Thursday, January 31, 2013

seeking the welfare of the city

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:7

In this command to the Babylonian exiles, God is giving instruction on how His people were to relate to a pagan culture. He did not want them retreating from the culture. That would not have been acceptable. Instead, God encourages them to settle in, live their lives, create households, have children and grandchildren, plant gardens, and make Babylon their home as much as is possible. After all, they would be there for 70 years.

They were to be a people who benefited the culture. They were to be the best residents of Babylon that the city had ever seen. They were to seek its welfare, for as Babylon thrived, so would their families. This then is the opposite of a cultural retreat. This is engagement with the city at all levels possible.

Now I know this is a very specific promise given to the Jews in a narrow point of their history. But I find in its principles thoughts for examining my own relationship with my culture. All my life the fundamentalist/evangelical sub-Christianity from my youth has sternly cautioned me to always retreat from my world. Its voice is always in my head, even today. And from childhood I have done so. My life has been defined no so much by what I was, but by what I wasn't and by what I didn't do. And it made a legalistic hermit of me.

I believe that if Christianity is going to advance it must engage culture with an exilic attitude. It must evangelize the culture by being part of the culture. I must seek the welfare of the city, with the gospel message clearly in hand, knowing and participating in the life of my world in a Christian way.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, "Listen, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the LORD.'"
In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.
Jeremiah 28:15-17

The penalty for false prophecy was death. And in this episode God dramatically rendered the sentence upon Hananiah in order to vindicate His message through Jeremiah. Hananiah pulled the wooden yoke off of Jeremiah's neck in disdain and boldly declared in God's name that within two years Babylon would fall and the exiles would be back home. He was denouncing the judgment that God had declared.

God quickly dealt with this prophetic rebellion. Jeremiah reaffirmed God's original message. God declared Hananiah in rebellion as a false prophet. Instead of the captives being released in two years, Hananiah would be dead in less than a year. And that is exactly what happened.

God can handle Himself nicely. The truth will triumph in Him. We need not worry about it. And circumstances will show the sovereign work of God's control. His Word will not fail and no rebellion among men will go unresolved. He will bring it all to the praise of His glory.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

God over government

It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.
Jeremiah 27:5

God declares His sovereignty over all political systems. These words were spoken as the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar fell hard on the citizens of Judah. And God gave a message for Jeremiah to declare to all the nations around Judah. They would all be brought under Babylonian homogeny. And this was God's direct action. All should submit to what God had decreed and thus live. Any who might fight it would die. The surrender was to God, not just the Babylonian army.

Every king that rules, every president that leads, every parliament or legislature that enacts law, or every governing power that exists on earth does so at the command of God. There is no human government on earth that is independent of God's sovereign hand. God owns the earth and its inhabitants. Human governments come in many forms and flavors. Yet even the most restrictive dictators among us only governs under God's allowance. And He will use even them. That is the lesson that Nebuchadnezzar teaches us.

Invading armies, cruel suppression, unfair laws, and sinful injustices magnified by powerful governments do not take God by surprise. In the case of Babylon's invasion of Israel, we are given direct revelation from God through His prophets detailing how His hand was in it. In cases where we cannot know these particulars today, we can however still know that God gives the earth to "whomever it seems right". And by faith, we can trust God more than any feeble government that arises among men.

Monday, January 28, 2013


And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, "You shall die!"
Jeremiah 26:8

Rejection is never really the response any servant of The Lord looks for when giving God's Word to people. But it was what came again to Jeremiah here at the halfway point of the book. And this is worse than the first round of persecution he suffered at the hands of the leaders. This time the entire nation from leaders, to prophets, to common people wanted him dead.

This is no idle threat. The text goes on to tell the stories of two recent prophets killed for prophesying the fall of Jerusalem. The people want Jeremiah to join this club of martyred prophets. And they want it immediately. This is a serious threat and shows just how far the nation had come in rejecting God. No true message from God would be welcomed by them with repentance.

But God was not finished with His prophet. The circumstances worked where a leader protected Jeremiah. No harm came to him despite the serious threats (Jeremiah 26:24). The chapter ends with Jeremiah kept safe by the sovereign hand of God in one sympathetic man. The Lord will honor His Word and protect His servants while His Word goes forth. And even when a messenger dies, in God's wisdom, the message goes on and cannot be silenced.

