Tag Archives: Bible

Under Siege

Under Siege (CaD Jer 38) Wayfarer

So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
Jeremiah 38:6 (NIV)

Being the victim of a siege exacts a huge toll on a person. Even in modern conflicts like the current war in Ukraine, the devastating effects of long-term isolation, starvation, anxiety, fear, and boredom are well-documented. Janine di Giovanni, author and senior fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs wrote of the siege of Aleppo, “Sieges destroy the body, but… what’s far more damaging is the annihilation of the soul.”

It starts with shock and disorientation, followed by depression and increased rates of suicide. As a siege drags on, apathy and alcoholism are common and eventually give way to breakdown of social structures.

Today’s chapter has all the signs that the Babylonians’ 30 month siege of Jerusalem had exacted the desired toll on the residents inside. Depressed and bored, four young men get tired of Jeremiah’s constant proclamations of death and destruction. They petition King Zedekiah to let them kill Jeremiah. The king apathetically grants their wish. Inside the court of the guard where Jeremiah is confined there is a deep water cistern. Because of the siege, it’s empty. All the water has been consumed leaving nothing but muddy sediment at the bottom. Jeremiah is thrown in and he sinks into the mud.

Fortunately for Jeremiah, he has at least one friend left. A young African eunuch serving the King hears of Jeremiah’s plight and petitions King Z to let him rescue the prophet. The apathetic King Z grants the petition, telling the eunuch to take 30 guards with him (presumably as protection against the men who wanted to kill Jeremiah in the first place).

After Jeremiah is rescued, King Z summons Jeremiah. It would appear that Z realizes that Jeremiah’s prophetic messages were true and he wants to know the truth of what will happen to him. In a private heart-to-heart, Z shares his fears with the prophet. Jeremiah tells the king to surrender. The king, realizing that there are still those who want Jeremiah dead, instructs the prophet what to say if he’s confronted and questioned.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like for Jeremiah to witness all that he had prophesied coming true. He had been proclaiming this fate for decades, and now he is suffering that same fate along with those who refused to listen and railed against him the entire time. He suffered rebuke, rejection, and retribution before the siege, now he is suffering the effects of the siege along with those who never believed him. Sometimes, it sucks to be right.

Once again, I am struck by my human need for a prophet in my life. King Z has never been a friend to Jeremiah, but as events close in on their climactic end, he realizes that the prophet is perhaps the only one he can trust to speak the truth to him. There are moments along life’s road when life feels like I am being besieged on all sides by circumstances I don’t control. It comes with this earthly journey through a fallen world, and it can exact a tremendous toll.

That is the truth. And, it’s in those moments I need a friend who is a prophet.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Profound Simplicity

Profound Simplicity (CaD Jer 35) Wayfarer

“Jehonadab son of Rekab ordered his descendants not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me.”
Jeremiah 35:14 (NIV)

I mentioned last week that I was prepping for a message that I delivered this past Sunday among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers (you can find it on the Messages page). It was part of a series in which our local gathering has been unpacking seven metaphors that Jesus used to describe Himself (Bread, Light, Gate, Shepherd, Resurrection, Way, and Vine).

Last night Wendy and spent some time talking about the series and all of the messages we’ve heard from different teachers. One of the observations we made as we contemplated all that we’ve heard was that sometimes metaphors are so powerful in their simplicity that it can be a challenge to find anything else to say about it.

Ironically, I’m finding that to be the case with today’s chapter. It’s profound in its simplicity.

Back in Jeremiah’s day there were a tribe of nomads known as the Rekabites. They and their flocks wandered in the land, feeding their flocks, and living in tents just as Bedouin tribes still do to this day. The lived among the Hebrews and were on friendly terms with them. So, when the Babylonian army came into the area bent on conquest, the Rekabites chose to move inside the walls of Jerusalem for protection.

God tells Jeremiah to bring the tribal leader of the Rekabites, Jaazaniah, and his whole family to the Temple and offer him some wine. They refuse the offer, explaining that one of their tribe’s patriarchs said that his descendants must never drink wine, plant vineyards, raise crops, or build houses, but must always live in tents. In doing so, the tribe would always enjoy blessed lives as nomads. So, they have always obeyed their ancestor’s command and politely refused Jeremiah’s offer.

