[Mar 31]—Small Comforts In Dark Places

Now we come to the last words of the book with Jeremiah’s name. Tradition says that he also wrote the book of Lamentations (and there’s no reason to doubt it), but this is the end of the narrative. Tradition also says that he ended up in exile in Egypt, having the misfortune to see his prophecies of doom fulfilled.
Judah was in exile, the vast majority of her people either dead or taken by force to other lands within the Babylonian kingdom. Its days as a sovereign nation were no more. Everything that had been built up by Joshua, David, Solomon and others was lying in dust and ashes.
The last chapter recounts the sordid story of Judah’s last days of relative freedom. King Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, and it came down on Judah like a ton of bricks. Jerusalem lasted for some time under siege, but it finally fell. The king got to see his sons killed before his eyes, and then had those eyes put out so that would be the very last thing he would see in this world. And then he—along with the most prominent citizens and most of the population—was put in chains and carried off to Babylon.
What was left of the temple of Solomon was torn down brick by brick. It had started off as an incredible project, with gold and silver and cedar. Over the years, those had been incrementally stripped down. By the time of Jeremiah’s last days, it was a mere shadow of what Solomon had built. And then the Babylonians came. . . and took anything else worth having and burned down the rest. The temple was no more.
But then we come to the last words of the book of Jeremiah, and the Lord finishes it off with a small glimmer of hope in a dark place. King Zedekiah died in prison, but there was another king of Judah in Babylon’s custody named Jehoiachin. A new king of Babylon arose by name of Awel-Marduk. And that’s where today’s passage comes in.
Awel-Marduk dealt kindly with the king of Judah: He freed Jehoiachin from prison, spoke kindly to him, and treated him with honor, even higher honor than the other kings in custody. Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and dined at the king's table for the rest of his life.
Why is this important? For two reasons. First, there’s a bit of irony here. One of the most depressing books of the Bible ends on a note of hope. Yes, Judah was still in exile. No, she wasn’t a sovereign nation any longer, and wouldn’t be again for the rest of the Old Testament period. But these last verses are a sign and symbol that the Lord wasn't finished with Israel yet. He’s the God of Israel, and he was not relinquishing that title. No matter what Israel did or how badly he punished her, she was still his, and he was still looking out for her, providing for her, and protecting her. And her best days were not behind her, but still yet to come.
The second reason is that this last word picture in Jeremiah’s book—I believe—is also a good picture of the situation a lot of you are experiencing right now. Your life stinks. Maybe you’re having real problems paying your bills and making ends meet. Maybe your marriage is in the pits. Maybe you’re single and want to be married, but it seems like you’re going to be alone for the rest of your life. Or maybe something even worse is happening to you. And right now the Lord seems so far away, and your cries for help have seemingly gone unanswered.
Take heart. If you’re a believer, he’s not done with you yet. For every child of God, it can truly be said that the best is yet to come.
And in the meantime, look for the small mercies. Even with that huge “bad” hanging around in your life, I’m sure if you look you can find little glimmers of hope that are breaking through the darkness. He’s still here, even if you can’t feel him or hear his voice right now. Look for the small comforts in the dark places. They can carry you until your Shepherd brings you into the light again.

Lord Jesus, you’re my Shepherd. Sometimes the places you lead me into have long shadows, but your small mercies are the tokens of what lies in store. Thank you. 

[Mar 30]—Some Thoughts On The Nations

            I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: We've got to get past our provincialism and individualism when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. The Bible talks about both his transcendence and his immanence. Here in America we tend to focus on God’s purpose for me. We place a huge emphasis on a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” And that aspect of our relationship is in the Bible. One of the names of our Savior is Immanuel, "God with us." He’s as close as my heartbeat, as close as the breath on my lips, or at least he’d like to be. We who were once “far away” have now been brought “near” through the blood of Christ. That’s what I mean when I call it his immanence, or his nearness.
            But there’s also his transcendence to keep in mind, and I think it’s a good idea to focus on those aspects of God which our culture and background would diminish. Hence, I spend a lot of time talking about his sovereignty, his holiness, and his absolute hatred of sin.
            And you can’t read the prophets without running into that, can you? Let’s take the issue of sovereignty. On practically every page—at least in the background—is his sovereign use of the nations to accomplish his plan and purposes. And I’d like to spend today meditating on that.  
            Here are some principles we can glean from what we know from Scripture.

