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”

Advertisements

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.

It’s Not Without Risk

The last post contained three VERY key messages from our Father, straight to our hearts.  They are so important (and I am so slow and forgetful) that I just want to recap: 1) There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; 2) your flesh patterns (another word for coping mechanisms) are not who you are; and 3) your flesh (and mine) was never designed to work in the first place.

Now that I’ve covered lots of things that definitely aren’t found in abundant living (TRYING HARDER, fear, and self-sufficiency), it’s time to look at some things that are (I heard the collective sigh of relief from your side of the screen :)).  The first one I want to talk about is honesty.  I know it seems obvious, but is it really?

This week in our Bible study group we got to an interesting place in Jeremiah chapter 26.  In that chapter God tells Jeremiah to stand in the court of the Lord’s house, the temple in Jerusalem, and speak to ALL those who come to worship ALL the words He commands.  And then just for emphasis God says, “Do not omit a word!”  And yes, the NASB includes the exclamation point (verse 2).

Here is what God has Jeremiah say:

Jeremiah 26:4-6 (NASB) “And you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you,  to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth.”’”

And here is the response of all who heard the words from God:

Jeremiah 26:8 (NASB) “When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him, saying, “You must die!”

Let’s just camp here for a minute.  Jeremiah faithfully gave the word of the Lord and the immediate response of the people was a call to kill him.   Can you imagine the look on Jeremiah’s face as they turned to grab him?  I am sure he was confident of what the Lord called him to say, but don’t you think that at that moment he must have quaked in his sandals just a little bit?

If this were a game of chess then in a natural sense we’d have to question Jeremiah’s next move.  He restated God’s first message to them (vv. 12-13) and then added:

Jeremiah 26:14-15 (NASB) “But as for me, behold, I am in your hands; do with me as is good and right in your sight.  Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, and on this city and on its inhabitants; for truly the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

In a very difficult, stressful, life and death situation, Jeremiah fully placed his trust in the Lord (he said he was in their hands, but we know who he really trusted in, right?) and he spoke the truth.  He didn’t back down.  He didn’t soften the message.  He didn’t run.  He didn’t even burst into tears.  Even when his life was on the line he spoke the truth.

I can’t say that I’ve ever found myself in a life and death situation that depended on what I did or did not say, but I have been in plenty of VERY UNCOMFORTABLE situations where I was so worried about what was going to happen next (e.g. someone yell at me, someone get angry with me, someone not like me, etc.), that I either didn’t say what I was thinking at all or I didn’t say exactly what I was thinking in order to soften the message.

Let me bottom line it for you, I was not being truthful.  I was trying to protect myself and trying to control outcomes so that everything and everyone remained civil and polite.  But there was a war raging inside of me.

Not being honest about how you feel or what you really think (even if it is super ugly), is not abundant living.  It’s painful living.  When we do things to protect ourselves and control outcomes instead of trusting God, we are erecting walls around our hearts that keep Father God and those we love out.  Eventually there’s a price to be paid for it too – a cold heart.

Since I said we were going to start discussing what abundant living and reigning in life DO look like, let me turn my example around to say, honesty and transparency are hallmarks of abundant living and reigning in life.  But there’s risk involved, it can be dangerous to wear a tiara (or a crown in Jeremiah’s case).  It gives people the opportunity to do you harm, just like the people who wanted to kill Jeremiah.  But my trust isn’t in them, it’s in the Lord.  Every time I choose to be honest and transparent it demonstrates that trust and draws me closer to Him.  It opens my heart for intimacy with Him and others.

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.”

Some of the Ugly Part

Jeremiah 15:18 (NASB)

“Why has my pain been perpetual and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?”

After about thirty years of ministry this is the question Jeremiah put before God.  At the beginning of their relationship in chapter one, God called Jeremiah and told him that he was consecrated and that he was specifically appointed as a prophet to speak for Him.  For thirty years Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed God’s truth.  Even when his own friends and family members plotted against him (see chapter 11) he turned to the Lord.

There were certainly times that he questioned God (chapter 4 for instance), but in chapter 15 Jeremiah brings his personal misery to God and moves into profound self-pity.  After all these years of ministry he is in so much pain he actually asks God if He has deceived him and if He is unreliable.  In fact, in verse 10 of the same chapter, Jeremiah regrets that he was even born, implying he regrets he was called by God.

