1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years
2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).
Some other housecleaning:
A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.
B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.
C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.
D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.
As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.
• Just because the Lord uses a people for a purpose, that doesn’t mean he condones their behavior. That’s very clear from today’s passage. Babylon had been used by God to punish Israel for wrongdoing, but he was going to eventually punish Babylon for its crimes.
• His justice is sometimes slow (by our lights) but it’s sure. Nothing escapes his notice, and he keeps excellent—no, perfect—records. And all those outside his redeemed family will eventually get exactly what they deserve. As Longfellow put it,
Though the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all.
And then. . . suddenly we look at our financial situation and discover that we can’t pay our bills. We’re broke. We have no money. So then we go back to England and ask for financial assistance. What do you think their response would be? “Um, you do know what independence means, right? It means we’re no longer financially responsible for you, nor responsible for you in any other way.”
I once had a friend pass along this funny little quip: “If you ever want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” There’s certainly truth in that, right? We make our plans and schemes and schedules, and the Lord has utter disdain and disregard for all it; he takes it upon himself to disrupt our plans—actually throwing them out the window would be more accurate a description.
As a reminder, James had something to say about this: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.”
Not that the making of plans is sinful or foolish in itself. We can’t live life just floating from one thing to another. We have to make plans if we ever want to progress in life. I’ve spoken about this before: You have to have proper balance between 1) just sitting on your behind and waiting for God to act and 2) Trying to do what only God can do. We make plans as best as we can, under the Spirit’s guidance and wisdom and in complete submission to him, and he leads us and protects us.
But let’s camp out on verse 11 for a moment. It’s a fairly famous verse. Lots of people quote it, especially when they’re facing indecision or trouble in life.
But do I really believe this?
Do I really believe that he knows the plans he has for me? That he knows what he’s doing?
Do I really believe that he has specific plans for me? I mean, he’s busy running the universe and making sure that Alpha Centauri stays in its proper orbit, and he has to make sure that the plan he’s unfolding for the End Times comes to pass in exactly the way he wants it. He’s manipulating kings and presidents and tycoons to bring about his purposes.
And if I really believe that he knows what he’s doing and he has plans for me (small, insignificant me), then do I really believe, do I really know that his plans for me are good? That they’re plans to prosper me and not to harm me? Plans to give me hope and a future?
I think in my life I’ve had the hardest time with that last one. I guess I don’t have that hard a time accepting that the God of the universe is omniscient and omnipresent. He doesn’t have limited attention like the rest of us. He expends no more energy keeping the stars in their orbits than he does making sure the rose in my wife’s garden is the right color.
But to really accept that his plans for me are good—that’s been a problem for me sometimes. When I’ve had hopes and dreams and possibilities supposedly dashed in front of me, it’s hard to believe that, isn’t it?
It all comes down to trust. This reminds me of a great point that C.S. Lewis made about the Resurrection. Why did Jesus rebuke his disciples for not believing the reports and sightings? Because this wasn’t a case of an ordinary man dying and some people claiming they saw him walking around. This was a Man who'd done some incredible things—including raising the dead—and now they couldn’t believe that he was doing just one incredible thing more.
It’s the same principle here. If I was being asked to trust in a friend who’s let me down time and time and time again, I’d have every right to be doubtful when he asks me to trust him again. But when I’m asked to trust Someone who time and time and time again has blessed me and protected me and provided for me, that’s something else. Of course, that's all on top of the fact that this particular Friend has laid down his life and died for me.
So how can I do this to him? He’s said that his plans for me are there to prosper me, not to harm me, to bring me a future and a hope. How can I think any different of the One who’s bled for me?
Lord Jesus, I know this in my head and in my theology, but I’m so quick to doubt, so slow to trust and obey. Change that about me, please.
How do we make a better society? That’s a good question, a practical one, and it divides people pretty strongly. Some people say that we need to reform society through better laws and government. And there’s some legitimacy to that. We need laws in order to keep the structures and foundation of civilization from crumbling. But what’s the purpose of law? Is it to reform society or to protect society? There’s plenty of scriptural evidence that the law/government is meant to protect us from anarchy and chaos (such as Romans 13:1-4), but none that I can find that it’s there to reform it.
