Tag Archives: Devotional

The Slave’s Return

“We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!”
Jeremiah 44:16 (NIV)

Jeremiah is an old man.

Consider with me all that he has witnessed.

He began his prophetic ministry under the reign of the reformer King Josiah. Josiah heard the Book of Law read, and he followed the God of Abraham and Moses faithfully. He outlawed idolatry and destroyed all of the idols and shrines. He did what was right. Jeremiah was right there in the palace, and in Solomon’s Temple to witness it all for the first twenty years of his ministry.

Then Josiah died.

His successor, Jehoahaz, immediately turned back to idolatry and the people of Judah with him. Over the next thirty years, Jeremiah witnessed a succession of four kings and the people of Judah harden their hearts in idolatry despite Jeremiah’s persistent warnings of judgement at the hand of the King of Babylon.

Jerusalem is destroyed.

The palace is destroyed.

The Who’s Who of Judah are all living in captivity in Babylon.

God’s Temple is in ruins.

The nation of Judah is no more.

The old man Jeremiah wakes up to find himself in Egypt, the nation where it all began for his people. They started as slaves in Egypt. That’s where God came to rescue them from their chains. God freed them from Egypt, made a covenant with them, and led them back to the land promised to them through their ancestor, Abraham. All God asked in return was faithfulness. Worship him alone. Live differently than all the other nations and peoples. Bless others. Show them a different way.

They refused. They broke covenant. They chose to be like everybody else. They refused to listen to Jeremiah. More than that. They mocked him, beat him, imprisoned him, and tried to kill him.

Jeremiah gathers with all the Hebrew expatriates in Egypt. I imagine him looking at this rag tag crowd. In some fifty years he’s witnessed the long, steady decline from a good King on the throne determined that his people will be faithful to the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt and raised them up there to small remnant, wandering, lost sheep without a shepherd living back in Egypt. How ironic. These Hebrews have come full circle. The former slaves return to the land of their slave master.

These chapters about Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem are striking for a couple of reasons.

First, Jeremiah is still proclaiming God’s Word and the message hasn’t changed.

Next, the leaders of this group of remnants have become increasingly defiant to anything Jeremiah has to say. They started by at least asking the prophet if he had a word from the Lord. Now they are simply telling the crazy old man to shut-up.

Also, the women have decided that the destruction of Jerusalem and all of the troubles were not the result of God’s judgement, but because they stopped worshipping Asherah, the “Queen of Heaven.” It wasn’t their unfaithfulness to the God of Moses who freed them from slavery in Egypt that brought all of the calamity but their unfaithfulness to Asherah. God no longer registers for them at all.

Jeremiah, the crazy old man, stays on message. God proclaims that He will give His people in Egypt one more sign. Pharaoh will die at the hands of his enemies. Indeed, in 570 B.C. (The remnant likely fled to Egypt sometime around 576-575 B.C.) Pharaoh was deposed and killed in a military coup.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on this big picture irony of the former slaves returning to their slave masters. In His first public message, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”

He was speaking of freedom from sin, as Paul so beautifully explains in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.

The lesson of the Hebrew remnant is a lesson for me. Am I spiritually growing in freedom toward a more intimate relationship with God and an increasing measure of love, joy, and peace in my daily life? Or, am I time and again returning to the shackles of pride, fear, shame, and the behaviors they produce in me?

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

Choices and Destiny

[Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon] will come and attack Egypt, bringing death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and the sword to those destined for the sword.
Jeremiah 43:11 (NIV)

One of the grand, never-ending, conflict-inducing debates in theology is that of the dance between free will and predestination. Am I really free to make my own choices, or are my choices and their outcomes predestined by God? This is the stuff about which theologians find themselves getting all worked up about. Like most hotly contested debate topics, along my journey I have observed small groups of individuals staunchly rooted at both extremes and a whole lot of people who occupy the gray area in-between. Like most hotly contested theological debates, I find the debate itself can be a huge waste of time.

Nevertheless, the question does occasionally present itself in the quiet on this chapter-a-day journey, as it did this morning. In yesterday’s chapter, there was a remnant of Hebrews who gathered in Mizpah after the Babylonian army left the area. Many people and soldiers fled elsewhere before and during the Babylonian siege. They avoided captivity the first time, but after the assassination of Governor Gedeliah they’re afraid Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar will send his army back to kill them or take them into captivity as well. Jeremiah gives them a message from God telling them to stay put and trust that God will deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar.

