Tag Archives: Destruction

It Stinks to Be Right

It Stinks to Be Right (CaD Lam 4) Wayfarer

Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
    he will not prolong your exile.

Lamentations 4: 22 (NIV)

At the beginning of every NFL season, I look at the Vikings’ schedule and predict how many wins and losses they are going to have. I’ve been a fan for fifty years, endured four Super Bowl losses, and survived many forgettable seasons. I am a realist when it comes to my prognostications. This year, I figured they’d struggle to win half of their games or more. I predicted them to end the season 8-9 or 9-8.

It stinks to be right.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah pens his fourth of a five-poem cycle lamenting the fall of Jerusalem. In reading the words of the prophet, we’re reading a first-hand account of a historical event that took place in 586 B.C. The Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem and laid siege to the city a year before. With no way to get supplies in or out of the city, the people eventually grew weak and starved. Social order began to break down. At that point, the Babylonians stormed in, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon’s Temple (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and set the city on fire. The Babylonians took the young royalty and nobility into captivity (Daniel was one of those), killed off anyone who might pose a political threat after they left, and they left those who were weak and dying in the rubble.

Jeremiah was one of those left behind.

What we read in today’s chapter is gruesome stuff.

Children, their tongues sticking to the roof of their mouths, beg for bread that no one has to give.

Formerly affluent people lie destitute on ash heaps of rubble.

Women cook and eat the flesh of their own children to survive.

Emaciated people, skin shriveled to the bone, wander aimlessly.

As I read the chapter, I imagined myself standing in the sandals of Jeremiah. He prophetically predicted the entire thing. If you go back to Jeremiah 25-27, he prognosticated that all of this would happen. The rise of Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of Jerusalem, along with seventy years of captivity and exile for God’s people in Babylon. No one believed him. The corrupt political and religious machines refused to repent of their crooked ways. They doubled down on their profiteering. They made Jeremiah public enemy number one. They threw him in the bottom of a well to die.

Woven into the poetic horror of today’s chapter is a not-so-subtle “I told you so.”

The kings of the earth did not believe,
    nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
    the gates of Jerusalem.

But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
    and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
    the blood of the righteous.

Now they grope through the streets
    as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
    that no one dares to touch their garments.

It stinks to be right.

Yet this I call to mind: Jeremiah’s prophecy was not hope-less. Jeremiah may have prophetically predicted Jerusalem’s fall, but he also predicted her return and restoration, and that’s how the chapter ends: “Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself sobered by the chapter. I like to think that good times will last forever and calamity will forever be held at bay. I like to think that the Vikings might surprise me and win a Super Bowl. Then reality descends. Jeremiah stands in the middle of the very devastation he predicted. I’m no prophet, but I also know that there are no guarantees in this life.

I’m in a position to care about the record of a silly football team. Today is a good day. I am grateful.

I couldn’t help but think of this video we watched earlier this week. A man whose house was blown away by the tornadoes in Kentucky this past week sat at his piano and played There’s Just Something About that Name amidst the rubble.

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

Warning Signs & U-Turns

Warning Signs & U-Turns (CaD Gen 19) Wayfarer

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is controversial for more than one reason, largely because it contains references homosexuality, misogyny, and incest. All of these topics are worthy of a deeper dive into the text, context, and subtext. For the purposes of this devotional, chapter-a-day trek, I found myself pulling back from a focus on the deep weeds in order to get a handle on a larger picture of the forest.

A few chapters ago, Abraham humbly gave his nephew, Lot, the choice of settling anywhere he wanted. Lot chose what appeared to be the greener grass of the Jordan plain, despite the fact that the nearby towns of Sodom and Gomorrah had reputations like that of Las Vegas in our own day and arguably even worse.

In the previous chapter, the divine visitors tell Abraham they’re going to destroy the cities because of their wickedness. Abraham barters with God to spare the cities if there are ten righteous people living there. While Abraham does not name his nephew and family, the number of Lot and his direct family (including betrothed sons-in-law) is ten.

In today’s chapter, Lot and his family are spared though they are given a three-fold instruction for escaping the destruction: Flee to the mountains, don’t look back, and don’t stop. Lot’s wife disobeys. The Hebrew word used is translated “look” but a careful reading of the text implies that she chose to literally make a u-turn and return for some reason, while Lot and his daughters had made it safely to the town of Zoar.

Archaeological excavations in the area support the history of a cataclysmic burning in the region, by the way. A violent earthquake could easily have ignited the deposits of sulphur in the area. Just recently, a team of scientists have concluded that there was a meteor strike that may have ignited the entire Jordan plain.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating two overarching spiritual lessons I excavated from the story.

First, Lot chose to settle in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah because it promised to be the best land for his livestock, even though he knew that he would be required to deal locally at Sodom and Gomorrah, towns with the reputation of being wicked places. I found myself asking: “Have I ever made decisions that appeared a benign choice on the surface of things while ignoring the warning signs that I should have heeded, only to have circumstances tragically turn against me?

The answer for me is “yes,” by the way. You?

