.
    9 Has not my inheritance become to me
    like a speckled bird of prey
    that other birds of prey surround and attack?
    Go and gather all the wild beasts;
    bring them to devour.
    10 Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard
    and trample down my field;
    they will turn my pleasant field
    into a desolate wasteland.
    11 It will be made a wasteland,
    parched and desolate before me;
    the whole land will be laid waste
    because there is no one who cares.
    12 Over all the barren heights in the desert
    destroyers will swarm,
    for the sword of the Lord will devour
    from one end of the land to the other;
    no one will be safe.
    13 They will sow wheat but reap thorns;
    they will wear themselves out but gain nothing.
    So bear the shame of your harvest
    because of the Lord’s fierce anger.”
    The word of God for the people of God.
    My intent today is to prepare us individually and as a church for this coming year. The point of focus is verse five, God’s answer to Jeremiah’s complaint.
    “If you have raced with men on foot
    and they have worn you out,
    how can you compete with horses?
    If you stumble in safe country,
    how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?
    If you were Jeremiah, I doubt you would find any comfort in God’s challenging questions.
    Jeremiah is the one who started with the questions. OK Lord, I know that you are always correct, always holy, always just, and that you are sovereign. But Lord, I am mystified by this situation. Your word teaches that obedience brings blessing and wickedness brings curses. I look around and this does not seem to be true.
    Now, Yahweh could have explained that He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish. I have the big picture and my will shall be done. You do not have my vantage point. The wickedness and corruption are more than even you know Jeremiah. It is due to my lovingkindness and mercy that to this point I have withheld my wrath.
    Jeremiah complains, Lord, they are paying you lip service. They want to seem godly but they leave no room for you in their daily living. Do they have you fooled because it seems like they have blessed lives?
    O Lord, you know me and my motivations. You know that I want what you want. These people bring shame on you and your name. They deserve to die. They deserve judgment. It is because of their evil that our land is dried up and dying. The plants, birds, and animals are disappearing.
    These evil doers deny God. They deny judgment. They think they can do whatever they want and you will not know. People think that the Lord is too busy to see their particular sins and shortcomings. Many do not believe that God Almighty is actually controlling things; instead they have this imagined god who at best is a disinterested observer. The Bible in general and today’s scripture in particular are a complete refutation of their mythical and innocuous god.
    Others comfort themselves in a quilt of half-truths. They wrap themselves in the universal claim that God is love and God forgives. True on both accounts but false if conceived as limiting Almighty God; for our God is holy, righteous, and judges too.
    Look at what he says he will do with his chosen nation of Israel in verse 7:
    “I will forsake my house,
    abandon my inheritance;
    I will give the one I love
    into the hands of her enemies.
    Let’s look at this same verse in The Voice paraphrase:
    I have turned away My house, abandoned My heritage; I have given My deeply beloved one over to her enemies.
    It is crystal clear that God’s love does not limit judgment. A loving parent uses whatever corrective action is necessary for the child’s long term good. God’s perspective is eternal and His purposes encompass the whole human race. We should not make presumptions upon the Lord’s grace and good will.
    So, let us talk about running with horses:
    First, the most general approach sees it as speaking about greater challenges to come. Jeremiah is in his hometown region where he is familiar with the people and the context. Whatever we are facing today is a preparation for tomorrow’s challenges.
    Second, looking at this running as it specifically applies to Jeremiah, he is being prepared to be God’s prophet to all of Israel while the nation faces invading armies. Listen Jeremiah, those closest to you cannot be trusted. You are going to have to cross the Jordan at flood stage. You must contend with jungle and wild animals. You have 42 more chapters in Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations through witch you have to navigate. If you are already worn out, how will you manage what lies ahead?
    My third interpretation of this verse about running was not covered in any of the 10 commentaries or dozen sermons I reviewed. You discern if it makes sense. No human being can run with horses. It is an impossibility; but, with God all things are possible.
    If this chapter stopped at verse five, then this third interpretation wouldn’t fit. In the subsequent verses, the Lord explicitly tells Jeremiah, “I’ve got this.” I work in individual lives and I work in international happenings. Judgment is coming because of “the Lord’s fierce anger, the sword of the Lord will devour.”
    So, maybe, running with horses is metaphorical. Run with faith. Do not lean on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your path straight. Trust me Jeremiah. I will never leave you or forsake you. Run with me. Run with your Lord.
    A high school senior, whom I will call Jerry, was running in the Maryland State Indoor Track Championship. It was his senior year and the final event of the season. His family was there to support him as he ran the 2 mile race, 20 monotonous laps. Long distance was Jerry’s specialty and he had had a very successful Fall Cross Country season that had exceeded everyone’s expectations. From race results at previous indoor races, he was projected to finish 4th in this championship.
    Looking at the program and knowing that as a senior, it was his last chance, Jerry asked himself, “Why settle for 4th?” Normally, he started off slowly and gradually passed his competitors as the race progressed. This time, when the gun went off, it was clear that he was NOT going to play it safe. Today, Jerry was racing for 1st place and let the chips fall where they may.
    Bang! The starting gun was shot and the race began. Jerry immediately bolted to the front. Everyone was surprised. The other runners and coaches wondered what was happening. Was Jerry performing the role of a rabbit, trying to push the pace for the other runners? His teammates took notice and his father leaned forward in his seat. After the first lap, Jerry had a large lead.
    Nine laps later, the first mile was completed; but, there was another mile to go. Jerry’s father was feeling very proud of this bold and uncharacteristic tactic. Jerry was feeling exhilarated. But, then his pace began to slow and the pack of runners started to real him in. His legs were heavy and his lungs were on fire.
    The first runner passed him; then another and another; until he had dropped to 10th place out of 12 runners. Jerry steadied himself and dug deep, fighting the lactic acid laden muscles and the desire to quit. He settled on a pace and gradually worked himself back into the race; finally finishing in sixth place, the last place for a medal.
    Jerry’s father had never been more proud of him. Caution had been thrown to the wind and the ultimate prize had been pursued. Then, when others might have quit in disappointment or disgust, Jerry continued to strive against his rebellious limbs and his competition. (pause)
    None of us are Jeremiah. We all have our own particular race to run. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
    My last perspective on this call to run with horses is that we must learn to run for victory in that inner battle. It is not our earthly rewards that count, but did we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Is our race within God’s purposes for our lives? Are we growing in faith and fortitude? Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
    When we stand before God, Let us be able to proclaim, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
    Amen and amen. Let us pray.


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