• He sometimes uses very bad nations—I mean extremely evil—to accomplish what he wants to see happen. Today’s passage makes it clear that Babylon was specifically used by the Lord to punish Israel. No, he didn’t make Babylon do anything they didn’t want to do. It’s not like they were peace-loving nomads and shepherds and BAM!!! God possessed them in some way and made them a bunch of murderous thugs who would be taking over other countries. But somehow, without violating their wills, he directed their course.

• 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.

Now, I need to sound a note of caution. I’m not a prophet. I don’t have any direct line of communication in which God reveals awe-inspiring secrets, unless you want to count the Bible, good teaching, and the much more mundane leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit. And I’m pretty skeptical of anyone who claims to have any type of hotline to the Lord like Jeremiah had. Ok, I’ll go ahead and say it: I don’t believe anyone who claims to be a “prophet” in the sense of Isaiah or Jeremiah or Amos. Nor for that matter do I believe that the office of “apostle”—in the sense of Peter and John and Paul—is open today.
            My point in the last paragraph is to sound a warning against anyone who claims to know what the Lord's specific plans for Russia are, or for Cuba, or for America. No, they don’t. To take a hypothetical example, if I see a certain country undergo a severe earthquake which kills millions, then can I speak with any authority about why that happened? Is it my place to speak out and proclaim that this occurred because God is punishing them for sin X? No, no, a thousand times no!!! Right after 9-11, there were a few very prominent preachers who claimed that they knew that the reason why we were attacked and 3000 Americans were murdered was because of our tolerance for homosexuality or abortion or because of some other sin in our land. No, they did not know that, and to their credit, at least one of them apologized for mouthing off.
            As a gentle reminder, this is the exact same error Job's friends fell into. They saw Job endure all types of suffering, and they claimed to know the real reason why it had all happened. They were dead wrong, and the Lord strongly rebuked them for their presumption. If the Almighty hasn't deigned to reveal his plan or "why" he's done something, we need to be extra careful not to presume that we know something we don't. 
            So is there anything more we can gain from this? Yes. Trust your Father. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s in charge of everything. We don’t know what he’s doing except in hindsight (and maybe not even then), but we know him. And that’s enough.

Father God, I praise you for who you are and what you do. You raise up kings and kingdoms, and you cast them down for your own purposes. I wouldn’t pretend to know what you’re doing. But I trust you that in the end, I’ll look back at it all and say “You do all things well.” 

[Mar 29]—Going For The Gold

            One of the distinguishing marks of America is that we prize upward mobility. We tell school children “Any one of you might be President someday.” We love stories about people born in poverty who rose to become really wealthy. This doesn’t mean that we’ve always lived up to that value system, and people certainly don’t start out on equal footing. But at least it’s one of the things we claim to cherish.
            That brings us to today’s passage. To our knowledge, Baruch was Jeremiah’s only convert. Out of all the hundreds or thousands of people who heard the prophet’s voice, as far as we know this man was the only one who listened. His name means “Blessing,” and I’m sure he was one to Jeremiah.
But if he listened, he had to know that God was about to destroy the nation, to raze it down to the ground. And Baruch apparently was discouraged by what he saw and knew. He had hopes and dreams and goals and things for which to strive and plan. Imagine if you were in his situation and you were in the middle of paying off your house and was just about to get promoted at work. Your natural response to Jeremiah’s message might be “But what about me? Will I lose my house too? What about my job? Will I still have it after God goes through this place with his wrecking ball?” And it looks like that’s the sort of thing that Baruch was thinking.
            What was the Lord’s response? “Don’t worry about it, Baruch. I’m going to make sure the disaster never touches you”? No. Jermemiah’s friend would see this disaster with his own eyes, and Jeremiah’s Master made no promise that Baruch’s lifestyle would be untouched by the disaster.
            Let me paraphrase God’s response: “I’m about to come through this entire nation with a wrecking ball and destroy everything. Don’t invest in this sinkhole. Your plans and dreams and goals and investments are about to come crashing down too. But I promise you this: You’ll make it out of this alive. I’ll make sure you don’t get killed by what I’m about to do.”
            Why do I want to focus on this? What’s the application for us today? Christians should know that this world is not our home. We know from Peter that this entire world will one day be burned up like dry kindling with gasoline on it. If you go to a modern city and see all the sky scrapers and huge structures, keep this in mind. When you go to a really nice home, remember. When you see evidence in a person’s life that he/she is financially well off or even wealthy, keep this in the forefront of your brain: It will all be dust and ashes someday.
            So does this mean it’s wrong to be wealthy? Does the Bible condemn the rich man as being intrinsically bad? No. And if someone is wealthy, that doesn’t mean necessarily that they’ve lost this perspective. There are plenty of people in Scripture who were wealthy who also were counted as faithful before God: Abraham, Job, David, etc. They were a lot wealthier than the people around them, and not only did the Lord not condemn them, he pointed to them in his word as people we need to emulate.
            I think the key here is one clarifying word: seek. It’s not wrong to be wealthy or to make plans. But the Lord told Baruch not to seek great things. If you’re seeking “great” things—things which are great in the eyes of the world—then it’s likely you’ve lost perspective. Paul condemned the love of money, not money itself, and he said that those who are “eager for money” tend to wander away from the faith and pierce themselves with many griefs.
            Keep in mind that the original Hebrew didn’t have quotation marks. But if it did, I think it would have the word “great” in them. You see, what’s great in the eyes of the world—money, fame, power, sex, a long life, etc., are not great in God’s eyes. What’s great in his eyes? Faithfulness. Trust in him. Obedience. Investing in things which will last for eternity.
            It’s not the size of your bank account as such which God is mainly concerned with. It’s the condition of your heart. It’s the status of your relationship with him. It’s your list of priorities. Are they the same as his?