Second, Lot’s wife chose to turn back after being warned not to do so. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus’ core message was that of repentance, which literally means to “turn around” and proceed in the opposite direction. Along the way Jesus met a would-be follower who told Jesus that first he needed to “go back” to his family. Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The spiritual principle is the same as that of Lot’s wife. Turn away from what is evil, cling to the good direction where God is leading, and don’t go back.

As I launch into another work week, these lessons resonate. I’m asking myself asking three questions:

  • Where am I headed? Am I on a wise and spiritually healthy course?
  • Are there any warning signs I should heed as proceed on this path?
  • Are there any temptations to abandon course and return to foolish and spiritually destructive ways and places?

Have a great week, my friend. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

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

Poet, Chorus, Character

I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.

And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.
Zechariah 11:12-13 (NIV)

One of the things that I love about acting is the opportunity to bring a character to life. The first step in almost every rehearsal process is the “read through” in which all of the actors in a play sit down with the director and simply read the script out loud around a table. Then, over the process of a few weeks, those words are transformed as the actors embody the characters, are transformed by the costumers and make-up artists. Finally, they give action, expression, and relational interaction within a detailed setting on the stage.

One of the difficult parts of reading the ancient Hebrew prophets is that they often used different devices in their writing for different effects. In today’s, chapter, Zechariah begins with poetry just as he had in the previous chapter (vss 1-3). He then switches to prose and relates the message God gave him concerning a shepherd and a coming time of destruction (vss. 4-6). Zech then switches to writing in the voice of first-person. Much like an actor, he embodies the voice of the Shepherd.

Much like the prophet Isaiah whose prophesied the Messiah as a suffering servant (Is 53), the prophecy of Zechariah foreshadows a Messiah-King who is rejected by the flock. His payment is thirty pieces of silver. Historians say that this was the common price for a slave, and represents an insult.

Anyone familiar with the Jesus story will immediately recognize the foreshadowing of his final week in Jerusalem. The chief priests and leaders of the temple in Jerusalem were supposed to be shepherding God’s people but instead were running a religious racket that oppressed the people and made themselves rich. They reject Jesus (who, btw, claimed the mantel of “The Good Shepherd”) and they pay one of his disciples 30 pieces of silver to betray him. Judas later laments his decision and throws the silver back to the priests.

The description Zechariah gives of destruction, devastation, and even cannibalism is an accurate picture of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and subsequent destruction of the city and the temple in 70 A.D. The historian, Josephus, records that cannibalism did occur within the city as food supplies ran out during the siege.

At the end of the chapter, the “worthless shepherd” (a corrupt ruler over the people) is struck in the arm (arm is a symbol of strength) and his “right eye” (right is metaphorically associated with favor) is blinded. I can’t help but be reminded that in destroying Jerusalem, the Romans also torched all of the Hebrews’ genealogical records. Without being able to see and confirm direct descendence from Aaron or Levi, they are blind to who can offer sacrifices and run the sacrificial system. The sacrificial system of Moses was effectively ended. Without being able to see and confirm direct descendence from David, they are blind to know who can ascend to the monarchy of Judah. The earthly monarchy of David was effectively ended, as well.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again fascinated by the prophetic. It’s artistic the way Zechariah switches style three times within a chapter. He starts as a poet, then becomes the chorus, and then takes on character as he accurately envisions events that would occur some four hundred years later.

Once again, I’m reminded that there is a flow to the narrative of the Great Story God is authoring from Genesis to Revelation. There is a Level Four storyboard. I am endlessly fascinated by the mystery of it and repeatedly encouraged to know that the story is being played out, even in the crazy events I observe in the world news each day.

Renovation or Destruction

He shall have the house torn down, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and taken outside the city to an unclean place.
Leviticus 14:45 (NRSV)

We spent this weekend with friends at the lake. It was a wonderful time of hanging out together and enjoying good conversation. Our friends bought a house a few years ago and have been in slow remodel mode ever since. The conversation this weekend meandered often to brainstorming thoughts and ideas for renovating their place. Wendy, who avidly keeps the television in her office on the DIY and Home & Garden channels, was more than happy to jump in with her thoughts and ideas.

There is a house on the lot next to ours at the lake. You can barely see it through the trees in the summer, but those who spend any time at our place on the lake eventually notice the place, and can’t help but be curious. We are often quizzed about the house by our guests. As far as we know, the small house has not been occupied by humans since the 1970s. The structure is largely rotted and the house is literally falling apart. Holes and openings in the structure have led to infestation of all kinds of critters. Those curious enough to wander through the brush to inspect the house closer will find that black mold covers the inside which was abandoned while still furnished. The furniture is equally rotten and covered with mold.

A newer home being updated. An abandoned house rotting. I thought about the contrast as I read this morning’s chapter about the ancient Levitical rules for “cleansing” of “diseases.” The cleansing not only included the human body but also the houses humans lived in. If there was the presence of mold or some other unhealthy thing growing in the house of an ancient Hebrew, the priest was called in to inspect it. If it could not be addressed the entire house was to be destroyed and the rubbish removed from the community.