One of the things I found interesting in yesterday’s chapter is that Jeremiah twice addressed this remnant considering a move to Egypt as “determined to go” (vs. 15, 17). Then Jeremiah says at the end of his message that they “made a fatal mistake” when they sent him to seek the word of the Lord and said they would obey whatever the Lord said through Jeremiah. It was a bit of foreshadowing. Jeremiah seemed to know that these men had already made their decision and were looking for a rubber stamp from the Almighty.

Sure enough, in today’s chapter the leaders of the remnant reject God’s word through Jeremiah. They not only fly to exile in Egypt, but they force Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, to go with them.

The group settles in an Egyptian border town called Tahpanhes which was an important stop on the major trade route between Egypt and Judah. It would have been like Americans fleeing to Canada in Vancouver or to Mexico in Tijuana. It was just over the border. Tahpanhes would have been a popular destination for Hebrews fleeing to the land of Egypt and there was likely an active Hebrew community already in residence. there.

Upon arrival, God gives Jeremiah a message for those who drug him there again his will. It’s a repeat of the message from yesterday’s chapter that Nebuchadnezzar will indeed attack the city “bringing death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and the sword to those destined for the sword.” I couldn’t help but focus on the word “destined.” Because of my many experiences with the “free will vs. predestination” theological smackdowns, the word “destined” set off some alarms in the back of my brain. So, I dug into the original Hebrew text. Interestingly, there is no Hebrew word that translates into English. Rather, the direct word-for-word translation of the Hebrew is “death whoever death, captivity whoever captivity, sword whoever sword.” The translators have added the English word “destined” by implication.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself mulling over these “arrogant men” (vs. 2) who were determined to go to Egypt. It appears to have been their will to do so even before asking Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord. Once they settle in, God doubles down in pronouncing judgment. Nebuchadnezzar will attack. People will die, be taken captive, and will be struck down by the sword. By the way, there are textual references regarding Nebuchadnezzar attacking Egypt during two different years late in his reign. History records very little about the campaigns. While he didn’t conquer Egypt, Neb certainly would have attacked towns along the border such as Tahpanhes. We will have to wait for archaeologists to excavate any further evidence in order to know more.

So was the remnant free to will themselves to Egypt or were they destined to do so as part of God’s larger plan?

I have found on my spiritual journey that there is a certain humility required of me as a disciple of Jesus. The humility comes from acknowledging that there are certain spiritual mysteries that lie beyond my earthly, human comprehension. The mystery of the “Trinity” (greek word: perichoresis or literally “circle dance”) is a great example, and I love the word picture of a dance. It moves, it turns, it spins, it weaves and flows. I find that we humans love our simple binaries. The more fundamentalist I becomes in my thinking , the more black-and-white my lens will be in how I view both God and the world around me. The further I get in the journey, the more mystery I find in the dance between black-and-white, the more truth I find in the tension between the extremes, and the more humble I become in trying to cognitively understand that which lies further up and further in than my earthly synapses allow.

Today, I make my own choices. My choices have consequences. How God weaves that into the grand design of the Great Story is beyond me, though I am sure that He does.

Today, I make my own choices.

Lord, allow me the grace to choose well

and… May“Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

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

The Futility of Flight

The Futility of Flight (CaD Jer 42) Wayfarer

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die.
Jeremiah 42:15b-16 (NIV)

Wendy and I were once cast in a production that was eery little story about a young couple being stuck in a myriad of ways. We did not play the couple, but were rather part of a dream-like menagerie that revealed the couple’s true relational issues.

In the course of the story, Wendy’s character confronts the young woman, who keeps trying to run away in fear. No matter where she runs, however, the young woman runs right into Wendy.

That show came to mind as I read today’s chapter, in which the small contingent of former soldiers who took vengeance out on the rogue Ishmael and his gang of assassins in yesterday’s chapter, now ask Jeremiah to pray for them as they plan to flee with their families to Egypt in fear of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon’s wrath.

God’s answer through Jeremiah was not what the contingent wanted to hear.

Jeremiah tells the group that they must do the hard thing. Stay, stand firm, and face the consequences with the Babylonian overlord. Yes, the same King of Babylon who just destroyed Jerusalem, killed countless numbers of their fellow citizen, and took most of the other residents captive. “Trust Me,” God says. “Have faith that the King of Babylon will do the right thing, and I will make sure that every little thing is gonna be alright.”