So how do we do it? I think the answer is located in today’s passage, but it’s a theme that’s repeated in the Bible. The Lord said that when the exile comes, he will “give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Here are some others: he will circumcise our hearts so we will love him with all our heart and soul, he will write his law on our hearts, and he will take out our heart of stone and make it a heart of flesh.
You seek, you can write all the laws you want, but they won’t mean a thing unless people obey them. And the only way they’re going to obey them--without an authority looking over their shoulder--will be if they have that law “written on their hearts” (as Jeremiah puts it). Do we want a type of society in which a legal authority is looking over our shoulder more and more and more?
But if the law’s written on our hearts, then we’ll want to obey. From today’s passage, if God gives us a heart to know him and we return to him, then we’ll see a change in our personal lives. And if more and more people get their hearts changed, then you’ll see a change in society. I’m aware of multiple times in British and American history in which it’s happened, since I’m more familiar with those country’s histories. Of course, our main purpose isn’t to bring down rates of crime, divorce, abortion, etc., but it’s a fact that during times in which masses of individuals got right with God those side-benefits also occurred.
But it all comes down to me. Has the Lord changed my heart, so I want to obey and please him? And if so, is that reflected enough in my personal life? Am I kind and loving in my speech to my wife? Am I scrupulously honest in my business practices? Am I faithful in giving to my church? If not, then something’s wrong.
This also means that in our evangelism and discipleship efforts, we need to concentrate on conversion. A turning of a person’s heart to the Lord will be reflected in changes in lifestyle. Maybe not overnight, but it will be.
And finally we need to take a more realistic view of human nature in our legal system and election promises. Quite frankly, anyone who promises to change society through laws is probably naïve at best.
It’s from the inside-out, not the outside-in.
Father God, it all comes back to me, doesn’t it? It’s me who constantly needs a course correction, multiple times a day. And it’s only you who can do it. Please.
I really think you can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to God’s word. If someone presents a fairly positive view of the Bible, I know they either A) haven’t read it, or B) really don’t take it seriously. What do you mean, Keith? When I say “fairly positive view” I mean the way most people take it: They recognize the positive impact it’s had on the world, and they might even concede that it has some good nuggets of wisdom, like “Love your neighbor” and some interesting stories.
But I stand by my proposition. It’s the same “Liar/Lunatic/Lord” principle that C.S. Lewis proposed: A man who claimed to be the sort of things that Jesus claimed could not possibly be just a good teacher. He’s either a Liar on the level of a demon from hell, or he’s a lunatic on the level of a man who’s says he’s a poached egg, or he’s the Lord of all creation. The one thing he could not possibly be—a good teacher—is exactly how most people think of him.
It’s the same with God’s word, what we know as the Bible. The one thing it could not possibly be would be a collection of good advice and interesting stories. It claims to be so much more: The very words of God from his throne. If you literally stood by God’s throne and heard him speak, it’d be fully in accord with what you read in that Book. It’s either that, or it’s not worth reading. Or to paraphrase Lewis again, If the Bible is true, then it means everything. If it’s not true, then it means nothing.
So what does the Lord say about his word here? He compares it to two common things we see almost every day: fire and a hammer.
I particularly love the first image. His word is fire. Now, when you first hear it, you just might think “Ok, so fire burns. His word consumes everything it touches and burns it up.” But it’s much more nuanced than that.
Heat has different effects on different substances. It hardens wax. It softens clay. In the same way, his word can soften someone’s heart or harden it. It depends on the condition of the person’s heart. If a person wants to mold clay, he might have to heat it up in order to soften it.
Think of heat when you’re purifying a precious metal like gold. The same heat consumes the dross, but it purifies the gold. In the same way, as a believer, his word consumes the parts of me that don’t look like Jesus, and in the process purifies me.
Or think of a hammer, the second image. A hammer is a tool, and it can be constructive or destructive. Actually, it’s commonly both at the same time. People don’t often break rocks into pieces just because they want to see littler rocks.