I am struck this morning by the contrasting word pictures. Sometimes life is structurally sound, but there are always opportunities for improvement. An update here, a renovation there to raise the usefulness and value of the entire house. Other times in life, the core structure is rotten (even if hidden beneath several coats of fresh paint). Renovation is not an option because it changes mere appearances but does not address what is rotten at the core. Old things must pass away in order for new things to come.

Jesus addressed this very issue when he spoke with the priests and religious leaders:

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.”

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When the Walls Come a Tumblin’ Down

[The travelers from Judah] replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NRSV)

In ancient days, a nations walls were everything. Every major city (which subsequently controlled the nearby lands) was surrounded by walls. Walls were your security, making it impossible for enemies to easily invade. Walls were your pride. Their height, width, and engineering told the world how prosperous, industrious, and educated you were. Your gates were your calling card. Being the weakest point of defense, your gate said everything about you. The more secure, enamored, and embellished the gate, the more your city state would be held in high esteem.

The book of Nehemiah is about the walls and the gate of the city of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed (along with Solomon’s temple) by the Babylonian empire in 587 B.C. Most of the nations best and brightest were carried off into captivity in Babylon. Ezra, Nehemiah and their families were among them. As the scene is established in the opening sequence of today’s chapter, Nehemiah runs into some travelers who had arrived in Babylon from back home. He inquires about the state of their homeland and capitol city, and learns that the walls and gates had been utterly destroyed. The remnant back home feel utter shame.

If you have no walls, you are nothing.

Nehemiah’s reaction to the news was telling. He is grief stricken. He weeps. He fasts. He prays and confesses to God his sins, the sins of his family, and the sins of his nation.

We don’t have literal walls surrounding our homes and capitols [Unless you live in a gated community…there’s a good conversation to be explored there. Trump’s promised border wall is another interesting parallel conversation, but I digress] Walls as a line of defense became obsolete hundreds of years ago. The word picture, however, still carries weight for me in my personal life. I still build walls, metaphorically, around my heart and life. I build walls of protection against forces spiritual, emotional, relational, and cultural. I erect walls of possessions and words revealing to others what I want them to see, while hiding safely that which I desire to hide. I engineer relational walls that warn people off, walls that keep people out, and gates of relationship that open and close at my will.

And, my walls can crumble and fall just like Jerusalem’s.

On my left bicep I have a tat that references Psalm 51. It is an ancient song of confession, the lyrics written by King David at a moment when the walls of Jerusalem stood tall and proud, but the walls of his personal life had come crashing to the ground. The gates to his soul lay in utter ruin. It is on my left bicep because the ancients identified left, and left-handedness (I’m a lefty, btw), with foolishness, iniquity, and sin. It is on my bicep because it is a reminder to me that my strength is not in the quality of the walls I build around myself, but in humility and the utter honesty of my confession.

Nehemiah is having a Psalm 51 moment. I have had my own (multiple times). Walls crash and burn. Life sometimes lays in ruin before us. I have learned along the journey that in those moments when life crumbles around me the key to finding seeds of redemption and restoration lie not in the strength of my biceps, but in the condition of my spirit. Nehemiah gets it, too.

The Implosion of Evil

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 64

Their own tongues will ruin them,
    and all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
Psalm 64:8 (NLT)

Wendy and I spent a quiet Thanksgiving Day at home yesterday, just the two of us. In the morning we found ourselves in a wonderful, meandering conversation. At one point we rhetorically asked ourselves how many people around the country would be sitting down to Thanksgiving meal to truly enjoy a grateful feast and how many would sit down to the same feast to medicate the emptiness and the dissatisfaction I pondered in yesterday’s post. There is a difference between feasting and gluttony. So it is with so many things in life, Wendy and I concluded. God gives us a natural appetite meant for our good, and then says, “I’ve set before you life and death.” We can choose to channel that appetite to things that ultimately bring about more fullness of life and glorify our Creator, or we can channel that appetite into choices that slowly drain life from us, ultimately leading us toward death.

I thought about that conversation as I read the lyrics of today’s psalm which was David’s exploration and meditation on evil people. I found the above verse interesting because it is a theme I see time and time again from Narnia to Middle Earth to Hogwarts and to Shakespeare’s entire catalog of stories. Evil ends up imploding from within. While the forces of good always rise up to combat it, evil tends to get tripped up in its own snares  and to bring about its own destruction.

This is part of the universal Truth of God’s creation. Evil cannot not make, it can only mar. Evil stands in opposition to good just as death stands in opposition to life. Like the wicked described in today’s psalm, evil lies and deceives to further its own ends only to get tripped up by its own lie. At its core, evil is about destruction. It’s no wonder it ends up destroying itself. Good is about creating and recreating life. It’s no wonder it ends up redeeming, restoring and making broken things new again.

I am reminded this morning of God’s words to Moses and the gang in Deuteronomy 30. This is what I’m taking with me into my day:

“This day I call heaven and 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 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life….”