Logic vs. God’s counsel…

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Jeremiah 42:At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Then he summoned Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel… 10 If you will only remain in this land (Judah), then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I am sorry for the disaster that I have brought upon you. …13 But if you continue to say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ thus disobeying the voice of the Lord your God 14 and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt”…16 then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there, in the land of Egypt; and the famine that you dread shall follow close after you into Egypt; and there you shall die.

The land of Judah, which included the holy city of Jerusalem, had been overrun by the Babylonians. Many of God’s people died in the fighting while most survivors were sent to Babylon as slaves. The poorest of the Israelites were allowed to stay behind. Eventually other Israelites were able to return to Judah, but there was little left to come back to. Plus, with Israel’s warriors dead, the returning Israelites felt vulnerable. Who would protect them? Would the Babylonians come back and kill them all this time?

So they asked the prophet Jeremiah to seek guidance from God on their behalf as to what they should do. V.11-12 are very clear. God declared they should stay in Judah instead of running to Egypt for protection. God would protect them in Judah and bring them provision. If they did the logical thing, which was to go to Egypt where there was protection from the Babylonians, they would die. As you might expect, despite promises to Jeremiah they would do whatever God commanded, they fled to Egypt – and died there.

This story sounds a lot like the chapter 38 in which King Zedekiah also inquired of the Lord through Jeremiah. At that time Judah had not yet been overrun, but the Babylonians were at the gates. God told Zedekiah not to resist the king of Babylon, but to surrender to him – for it was God himself who had sent the Babylonians to humble Israel. If Zekekiah went willingly, God would protect him, the people of Israel and the holy city (which would not be destroyed). Did Zedekiah do as Jeremiah told him to do? Nope. The result was utter disaster for Isreal.

I read these stories and think, “What is wrong with these people?!”, confident I would act according to the word of God via Jeremiah. But is that really true? Would I really choose differently? It was logical for Zedekiah to fight instead of submit. Awful things happened to conquered peoples in ancient times. Could he really risk that?

The returning Israelites appeared to be completely vulnerable with no army to protect them. Surely it would only be a matter of time before a surrounding nation found them and put them all to death, claiming whatever valuables were left as plunder. Would I risk that? Would I risk my family, friends, and loved ones like that? Every impulse would be to flee to Egypt for protection.

In both cases the people were challenged to resist logic and trust the Lord instead.  

As a Christian, this sort of thing confronts me all the time. Can I really trust the Lord with my material resources, giving away 10% or more of my income instead of doing with it as I see fit? Can I really trust the Lord with an entire day of the week called the Sabbath? Can I honestly afford to spend time at the beginning of each day in the scriptures and prayer when it seems I’m behind the 8-ball from the moment I get out of bed?

In these ways, and many others, I’m often no better than King Zedekiah and the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity. I know exactly what I’m supposed to do, what God counsels, and choose otherwise. To my own detriment. The human rebellion baked into our DNA, beginning with Adam and Eve, is alive and well.

Heavenly Father, left to my own devices I will often choose to rebel against your word than to submit. I want to think I’m more spiritually mature than the people we read about in these chapters of Jeremiah, but the truth is humbling indeed. By the power of your Holy Spirit that dwells in all believers, give me grace to follow after you – even when your ways defy all logic and so-called “common sense”. For your ways are truly not our ways. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

P.S., I’m feeling lousy today. Think I’m getting a summer cold. Your prayers for healing are coveted.

 

 

Good times, bad times, at the same time…

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Psalm 106:21 (The Israelites) forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, 22 wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea. 23 Therefore he said he would destroy them — had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

The psalmist is recalling the story of God’s people in the wilderness after they were led out of slavery by Moses to make a new home in the Promised Land. What I find interesting is the way the story is told compared to other places in scripture.

Sometimes this story is told from the perspective of blessing, emphasizing all that went right in the wilderness. Here, however, there is a focus on what went wrong. The people “forgot God” and disobeyed God’s commands – to the point that God seriously considered “destroying them”.

The fact is that both characterizations are correct. There was both great blessing and great brokenness in the relationship between God and God’s people during their time in the wilderness. Such is the story of my relationship with the Lord. There are good times and times gone wrong as a result of my sin. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.

This morning I’m grateful for God’s patience with me. I cling to the promise that God forgives our sin and remembers our sin no more. Thanks be to God!

One last chance…

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Jeremiah 38:17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel, If you will only surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 18 But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be handed over to the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand.” 19 King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, for I might be handed over to them and they would abuse me.” 20 Jeremiah said, “That will not happen. Just obey the voice of the Lord in what I say to you, and it shall go well with you, and your life shall be spared.