His word will end up destroying the rocky hearts of people who don’t listen to it. In fact, Jesus said his word will stand and accuse them on Judgment Day. It will be their Prosecuting Attorney, so to speak. All the times they heard about God’s anger on sin or about the Good News about Jesus will literally come back to haunt them.
For the lost, his word will only have a negative effect. But for me as his redeemed child, it’s negative and positive. Yes, his word—as the sword of the Spirit—will cut into me and point out my faults and lingering sin. But it’s not there to condemn me like it does the unredeemed. It’s there to purge away the dross and make me more and more like my Savior.
You see, you can’t ignore fire. And you can’t ignore a swinging hammer. God’s word will have an effect on you, both now and on the other side of the Great Divide. What that effect will be is determined by what type of person you are.
So which will it be?
Father God, I know very well what effect I want from your word. Please, Spirit, use your word like a surgeon’s scalpel—cutting and healing. Cut away the parts that don’t look like my Savior, and mold me into his likeness.
You ever heard the phrase “Don’t kill the messenger”? No one knows exactly where it came from, but it likely stems from a practice that’s been frequently practiced by kings and other officials with a short temper. Someone comes with news you don’t like, and instead of dealing with it, you take your anger out on a convenient target, namely the poor sap who’s in front of you at the moment.
Unfortunately, this has been the all-too-common fate of God’s “mouths” in Israel’s history. Jewish tradition says that Isaiah was sawed in half while hiding in a tree. 1 Kings mentions how Queen Jezebel murdered lots of them. And today’s passage tells us how Jeremiah was treated by Pashhur, the official in charge of the temple. That’s right. Not the king. The man in charge of God’s house had Jeremiah beaten and put in stocks, which was torture in itself.
Just off the top of my head, I see three important lessons for us to take from this.
First and foremost, we need to get used to the idea that the world is A) not going to like our message and B) going to take its anger out on convenient targets, namely us. Jesus himself told us “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me." He meant what he said.
Second, and this is a more immediate application for those of us in America, where open persecution is pretty rare: Learn from Pashhur’s mistake. I know that you’re not likely to try to throw someone in prison just because they say something you don’t like. But does Pashhur's spirit motivate you? When a true friend “strikes” you, what’s your reaction? Do you avoid preachers/pastors/teachers who tell you things you don’t want to hear? Get all defensive? Try to find something with which to strike back?
Third, and I almost feel like urging you to tattoo this on your forehead: God’s word will be vindicated in the end. People laugh at his word today, just like they did in Jeremiah’s day. Or—more commonly—they simply ignore it with their lives, whether or not they pay lip service to it.
But in the end, all of it will be vindicated. His warnings towards people who are disobedient and his promised blessings on the redeemed will come true, down to the least stroke of a pen.
Pashhur learned this the hard way. He stands as a negative example for us to look at and say “I sure don’t want to end up like that guy!” History is littered with these fools. Please don’t be one of them.
Father God, when you rebuke me through a friend, I confess my first reaction is to be defensive. Please cure me of that. When a friend strikes me, help me see it as a kindness, not an attack.
I admit it, I like a good romantic comedy. True, they tend to be missing my favorite movie elements: car chases, gun battles, and explosions. But I can understand the appeal of Sleepless in Seattle or Sixteen Candles. I can recognize a good storyline and acting.
But there’s a common motif in most if not all these movies with a romantic theme. How often have you heard this one slogan/piece of advice? Follow your heart. “I know that your family, friends, good common sense, and all your past experience are telling you with one voice not to do this. But don’t listen to any of them. Instead, listen to what your heart says.”
My friend, this would be my prime nomination for the worst advice, no, the most destructive advice commonly thrown out there today. There’s plenty of bad advice in the world today, but to my knowledge there’s nothing that’s A) More common, B) More destructive, and C) More insidious.
I mean, think about it. Doesn’t it sound poignant? Isn’t it touching? And doesn’t it always end well in the movies and on TV?
Well, we’re not living in movieland or TVland. We’re living in the real world, with real consequences. And in the real world, those consequences urge us to listen to what God says instead of what Hollywood says.
And what does God say about it, through Jeremiah here? Your heart is the last place you need to be looking to for advice. He says it’s deceitful above all things. No one can fool you as well as you can fool yourself.