God through Jeremiah proceeds to state the meaning of this very simple metaphor. The Rekabites have for generations had trusted and obeyed the command of their forefather, but the Hebrews had refused to listen to, trust in, or obey the commands that God Himself had given through the law and the prophets simply to eschew idolatry and worship God alone. When the Babylonians leave, the Rekabites will take their flocks and tents and return to their simple, blessed nomadic lives wandering the land just as their forefather promised. The Hebrews, however, will suffer captivity, exile, and destruction.

As a disciple of Jesus, I have spent over forty years reading, studying, seeking, and plumbing the depths of what it means to follow Jesus. I have learned much and have forgotten much. I’ve read works of theology and philosophy so dense that getting through it is like cutting a brick with a butter knife. I’ve participated in conversations and studies that get so deep in the weeds that I lost my sense of direction and couldn’t find true north.

Along my journey, I’ve come to appreciate Jesus for His profound simplicity. He asks very simple questions like “What is it you are seeking in life?” and “Who do you say that I am?” His commands are equally simple. “Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself.” His requirements are also pretty basic: “Believe in Me and do the things I tell you to do.”

It’s not unlike Jeremiah’s word picture in today’s chapter. Simply be like the trusting, faithful, obedient Rekabites, not like the stubborn, willful, rebellious Hebrews.

Whenever I find myself deep in the weeds, I stop and grab hold once again of Jesus’ profound simplicity. Believe in Me. Love God. Love others. Do what I tell you. Trust the Story.

That’s my true north. Once I find it, I find my way.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A New Covenant

A New Covenant (CaD Jer 31) Wayfarer

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV)

Covenant is an important theme throughout the Great Story.

  • God made a covenant with Noah (Gen 9)
  • God made a covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18)
  • God made a covenant with Abraham (Gen 17)
  • God made a covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through Moses (Ex 24:7)

The prophetic words and ministry of Jeremiah and the exile and captivity of these same descendants of Abraham in Babylon is a major turning point in the larger story. God gave them the His law, but for 1,000 years they repeatedly failed to keep it and repeatedly broke the Covenant. Paul so perfectly describes the dilemma:

Don’t you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.
Romans 7:8-12 (MSG)

The exile and captivity which Jeremiah prophesied and later witnessed was a result of the Hebrews repeated tripping up and falling into sin and idolatry.

One of the beautiful things about Jeremiah’s prophetic works is that in the midst of the doom and gloom of his repetitive messages about exile, God has him announce something stunning in its hope and optimism:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.”

This new covenant is unlike the old.

The law will be written on the hearts and in the minds of people (31:33). It is no longer a written law code and list of rules, but a personal, intimate relationship between God and humans from every level of society (31:34). This covenant will be made possible, not because humanity somehow evolves into a better species, but because God Himself will take the initiative. God will take on human form, pay the penalty for the sin problem that started with Adam, and offer every one forgiveness (31:34).

Jesus declared this new covenant that Jeremiah prophesied on the night before He was crucified:

During the meal, Jesus took and blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples:

Take, eat.
This is my body.

Taking the cup and thanking God, he gave it to them:

Drink this, all of you.
This is my blood,
God’s new covenant poured out for many people
    for the forgiveness of sins.

“I’ll not be drinking wine from this cup again until that new day when I’ll drink with you in the kingdom of my Father.”
Matthew 26:26-29 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again in wonder of how the Story fits together. In each covenant God makes, it is God taking the initiative with humanity. God reaches out. God makes the covenant. God pursues the relationship with humanity…with me.