Father, you have financially blessed me soooooo much more than most of the rest of the world. And sometimes I let that cloud my perspective and let the blessings get between me and the Blesser. Whatever it takes, bring my heart and my priorities right into line with yours. Yes, I mean that. 

[Mar 28]---“Please Pray For Me”

            I remember a few years ago when I and my best friend Kevin had a sharp disagreement. We were both working as summer missionary church planters, and I made a habit of ending every conversation with every Non-Christian with “May God bless you.” Kevin took me aside one day and admonished me: “You know Keith, if someone isn’t saved, then it’s impossible for God to bless them.” He had a point. Every person outside of Christ is under the Lord’s wrath, not his smile. But my counter-point is that it’s entirely possible for God to physically bless someone who’s not redeemed; in fact, he does it all the time. As Jesus told us, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." If someone has good health, a good financial income, a good family, etc., then those are good things which the Lord has given them, and we normally call those things “blessings.”
            But although I was technically correct, Kevin’s counter-counter-argument was that this just leads to confusion. If we say that someone is being “blessed by God,” usually that implies that he’s smiling on them and their enterprise, that he’s basically fine with what they’re doing. And I've come to believe he has the better part of the argument over what I said. 
            That leads us to today’s passage. Let’s take a hypothetical example. Let’s say that you work with someone (let’s call him Joe) in the office who’s not a believer. He’s going through some real troubles in his marriage, and he’s at the point of seriously considering divorce. He comes to you, since he knows you’re a Christian, and confides in you what’s going on, and he might even ask you to talk to “The Man Upstairs” to help him through this time of turmoil. What do you say?
            Well, you could tell him that you’ll pray for his marriage, that they’ll be able to work through his problems together and knit it back together. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes. God is pro-marriage, and he hates divorce.
            But the problems in Joe’s marriage are not the main problems in Joe's life. The main problem is that he’s not under God’s protection at all. He doesn’t belong to the Lord. If you’ve shared the Good News of Christ with him and he hasn’t received it, then ipso facto he’s not doing things God’s way.
            Let me illustrate. Let’s imagine for a moment that it’s right after the American Revolutionary War. The colonies have successfully broken off from Great Britain. The Brits have signed the Treaty of Paris in which Great Britain officially recognizes us as a sovereign nation. We’re no longer part of the British Empire. We’re now our own country. We now have independence. 
            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.”
            That’s how it is with every person who hasn’t received Christ, especially if they’re heard the Good News and rejected it. They’ve declared independence. If they want God’s help with their marriage or their finances or their job, they have to start doing things his way. And that starts with believing in Jesus and submitting to him.
            So what would I say to Joe? “Joe, I feel for you, man. I really believe God wants to save your marriage. But as long as you don’t do things his way, then how can you expect his help in anything? And doing things his way starts with coming to him his way, in the way he's approved. And there’s only one way to get to him. Let me tell you about it. . .”
            But what about me? I want his blessings on my life too. And hopefully I’m mature enough to realize that the best blessings aren’t the tangible ones, and aren’t the ones that an unsaved man can have. And I believe in Christ and have pledged myself to doing things his way. But is there an area of independence in my life? Some hidden corner which I call “mine”? If so, I can’t expect God’s blessings in that area, or really in anything else.
            Zedekiah stands as a prime example of what not to do. Am I following in his footsteps?

