It’s All About Him

Since I haven’t written much about Jeremiah for a while, I thought I would just post about him again this week.  Love this guy!

Towards the end of Jerusalem as they knew it, when it became very apparent that the city and the Temple of the Lord were on the verge of total destruction by the army of King Nebuchadnezzar, God gave Jeremiah a personal word.  In Chapter 32, He told him that his cousin, Hanamel, was going to come to him and ask him to buy his (Hanamel’s) field back in Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home town.  God told Jeremiah to buy the field from Hanamel.

There are a couple of pieces of background information helpful in making my point:  1)  Jeremiah was “…shut up in the court of the guard, which was in the house of the king of Judah (in other words, he was in jail) when God gave him this word; and 2) it was part of the Jewish law that if someone became poor enough that they needed to sell their land then their closest living relative had an obligation to buy it from them (very simplified explanation of this complicated law) in order to keep the land in the family.

So, just to be clear, Jeremiah was in jail; the entire country was getting ready to fall to the hands of the King of Babylon; Hanamel (Jeremiah’s cousin) had become poor; and God told Jeremiah to buy his land from him.

I don’t know about you, but in the natural, this makes absolutely no sense.  For us, this would be like buying a house in downtown Baghdad right after the United States declared war on Saddam Hussein.  Crazy, right?

Not only did God tell Jeremiah it was going to happen, it actually did.  And Jeremiah bought the field for seventeen shekels of silver.  According to Jeremiah 32:14, Jeremiah had two copies of the deed, “…put in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time.”

Why?  It was a symbolic act meant to demonstrate the promise of God to His rebellious people that after their 70-year exile He would bring them home.  According to 32:15, “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’”

Getting around to my point about living an abundant life in Christ…even in the crummiest circumstances we ALWAYS have hope.  Even when our crummy circumstances are our own fault we can still have hope.  At this point in the book of Jeremiah, jail (Jeremiah was imprisoned), poverty (Hanamel had to sell his land), and defeat (the Babylonian’s destroying Jerusalem) were not the end of the story.  God is always the end of the story.  God alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Why?  Because even though God includes us in the story and invites us to partner with Him in the story, IT’S NOT ABOUT US and the outcome does NOT depend on us.  It all depends on God, His infinite Love, amazing grace, and His Sovereign plan.  God is always the end of the story.  God alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith, not our enemies and not even us.

Even though the Jews had completely rebelled against God here was His promise to them:

Jeremiah 32: 36 – 44 (ESV) –  “Now therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.  “For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them. Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, ‘It is a desolation, without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed, in the land of Benjamin, in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb; for I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.”

Notice how that entire passage is about what God is going to do.  It’s about what only He can do.  You know what our job is?  Believe Him and trust Him to be Who He says He is and to do what He says He will do even when it doesn’t make sense to us.  That’s it.

The gospel of John calls it abiding.  Paul calls it reigning in life.  I call it wonderful.

Stay tuned next time for:  “Well, It’s a Little Bit About Us”

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Jesus Is Reigning in Life

I haven’t written much about our study on Jeremiah recently.  The truth is that this study is hard.  The message is heavy and sad.  And the more I learn the more I realize just how difficult Jeremiah’s life was.  I’ve talked about it before, but even now after being in this study since January, I have tears in my eyes thinking about what he endured in this life in order to serve his God and serve His people.

Not only did he share virtually the same message for well over forty years (he probably not only sounded like a broken record, he probably felt like one, too), but he was hated and despised for it.  People tried to kill him.  His own family members (the men of Anathoth) plotted against him.  God told him not to marry or have children, so he was devoid of seemingly even the smallest human comforts (no wife to hug him or little Jeremiah’s or Jeremina’s to jump in his lap after a long day of prophesying).  He often had to hide.  He was held prisoner in a cistern and almost starved to death.  There are many parts of the book that indicate he wrestled with his emotions (anger, fear, grief, and intense loneliness) and suffered with doubt and confusion – just like us.

All he truly had was the Lord.  And while we might not like to think about it this way, Jeremiah the Prophet reigned in life.  He reigned in life because all he had, everything he hoped in was all wrapped up in El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One.  He needed no one and nothing else.