The only question that remains is my willingness to receive.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Was, Is, & Yet to Come

Was, Is, & Yet to Come (CaD Jer 30) Wayfarer

‘I am with you and will save you,’
    declares the Lord.
‘Though I completely destroy all the nations
    among which I scatter you,
    I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you but only in due measure;
    I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’

Jeremiah 30:11 (NIV)

This past Sunday, Ya-Ya Wendy received a Mother’s Day FaceTime call from our kids and grandkids in Scotland. We watched Milo working on a geometric puzzle while his little sister chewed on the puzzle pieces and banged them on the table. Milo started spouting out math equations out of the top of his head. He has suddenly developed a grasp for math that has left all of our creative right-brains a bit stunned and perplexed. I joked with our daughter Taylor, “How did a mathematician spring from a family of artists?”

Indeed, our girls were raised on dates to the Art Center, listening to music their friends had never heard of, and watching movies in order to have meaningful conversations about them. To this day, we all share notes on the movies and television series we’re watching, the books we’re reading, and all of things they are making us think about.

Along my journey, I have occasionally participated in exercises in which a group of people will stare at a work of art for a period of time, then take turns sharing what the piece led them to think about. It’s always amazing to find both the commonly shared thoughts and interpretations along with the layers of meaning that can be quite personal and unique.

Today’s chapter is the first of two unusually optimistic and redemptive works of ancient Hebrew poetry that God channels through Jeremiah, who is more typically the purveyor of doom and gloom. The prophetic words are layered with meaning for the Hebrews who would return from exile to restore Jerusalem and the temple beginning in 538 BC, for the Jewish people who returned from around the globe to establish the modern nation of Israel in the 20th century, and for those who look to what God will do in the end times as referenced by the prophets, Jesus, and the Revelations of John.

Admittedly, this is where casual readers of the Great Story often get confused, especially in our modern culture of science and reason in which we are trained to read and think literally. Prophetic literature, like all good metaphorical expressions, is layered with meaning just as a great work of art. As I always say, God’s base language is metaphor, which is so powerful simply because it is able to express so many layers of meaning in one simple word picture. How many art works, songs, books, movies, messages, and stories have sprung from their roots in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son over the centuries? This one simple story spills over with meaning for rebels, parents of rebels, sibling relationships, and parent-child relationships. Just yesterday I shared how the story had intense meaning for me in terms of certain work relationships.

This is terribly uncomfortable concept for fundamentalists and literalists who like things to fit neatly inside the cognitive box they’ve painstakingly and meticulously fashioned inside their brains. I confess that when I was a young person, I had a very small and rigid cognitive box for God. However, my entire spiritual journey as a disciple of Jesus has led me to understand that our God, whom Paul described as One who is able to do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” will never be easily contained in the cognitive box of any human being.

At the beginning of Jeremiah’s story, back in the first chapter, is a very personal interaction between God and the young prophet. He tells Jerry not to be afraid, that He will be with the prophet, and will rescue him even though God through him will “uproot nations and kingdoms, to destroy and overthrow, and to build and to plant.”

In today’s chapter, God speaks the same promise to all of God’s people. The uprooting, destruction, and overthrow is not done, nor is the building and planting. It will continue through decades, centuries, and millenniums to come. As I read the words of the ancient Hebrew poem in the quiet this morning, it whispers to me of what has been, what is now, and what is yet to come. How apt, since they are words given to Jeremiah by a God who was, and is, and is to come.

I am reminded this morning that being a disciple of Jesus requires of me that I learn to hold a certain tension. It is the same tension required of the first twelve disciples who at once knew Jesus intimately and personally while at the same time realized that He was immeasurably more than they could possibly understand or imagine.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The God in My Image

Faithful Tenacity (CaD Jer 40) Wayfarer

“Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron.”
Jeremiah 28:13 (NIV)

I heard it said recently that “humans like to make God in their image.” It’s one of those phrases that just sort of sticks with me and I find myself contemplating and mulling over for a while. As I’ve been trekking through the anthology of messages by the prophet Jeremiah, it certainly appears that he was a lone voice saying the thing that no one wanted to hear. Meanwhile, the rest of the prophets were actively predicting the things that everyone hoped to be true, assuring them that what they wanted to happen would happen.

Along my life journey I’ve observed that the culture I grew up with painted a rosy picture of success. If one went to college, worked hard, and did the right things, then a life of success was pretty much guaranteed. Preachers and self-help gurus have become successful and famous by reinforcing versions of this formulaic optimism.