Father God, obviously I don’t want to be foolish like Zedekiah. Am I like him in any way? Is there an area of my life in which I—either consciously or not—have declared independence?

[Mar 27]—A Transaction of Hope

            What do you consider the greatest act of faith in the Bible? Some might say it was Abraham about to sacrifice his son on the altar. Others say it was Israel crossing the Red Sea. Others might point to Joshua and Israel’s march around the city of Jericho, acting as if they already owned it and were just scoping out their territory. Those certainly were incredible acts of faith. But to me, today’s passage is just about the greatest one. First, let’s look at Jeremiah’s actions, and then I’d like to make my case that in some ways it was even greater than the acts of faith mentioned prior. And then I’d like to show why this is especially relevant to us today—maybe even more directly relevant than the others.
            These events happened during the last days of Judah as an independent nation. They'd rebelled against God and his ways one too many times, and now they were facing the final consequences. If you’ve been reading Jeremiah’s book, then you know who much “doom and gloom” was contained in his overall message. He'd predicted the Lord's judgment on Israel thru the nation of Babylon over and over and over and over. Now the capital city was under siege, and the time was quickly approaching in which everyone—from king down to beggar—would be subject to the tender mercies of the Babylonians.  
            And a word came from the Lord: “Your uncle is about to come to you (while you’re under house arrest) and offer you a chance to buy some land. You’re next in line to buy the land and redeem it so that it stays in the family. When he offers it, buy it.”
            Let’s ponder that for a moment. Jeremiah’s under house arrest, so he has no means of income, just some money he's saved up. The Babylonians are about to come in and take over. Do you think they give a rat’s behind as to who owns what land?! Of course not! They’re about to come in, take possession of everything, and parcel it out to whomever they please.
            When you’re in a city under siege, and you know that the enemy will succeed (which Jeremiah did), it’d be foolish in the extreme to give over hard currency (silver) for a land title that’s about to become worthless.           
            Unless…that’s what God told you to do. Then it’s the wisest thing you could do.
            Just like everyone else, he saw the Babylonian army at the gates. But Jeremiah knew something that his fellow countrymen couldn’t see: “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” He knew from God Almighty that in just 70 years, the exiles would be released from captivity and would be allowed to return and rebuild their nation. That army that right now stood with its boot on the necks of every known nation in the world would—in 70 years, one generation or so—be overthrown. And he put his money where his mouth, or rather his faith—was.
            So why do I rank this the equal—or even higher—of Abraham’s faith, or Moses’ faith, or Joshua’s faith? Look, I’m not their judge. Maybe the Lord considers them to be greater. But I want to point out something: Each of these men had seen out and out miracles in their lives. Abraham had seen the destruction of Sodom and the birth of Isaac. Moses had seen countless miracles. Joshua as well.
            But Jeremiah? He’d seen visions, and he heard a voice, supposedly from God. Any spectacular miracles or signs or wonders? Not to my knowledge.
            All he had was the word of the Lord. He was sure God had spoken, and that was enough.
            My friend, I think that’s extremely relevant to us today. Sure, you might’ve seen God working providentially in your life. But have you seen anything on the scale of Moses or Joshua? Probably not. But you have the same thing Jeremiah had: God’s word.
            God has made lots of promises to you, and most of them haven’t been fulfilled yet, like the ones concerning your eternal home. But like Jeremiah, you can decide that you’re going to trust your Father. Despite what you’re seeing right now at this moment, you’re going to walk by faith, not by sight.
            Or not. The choice if yours.

Father God, I do trust you. Help me to trust you. And like Jeremiah, give me the strength to show my faith in tangible, sacrificial ways.  

[Mar 26]—Making Plans

Jer. 29:10-14

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.

[Mar 25]—Inside-Out or Outside-In?

Jeremiah 24:1-7

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.

[Mar 24]—On Heat and Hammers

Jer. 23:25-29

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.

[Mar 23]—Silencing The Messenger

Jeremiah 20:1-6

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.

[Mar 22]—Heart Trouble

Jer. 17:9-10

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 all 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 pretense? 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.

[Mar 21]—Where’s Your Trust?

Jer. 17:5-8

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.

[Mar 20]—Plenty To Go Around

Jer. 14:13-16

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.

[Mar 19]—Tears For The Sinners

Jer. 13:15-17

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.

[Mar 18]—Open For All

Jeremiah 12:14-17

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.

[Mar 17]--The Right Way To Complain

Jer. 12:1-4

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.