Friday, January 25, 2013


For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the LORD persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets...
Jeremiah 25:3-4

Persistence can be a good thing
when good people
obey the good words
of a good God
and blessings come from heaven

Persistence can be a bad thing
when stubbornly sinful people
resist God's Word
and turn from Him
and find justice falling from His hand

The difference in persistence
is the character
of a human heart
and its submission to God
the Creator, Savior, and Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him

Thursday, January 24, 2013

accepting exile today

I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
Jeremiah 24:7

These were the words that God spoke to the people as they were taken captive to Babylon. This event changed the way in which the Jews approached God. It was a disciplinary measure but the outcome was not sheer punitive retribution. God intended to still be in covenant with His people even as they lived in exile. The same terms that God had always had with Abraham's seed (they shall be my people; I will be their God) still existed as they relocated in misery to Babylon. God knew that the Babylonian captivity would be the cultural event that would recapture the hearts of exiled Israel. And His grace would flow to them during this time.

This exilic experience remade Israel. It purged them of their idolatries. It humbled them. It brought them together in tight, personal circles to worship God. The synagogue (assembly) grew out of the exile. The exile gave them a vision again... a vision that got them through the suffering they endured. It made God their biggest thought and brought worship to their hearts again. In all that happened, the exile proved to be spiritually fruitful for the nation.

Let us not forget that the exilic motif was adopted by the apostles to help the church survive in a hostile human culture. Peter called us dispersed exiles (1 Peter 1:1; 17). The early church grew by scattering (Acts 8:4). It is a metaphor for ministry. And the church's circumstances in that regard have not changed. We do not live in "christendom". We live in a foreign land as exiles and sojourners. But we work toward a greater vision. We live, loving and worshiping a God Who is saving this culture that we are moving through. And He is doing it one life at a time, using us, the strangers here, to do it!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

God of hope

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'"
Jeremiah 23:5-6

A promise of restoration comes to the Jews in their difficult days. Even though the fall of Jerusalem is in process (the exile starts just one chapter away in Jeremiah 24), God is making secure promises to bring His people back one day from exile (Jeremiah 23:7-8) and restore them. And a bright future kingdom shines large in these prophecies. Aspects of it have yet to be realized. And there are clear Messianic prophecies in the picture of return and restoration.

God gives hope, even in the deepest hardships. This is the message of the promise of bringing the nation back to the land and back into covenant with Him. Even when humans must bear the consequences of our sin, God will use that time to reshape us, call us to Him, and restore His people again.

I am thankful for the hope that You give. I will cling to it in my most difficult times. I know that my own sins come between us and I also know that there is forgiveness in You. And in Your Son is found all that I need. You are all that I hope for!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ignore the poor; ignore God

Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 22:15b-16

In context, this was a message to the last king of Judah. As the Babylonians marched toward Jerusalem, the downfall of the nation was unavoidable. The king would be humiliated and dragged off to Babylon as a captive spoil of war -- a trophy for Nebuchadnezzar to boast over and display. The Lord's reminder was that the leaders in Judah "earned" this outcome by their lack of real obedient leading by the Law. They were concerned only with power, wealth, and prestige. They ignored the administration of God's justice, particularly by not caring for the poorest in the nation.

And we get insight into the character of God and the nature of obedient faith.To really trust God is to do what He cares about. It cannot co-exist with selfishness. It is caring, loving, active, and sacrificial. That is because it is in God's character to care for needy sinners. It started in the Garden of Eden after the fall and has continued to this day. It climaxed in the sacrifice of His Son at Calvary. And it will culminate in a future kingdom Christ rules. This is the biblical grand picture of redemptive history.

The point God made to Judah is that His redeemed people will care about what He cares about. I believe this is a universal principle and still holds true for us today. Our faith must show in our actions. It is not real faith if it does not. It is a false doctrine if it is just about doctrine. This is not social justice for the sake of any kind of human driven utopian ideal. Instead, this is about providing for the neediest among us out of worship for all that God is giving to us so that they may know the love of Christ in us! This is what is right. It must accompany the gospel for it shows that we really know and love The Lord.

Monday, January 21, 2013

God against

I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath.
Jeremiah 21:5

This is a message from God that had to be difficult for Jeremiah to deliver. It is the opposite of what God had traditionally said to His people. As Babylon's army surrounded Jerusalem, King Zedekiah finally inquired of The Lord, sounding very serious about God's past deliverance, and apparently hoping to hear that God would save the nation.