What does he mean by this? To my understanding, he’s referring to our thought processes and emotions. Let’s take for example a man on a business trip. He’s happily married, or at least married. He meets a beautiful young woman there in the hotel bar, and she makes it clear she’s available and interested in a night of pleasure. He doesn’t feel like staying faithful to his wife. At that moment in time, his emotions and feelings are lying to him. They’re telling him that it’s worth it to threaten his marriage for a night of passion. And that’s a lie.
You see, your feelings can lie to you. And so can your thoughts. We’re not computers. Our feelings and desires can influence our thoughts so that what sounds perfectly logical is not so.
Why? Is there something wrong with emotions in themselves? Of course not. To a degree they’re a result of God’s image stamped upon us. He has emotions as well: To our extremely small understanding, we know from his word that in some sense he experiences anger, sorrow, love, hatred, joy, etc. But our emotions are tainted by something that don’t taint his: sin. Sin has entered the picture and perverts our emotions. That’s why we can’t trust them.
And who can understand a man's heart? Who can really get past all the masks and pretence? There's only One who can do this, and he does.
What else does the Ultimate Heart Specialist have to say about our heart? It’s beyond cure. No matter what we do and how hard we try, we can’t really overcome our sin problem.
So what do we do? Let the Doctor operate. He alone can probe our innermost thoughts and emotions. He searches out our heart and examines our mind. Like a skilled surgeon, the scalpel of his word probes down to the very bottom of the depths of our soul.
So if we can’t cure ourselves, what is the cure? The passage today only mentions his judgment. He looks through the innermost depths of our soul, and he plans to bring judgment on what he finds there. But there are other passages that speak of his loving examination of his children. If we allow him to be our Savior instead of our Judge, then his probing can be positive to us. David’s cry to the Lord can be our cry: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Yes, even as his beloved children, his probing can be painful. But if we’re redeemed and covered by his blood, then there’s nothing to fear. His deep examination of his children is to make his children better, not to judge them.
But if I haven’t made it clear yet, every one of us is destined to be placed under the All-Seeing Eye. You can do it now, or you can do it later. Trust me, now is better.
Father, when you’re probing, let me be silent. Give me a quiet soul. Give me listening ears. Probe and cleanse as deep as only you can. Please.
It seems to me like this is really clarifying question. In whom is your trust?
It appears that there are two types of people in the world as described in today’s passage. Let’s see how Jeremiah (as inspired by the Spirit) describes and contrasts them.
The first group, which is a huge majority, are those people who trust in “man.” They “[draw] strength from mere flesh.” There are lots of variations in this group. Maybe they trust in their own strength. I’ve known people like that: They’re “self-made” men or women. They know this world is a dark place, and so they’ve learned to trust in themselves to get through life’s problems. They tend to be honest, hard-working, self-sacrificing people, so they have lots of redeeming qualities. They trust in their own resources: their own intelligence and hard work and charisma; they think that’s enough.
Or maybe they draw “strength” from the “flesh” of someone else. Maybe the “man” they trust in is a politician, even a President. Maybe they trust what some priest or rabbi or minister tells them. Maybe they trust in the “strength” of money. Some place their trust in their country’s military power or economic power.
What’s the commonality of all these people? They might trust in different things, but the way to see what they have in common is by contrasting it to the second group. The people in the second group, the tiniest of minorities by way of comparison, trust in the Lord. Their confidence is in him. And in him alone.
You see, my friend, you’re either in one group or the other. If you don’t trust in God, then you’re trusting in human strength and resource, either your own or someone else’s. It’s the same principle that I made from the last speech of Joshua: If you aren’t worshipping the God of the Bible, it really doesn’t matter what you worship.
And also please note that the difference between these groups is not whether or not troubles come. The group that trusts in “man” will end up dwelling in a parched place in the desert. Does the group that trusts in the Lord have it free and easy? No. They also have a time of “heat” and “drought.” They go through life’s problems and turmoil and trials just like everyone else.