Have you ever gotten to that place where you were so miserable and broken as a believer that you were ready to throw in the towel?  Found yourself in so much pain that you wondered why you ever said yes when Jesus called your name?

This confession might be The Ugly part of my tag line “The good, the bad and the ugly”, but in the spirit of full disclosure and being transparent, I can honestly say I have felt EXACTLY that way.  Many years ago I had a similar Jeremiah moment with the Lord (I can’t remember exactly when because I have tried to forget it, but my kids were very young because I was dressed in the frumpy-puritan-holier-than-thou-functional-mommy fashion of the  1990’s Christian scene…it said everything except God thinks I am beautiful!).

We were at church that Sunday morning, I can’t remember what Hosanna or Maranatha praise song we were singing, but something in me snapped and I sat down.  I couldn’t stand up and sing that song because the words were not true, at least in my life.  And not only were the words to the song not true, but in that moment it seemed like God was not true.  Everything in my life was upside down.  Everything was a struggle.  All the questions and all the fears in my heart were screaming in my head like a siren, “NONE OF THIS IS TRUE!”

Then it got worse…the Pastor stood up, took the microphone and said he wanted everyone to march around the sanctuary while we sang…and he was not taking “no” for an answer.  I have never felt more like a hypocrite in my life!  As I stood up (with my spiritual arm twisted behind my back – I am not proud of this, but I knew then what it meant to murder your brother in your heart!) and schlepped around that sanctuary, it was like a dam burst inside me and with every step I took I got angrier and angrier.

Inside I was yelling at heaven, “We’ve tithed and we don’t have two nickels to rub together!  We have given beyond sacrifice and You are not providing!  We have served You in every way possible and You are not taking care of us!  Why is my husband’s business failing? Why aren’t you meeting our needs?  Are You who You say You are or not?”  Translation – “We’ve DONE all the right things God and You have not rewarded us.  You are not doing Your job!”

In hind sight I realize God was trying to bring me to the end of all of my “doing” for Him.  My flesh efforts at righteousness were failing.  He was trying to bring me to a place of brokenness, to the place of allowing my flesh to die and Jesus to live His life through me.  Honestly, I missed the point of the whole event at the time.  But I did repent for being angry with God, sucked it up and kept doing Christian life the way I thought I should for many more years.  Like every other time, I believed there must be some aspect I was failing in and once I figured it out, everything would come together.  It was a long, exhausting road to grace!

But back to Jeremiah…Jeremiah too had been faithful.  Jeremiah obeyed God and up until this point, he really had done it with the right attitude (unlike me).  Here in chapter fifteen though, it just hurt too much.  He had spent thirty years giving up his life for people who didn’t care and didn’t receive him.  And it wasn’t enough!  They were still steeped in their sin and they liked it that way.  Remind you of Anyone?

At this point in the book and Jeremiah’s life, the rubber was meeting the road.  The Babylonians were at the gate so to speak, Jerusalem was under siege and it was time for the price to be paid.  Jeremiah probably knew that it really was only going to get worse from there and he couldn’t go on…in his own strength that is.

What did God want in that moment?  He wanted Jeremiah, all of him, and He wanted to be known by him.  So He did what God always does, He revealed the way back:

Jeremiah 15:19a (NASB)

“Therefore, thus says the Lord, “If you return, then I will restore you— before Me you will stand;”

No matter what our circumstances, no matter where we are in our walk with Him, God wants us to bring it all to Him – the good, the bad and the ugly.  In every area of our lives He wants us know what it means to be one with the Living God, to have Him dwell in us and to live out of the depth of that relationship instead of our own strength.  The truth is we can’t do any of it in our own strength, there are just times we are more aware of that truth than others.

Is there an area of your life that’s not working and in fact is failing?  How honest are you willing to be with God about it?  Are you willing to take the road of surrender back to Him and find out what it means to truly know Him and be one with Him?  Even if it means laying down your own agenda, your own future? Are you willing to see God’s promises come to fruition on His timetable and not yours? What is it that you really want from God?  Tell Him about it.