Instead, a scathing announcement of impending judgment is made. And God is clear that He is leading the invading army to punish Jerusalem for its desertion of the Law. God's arm that used to exclusively fight for Israel was now bared and fighting AGAINST the nation. The only hope for saved lives was exile. God actually counsels the people to surrender outside the gates to the invading Babylonians in order to live.

This is a striking passage because we so want God to be "for us". And the story of redemptive history in Christ is just that. But sometimes entrenched sin is so rampant and people so degenerate that God must judge unrepentant sinners. And when He is against sin, painful consequences will erupt.

Friday, January 18, 2013

courage beyond our complaints

But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.
Jeremiah 20:11

When these words of conviction came from Jeremiah, he had just been released from custody after suffering for the sake of prophecy. He had been beaten, publicly humiliated, and put in stocks at the pedestrian gate at the temple (Jeremiah 20:1-3). Yet his first action upon release was to confront the idolatrous official who had punished him (Jeremiah 20:3-6). This was a remarkable courage.

What was the source of this kind of brave commitment to the Word of God? It was God's presence with Jeremiah. And interestingly enough, the prophet's courage was found in pain, difficulty, and even confusion about his circumstances. He starts his reflections upset at God for not stopping persecution despite the prophet's commitment (Jeremiah 20:7-8). He then reflects on how he cannot shut up the truth. It burns within him until he lets it out, regardless of the consequences (Jeremiah 20:9). He finds praise in the Lord's presence and trust in God's vindication (Jeremiah 20:10-13). But he finally still struggles with despair because the pain still feels overwhelming as he pours out a bitter, sarcastic litany to God (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

What I see here is that the courage that God brings still comes despite our complaints about not understanding why we face our circumstances. God gives us courage despite our gripes and unanswered questions. God will use us even when we are perplexed and even when we blame Him for our pain. Thank God His grace is that great!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

the sermon at the town dump

You shall say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.'
Jeremiah 19:3

The town dump seems to be a strange place to preach a sermon, but that is exactly where God directed Jeremiah to give this message. The location of the prophecy is part of the message itself. God was going to "dispose" of a sinful generation that was no longer of use to Him. In some of the more difficult pronouncements God states that during Jerusalem's fall the fortunate ones will be buried in the dump. Other bodies would be eaten by wild animals and even the inhabitants of Jerusalem would resort to cannibalism during the siege. This is certainly not the "feel good message" of the month. No publishing house was signing Jeremiah up for a book tour on this one! A dark and pain-filled reality would soon shake Judah.

Why was this sort of future looming over them? They had forsaken God, worshiped idols (Jeremiah 19:4), killed their own infant children in child sacrifice to idols (Jeremiah 19:5), and gone on to build an entire culture of idolatry for generations (Jeremiah 19:5). Their choice to abandon God was now the cultural norm and this would have sudden and severe consequences.

Jeremiah had one last object lesson to drive the point home. He stood in the part of the dump where broken pottery was heaped. He took a new vessel freshly purchased at the potter's shop and smashed it down to shatter among the useless scattered shards of countless broken items. This was ultimately what God would do with Judah. The would be as useless to Him as a broken pot. And their idolatrous world would smash and scatter, never to be known again. The finality of that image sticks with me right now. It is testament to God's work and a warning of the finality of God's judgment and the futility of rejecting God.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Resistance

But they say, 'That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.'
Jeremiah 18:12

...not the words I'd want God to use to describe me.
But those were the words God ascribed to the hearts of His people
when they chose to reject Him,
and they were opposed to Him,
when they fought against Him.

If I'm willful,
I will refuse to heed the truth
God's Word has made clear.
And I will replace it with my opinion
which is the root of my sinning.
How could I reject Him,
be opposed to Him,
fight against Him?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

a diseased heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
"I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."
Jeremiah 17:9-10

There is a natural bent of each human soul on planet earth. It is an inevitable predisposition to selfishly sin. That does not mean that each human is as bad as can possibly be. But it does mean that each human heart makes selfish choices that lead to sinful and painful consequence. Everybody is wounded by their sin. Why is this the case? Because we are born spiritually diseased. We will sin just like we eat and breathe. It is endemic to the human condition.