What I really found fascinating was the next part of God’s word through Jeremiah. He tells the contingent that if they flee to Egypt (and it sounds like God knows they’re going to do it anyway) then all the things that they are running from are the very things they will run into in the land of the pyramids. Their flight would be futile.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking back to the stretches of my journey in which a ran from different things. There have been times when I ran out of fear of a conflict or confrontation. There have been times when I ran away from facing up to my own mistakes or poor choices. Other times I have run away from doing the hard thing and instead sought out an easy alternative. As a follower of Jesus, however, I have found that God’s economy works just like the device in that production. No matter where I run or how far I run, God is there asking me to face the very thing I fear. As David put it in Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Time and time again in the Great Story God reveals that His purpose is a relationship with me in which I grow into intimacy and spiritual maturity. That growth curve requires growing pains, struggle, trials, and even suffering. This is the exact opposite of culture and the human condition that continue convincing me that things on this life journey should be easy, comfortable, pleasurable, free of pain, full of fun, and always lucrative. The more I’ve learned to trust God in my trials, the more I’ve come to acknowledge the futility of my fleeing whatever it is that I don’t want to face. When I trust God to stand and face whatever it is I’m afraid of the less time and energy I waste fleeing from whatever it is that I’m only going to run into again and again and again.

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

Good Man, Wrong Job

Good Man, Wrong Job (CaD Jer 41) Wayfarer

Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, killing the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.
Jeremiah 41:2 (NIV)

The period of time immediately following a major conflict is usually a time of chaos. In the wake of our own Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the period known as the Reconstruction was a time of conflict and corruption. Spotty conflict continued for a time. Corrupt people took advantage of the power vacuums that occur with the transfer of power. Hatred for the north did not lessen in defeat across the south. Ulysses S. Grant, who was perhaps the only Union general with the leadership qualities to defeat the Confederate army, found himself lacking the leadership qualities necessary to navigate the political swamp of Washington D.C. in the period of Reconstruction, despite the fact that he had the purest of desires to get the job done.

I had to remind myself of this period of history as I read today’s chapter. The final chapters of Jeremiah are an amazingly detailed historical record of events that occurred in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Babylonian army had left the region with all of the exiles in tow. They left newly appointed Governor Gedeliah with a small Babylonian guard for protection. In the later portion of yesterday’s chapter, Gedeliah was warned that one of deposed King Zedekiah’s military commanders, a man named Ishmael, had allied himself with the nearby King of Ammon.

Ammon and Judah were allies in their rebellion against Babylon. Ammon was spared Babylonian revenge, but it didn’t quell the Ammonites hatred for Nebuchadnezzar. Ishmael and some of his men were equally enraged by the defeat and viewed their fellow Jews trying to carve out a peaceful life under Babylonian power to be traitors to the cause. Ishmael and his rogue squadron take out their rage by slaughtering Nebuchadnezzar’s men, the Governor and his administration, and they even slaughter some poor people bringing their offerings toward Jerusalem to try and re-establish some form of religious normalcy during what would have been a time of feasting and offering at the rubble that would have been Solomon’s Temple.

Having just suffered Nebuchadnezzar’s vengeance, another contingent of former soldiers who had given themselves to a new life under Babylonian control, realize that if they don’t kill Ishmael and his men Nebuchadnezzar might return and kill everybody. They take out Ismael and his men, but accept that Nebuchadnezzar might just kill them to simply squelch any unrest.

They flee to Egypt.

I couldn’t help but think of Gedeliah who, like Grant, had all of the desire to do the right thing for his people and help reconstruct their lives. Like Grant, he seemed to lack the wily shrewdness required in politics. The higher you climb on the political food chain the larger target you have on your back. Instead of brushing off the warnings about Ishmael, he should have at the very least taken precautions. The rebel appears to have taken Gedeliah and his Babylonian protectors completely off-guard.

And that’s the reminder I’m taking with me from my time in the quiet this morning. Having the right people with the right gifts in the right positions is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned along my life journey as it pertains to effectively leading human systems whether I am running a business, directing a theatre production, leading a church, or head of a committee for a civic organization. This only gets more critical in the wake of upheaval or massive transition.

When you have the wrong people in critical positions of any human system, things will only get messier.

Note: I will not be posting tomorrow. Back on Monday!

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

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.

Wanted: A Prophet

Wanted: A Prophet (CaD Jer 37) Wayfarer

Then King Zedekiah sent for [Jeremiah] and had him brought to the palace, where he asked him privately, “Is there any word from the Lord?”
Jeremiah 27:17 (NIV)

As I sat down to enter my time of quiet and contemplation this morning, I saw a headline of an article in The Free Press that caught my eye and I found myself reading it.The Free Press is one of a growing number of independent news outlets made up of journalists who still believe in the classic principles of objective journalism and have left the mainstream to work independently. Wendy and I have found it to be some of the best reporting we’ve read in years. The investigative reporter in the article I read this morning basically found that some official judges of high school debate contests state clearly that they will give a young debater an automatic loss if that young person argues against the judge’s personal political beliefs or world-view. Some judges publicly list the issues and arguments that will prompt them to give a young debater an automatic loss. In one cited case, the judge states the student who argues against his personal opinions on certain topics will also get a stern lecture and will give an earful to the student’s debate coach.