I love optimism, too. In fact, I need regular positive affirmation to balance my traditionally pessimistic nature. But I have come to believe that “balance” is the key. Here are a couple of thoughts that rise in my heart in the quiet as I meditate on today’s chapter:

I’ve observed that it’s easy for people to make the outcome of optimistic formulas into kind of personal god. Success, fame, influence, popularity, status, or financial security become the god, rather than a blessing. When the formula doesn’t work, when the outcome doesn’t match the personal desire, or when life doesn’t turn out as expected, then it creates a crisis of faith. Yet, when this happens I have to ask myself what the object of my faith really is.

When I step back and look at the overarching Great Story, the final chapters are a climactic conflict between the Prince of this World and the nations and kingdoms of this world under his dominion lined up against God. If that is where things are going in the long run, then maybe I should reframe my expectations from how I want life to happen and embrace where God had revealed that things are ultimately headed.

But these thoughts really lead me to what being a follower of Jesus is really all about. Jesus wants His disciples to be individual lights in a world filled with all kinds of darkness. He wants His disciples to bring peace in conflict and chaos. He asks me to love others in a world that can be tragically hateful. He wants me to have grace in a world that tells me to get even. He wants me to live with hope even in seemingly hopeless circumstances.

When the prophet Hannaniah prophesies Babylon’s downfall, the return of the captives, and the return of treasures stolen from the Temple, Jeremiah’s response is quite gracious. He gives Hannaniah an “Amen” and states that he hopes that all his wishes come true. After all, Hannaniah has made god in his own image, the one who does exactly what we want him to do in order to make my life turn out the way I desire. Jeremiah then has the task of delivering a message that neither Hannaniah nor anyone else wanted to hear. I paraphrase:

Difficult times are ahead. You can embrace this pending reality, place your faith in God, and trust the Story God is authoring in these events. You can alternatively continue to place your faith in the god of your own image who tells you what you want to hear and promises to deliver the outcomes you expect. If you choose the former, you’ll live, even though it will be a tough life. If you choose the latter, get ready for a fatal crisis of faith when things don’t turn out as you have prophesied out of your own self-centric desires.

For Hannaniah, the fatal crisis of faith would happen long before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. His fatal crisis of faith took place a few months later when death came knocking at his door.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Truth or Security?

Truth or Security? (CaD Jef 27) Wayfarer

Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.
Jeremiah 27:6-7 (NIV)

Context is always crucial when it comes to interpreting the ancient prophets and getting a clear picture of what they meant back then, so I can then find the connections to the implications for me today.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the relationship between the emerging Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar and the nation of Judah was just under 20 years. It was 20 years of Babylon imposing their political will and demanding tribute from the people of Jerusalem and Judah. Today’s chapter begins by identifying the events and message “early in the reign of Zedekiah.” King Z was the last puppet placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC. He reigned 11 years before his own rebellion against Nubuchadnezzar prompted the destruction of Jerusalem in 586.

There is a political convention taking place in Jerusalem, the most prominent of city-states in the region, and hosted by King Z. Ambassadors from all of the smaller nations in the area (also subject to Babylonian rule) are in attendance and “the Babylon question” is the hot topic of conversation. The Babylonians have already deposed two kings of Judah, taken the best and brightest back to captivity in Babylon, and those remaining in Jerusalem want both security and independence. They want to throw off the yoke of Babylonian servitude.

The city is bustling with political figures and politics is on everyone’s minds, even among the plethora of deities, idols, and shrines and their prophets, diviners, dream interpreters, mediums, and sorcerers. According to Jerry, all of these keep saying the one reassuring thing all of these national leaders want to hear:

“You won’t serve the king of Babylon.”

Even the prophets of God in Solomon’s Temple, which had been partially ransacked and plundered during Babylon’s original takeover of the city less than ten years before, are saying that things will get better, not worse:

“Very soon the articles from the Lord’s house will be brought back from Babylon.”