God hasn’t called many of us to the type of ministry that He called Jeremiah to.  But we all face challenges (if you don’t and your life is seamless and perfect, email me, we need to have coffee so I can find out what kind of meds you and/or your family are on):  difficult jobs, health crisis (what’s the plural of crisis?), financial challenges, marriage difficulties, rebellious teenagers and 10,000 other possibilities.  I have been in seasons of my life where I have experienced several of them at the same time.

The question for us is, if nothing about our circumstances improved or even if they actually got worse, is Jesus enough?  Is the All Sufficient God of the Universe, Maker of Heaven and Earth enough for us?  Or are we willing to say that anything (pick one or pick five above) has the power to undo us?

When we stop fighting our circumstances and start embracing our Savior, we have abundant life.  When Jesus is enough we are reigning.

When the Worst Thing That Could Happen Does

Our Bible study class wrapped up part one of our Jeremiah study last week, which means we are through chapter twenty-four.  Chapter twenty-four happens after the second siege on Jerusalem, around 597 BC.  At that point the last king of Judah, Zedekiah (really bad king) was put on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar also took over 10,000 people from Judah into captivity in Babylon.

For the Jews, God’s chosen people, leaving their home, the land God gave them, the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was one of the worst things that could happen to them.

But God (one of my favorite phrases in the Bible) had this to say about leaving their land and heading into captivity:

Jeremiah 24:5-7 (NASB) “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up.  I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”

Then He has this to say about those who were able to stay in their own land:

Jeremiah 24:8-10 (NASB)  ‘But like the bad figs which cannot be eaten due to rottenness—indeed, thus says the Lord—so I will abandon Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land and the ones who dwell in the land of Egypt.  I will make them a terror and an evil for all the kingdoms of the earth, as a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse in all places where I will scatter them.  I will send the sword, the famine and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and their forefathers.’”

Turns out, according to the rest of the book of Jeremiah (which we will be studying next), it really did get a whole lot worse for those who were able to stay in their own land than for those who were led away.  In other words, as folks were packing up their lives and heading to a foreign land into captivity, likely they were thinking it was the worst day of their lives.  But the truth was God had a plan.  They just couldn’t see it at the moment.

There was another very pivotal point in history that looked like the worst thing that could possibly happen, the crucifixion of Christ.  By all human standards of measure, He appeared to have failed miserably in His mission as the King of Kings, Savior of the World.

Think about those precious folks who had followed Him over the three years of His earthly ministry:  the twelve disciples (down to eleven the day before the cross), His mother, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus.  Many of them traveled, ate, drank, and slept with Him.  They listened to Him teach, they prayed with Him.  He washed their feet.  He spoke everything to them that the Father said.

But they didn’t get it.  When He died on that cross, it looked like all their hopes died with Him.  It looked like the worst possible thing that could happen.  How do you become King if you are dead?  They lacked perspective.

On this side of that same cross though we know God had a plan they couldn’t see.  We know in fact that Christ’s crucifixion was THE ONLY way to Christ’s resurrection and our salvation.  Without the terrible road of the cross we would still be lost on the path to destruction.  Still stuck in our own captivity to sin and death.

The truth is most of the time we lack the perspective to determine if our circumstances are good or bad, just like those headed into the Babylonian captivity and just like those who stood at the foot of the cross one dark Friday afternoon over 2000 years ago.

Father, help me to trust all my circumstances to You no matter how they look.  Even if it’s the worst possible thing that I think could happen, help me remember that You NEVER leave me nor forsake me and that You alone are Sovereign over all.   Help me to keep my eyes on You and trust all the outcomes to You alone.

Some Things Are Just Hard

The book of Jeremiah has been a difficult study.  In fact, in five years I really can’t remember feeling this way about a study.  It seems like I am trudging through mud with a fifty pound pack on my back.  There is so much about it that is hard:  Jeremiah’s life is hard, the message is heavy, the message doesn’t change much over a very long period of time, and some of the specific things God says are just plain HARD.

What do you do with God telling Jeremiah not to pray for the people because He won’t listen?  What about the idea that people who obey God and speak His truth are sometimes beaten and put in prison?  What about when God says He will utterly destroy His own people?

