Poured Out, Changed, Improved

“Moab has been at rest from youth,
    like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another—
    she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
    and her aroma is unchanged.”
Jeremiah 48:11 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoy wine with a good meal. We’re not experts by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned some of the basics of pairing a wine with the food we’re eating and getting the most out of the wine we drink. Just last night I put a couple of beef filets on the grill and Wendy made some sweet potato medallions. We opened this big, bombastic Spanish red wine, a Cariñena. It was aptly named El Bombero, and its bold flavor was a wonderful compliment to the richness of the steaks.

One of the things I’ve learned about wine is that it changes after you uncork the bottle. In fact, some of the experts I’ve read believe that almost any wine will taste better if you “decant” it, or transfer it to a glass decanter, and let it breathe for an hour or so before you drink it. Wine often has an initial sharp taste from being shut up inside the bottle for a long period. That sharp or sour taste smooths out, and the true flavor of the wine opens up when it’s transferred to another vessel and oxygen has a chance to work its natural magic.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s prophetic works is a message of condemnation for the ancient nation of Moab (located just east of the Dead Sea). Moab’s mountainous regions were known for their wine and vineyards, so Jeremiah leverages their wineries for the purposes of a word picture. The Moabites had not changed and had not been “poured out” into exile as other nations in the region had. But, Jeremiah’s prophetic word tells Moab she would be “decanted” when the Persian army came through.

As I pondered Jeremiah’s word picture this morning I meditated on my own life journey. One of the unexpected realities of my own journey is how much change I would experience as I reached this stage of life. When I was young I had this notion that a person sort of reaches maximum personal maturity somewhere in early adulthood and then just maintains. To be honest, I have observed fellow adults for whom this appears to be their reality. I had no idea how much, in my experience, the spiritual process of being poured out, matured, and changed is cyclical and perpetual.

Wine that stays corked, bottled up, and unchanged retains a sharp and bitter taste. I’ve observed that humans are much the same way. There is a benefit to wine being poured out, decanted, and allowed to patiently sit so that change can bring out the blessings of maturity and aging. So my spirit  benefits from a similar process as I continue on life’s road.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 8

Note to readers: This is an old post from back in 2010 that got lost in my “Drafts” folder and was never published. So, I’m publishing it today. Better late than never. Cheers!

Solomon built impulsively and extravagantly—whenever a whim took him. And in Jerusalem, in Lebanon—wherever he fancied. 2 Chronicles 8:6 (MSG)

My wife mentioned to the friend the other day that I tend to be more impulsive than she is. It’s true. I’m much more likely to make an impulsive decision while Wendy is much more likely to think through and reason everything out (sometimes until no decision is ever made). There are positives to both bents, and very negative consequences of both when they are pushed to the extreme. I guess that’s where we help balance one another out.

As I read today’s chapter, I’m struck by the foreshadowing taking place. Between the lines of Solomon’s grandiose building projects is a hidden and growing problem. Solomon’s projects are expensive in both money and labor. To accomplish his whim, people are forced into hard labor. There is growing discontent among the people. It was exactly what the prophet Samuel warned many years before when the people asked for a king (see 1 Samuel 8:10-18). Solomon is doing great, impulsive things for which others are paying financially and in blood, sweat, tears, and their own lives. His children will foot the bill after Solomon dies and the kingdom falls apart.

Today, I’m thinking about my own impulsive nature. I don’t want to be like Solomon; I don’t want to be so impulsive that I make foolish decisions. God, help me be wise and content.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and misterbenthompson

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 34

Note to readers: This is an old post from back in 2011 that got lost in my “Drafts” folder and was never published. So, I’m publishing it today. Better late than never. Cheers!

This post is to be found at the entrance to Ki...
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God spoke to Moses: “Command the People of Israel. Tell them, When you enter Canaan, these are the borders of the land you are getting as an inheritance:” Numbers 34:1 (MSG)

When I was a child my family vacationed each year on Rainy Lake in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. One summer I went out by myself in a boat deep into the middle of the lake where there were several uninhabited islands. I anchored the boat on the shore of one of the islands and began to explore. There on the island, set in a rock, was a bronze boundary marker designating the border between the U.S. and Canada. I thought it was pretty cool when I stood over the boundary marker with one foot in the United States and the other foot in Canada.

Borders and boundaries are invisible lines, and because they are invisible we often disregard their subtle importance in life and relationships. Boundaries separate but they can also define. They sometimes isolate but they can also bring tremendous clarity. Conflicts (international, local, and interpersonal) are often rooted in the violation of boundaries whether it be geographic, personal, relational, social, spiritual or physical. Having and maintaining clearly defined boundaries provides an environment of self-definition, safety, and health out of which growth, life, and abundance can spring.