It’s into this atmosphere that God calls Jeremiah to do a little public performance art. Jerry fashions a yoke (like the metaphorical one all the politicians want to throw off), puts his own neck in the yoke, and addresses all of the ambassadors of the political summit with a message to take back to their kings. Only Jeremiah’s message stands in sharp contrast to what all the other prophets, diviners, dream interpreters, mediums, and sorcerers are saying.

God’s message through Jeremiah is fascinating. God has a plan. That plan includes “times” set for the nations. He states that his listeners have only two options: 1) Submit and surrender to Babylon if you want to live or 2) Continue to resist the Babylonians and die in the impending destruction (now about ten years away). God through Jeremiah further states that Babylon will continue as an empire through the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, his son, and grandson before “the time for his land comes” and Babylon falls to multiple enemies and God will bring back His people and restore them in Jerusalem.

Everything that Jeremiah states in his message in today’s chapter will be fulfilled in the following 80 years.

As I contemplated these things in the quiet this morning, there were three things that came to my mind.

First, throughout the Great Story, God continually reminds me that there is a plan for “the nations” and there are “times” appointed. Jesus made this very clear as well, noting that some of those “times” were unknown even to Him.

Second, the things that “everyone” is saying does not necessarily make it true. In fact, when it is politically incorrect and possibly dangerous to proclaim a contrasting opinion, then it’s likely that motivations other than truth lie behind the things “everyone” is being coerced into believing.

Third, Jeremiah was able to correctly speak the truth of the current situation because he was maintaining a connections and relationship with God and viewing current events through the lens of the larger Great Story that God is authoring in the moment, rather than letting his personal, momentary earthly security and safety dictate what he wanted to believe.

Emotions are powerful. It is our “emotional” brain that first functions in infancy to motivate survival through our base appetites and desires. Only as my brain fully develops with the addition of complex thought do I have the ability and opportunity to understand how my emotions may still be the dominant force leading my thoughts into believing what will appease those same emotional desires for safety, security, and survival.

I enter my day today with the words of Paul (who knew a few things about choosing God’s direction even at the expense of his own safety, security, and survival): “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Cup

The Cup (CaD Jer 25) Wayfarer

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”
Jeremiah 25:15 (NIV)

One of the things I love about reading through the ancient prophets is discovering the metaphorical threads and themes that tie the Great Story together from beginning-to-end. This past Sunday I gave a message in which I unpacked Jesus’ statement, “I am the Gate.” The reality is that the entire Great Story is a series of “outs” and “ins.” From the beginning of Genesis when Adam and Eve get kicked “out” of the Garden of Eden to the end of Revelation when those whose names are written in the Book of Life enter “in” to the City of God.

In today’s chapter, God through Jeremiah declares judgement and destruction on Jerusalem and the surrounding nations. This, of course, is not shocking. Judgement and the Babylonian exile were the dominant themes throughout Jeremiah’s long, prophetic ministry. What was different in today’s chapter was the metaphor God gave Jeremiah when He told Jerry to take “this cup filled with the wine of my wrath.”

Fast forward just over 500 years to the eve of Jesus’ execution. Jesus prays fervently that Father God would “let this cup pass from me.” What cup? The same one Jeremiah speaks of in today’s chapter. The “wine of God’s wrath” is the cup Jesus’ drank when he suffered and died on the cross even though He was innocent. Not only that, but earlier in that same evening Jesus took a cup of wine and told His followers, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

This was the great turning point in the Great Story, when God’s own Son drank the Cup of Wrath on behalf of humanity, that the Cup of Forgiveness might be consumed by any willing to drink it.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Shepherd & the Hired Hand

The Shepherd & the Hired Hand (CaD Jer 23) Wayfarer

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 23:1 (NIV)

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus followers in which I mentioned that things are more connected than we realize. The text of that message was Jesus’ statement, “I am the Bread of Life” and I talked about how that metaphor is connected to the entire Great Story from Genesis through Revelation. I’m preparing this week for another message this Sunday around Jesus’ statement, “I am the Gate,” and wouldn’t you know it, Jeremiah’s prophetic message in today’s chapter connects directly to Jesus’ statement made over 500 years later. I love synchronicity!