So what’s the difference between the two? Actually, there are two mentioned here. The first is for the here and now. The blessed ones don’t “fear when heat comes, [their] leaves are always green.” Yes, the heat will come, but it’s nothing to fear. As the old saying goes, if you fear the Lord, you don’t have to fear anything else. When everyone else around you is falling apart, you don’t have to. People look at a tree and wonder why its fruit is so green. Of course it’s green—it’s planted by the river. The river is its source of nourishment and strength. The tree’s roots are planted down deep out of sight, but you can see the result. In the same way, no one can literally see my relationship with my Savior, but you should be able to see the results in the way I handle catastrophe.
And the second difference is in the there and then. Of course, Jeremiah’s first listeners would've understood him as mostly referring to this life when he talked about “prosperity” coming. Some day, very soon, those who truly belong to the God of Israel would be vindicated in their trust. How much more will that be true of us, we who understand more about the Age To Come than they ever did?
If you’ve been with me a while, you know what I’m going to be asking next: To which group do you belong? Are you trusting in the only true Refuge, or in something else?
Lord Jesus, I do trust you. I want to demonstrate it and show it and advertise it. Please, may everything I do and say reflect that.
OK, have we finally gotten it into our heads just how ticked off God is towards false teachers/prophets? These charlatans spoke in God’s name, and he hadn’t sent them. This wasn’t a game. Peoples’ lives and souls were at stake. My friend, I make it my business to make darn sure that I make a very careful distinction between what the Lord has clearly said and my personal opinion. I try really hard to be dogmatic on a subject in direct proportion to God’s clarity on it. That’s because my Lord takes a very very very dim view of someone presuming to speak in his name.
But what about those deceived by these hucksters? Does God hold them accountable as well?
If you don’t know the answer to that question, apparently you don’t read the Scripture verses I place at the beginning of the devotional. The Lord makes it abundantly clear from today’s passage that he holds those who buy into this mess as culpable and guilty.
Why would he do that? Doesn’t he have compassion on people who are tricked? Well, yes and no. Jesus told us that he’s going to judge based on the light that person has received. So I would suppose that he’s not going to punish someone deceived as much as the one deceiving them.
But they don’t get off scot-free by any means. When it comes to punishing people who rebel against him, there's plenty of wrath for everyone.
To see why, let’s ask some clarifying questions. Were the people just lost in ignorance? Had he made his will known to them? Um, yeah. It was called the Torah, which is translated as “Law” or (my favorite) “Teaching.” He spelled out exactly what his expectations were. He spent several chapters in Deuteronomy in particular laying out very specific blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience.
They had men calling themselves “prophets” who were telling them contradictory things. One set told them that God is fine with idol worship and sexual immorality and child sacrifice. The other set—a much smaller number—told them the exact opposite, that the Lord was extremely angry with their behavior. Which one to listen to? Well, the Lord had already addressed this in his word. In fact, as we discussed before, even if a “prophet” made a right prediction, they were still obligated to compare what he said versus what God (thru Moses) had already said.
Let’s be clear about this. The Lord never leaves himself without a witness. If someone is led astray, it’s because they want to be led astray. If they paid any attention to what the Lord had already told them, he'd lead them to some more revelation, until they're either redeemed or turn away from him.
So how does this apply to me? Despite the cliché, ignorance is not bliss. The Lord will hold you accountable not only for what you know, but what you could've known if you wanted to. You're responsible before him to know as much as you can and to act upon his truth.
Please take this to heart.
Father God, my problem is not—and has never been—that you aren’t speaking to me. It’s that I haven’t been listening very well. Please grant me a soft heart, listening ears, and the willingness to act on what you’ve told me.
If you know anything about Jeremiah, you might've heard that his nickname is “The Weeping Prophet.” It’s pretty ironic, don’t you think, that the prophet most well-known for the harshest pronouncements of doom would also be well-known for crying over the targets of his rebukes? I’d like to spend a little time on that concept.
Please keep in mind how Jeremiah was treated by his compatriots. The popularity of the prophets never was very high. But as you might expect, Jeremiah’s popularity was inversely proportional to the negativity of his message. The man who strokes the ego of his audience is going to attract a crowd. How do you think they react to the man who tells them that God is really angry at them and that judgment is imminent? They jeered him, they ostracized him, they slandered him, they arrested him and there was worse to come.
