Before it’s too late: Jeremiah 18-19

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Today’s reading: Jeremiah 18-22.

“An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty. On board the liner are scores of passengers. These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port. Both freedom and sovereignty are present here, and they do not contradict. So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history.” A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy

The balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s will puzzles many, including myself. I do believe, however, that it’s more of a “both/and” situation rather than “either/or.” In other words, there’s room for both God’s rule and man’s ability to make choices. Jeremiah’s field trip to the pottery reveals some of the give and take in this divine/human interaction.

“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Jeremiah 18:2-4

Judah is the clay, and there’s no doubt that God is in control as he molds the pot. But Judah rebels against God’s will and mars the pot. At that point, God the Maker could have abandoned the clay, but in a demonstration of grace he continues to work with the clay and reshapes it into a useful vessel. As Judah’s rebellion reaches its full ripeness, Jeremiah pleads with his fellow Jews on God’s behalf to repent of their evil and allow God to remake them. He tells them that God has prepared a disaster for them, but if they reform their actions God will undo his plans for destruction. God has an ultimate plan for his creation, but he also has contingent plans that change according to our choices.

Some will argue that since God knows what choices we will make his plans are not contingent. That may be true. God said of Judah, “It’s no use, (they) will continue with (their) own plans.” And so they did, refusing to heed Jeremiah or repent. God sends Jeremiah back to the pottery, this time to buy a finished pot that has been dried and hardened beyond any change. Jeremiah calls the elders to the city dump, shows them the pot or jar, breaks it to pieces before them, and then speaks for the LORD once more.

 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.” Jeremiah 19:10-11

God gives us opportunities to follow him and obey his will, but there comes a time when the opportunities pass. At that moment any choice we had is lost and the fullness of God’s sovereignty is all that remains. As Proverbs says, “he that being often reproved hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” Or, as Hebrews says, “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Remember then, before it is too late, “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Image by Donnie Nunley on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Where are you planted? Jeremiah 17

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Today’s reading: Jeremiah 14-17.

A little over a month before he died, the famous atheist Jean-Paul Sartre declared that he so strongly resisted feelings of despair that he would say to himself, “I know I shall die in hope.” Then in profound sadness, he would add, “But hope needs a foundation.” Our Daily Bread

Hope needs a foundation. Unfortunately, sometimes people choose a weak foundation that is bound to fail. That was exactly what happened to the nation of Judah. Even as their world fell apart they foolishly clung to a false foundation of their own making and rejected the sure foundation of God.

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-8

Jeremiah contrasted a bush in the desert with a tree planted by ever-flowing water. The bush fails to grow because of its dry environment, is isolated and alone, and fails to enjoy prosperity even when it comes. So are those who put their hope in men rather than the LORD. The tree flourishes as its roots grow deep into its eternal water source. It bears much fruit, creating its own prosperity even in times of heat and drought. Such is the security of men who put their trust in God. In the midst of a hopeless situation, Jerusalem and Judah facing destruction, Jeremiah declared that there is a foundation for hope. Roy Honeycutt, Jr., in Jeremiah: Witness Under Pressure, pointed out the ways that the prophet revealed God as the only source of hope:

God is the only hope for sin. “Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts…” The people have no ransom to pay for their sin, and will pay the price with their land and all their wealth. If only they had repented and turned to God, he would have removed their guilt.

God is the only hope for our wicked hearts.The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” We can’t trust ourselves because our own hearts deceive us. Only God, through the Holy Spirit and his word, gives us the tools to honestly examine our mind and motives.

God is the only hope for security.  “Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means. When his life is half gone, they will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool.” We cling so much to the false security of riches. As a result, we grasp after wealth by any means including illegal or unjust methods. No sooner do we gather such wealth than it flies away. Only God can give the security we long for.

God is the only hope for healing.Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” Health and wealth are treasures of life, but those who turn away from God risk throwing away their well-being. God is the source of health, both physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal.  

Jeremiah called the LORD “the hope of Israel,” but said those who rejected him would be put to shame. In a time of great distress, Jeremiah saw God as his sanctuary, his refuge, lifted high above the day of despair. Look at your own life today, and see where you are planted. Are your roots in the dry sand of worldly concerns? Are you grasping after the false security of wealth? Sink your roots deep in the unfailing security of God’s provision, and find real hope in the safety of God’s grace.

Image by Jocelyn Kinghorn on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

When the going gets tough… Jeremiah 12

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Today’s reading: Jeremiah 10-13.

Jeremiah began to feel the pressure as the security of his country crumbled. The politically minded overlooked him when he was young and unknown, but after decades his unrelenting message of doom could not be ignored. As the danger drew near, the powerful people blamed him rather than their own spiritual failures. Then Jeremiah gave a particularly sobering message: God was canceling the contract between himself and the Jewish nation. The people had failed to live up to the agreement which they made as they entered the Promised Land. Now God declared it null and void.

“Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers. Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.'” Jeremiah 11:10-11

God was through listening to his people, and the people were through listening to Jeremiah. The men of his own hometown plotted to kill him. When Jeremiah heard about it he credited God with saving him, but he also complained to the LORD about the prosperity of the wicked. God told Jeremiah to brace for worse things.

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5

There’s little comfort in God’s question. It’s full of warning rather than sympathy. God said, “Jeremiah, you’ve had a little trouble so far – get ready for bigger enemies. You’ve had sure footing in the past, but now you’ll be fighting in the swamp.” Jeremiah was looking for explanations, but all he got was a question, and a pretty alarming question at that. Warren Wiersbe said that we live on God’s promises rather than his explanations, and fortunately Jeremiah had some promises that he could fall back on.

  • God told him that he appointed him for the task before he was born.
  • He told Jeremiah that he would be with him and would rescue him.
  • He told him that he had made him “a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall” that would stand up against everyone, from the highest king to the common people of the land.

God wasn’t just warning Jeremiah. He was preparing him for bigger conflicts. He wanted to renew the prophet’s strength so that he would be able to tackle those bigger obstacles. Jeremiah’s struggle would be difficult because of the personal attacks he would suffer, because of the lack of response to his message, and because it was his own country that was being destroyed. But Jeremiah would be fighting with God’s strength rather than his own.

Perhaps God has given you a difficult ministry that has sapped your strength. Maybe you’re speaking God’s word but not seeing any response to it. You may even be experiencing criticism or persecution because of your work. God says, I appointed you for this work and I will give you the strength to do it, even if it becomes more difficult. I am with you, and I will rescue you if that becomes necessary. I have made you as strong as iron to withstand the pressure that will come against you. Measure your success by your faithful obedience to perform the work, rather than the reaction of people who may accept or reject my word. Do all this, and you will survive the tough, and even the tougher, times.

Image by Stijn Bokhove on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

What does it mean to know God? Jeremiah 9

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Today’s reading: Jeremiah 7-9.

Think about someone you know well – a friend, a parent, your spouse. You know things about them, such as the foods they like, or what they like to watch on TV, or what they like to do for fun. You can predict how they will react to certain situations. More than that, you can easily talk with them because of the time you have spent together and the understanding you share with them. Finally, think about what they will do for you, or you will do for them, if either of you need help. You would do it because of the bond between you.

Someone has said that how well we know another person depends on the number and depth of our shared experiences.

  1. Number. You have a huge number of shared experiences with your family. Many of them are mundane, but the sheer number of them guarantees that you will get to know your parents and siblings.
  2. Depth. Consider someone you have fought beside in a war, or a person you worked closely with on a work project, or someone with whom you fell in love. The power of the emotions creates a lasting connection. The intimacy opens you up to sharing much more than superficial knowledge about yourself.

Now consider your knowledge of God. Many people claim to know God, but most only know about him, as they would know about the President. Few people know God through a relationship with him that is based on a number and depth of shared experiences. That was exactly God’s charge against the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time.

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh– Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” Jeremiah 9:23-27

God said if the people really knew him they would know his character and his heart. The fact that the people depended on their own abilities, rather than on God’s power, was further proof that they did not know him. Finally, God taught them that an outward show of religion, such as circumcision (you could substitute attending church services), was no substitute for surrendering one’s heart to God. As Jesus said in John 4, we must worship God in spirit and in truth.

It’s time for us to know God better, and it won’t happen without increasing the number and depth of our shared experiences. We can increase the number through times of daily devotion (prayer and Bible reading) and worship with other believers. We increase the depth of our shared experience through dependence on God, by putting ourselves in situations where we rely more completely on his power than our own. We can also grow deeper with God in times of worship and by being more honest with him about our own character.

Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary, wrote in his personal journal: “I walked out on the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious, to stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God – what more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him . . . If only I may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into His eyes.”

 

At the crossroads: Jeremiah 6

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Today’s reading: Jeremiah 4-6.

The Eastern Continental Divide is that elevated stretch of land so situated that a raindrop falling on one side eventually flows into the Atlantic Ocean, while a drop falling inches to the west flows into the Gulf of Mexico. A small difference in the beginning leads to a great difference in outcome. Our choices can have the same result. We stand at a fork in the road and sometimes wish we could take both paths, but eventually we must choose one or the other. Wisdom can guide our choices, but without it we make terrible and foolish decisions. That was the result in the final years of Judah and Jerusalem.