In Jeremiah’s day, God’s people were led civically by the Kings, but most of them were poor leaders as detailed in the books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings. In today’s chapter, God through Jeremiah considers the monarch to be the “shepherd” of His people, His flock. But, rather than protect, guide, and lead the flock well, God says that they scattered them, refused to care for them, and actually drove them away.

Likewise, in Jeremiah’s day, God’s people were led religiously by the priests and the prophets. There were a ton of these, by the way. If you were born a direct male descendant of Aaron (back in Moses’ day) you were a priest. Over 1000 years, the number of direct male descendants was quite large. Being a prophet was also a professional gig, and every pagan cult and idol had their prophets, as well. At the time of Jeremiah, God’s Temple in Jerusalem had become a religious bazaar, with altars and shrines to all sorts of deities along with their priests and prophets. Many of God’s priests (sons of Aaron) and prophets played both sides.

Jeremiah’s message in today’s chapter is a message specifically to these three groups of leaders: kings, priests, and prophets – who were supposed to be “good shepherds” of God’s flock, but they weren’t. God through Jeremiah declared in today’s chapter:

“Both prophet and priest are godless;
Even in my temple I find their wickedness.”

Fast forward just over 500 years and Jesus is standing before the same group of religious leaders from His own generation, and He tells them:

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers.”

Jesus continued:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

Jesus uses the same metaphor that God used through Jeremiah in today’s chapter. The kings, prophets, and priests should have been good shepherds of the Good Shepherd, but they were nothing more than hired hands who allowed the wolf into the pasture. Jesus metaphorically accuses the descendants of those prophets and priests of being and doing the same thing. Nothing had changed.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on something I written before in these posts. Times change, technology changes, culture changes, but one thing that doesn’t change is the human condition. Fast forward 2,000 years from Jesus and here I am, preparing to stand before God’s flock in a few days to talk about these connections. The same reality faces me that faced the prophets and priests of Jeremiah’s day, of Jesus’ day. Will I be a good shepherd of the Good Shepherd, or am I just a hired hand making a buck and putting in my time?

Jude found the latter among Jesus’ followers when he wrote about those who “are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves.”

Likewise, Peter addressed those who led Jesus’ followers in his day: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

I pray that I may always shepherd well.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.


Surrender (CaD Jer 21) Wayfarer

Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives.
Jeremiah 21:9 (NIV)

I have been listening to the audiobook Surrender, the autobiography of the rock band U2’s lead singer, Bono. If you’re interested, I’d recommend listening to the audiobook rather than reading it. Bono reads it himself complete with song snippets and sound effects. There’s something even more personal about listening to him tell me his stories.

Bono’s life journey has been pretty amazing, and not just because of being a rock star. He is also a follower of Jesus, and it’s obvious that his faith has compelled him to use his status to do big things and make the world a better place just like Paul used his Roman citizenship to appeal to Caesar so as to share his faith story in successive trials before increasingly more powerful political figures of his day. Bono’s journey has, likewise, brought him into conversations of the most powerful political figures on earth. He even got Pope John Paul II to try on his blue sunglasses.

As I listen, and I’m almost finished, my mind keeps going back to the title of his book, Surrender. It’s really the thread of the whole story. It would be easy to read his story as the simple charmed life of a rock star, but underneath the story line is his faith-fueled motivation rooted in a young teenager’s passionate surrender to Jesus. The passion appears to have never waned despite his critics, many of them self-proclaimed Christians wearing their bright and shiny Junior Holy Spirit badges.

I thought about this as I read this morning’s chapter and meditated on the prophet Jeremiah, who had an unwavering faith-fueled passion of his own. In yesterday’s chapter he said:

Whenever I speak, I cry out
    proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
    insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

In today’s chapter, King Zedekiah sends a messenger pleading for Jerry to seek God’s mercy and deliverance. What’s crazy about this is that King Z was personally responsible for the Babylonian army knocking at the gates of Jerusalem. It was King Z who broke his allegiance with Babylon and made an alliance with Babylon’s enemy: Egypt. King Z and his administration have done nothing but mock and try to violently silence Jerry’s prophetic messages. Now that the fecal matter is striking the electric, rotary oscillator with great velocity, King Z suddenly wants to make an alliance with Jerry. It seems Z will make an alliance with anyone who might benefit him in the moment.