And what was his reaction? Tears. He knew very well what the future held for them, and he shed tears for them.
And why? Well, I suppose a huge part of it was because he identified with them. They were his people, his relatives, his own flesh and blood. Do you have a relative who drives you crazy, but you put up with it because of blood relations?
But I think there’s more to this. Remember who inspired the prophets? Peter tells us that they “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” They had a special intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit which most people never had and never will have. He spoke through them. You ever hear the phrase “From your mouth to God’s ear”? This was literally the reverse: From God’s mouth to their ear. Literally a prophet is a “mouth,” remember? He revealed things to them which he didn’t reveal to anyone else, and they spoke what they heard.
I really believe that there was more than human compassion at work here. In that intimacy with the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah was weeping God’s tears. I’ve mentioned these passages plenty of times, but they bear repeating: He’s not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. As surely as he lives, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that he turn from his ways and live. As we discussed before, we need to keep this in mind—Behind the sternest warnings lie a Father’s heart who’s reaching out to lost sinners.
So here come the tough questions: Are we in tune with his heart? Does it bother us that people are lost and are heading into an eternity without Christ? Do we weep over peoples’ rebellion, or do we smugly watch with a judgmental attitude?
My friend, if I believed in salvation by works, then I could understand a judgmental attitude. I could understand looking at sinners and being prideful. But I don’t. I believe that I’m saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. I believe that it took the blood of Jesus to purchase my forgiveness. I believe that I deserve nothing from God except judgment, and he's shown me nothing but grace and mercy and forgiveness.
So how can I be so callous?
Father God, please tune my heart to yours. As you’ve shown me mercy and grace and forgiveness, may that overflow into a burning desire to share the wealth. And a contempt for pride. And tears.
What sins really tick God off? Hopefully you know that he takes all sin a lot more seriously than we do, but you should also know that he takes some sins more seriously than others. There are well-meaning Christians out there who teach that the Lord counts all sins equally, but this really doesn’t jibe with what Scripture teaches. I won’t get into the evidence, but if you’re interested, here are some passages.
So what really gets his blood boiling, so to speak? Well, Jesus seems to take an extremely dim view of anyone messing with children, for example. But something else that really seems to get him angry is false teachers, or anyone who leads someone else away from humanity’s Redeemer. As you merely skim the book of Jeremiah you see multiple warnings and threats about this. At issue here are the nations surrounding Israel who led it away from the Lord. It’s not bad enough that they’re rebelling against the Judge of the Universe. No, they’re not content unless they’re leading others astray. That’s why James warns against even desiring to become a teacher, because you’re responsible for not only yourself (as all of us are) but also for the spiritual condition of all your listeners. God holds anyone who claims to be a teacher to a higher standard.
That’s why today’s passage gave me pause when I was reading Jeremiah in preparation for the blog. At first it’s pretty similar to most of the book: He’s pronouncing judgment on his rebellious, stubborn, sinful people. But as the Puritans said, judgment is his “strange” work. He’s not willing that any should perish, so after he’s punished them, he’s going to bring them back as a people. He’ll have compassion on them and bring them back to their own inheritance, and—most importantly—back to himself.
And yes, apparently this includes those who led others astray: “[If] they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people.”
Let me make this clear. On the basis of God’s word, anyone this side of the Great Divide can come to Christ and repent. Here's a song by Carolyn Arends called "Love Is Always There," which makes that point beautifully.
As Carolyn Arends put it,
“Until this life is over
there is no point of no return
'Cause everywhere you turn
His love is always there”
There’s only one unpardonable sin, and even teaching a false gospel isn’t it. But there’s always bad news on the flip side of the Good News. If any of the nations didn’t listen to God’s revelation to them, there would be consequences. That’s how it is with choices: They come with consequences.
And as it is with nations, so it is with individual people.
Father God, when I think about the people who might listen to what I say and to what I write, it frightens me. May every word I speak or write draw everyone who listens or reads closer to you, and not further away. I beg you.