Today I’m thinking about my own personal boundaries and the boundaries of my friends and loved ones. I’m praying for the courage and wisdom to define and maintain my own boundaries as well as the love and self-control required to respect the boundaries of others.

The Wisdom of Awareness

“See how the waters are rising in the north;
    they will become an overflowing torrent.
They will overflow the land and everything in it,
    the towns and those who live in them.”
Jeremiah 47:2 (NIV)

A couple of years ago the lake where we spend a good part of our summer (which is actually part of a larger system of reservoirs) experienced some of the highest water levels on record. The flood of water coming downstream wreaked havoc throughout the entire system. Docks broke away, homes were flooded, and floodgates were opened which, in turn, became destructive to the area beneath the dam.

Of course, we knew it was coming. We could monitor the water levels of the rivers and reservoirs north of us online. There were warnings allowing residents to prepare. Fortunately, our house sits up on a hill and was never in danger, but that wasn’t true for all of our neighbors. It was a scary time.

Today’s chapter is  part of a series of prophetic messages that the ancient prophet Jeremiah gave to the nations around him. The message from today is focused on the ancient nation of the Philistines. Jeremiah uses the word picture of the rising waters in the north which foretold a coming flood. The metaphor pointed to the Babylonian army which was heading south and bent on conquering and destroying all nations in its path.

Along my journey I’ve experienced different kinds of difficulty and tragedy. Sometimes things happen suddenly and without warning, catching me off guard and forcing me to switch into emergency mode. Other times, however, there are warning signs. If my eyes are open and I remain aware, there is time to prepare and to shore up my resources against the potential danger even if there is nothing I can do to stop the impending flood headed my way.

This morning in the quiet I’m looking out the window at the calm, peaceful water. It is usually like this on a summer morning, but not always. Jesus said, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

I’m reminded this morning of the wisdom of awareness. In my spirit I’m praying for the perception to see when waters are rising upstream in this life, and the courage to begin preparations when they are.

Stories, Themes, and Waypoints

“Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
    do not be dismayed, Israel.
I will surely save you out of a distant place.”
Jeremiah 46:27 (NIV)

We just finished our Memorial Day weekend at the lake with friends and the kids wanted to watch Star Wars’ Rogue One. As I watched I thought about the underlying story of the hero, Jyn Erso. The movie starts with Jyn as a young girl being separated from her parents (particularly her father), which is infused with all sorts of psychological weight. We quickly meet the adult Jyn, and we find her in prison (in more ways than one) and adrift in life. Through the entire movie we accompany her on her journey to be reunited with her father and reconciled to the larger purpose their own journeys play in the larger story. The last words she hears before that final, fateful moment: “Your father would be proud of you.”

Exile and being “on the run” is a common theme in stories. The Star Wars universe uses it over and over again. In the original Episode 4 we meet Luke in exile with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine along with a mysterious old wizard, Ben Kenobi, also living in his own exile. They leave the planet with Han Solo who is on the run from Jabba the Hut and the bounty on this head. In The Force Awakens we meet Rey living in exile on Jakku where she meets Finn who is… wait for it…on the run from the evil Kylo Ren, who in his own self-appointed exile, having run away from home to join the dark side.

Why do stories, novels, movies, and plays use these same themes and devices over and over again? Because they touch something deep inside us. We identify with them in our own respective journeys. When I listen to people tell the story of their life journey and/or their spiritual journey I’ll commonly hear people speaking in terms of “running,” “getting away,” “thrown out,” “straying,” “rebelling,” “distancing,” or being “far from home.” We get it. We connect with it. It’s part of our common humanity.

With today’s chapter we’re entering the final section of the anthology of the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s works. This final section is a series of prophetic messages Jeremiah made against the nations that made up the socio-political horizon of his day. The messages were seemingly arranged geographically from west to east, beginning with today’s prophetic word against Egypt.

After waxing apocalyptic against Egypt, Jeremiah speaks to his own people, promising them both exile (citing punishment for their idolatrous ways) and the eventual return and reconciliation of their descendants.

Exile and return. There’s that theme again.

This morning I’m sitting at the lake watching the morning fog roll through the trees across the cove. It’s the same view my parents enjoyed for so many years before me. It’s the same view our girls enjoyed growing up. It’s the view I get to introduce to our grandson in a few weeks. There something special about the places that become waypoints in the journey of multiple generations. Generations and their respective stories of being home and being on the run, of exile and return, of separation and reconciliation. The common themes that become a different kind of waypoint, connecting us to the larger story.