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.'” Jeremiah 6:16-17

God told the people to look for the ancient paths, but the word for ancient also means perpetual or eternal. People often make fun of the old ways. They like things that are new or different. Professionals make their living by promoting things that are new and criticizing the traditional. But God’s ways aren’t old or outdated; they are eternal. They remain relevant and correct.

God didn’t hide his word or make it difficult to find. He blared it out loudly like a trumpet. In the beginning there were the prophets. Jeremiah blew his trumpet for forty years, year after year of warning, and cried because his nation refused to listen. Now we have God’s word in written form, and it isn’t hard to find even in our nation that often ignores God. Yet it mostly goes unread and unheeded. People consider it outdated. Even unwise Christians fail to follow its commands, choosing instead to follow their selfish desires.

Choosing God’s path leads to present and eternal blessings, though there will be trials along the way. What about rejecting God’s way?

Hear, O earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law. Jeremiah 6:19

God says that disaster is the fruit, the result, of rejecting his path and going another way. We’ve already reaped a lot of trouble because of our abandonment of God’s word, and more is on the way. Like Jeremiah, we need to remain faithful to speak God’s word even though our neighbors may not listen.

Image by Thomas Guignard on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

God will take us back: Jeremiah 3

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Today’s reading: Jeremiah 1-3.

From time to time it happens. A couple who divorced get together again and remarry. For the Jews living under the Old Covenant it was forbidden for the original couple to remarry if one of them had taken another spouse in the meantime (Deuteronomy 24). God abhorred the idea and said it would defile the land. His disgust may have come from the initial act of abandoning the marriage partner, for it symbolized rejecting God.

The nations of Israel and Judah had rejected God. Even when Judah saw the terrible consequences of Israel’s rebellion she continued in her own unfaithfulness. God, speaking through Jeremiah, told Judah that he condemned her for two sins.

  1. She had abandoned God (a spring of living water, meaning ideal fresh water).
  2. She had chosen instead false gods (self-made but broken cisterns for holding old stagnant water).

Despite her rebellion, God declares that he is willing to take Israel back, even though he has already given her a certificate of divorce.

“Return, faithless Israel,” declares the LORD, “I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,” declares the LORD, “I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt– you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,” declares the LORD. “Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband.” Jeremiah 3:12-14

So we see the depth of God’s love and mercy. He was willing to take her back even though he had divorced her and she had been unfaithful with every foreign god. It remains a mystery to me how God could make this offer in light of the personal defilement it seems to involve, but like Hosea reclaiming Gomer he makes the offer to take back Israel. He is that devoted. He shows that much grace. He is willing to make that personal sacrifice. Who can say whether his action may be another reason why the sacrifice of his own divine son was necessary? What I can say is that his action shows the supernatural scope of his forgiveness. No matter how far from God your sin has taken you, he is willing to bring you back if you turn away from your mistake and turn back to God.

Oh, the measureless mercy of these gracious sentences! Deep and black as the sin is, and fearful and terrible as is the description of it, how bright, how clear is the immeasurable love which promises to put that sin away, and forget and forgive it once for all! Charles Spurgeon

Image by Helmuts Guigo on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

Isaiah looks at the End Time: Isaiah 65

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Today’s reading: Isaiah 64-66.

What will happen at the end of time? So far, the Old Testament has revealed the Day of the LORD, a future time or event when God judges the wickedness of those who oppose him and begins to pour out blessings on the remnant of those who believe in him. As Isaiah closes out his book of prophecy, he looks beyond the Day of the LORD to see something new that God will do.

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” Isaiah 65:17-18

Pastor Chuck Smith says that the creating God describes is the kind of creating that only God can do: making something out of nothing. He doesn’t have in mind a revision or upgrade. He is remaking the universe from scratch just as he created it out of nothing (from buckets of nothing as Calvin Miller said) in the beginning. Peter described it this way:

…the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 2 Peter 3:10

John also saw it in his Revelation and added more details.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4

God redeems his creation by creating it anew. This is the final event of history before eternity takes over, but Isaiah has more to say about what happens before that final day.

Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Isaiah 65:20-23

He’s describing the Millenium, the thousand-year period when Jesus Christ rules on the earth after his second coming. It will be a time full of God’s blessing, including the fullness of God’s blessings on his chosen people.

  • It will be a time of great health and long life, far exceeding what we know now.
  • It will be a time when men and women enjoy the fruit of their work.
  • It will be a time when parents see their children grow up and enjoy fortune, not hardship.
  • It will be a time when God answers their requests before they can finish speaking them.
  • It will be a time of peace and joy.

Remember that Isaiah opened his book with warnings of judgment, but he always followed the judgments with accounts of God’s mercy. It’s fitting, as he closes his book, that he finishes with words of hope and blessing. Our eternal future is glorious, and that should make us joyful in the midst of whatever troubles we face today.

Image by lapidem on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0