You know, as a general rule, nobody likes a complainer. I’ve been in offices before with one coworker who’s complaining all the time, and you know how popular they are. If you live with a spouse who can’t ever be satisfied with the way things are, that’s a real burden.
So is it ever right to complain to God? Some would say no, and they certainly have Scripture that they can point to, like Romans 9:20—“Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" And I want to remind of you of my favorite clarifying question: “What exactly does God owe you?” The answer? Nothing but judgment.
But I talked about this last year when we looked at the Psalms. There are tons of Psalms which have complaints in them, which could be summarized thus: "Things are really stinking right now! I have enemies on every side, troubles too many to count, and it’s your fault God! What the heck is going on?! Why aren’t you doing something about this?" The Psalms are just as inspired as the Gospels, right? So in some sense, God the Holy Spirit wants us to complain to him.
As best as I can tell from Scripture, there’s a right way and a wrong way to complain to him, and I think in today's passage we can see a good example of the former. First, as a counterexample take the Hebrews under Moses’ care. They were constantly complaining, and when they did, they implicitly or explicitly impugned his character, as if he didn’t care about them or even was planning them harm, and that he’d been lying to them the whole time.
Let me give a purely hypothetical example. Let’s say that someone supposedly saw me having lunch with an attractive lady and told my wife about it. How my wife approaches me about it reveals much about her attitude towards me, specifically whether she trusts me or not. There’s all the difference in the world between A) “Hey honey, Bill saw you at lunch with someone today. So who was it?” and B) “So who’ve you been cheating on me with?” Now if I’ve ever shown a reason to make her doubt my fidelity, especially if I’ve ever cheated on her before, the tone in B) is reasonable. But if I’ve never given her a reason to doubt me, there’s a huge problem with her.
The point I’m making is that when tough times come or we see evil people prospering and good people suffering, we tend to react like with a B)-like attitude when the Lord has never ever ever given us real reason to doubt him.
So like Jeremiah here, when we question the Lord, we need to start out with an acknowledgement of his goodness. It might even seem like he’s treating us wrongly, but he’s not. We know that he's always righteous, in his dealings with us along with everything else he does. No matter what’s happening.
The other thing we need to keep in mind is that he really is in control. Some pseudo-theologians out there try to let God “off the hook” by pretending that when bad things happen, he’s really helpless to prevent them. Yes, people are responsible for their actions, and the Bible never hints otherwise. But the Lord is sovereign, and he ultimately ordains (or at least permits) everything that happens. See Jeremiah’s language: “You have planted them, and they have taken root.” It’s not by chance or fate or kismet. It’s the Lord who’s raised up these evil people and brought down the good.
Also we need to remember that what we see is not the end of the story. Jeremiah, in his rage at injustice, asked God to intervene and punish the guilty. And one day—at the proper time—he will. Sometimes we’ll see it in this life, but in the end everyone (outside of Christ) will get exactly what they deserve. As Longfellow said, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”
So when things look really bleak and you’re angry at him, let it out. Be honest with him. You’re not fooling him anyway. But do it right.
Father God, so many times I’ve come to you complaining, and you’re so patient. As I pour out my heart to you, I run out of accusing words and am silenced by you. Not by force, but by love.
As you might've noticed from these readings, I’m a huge fan of C. S. Lewis. I’ve read just about everything he’s ever written, and his work has influenced my thinking and writing to a great degree. And of course one of my favorites is one of his most famous: Mere Christianity. If you haven’t read it, you’ve severely deprived yourself. He has a chapter on pride and humility which is a must-read for every Christian.
It’s there that he makes a really important point regarding the vice and its opposite virtue. Is it wrong to take note of admirable qualities which you have? If I’m really smart or skilled or talented in a certain area, is it wrong to notice that? Or do I need to pretend as if I’m not?
Paul apparently didn’t think so. He told us “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Examine yourself with sober judgment. Take an honest inventory of where you are and what you have.
But today’s passage puts everything we have and are in proper perspective. If you’re the richest person in the world, and if you’re the best in the world at making money, then there’s no shame in that. He's given you certain gifts and abilities and privileges which he hasn’t given others, and you’ve taken advantage of that.