What fascinating times we’re living in.

As it turns out, the article was a bit synchronous with today’s chapter, in which the ancient prophet Jeremiah is imprisoned by King Zedekiah in a dungeon to keep him from publicly proclaiming his prophesies that the king and his administration found politically incorrect. Then, ironically, King Z has Jeremiah brought before him to ask, “Is there any word from the Lord?”

In other words, the King recognizes that Jeremiah is a real prophet and he further recognizes that what Jeremiah says actually proves to be true. He just doesn’t want Jeremiah saying it in public and he doesn’t want anyone to actually hear what Jeremiah has to say.

Being an ancient Hebrew prophet was not an easy gig.

I was reminded this morning that Jesus often indicted the institutional leaders of his day because of their treatment of the prophets. He even told His followers to expect similar treatment:

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:12

“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.”
Luke 11:47-48

“And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Matthew 23:30-32

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Matthew 23:36-37

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Luke 16:31

Fortunately for Jeremiah, his appeal to King Z for reprieve from the dungeon meets with the King’s favor. It’s both fascinating and ironic that the King believes Jeremiah and wants to continue hearing what God has to say through Jeremiah, he just doesn’t want anyone else to hear it.

In the quiet this morning, my mind drifts back to the investigative report of high school debaters which stated:

Most students choose not to fight this coercion. They see it as a necessary evil that’s required to win debates and secure the accolades, scholarships, and college acceptance letters that can come with winning.

I find this sad, just as I find Jeremiah’s imprisonment sad. I’m equally reminded in the quiet this morning that we need prophets in both our society and in our lives. There’s a reason why prophets are a ubiquitous archetype in life and literature. One of the things I love about having Wendy as a life partner is that she is a truth-teller and has a prophet’s ability to speak hard words to me even if and when I don’t want to hear them. I have friends in my inner-circle who can and will do the same. I’m a better person for having “prophets” in my life. I will at least give King Z credit for knowing that he needed Jeremiah alive to hear what the prophet had to say.

When all that I hear are the things I’m comfortable hearing, something is dysfunctional in the system.

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.

The Journey’s End (or Not)

Journeys End (or Not) [CaD Jer 33] Wayfarer

‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’
Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

Jeremiah 33:3 is one of the first verses I ever committed to memory when I was a teenager and a fledgling Padawan disciple of Jesus. When I read it this morning as part of this chapter-a-day journey, it was like meeting an old friend on the page. The words are like a well-worn, favorite comfy sweatshirt I slip on when I’m not feeling well and it seems to bring emotional as well as physical warmth.

Last week in my post “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!” I wrote about the ways that a verse can be pulled out of context and take on meaning that wasn’t intended in the original writing. At the same time, I recognize that words themselves are metaphors. They have a life of their own, and sometimes they can be layered with meaning.

When I memorized the words, ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know,’ I didn’t consider it a momentary truth, but a life-long mission. I couldn’t help but correlate it with Jesus’ words:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

So, here I am over forty years later still asking, still seeking, still knocking, still calling out to God in the pursuit of great and unsearchable things that I don’t yet know. And, to quote U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” as I have discovered the well of great and unsearchable things to be bottomless. That’s why I’m still on this chapter-a-day journey. Every time a trek back through a chapter, I’m at a different waypoint on the road of Life. The chapter meets me in a different place, and since my last time through I’ve added layers of knowledge and life experience. The chapter always has new things to reveal to me and builds on the foundation and layers from my previous visits.

In his book, Imagine Heaven, John Burke speaks with individuals who have physically died, had an afterlife experience, and then returned to their bodies. Some of them describe in their heavenly experience a kind of “knowing” that just sort of happened simply by being there, as if they were constantly being filled with knowledge and understanding. It makes me happy to contemplate what that will be like.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that there is no arriving on this earthly journey. I’ll always be a wayfaring stranger just traveling through. I’m constantly meeting individuals who are looking for some kind of arrival in life, a destination on the timeline of this earthly life when everything comes together at a point when you put your feet up, lay down your backpack, and feel some kind of satisfaction that you’ve made it. That fledgling Padawan disciple thought that too, if I remember correctly. The further I got in the journey, the more I’ve come to realize that the journey doesn’t end here. The journey is one from birth straight through until this wayfaring stranger crosses over Jordan. If I look to the horizon and see a point of arrival short of that, it’s just a mirage.

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.