Zedekiah was King of Judah (the region which included the city of Jerusalem) before the city was destroyed. There had been generations of unfaithful kings who led the people astray. With the enemy army at the gates of Jerusalem ready to conquer, rape, pillage, and plunder the Lord God gave Zedekiah one last chance to avoid that awful fate. All he had to do was surrender himself to the enemy and he, his family, and Jerusalem would be spared.

Nope.

The rest of this chapter describes how Zedekiah didn’t listen and so terrible disaster fell upon the Israelites, from Zedekiah on down. It’s my prayer that I might not be so hard-headed, that given the chance I would follow the advice of God. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Making peace with the inevitable…

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Jeremiah 37:Then the word of the Lord came to the prophet Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord, God of Israel: This is what the two of you shall say to the king of Judah, who sent you to me to inquire of me; Pharaoh’s army, which set out to help you, is going to return to its own land, to Egypt. And the Chaldeans shall return and fight against this city; they shall take it and burn it with fire. Thus says the Lord: Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely go away from us,” for they will not go away. 10 Even if you defeated the whole army of Chaldeans who are fighting against you, and there remained of them only wounded men in their tents, they would rise up and burn this city with fire.

Just when it looked like the Chaldean army might leave for good, Jeremiah assures Israel the Chaldeans would be back. The day of reckoning for Israel was delayed, but not withdrawn. Then there’s v.10 which really got my attention.

10 Even if you defeated the whole army of Chaldeans who are fighting against you, and there remained of them only wounded men in their tents, they would rise up and burn this city with fire.

The opponent Israel is facing isn’t actually the Chaldean army, though it’s the Chaldeans who are the visible threat. The opponent is the Lord himself. If it is God’s will that the Chaldeans defeat Israel, sack the city of Jerusalem, and send Israelites into exile, that’s exactly what would happen.

I can only imagine what it was like to hear these words from Jeremiah. It must have been something like accepting a death of sorts, which it was. The nation they’d known, the land God promised them, the treasures accumulated over centuries – would all be gone. Their humiliation would be complete.

There are times we have to accept the inevitable, as painful as it may be. I remember standing at my step-dad’s side as life was slipping away from him. It had been a long process, and he was extremely weak, but in the back of my mind I hoped he might rally, that we might keep him around a bit longer. Maybe a few more month. One more football season (he lived for Texas Longhorns football games). But talking to the hospice nurse it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. I needed to make my peace with the inevitable and let him go.

Maybe you’re in a difficult situation right now and you’re putting up a fight, resisting. Maybe there is hope, but maybe it’s time to make peace with the inevitable. Lord, show us the way forward. Amen.

Always another chance…

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Jeremiah 36:1 In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

As I was reading this I thought how naive God appears here. I mean, how many times has God sent the same essential message to the Israelites? Why would God expect a different result this time? But then I realize this isn’t naïveté on God’s part, but a deep sense of love and hope that the people would turn back from their iniquity and avoid destruction.

I think of my own children and my role as their father. What would it look like for me to be this gracious to them? Then I think of myself as a child of God. Yes, God has given me many chances to turn from my sin. More chances than I can count. This morning I’m grateful for our heavenly Father who never gives up on me – or you – but always gives another chance to get it right. Thank you Lord for your mercy and goodness. Amen.

Character then competence…

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Titus 1:I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.

Paul left Titus in charge of the church in Crete with some instructions. He is to “appoint elders” (v.5) for the good order of the church. Titus does not have to lead the community by himself. V.7 then refers to these persons as “bishop”, which appears to be another word for “elder”. In any case I’m interested in the list of qualifications Paul offers for such people.

In v.6 there is an expectation that an elder has his own house in order. Verses 7-8 are all about character – who someone is – followed by v.9 which explains what someone does. “Being” then “doing”. I think that’s the right order. It’s what I’m thinking about when I’m looking for leaders of ministry or staff members for the church. It’s what I’m thinking about when I take stock of my own life and ministry.

Character first, then competence second.

Lord give me grace to exhibit both character and competence. Some days it seems like I have neither. Amen.

 

Keeping it real…

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2 Timothy 4:Do your best to come to me soon, 10 for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. 12 I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. 15 You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message. 16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!

I like this passage because it humanizes Paul. He’s just writing to his dear friend and protege Timothy with some practical requests “… bring the cloak I left with Carpus…”. There is also an angry edge when describing Alexander, one who wronged him, “the Lord will pay him back for his deeds”. Then there’s a bit of sadness and disappointment, “At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me”.

Lord, like Paul there are times when I am in need, angry, or disappointed. Give me grace to go forward in your will despite the struggles. Amen.