God even tells His faithful servant that he is not to marry or have children because of what is coming on the land.  At that point it seems to me Jeremiah was totally without earthly comfort – no one to come home to at night, no one to have dinner with, no one to share his heart with, no children to enjoy, no promise of future descendants.  Jeremiah was left with absolutely nothing, but God.

Yesterday in class when we asked what has spoken personally to people the most during our study of Jeremiah everyone shared something different, but I heard echoing in their thoughts, “This is hard.”  But HARD doesn’t mean it hasn’t been good.  In all the difficulty I also heard God gently speaking to and encouraging every one right where they are, including me.

This theme of ‘Some Things Are Just Hard’ actually started the night before in our advanced discipleship class.  We had a very lively, three-hour discussion about suffering in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ.  Some very difficult Scriptures came up during that discussion as well.  For instance, God hardening Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus (repeated throughout chapters 7 – 14); God sending an evil spirit to torment King Saul (see 1 Samuel 16:14); and the story of Job and God’s role in it (particularly the first two chapters), just to name a few.

What I really appreciate about both of these discussions about ‘hard things’ is how God’s grace has changed how I handle them.  As a Bible study teacher I have always carried a burden and deep sense of responsibility to make sure no one leaves a class or a discussion confused or struggling or worse with some incorrect perception of God, or me for that matter.  It is finally dawning on me that I am not responsible for other people’s theology.  I don’t need to manage God’s reputation and as long as I am being obedient to Him, I don’t need to worry about mine.

It is so freeing to allow God’s Spirit to speak to people and not stress over what others think.  I love the freedom of saying, “I don’t know the answer to that.”  Or even if I disagree with them not feeling like I need to explain my position.  The Holy Spirit is our Instructor.

So what do I do with the ‘hard things’ in Scripture?  Take them to God.  I may not understand what I am reading, but I know God’s character and I trust Him to reveal it to me in His time.  Now I am learning to let Him reveal it to you too.

Thank You Father for the freedom of Your Grace!

Clingin’ Like a Waistband

Jeremiah 13:11 (NASB)

11 For as the waistband clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘that they might be for Me a people, for renown, for praise and for glory; but they did not listen.’

One of the symbolic acts that the Lord asks Jeremiah to perform to demonstrate a message to Judah is to buy a linen waistband, wear it and then go hide it near the Euphrates in the crevice of a rock.  After some time passes God sends Jeremiah back to retrieve the waistband which has by that time become rotten and worthless.

How does a waistband become worthless?  It loses its ability to cling, to wrap itself around God’s middle.  Some versions actually translate waistband as loin cloth.  If you go to the commentaries there is much discussion as to whether or not a waistband represented an overgarment (like an apron worn over the priestly garments or an undergarment literally next to the skin).  Was it meant to represent an ornament or intimacy?  I think there is certainly a case for both.

Either way in verse 11 God says, “I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah to cling to Me.”  God made us to cling to Him.  This is our purpose.  Everything in our culture tells us the opposite.  The world practically screams that we need to be independent, self-sufficient and overachieving.  To cling to anyone or anything, to DEPEND on anyone or anything is considered weak and even wrong.

But God says it brings Him praise and glory when we cling to Him.  Whether the waistband is a loin cloth worn next to the skin or an apron worn as an outer garment, they both figuratively represent garments worn around the most intimate parts of God.  Personally, I think this goes back to Jeremiah 9:23 – 24 and the importance of knowing God.  Not knowing about God, but having a deep, intimate connection with Him that bears fruit.

God was crying out to Judah, as He does to me (us), “Cling to Me, Know Me.”  Judah’s painful reply to God was consistently refusal and rebellion.

In this same passage, because Judah refused to cling to God, God calls them worthless (see verse 7).  They were not fulfilling their purpose, they were not glorifying God by their dependency on Him.  Our purpose is to cling to God, depend on Him and then according to verse 11, we will be a people “for renown, for praise and for glory”.  We bring glory to God not by all our strength and independence and self-sufficiency – Judah had plenty of those things – we bring glory to God by clinging to Him.

“Father, may we bring glory to You by surrendering our plans and agendas to You and walking in dependence on You, clinging to You as if our lives depend on it.”