And I know this not so much from other people as from my own soul. I know the thoughts I have had. I know my own deceit. I know the sin in my heart that has flowed out into my life to hurt me and to hurt others. It is not just that other people are warped by sin and thus society is marred by the contagion of evil on the loose. I am the problem. I am desperately sick with sin. And I cannot really understand a way out of this alone. But there is Someone Who does.

God searches hearts and tests minds. He knows me. And He has provided the way around the destruction of personal depravity. In Christ I am healed. In Christ, my sin is forgiven. In Christ, the truth can change what deceit and selfishness have ruined. Christianity is a matter of the heart that pours out into my actions.

God rewards the fruit of my ways. Whatever has oozed out of my diseased heart will be burned away in judgment. And the good works that have come from the power of Christ alive in me will be blessed. What flows from the heart committed to Jesus will change me and my world.

Monday, January 14, 2013

a willfulness worse than idolatry

then you shall say to them: 'Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.
Jeremiah 16:11-12

The Lord gives two reasons for the impending captivity coming to His people. The first reason is tied to the unfaithfulness and idolatry of previous generations. The Jews have had a generational history of forsaking God and chasing after the worship of idols. And this had gotten progressively worse, culminating in the present generation of which Jeremiah was a part.

The second reason had to do with Jeremiah's contemporaries. God saw the sins of that group as worse than the blatant idolatry of their fathers. Every person was bound up in a stubborn life of self pursuits. Their own evil wills refused God even as He spoke to them of the coming judgment and their personal guilt and sin. Judah had become a society where the autonomy of each person led them to apathy about God, refusing to listen to God any longer as He spoke to them through the Law and His prophets.

Any time individual human autonomy is valued over God's gracious and sovereign rule, disaster will ultimately result. Humans cannot achieve utopia. This is not because God hates human beings or does not value them, but rather because humans will not value God. They refuse to accept Him willingly. But He will still rule. Ultimate individual willfulness will break everything down to nothing. It is anarchy of a spiritual origin. That is why God warned them what was coming. It was inevitable. They had brought it on themselves by valuing themselves above all else. I believe that we can only know peaceful lives and understand the real meaning and destiny of humanity in the light of knowing God truly.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Opposing the truth

I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
Jeremiah 15:21

This promise of deliverance was given by God to Jeremiah because the prophet was starting to receive persecution for faithfully proclaiming God's message of judgment. Jeremiah needed the encouragement. And God promised to keep him from the outcomes of evil actions planned against him.

God's message was not popular. The wildly accepted messages of false optimism from the lying prophets were well received by the people. But Jeremiah's repeated warnings of death, destruction, judgement, and the curses of the covenant were not what the people wanted to hear. They responded with threats. And the only way out of this was the deliverance that God would bring. There would be no other way out.

The truth will be opposed by wicked and ruthless people. It happened to all the prophets. It will happen as long as human beings oppose the rule of God. But God will take care of Himself. His Word has survived despite tyrannical rages against Him. God is perfectly capable of taking care of His truth and His people. And His Word will continue to survive because God has settled it forever in heaven.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Lying Prophets

Then I said: "Ah, Lord GOD, behold, the prophets say to them, 'You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.'" And the LORD said to me: "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds."
Jeremiah 14:13-14

Sometimes what is said
claimed in the name of The Lord
cannot be trusted as true
because it is not God's Word.

When men say it, but claim God's name
the truth is tarnished for human fame.

God does not send
everyone who claims prophecy;
a simple test
can verify their authority.

Does what pours out of a man's head
fit with everything else God has said?

False optimism is a clue
that vacuous deceit is behind
the upbeat message
issued from a liar's mind.

A deceiving hope will spin
hearts away from repenting from sin.

Discernment is vital for all
so know God's revealed Word
and then deceit will fail to grab
those who know "thus says The Lord".

"Grant wisdom so Your people know
truth from lies, Your ways to show."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

God of light and darkness

Hear and give ear; be not proud, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness.
Jeremiah 13:15-16

The God who makes light also makes the darkness fall around us. And it is passages like this that remind us that He can judge our stubborn rebellions just like He graciously pardons our repentant sinful hearts. If God were not serious about our rebel defiance, He would not be worthy of worship. The holiness of God demands holiness from us.