Let’s say you’re the strongest man on earth. I’ve seen videos of a man who’s pulled a train with his teeth. I’ve seen other videos of weight lifters who can lift several times their mass over their head. I’m sure they could grab me and break me in half like a match stick.
Or imagine that you’re the wisest person on earth, or even in history. Kings and presidents and other leaders come from faraway lands just to hear your advice. Your recorded sayings are considered to be national treasures.
You know, the track record on people with these gifts--as regarding personal happiness—is not that great. The strongest man in recorded history, by name of Samson, ended up pretty much a failure and committed suicide. The wisest man on earth—who really did have national leaders come to him and beg to hear his counsel—ended up writing the most depressing book of the Bible (Ecclesiastes). And of course the stories about rich men who found no peace in their lives are well-known.
All these men could boast about great accomplishments in their lives, but for the most part they missed the most important thing in life. They poured their lives into things which are here today and gone tomorrow.
Instead, they could've poured their lives into understanding and knowing the most important Person in the universe. And the really astonishing thing is that this Person is utterly knowable by anyone in the world. Low IQ? Not a problem! Don’t have two dimes in your pocket to rub together? No worries! Completely failing in your strength? Not only is that not a problem, it probably qualifies you better than someone who’s stronger, faster, or more popular.
He is the Lord. He exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth. And he smiles on people who do the same. That’s who he is, and that’s what he’s looking for.
So what’s your boast?
Father God, that’s all I care about, or at least what I’m supposed to care about. I know you, and I want to know you more. Please.
Have you ever heard of the myth of Cassandra? She was cursed by the gods in a particularly cruel way: She was given the gift of predicting the future, but no one would ever believe her prophecies. She saw the doom of a city, warned the inhabitants, and they ignored her.
How would you react if that happened to you? You can see, as clear as a summer day, the approaching doom of a group of people. You warn them-explicitly and repeatedly—and they either ignore you or threaten you. You’ve warned them, you’ve prayed for them, you’ve done everything you can to get their attention. Instead of being grateful for caring for them, they accuse you of the basest of motives, of being cold and heartless. What would you do?
I can tell you my instinctive reaction, and probably most of you would say the same if you’re honest: “All right then, you can all go to Hell! Someday I’ll be laughing while you’re screaming in agony!” I’m not saying that’s right, but it’s certainly understandable.
It’s certainly not the reaction of our Lord to ungrateful sinners. As surely as he lives, he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.
And it wasn’t the reaction of Jeremiah. If you read his book from cover to cover, he has some of the harshest things to say about his own people. They’re miserable, rotten, unfaithful sinners. Again and again and again and again he warned them of the wrath to come. And their responses ranged from indifference to hostility.
And yes, he was angry at them. He was disgusted by their behavior.
But his main reaction was twofold: prayer and tears. Since his people were crushed, he was crushed. He mourned for them. He longed to see a “balm,” a healing physician for them. There’s a reason he’s known as the “weeping prophet”: He longed for the ability to cry out for them night and day, to let flow a fountain of tears. He saw them not just as sinners who deserved punishment but as lost sinners who desperately needed a Savior.
You see, this is a lie that the Enemy loves to promote, that anyone who tells a Non-Christian about their appointment with the Judgment and about their desperate need for a Savior is doing so out of a self-righteous attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. Especially as N.T. believers, we're fully cognizant of the fact that we deserve God’s anger just as much as anyone else. We know we’re saved by his grace, not based on anything we’ve done. Like the old saying told us, I’m a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
OK, so that’s a good rejoinder for those who accuse us of being hard-hearted towards those who disagree with us. But what about us as believers?
My question to you and to me is very pointed: Do I reflect the heart of Jeremiah? Yes, he was brave and bold enough to preach an unpopular message to a hostile audience. Am I brave enough to do that when the opportunity arises? And do I take it to the next step: Am I compassionate enough to tell people that they desperately need the Savior? When I think about where my lost friends and co-workers and family are heading, does it cause me to weep like the prophet? Like the Spirit who inspired him?
Father, to NOT tell someone what they need to hear, THAT is cold-hearted and a lack of compassion. Please, make my heart like yours.