[Mar 16]--Bragging Rights

Jer. 9:23-24

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.

[Mar 15]--Cold, Heartless, and Cruel

Jeremiah 8:18-9:2

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.

[Mar 14]--Self-Deceptive Worship

            What does God think of my worship? Have you ever asked that? That can be an uncomfortable question, can’t it? Is it possible for a person to deceive themselves into thinking that the Lord is happy with their worship, when he’s not?
            Yes, it is.
            What about the people whom Jeremiah is addressing in today’s passage? What were they doing?
            Well, the first thing we notice is that their conduct from Sunday to Friday (since they worshiped on Saturday) was not becoming of God’s people, to say the least. Ironically, this is one of the few passages in which the prophet actually mentions specific sins. Most of the time, he just accuses them of such things as being unfaithful to the Covenant and to the Lord. If they were pricked by the Spirit and actually were curious about the particular transgressions of which they were guilty, obviously he would've told them. The Spirit never leaves us in the dark about a specific sin of which we need to repent.
            Here they were guilty of theft, murder, adultery, and “perjury.” An alternate translation of the last accusation is “swearing by false gods.” Basically it’s talking about “false swearing,” and either they were swearing falsely by invoking God’s name in a lie, or they were invoking false gods, whether the facts they were asserting were true or not. Whatever the case, the Lord hated it.
            You see, we can’t separate our worship from our conduct. We can’t act as citizens of this world throughout the week and then come into his Presence on our corporate worship day (now Sunday for most of us) and expect him to accept it.
            Now you might be thinking “But I don’t cheat on my wife or kill anyone, so I’m fine.” Um, no you’re not. Just to be clear, Jesus specifically warned us that if our hearts are given over to lust and hatred, he sees it as adultery and murder. And how’s about theft? If your boss had been watching over your shoulder the entire time you’ve been on the clock this past week, could he find you “stealing” his time?
            And then there was the question of their religious practices. I think that idolatry and sinful conduct go hand in hand. Remember, you’re only as good as the god (or God) you worship. Baal and Molech and the other gods of the Canaanites were vile creatures from Satan’s and man’s imagination, and that fact showed in the typical conduct of their worshipers.
            And even if idol worship didn’t lead to immoral conduct, that still wouldn’t justify it. The Lord God of Israel is the only God who truly deserves our worship. He made us and redeemed us. He deserves our wholehearted allegiance. He deserves our undivided loyalty. He deserves the best that we have. He doesn't deserve to be one god among many others or even as a competitor to anything else. He is utterly unique, and he deserves to be treated as such.
            This is why God wasn’t accepting their worship. He wasn’t neutral towards it and didn’t have “an open mind” towards it. He hated it with every bit of who he is.
            He didn’t accept it then, and he doesn’t accept it now.
            The good news? If you’re feeling convicted by this in a particular area of your life, then know this: He loves you, and he’s ready and willing and able to forgive. Raise the white flag, throw yourself on his mercy, and resolve that you’re going to start doing things his way instead of your own. But it all starts with an end to the games. You might fool everyone else, but you’re not fooling him. Not for a second.

Lord Jesus, I have no claim to righteousness of my own. By your grace, the games stop today. Please forgive, and please restore, as only you can. 