I found Jeremiah’s response fascinating. At the very beginning of God’s relationship with the Hebrew people, He said, “I’m setting before you life and death. Choose life.” (Deut 30:19). In this moment of terror as the Babylonians threaten to destroy Jerusalem, God through Jerry tells them that the same choice is yet before them: life and death. If they want death, they can stay in the city and hold out against the Babylonian siege. If they want life, all they have to do is surrender.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that this faith journey is one of perpetual surrender.

Then [Jesus] told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? Luke 9:23 (MSG)

Or, as Bono sings it:

It’s in the street gettin’ under my feet
It’s in the air, it’s everywhere I look for you
It’s in the things that I do and say
And if I wanna live I gotta die to myself someday
Surrender, Surrender.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Man of Constant Sorrow

The Man of Constant Sorrow (CaD Jer 20) Wayfarer

Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?

Jeremiah 20:18 (NIV)

(Note: This is a good soundtrack for today’s chapter. It was going through my head as I read and wrote today’s post. 😉)

There is painting of Jeremiah by Rembrandt that hangs in the master bedroom at the lake. Jeremiah sits in a cave outside the city of Jerusalem, which is burning in the background outside the cave. It is just as he had predicted for decades. Jeremiah, and old man at this point, is isolated and alone. His head rests in his hand, his elbow propped on a copy of God’s Word. His prophetic words have all come true. He alone stood and proclaimed the truth when no one wanted to hear it. He was cancelled by the culture of his day. They mocked him, tortured him, beat him, and imprisoned him yet he refused to be silenced. Rembrandt captures the prophet in his “Aha!” moment, but there is no joy for Jeremiah in being right. There is only sorrow for his people who are being slaughtered and sent into exile. Perhaps he hears their cries and screams in the distance. It is out of this melancholy that Jeremiah will pen his Lamentations.

Jeremiah is known to history as “the weeping prophet.” One of the distinctive aspects of his prophetic writings is his David-like willingness to sing the blues. Six times in the first twenty chapters, Jeremiah has interrupted his prophetic message to the masses to issue his personal lament and complaint to the Almighty. The lament in today’s chapter (verses 7-18) is his longest and arguably most bitter. He complains about the bitter consequences of what God has called him to do, like being beaten and placed the stocks at the beginning of the chapter. He expresses his desire to quit his prophetic proclamations and walk away, but his inability to do so. He depressively expresses his wish that he’d never been born.

Jeremiah’s unabashed melancholy and willingness to express his raw emotions resonates deeply with me. I was recently introduced to a diagram that describes six stages in the path of spiritual formation and maturity. Between the third and fourth stages there is a line, a “wall.” It was explained to me that most people “hit the wall” after the third stage and revert back to the first stage. They are unable or unwilling to progress to the fourth stage that is essential in progressing to spiritual maturity. That fourth stage is labeled the “Inner Journey.”

I’ve contemplated this long and hard since it was introduced to me. I have observed that it is quiet common for individuals to refuse any kind of “inner journey.” I find it ironic that the Fourth Step of the Twelve Steps parallels the fourth stage of the diagram I’ve just described: “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The inner journey requires that I search my own motives, emotions, weaknesses, indulgences, reactions, and pain-points. I observed many for whom this inner-journey should be avoided at all cost. Yet, I find that Socrates had it right: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

In the quiet this morning, I find in Jeremiah (and David before him) an unashamed willingness to freely express his deepest and darkest feelings of despair, rage, and disappointment. I find in Jeremiah’s lament the childlike sense of safety to throw an unbridled tantrum before an understanding and patient parent who sees the tantrum for the momentary meltdown it is in the context of broader and more mature knowledge. Along my life journey, I have personally discovered that it is ultimately a healthy thing when I vent and express my emotions, even the dark ones, in productive ways rather than stuff them inside and ignore them until they begin to corrode my soul and negatively affect my life from the inside out.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.