God warns those on a path to darkness. In the case of Israel and Judah they were warned and called to return to God's light before darkness fell on the twilight mountains. When it came, the darkness would fall quickly. And it does in the mountains. I have experienced a moonless night in the Rockies. And the last rays of a setting sun diminish instantly as the rocks shroud the mountaineer in a velvet cloak of nightfall. That is the kind of darkness sin will capture us in and bring us into the sorrows of judgment.

But the God Who warns is the God who reaches to the repentant heart. He can bring the dawn. He can lift up the fallen. He can bring light again to our path so that our feet no longer stumble.

You create light and darkness. I know the dark days that my soul has felt in my disobedience and unbelief. In my worship of what was false, the twilight mountains swallowed me up. And I also know the warm day of Your grace breaking through when repentance was poured out to You. Keep me in Your light!

Monday, January 7, 2013

built up again

And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, 'As the LORD lives,' even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people.
Jeremiah 12:16

The remedy for the many sins of Judah and Israel was repentance, renewal, and a recommitment to the covenant. God knew that His people were sinners. They obeyed imperfectly, but He wanted them to commit to that relationship again. They had totally given up on God. He wanted their hearts and wills back. It would take 70 years of national exile for Him to get that.

It would begin with the diligent commitment to learn the ways God had shown them. It was not hard to find that information. It was the content of the Law. The main thrust of it was commitment and trust in the living God. He wanted His people to swear allegiance to Him again, rather than be torn by oaths to false gods.

God wants our love and our deepest commitment from the heart. He cannot help but have it when we have been moved by His grace. We see His amazing love at work for us in Christ. Who cannot help but be drawn to learn and love more? And it will draw out our deepest allegiance. It will transform broken, self-centered thinking. It will make us carriers of that grace into a world that God wants to transform through us. And then shall His people be built up into the work He wants to make of us.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

no human being is worshipless

For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah, and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.
Jeremiah 11:3

There is a reason there were so many idols in Jerusalem. People can't help worshipping. It is what we were made to do.

The Lord's displeasure at the idolatrous deeds of Judah had reached the point that His justice had to act. Again, Jeremiah gives a warning to the nation. He rehearses the history of the covenant and reiterates the multitude of times which Israel and Judah have broken faith with God.

The sad state of the nation was that it was rife with the worship of false gods. This had gotten out of hand. Now Judah was filled with every idol imaginable. And the practices of Baal worship filled every street in Jerusalem. There were clearly many gods in the place of the worship of Yahweh. And the superstitious idolatry was apparent at every urban street corner.

The capacity of the human heart to covet and create idols is great. We are easily distracted from the worship of God on His terms. But we will always worship something. Even atheists worship (subscribe supreme worth and obedience to a life cause). It is inevitable. Human beings are worshippers by our sheer mortal status. Death confronts us in our physical weakness. And we must rely on something or someone to get us past that awareness. To ignore our Creator at that point is pretty arrogant, but entirely possible.

When looking at human beings, I will recognize that people have an internal worship motivation. That is always true. It may be fixated on themselves, on humanity, on a favorite activity, on the faceless god of naturalism, or in any other false god of human design. But God wants each human heart pointed to Him, in awe and in love of Him. That starts with mine, in worship, right now.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

self-determination = self-deception

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O LORD, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.
Jeremiah 10:23-24

The prophet's response to God's warning against the outcomes of idolatry invites God to change his heart through correction. The reality of idolatry was all around Jeremiah. Jerusalem was so inundated with false worship perpetuated by the nation's leaders that the culture was steeped in it. It was everywhere part of every day life. And it was really why God was bringing judgment. Under all the sins of Judah, idolatry was a pernicious root.

And the reason that idolatry had become a cultural mainstay was that the leaders had made their own choices based on their desires to be like other nations. They trusted in themselves and trusted in idols. They did not choose to trust God. They decided to be self-determining people, rejecting the authority of God and His Law over them.

Jeremiah is so sensitive to this that He invites God to bring correction to the prophet's own heart, lest he too had been deceived in some degree by idolatry. He acknowledged the power and failure of self determination. He knew God would correct him gently if indeed he had been influenced in this way. And this set the example for what the nation should have done.

So this prayer of Jeremiah's serves me well in my times. I believe that my culture worships false gods and rejects God's authority. The predominant philosophy encourages some iteration of "the way of a man is in himself". May God correct me so that I may wade against the flow of this flood and rescue those so deceived.