[Mar 13]--Peace, Peace

            One of my favorite Bible teachers of all time is R.C. Sproul. I can’t say that I agree with every word that he says, but his insight into the Scriptures has been invaluable to me over the years. I remember distinctly remember him saying what portion of Scripture frightens him the most. He knows he’s saved, but there's one passage in Scripture which particularly fills him with fear and trepidation: "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."
            This is a theme which I’ll probably address multiple times over the next few months as we examine Jeremiah and the other prophets—God holds people in spiritual leadership to a higher standard than he does regarding the ones led. The Lord holds you accountable for you; one day you’ll have to answer to him as to how you’ve lived as a believer. If I’m your teacher--which I guess I am if you’re reading this blog and get spiritual instruction from it—then the Lord holds me accountable for me and for you.
            As you read the book of Jeremiah, which I certainly recommend, then you might notice how often he condemns false prophets. He gives the people a word straight from God’s throne, and they contradict him. In particular he tells them how angry the Lord is with their conduct, and how close they are to judgment as a nation, and they stand against his message.
            And what’s their message? What are they telling their listeners? “Peace, peace!” In other words, everything is going to be fine. God smiles on your conduct. He’s fine with how you’re behaving. He loves and is pleased with your worship. And he’s going to continue to bless your nation, just as he has up until now, for a long long time.
            A pretty pleasant message, isn’t it? People who preach this message are always going to have plenty of listeners. They’ll always have a ready audience for a popular message. But there’s just one problem: There is no peace. All that they were preaching wasn’t from God. It was from their own imaginations, with some inspiration no doubt from the Evil One.
            Why would they do this? What was their motivation? Well, today’s passage gives one motivation, and it’s one of the oldest. A popular message can bring in some good money. And although the Bible doesn’t say it, I’d venture to guess that some of them had, to some degree, good intentions regarding the people. Who knows? Maybe it wasn’t all greed all the time.
             But it doesn’t really matter in the end. Even if they had the best of intentions, you know where that road leads.  They were leading people on the road to destruction.
            That’s where I and every other Bible teacher/preacher come in. It’s easy to teach and preach what other people want to hear. God’s fine with homosexuality, for example. Or he has no problem with greed or lust or pride. Aborting an unborn baby is just another “choice.” And my personal favorite message from the zeitgeist: A person doesn’t really have to believe in Jesus in order to be right with God and make it to Heaven. As long as they’re “sincere,” that’s good enough.
            But I can’t do it. That’s not what the Bible teaches. If someone doesn’t accept what the Scriptures teach, then that’s between them and God. I can’t change anyone else’s mind. But I have a duty to discharge. I can’t say “peace, peace” when God says there is no peace. How would we view a doctor who knew that his patient has cancer, and didn’t tell him? What if this doctor “[dressed] the wound as though it were not serious”?
            I can’t, and I won’t.

Father God, I hear the Enemy’s whisperings, and it resonates with a part of me. Please deafen my ears, and focus my spiritual eyes, so that I hear nothing and see nothing except what you place in front of me. And when a friend wounds me in love, please let me see it as a precious gift from you. 

[Mar 12]--Fruitless Punishment

            It’s amazing, really, the wrongheaded views people have of God. Some folks, especially a lot of Christians, visualize him as a Grandfather who winks at the minor foibles of his grandchildren. Others, especially most self-proclaimed atheists, consider the God of the Bible as a harsh tyrant who delights in punishing lowly victims for the most minor of sins. In fact, one of my favorite writers in Hollywood, Joss Whedon, calls God the “sky bully,” which pretty well sums up his view of the Almighty.
            Of course, neither extreme reflects the God of the Bible. He’s the God who destroyed Egypt, Sodom, and a whole generation of humanity. He killed a man for touching the Ark of the Covenant, and the very sons of the high priest Aaron were struck dead in his presence for not doing things his way. But he’s also the same God who is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” He’s not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that he turn from his ways and live.
            So why does he punish? Well, first and foremost, he’s holy and righteous. Sin can’t abide in his presence. He must punish sin. Sin and he are mortal enemies of each other. When he sends someone to Hell—and yes, he does do that—that’s the reason.
            But what about believers? The Lord Jesus took all of our sins upon himself on the cross: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”We’re never going to get what we really deserve. He no longer deals with us according to what we deserve but what we need. And sometimes that includes hardships which he brings into our lives, which in extreme cases can be sickness or even an early death.
            So what does that have to do with today’s reading? Why did I give it the title I did? Because sometimes God’s punishments don’t accomplish what they’re supposed to do, at least in some sense. Read the passage again, especially the last verse. He punished them. He “struck” them and “crushed” them, and what was the result? Nothing positive. They just sloughed it off and continued in their rebellion.
            This is an important lesson for us to learn: Anything this side of the Lake of Fire is the Lord’s appeal to sinners.  Keep in mind what type of God that he is. He takes no pleasure in making peoples’ lives miserable. When he introduces hardship into someone’s life, it’s there to wake them up from a spiritual slumber.
            You can tell that in today’s verses. The point of his “striking” them and “crushing” them was for the exact opposite of what happened: This was intended to soften their hearts and lead them to repentance.
            By the way, this is something pointed out to me by John Piper--Hell does not lead to repentance. People in Hell will just hate the Lord more the longer they’re there.
            So what does this mean to us? Well, if you’re reading this and haven’t received Jesus as your Boss and Savior, you can change that fact today. You need to change that fact about yourself—today. Start by reading this.
            If you do know him as your Savior, then ask yourself: Is his discipline working? You know, if you listen to him through the “normal” channels such as his word, prayer, and the Church, then he won’t have to resort to harsher measures to get your attention. And trust me, he’d rather it not come to that.

Father God, please give me a soft heart and listening ears. Let’s do this the easy way, shall we?