Side-Note to the Lowly Scribe

Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.
Jeremiah 45:5 (NIV)

History records the words and lives of those who were “great” in their time. Little is said, however, about those who surrounded these individuals, walked the journey with them, served them, and witnessed the events of that person’s life and times.

In today’s very brief chapter (only five verses!), we have a fascinating historical side note given to Jeremiah’s servant and scribe, Baruch. Baruch was the son of a man named Neriah. Baruch took Jeremiah’s dictation and wrote Jeremiah’s prophetic messages down on scrolls. Jeremiah’s never-ending stream of doomsday prophecies certainly took its toll on Baruch. I’m sure he would have appreciated an open prescription of Zoloft had it been available in the day.

The other interesting thing we learn from the anthology of Jeremiah’s life and work is that Baruch had a brother named Seraiah who was a servant of King Zedekiah and who ultimately accompanied Zed when he was taken captive to Babylon. So in the back story of today’s chapter we have a tale of two brothers.

Seraiah served the King and was afforded all the worldly power, comfort, and privilege of being in the royal entourage. Baruch, on the other hand, was the lowly scribe of the unpopular Jeremiah. Jeremiah was reviled by the king and those in power. He faced continual death threats. He was belittled, insulted, laughed at, and eventually imprisoned. Baruch was right there by Jeremiah’s side, enduring it all right along with him. Seraiah got to serve Cabernet to the King while Baruch followed a naked Jeremiah through the streets of Jerusalem listening to the insults of passersby and wanting to slink under the nearest rock. Baruch felt the weight of Jeremiah’s gloomy predictions, and he seems to have felt fraternal frustration of not measuring up to the success his brother found.

Today’s chapter is a short but very specific prophetic word from God through Jeremiah, to the scribe Baruch. Yes, God tells him, there are bad times coming. Don’t worry about greatness and success (FYI: your successful brother is going to end up a captive in Babylon). There’s a lot of bad stuff coming, but no matter what happens and where you end up, you’ll escape with your life.

This morning I’m thinking about a conversation Wendy and I had just last night on our patio. Our life journeys lead us to places where we walk along side events that are really happening to others. We witness them. We feel for those involved, but the truth is that we are not intimately a part of the event itself. I’ve learned that this is an important distinction to see and to make. My ego likes to make everything about me, so I take on other peoples events and circumstances and make them about me, my feelings, and my life.

I’m reminded by today’s little side-note of a chapter that God not only sees and knows the heart and circumstances of the great prophets, but also the lowly scribe who his quietly playing his own little role in the Great Story. I sometimes feel that I’m in a culture where I’m expected to react to every news story, empathize with every victim, and take on every cause. Silly. Baruch’s journey was not his brother’s journey nor was it really his boss’. His journey was his own.

God knows, I’ve got my own journey to walk. I don’t need to take on another’s.

“Fish, or Cut Bait”

Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!”
Jeremiah 44:15-16 (NIV)

With my birthday a few weeks ago I had my annual check-up. I’m thankful to say that I’m in relatively good health, though over the past two years my body has started to show the signs of both aging and the consequences of 25 years at rather sedentary work. Cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose are all too high and continuing to creep up.

I have gone through seasons of regular exercise along my journey, but I confess it hasn’t been consistent. This year’s test results and the annual directive from Doc to “get moving” have confronted me once more with a choice. I’ve got to choose to make some life changes.

Or, not.

In today’s chapter we find Jeremiah, the captive prophet, in the land of Egypt. He’s been brought there by a remnant of his people who were fleeing from the King of Babylon. While there, Jeremiah issues a directive from the Lord telling the remnant to cease and desist from worshiping the local Egyptian gods. He warns doom, death and defeat to the Babylonians if they don’t obey.

What happens next is fascinating. The people directly and unequivocally tell Jeremiah that they will not stop sacrificing to the local gods and they are not going to obey the Lord. This morning as I read their response I felt respect for the Judean rebels. They may not have made the right choice, but they made a clear choice and stood by their decision.

Throughout the Great Story God asks people to choose:

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Deuteronomy 30:19

 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve….”
Joshua 24:15

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
1 Kings 18:21

But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Matthew 8:22

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Revelation 3:15-16

This life journey is filled with many “fish or cut bait” moments. Either do it, or don’t. Make a choice. The ironic part is that not making a choice is ultimately a choice. The self-delusion and paralysis of continuous promising, pondering, and wavering, however, has negative consequences all its own. The further I get in my journey the more I’m trying to be more direct and clear in my choices and decisions.

This morning in the quiet I’m respectful of the Judean remnant. They made their choice. They didn’t play games, put things off, or make empty promises.  “No,” they said. “We’re not going to do it.”

As for me, I’m raising my coffee cup with sore muscles.