Tag Archives: Jeremiah

The Sower and the Seeds

From Peter, an apostle of Jesus the Anointed One, to the chosen ones who have been scattered abroad like “seed” into the nations living as refugees…
1 Peter 1:1 (TPT)

I’ve always had an appreciation for Vincent Van Gogh. The tragic Dutch artist who failed at almost everything in his life, including his desire and failed attempt to become a pastor. The story of his descent into madness is well known, along with his most famous works of a Starry Night, sunflowers, and his haunting self-portraits.

I find that most people are unaware that one of Van Gogh’s favorite themes was that of a sower sowing his seed. He sketched the sower from different perspectives and painted multiple works depicting the lone sower, his arm outstretched and the seed scattered on the field.

This morning I’m jumping from the ancient prophet Zechariah to a letter Peter wrote around 30 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. In recent months, I’ve been blogging through texts that surround the Babylonian exile 400-500 years before Jesus. But that wasn’t the only exile recorded in God’s Message. Peter wrote his letter to followers of Jesus who had fled persecution from both Jews and Romans in Jerusalem. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, exile is a consistent theme in the Great Story.

At that point in time, thousands upon thousands of people had become followers of Jesus and were creating social upheaval by the way they were living out their faith. They were caring for people who were marginalized, sick, and needy. When followers of Jesus gathered in homes to worship and share a meal, everyone was welcome as equals. Men and women, Jews and non-Jews, and even slaves and their masters were treated the same at Christ’s table. This was a radical shift that threatened established social mores in both Roman and Jewish culture. So, the establishment came after them with a vengeance.

Peter begins his letter to the Christian exiles by immediately claiming for them a purpose in their exile. He gives the word picture of being the “seed” of Christ scattered by the Great Sower to various nations. They were to take root where they landed, dig deep, and bear the fruit of the Spirit so that the people around them might come to faith in Christ. God’s instructions through the prophet Jeremiah to the Babylonian exiles could just as easily apply to them:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)

And, in the quiet this morning I realize that it can also apply to me wherever my journey leads me. There is a purpose for me wherever that may be. I am the seed of Christ. I am to dig deep, create roots, draw living water from the depths, grow, mature, and bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, perseverance, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I can’t help but think of Van Gogh, the failed minister who found himself in several exilic circumstances that inspired his paintings. I’ve read his letters, and I find that scholars tend to diminish or ignore the role of faith in Vincent’s life and work, despite his many struggles. Then I think of that sower who shows up again and again in his work. I can’t help but wonder if when he repeatedly sketched and painted the sower, if he thought about his works being the seed of God’s creativity he was scattering in order to reflect the light which he saw so differently than everyone else, and so beautifully portrayed. I find it tragic that he never lived to see the fruit of his those artistic seeds. Yet, I recognize that for those living in exile, that is sometimes the reality of the journey.

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Refining and Revelation

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
Daniel 10:2-3 (NIV)

This past Sunday I had the privilege of giving the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the things our team of teachers has been grappling with of late is a continued season in which we are experiencing an unusually high number of deaths. From young to old, from expected to unexpected, and from natural to painfully tragic, we have had almost two hundred families touched by death in two years. It has been a long season marked by grief that seems to continue. We are going through the very human experience of trying to process and find understanding within it.

The last half of the book of Daniel is a record of dreams and visions that he had. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of the strange images inside. It all seems as confusing as an acid trip for even learned readers. I find that most people bail on it quickly and move on.

I have learned along the way, however, that some of the great lessons I’ve discovered in my perpetual journey through God’s Message are not in the details but in the macro perspective when I step back and get a handle on what’s happening on the landscape of the chapter. Today is a great example.

Daniel’s strange visions are not unique to him during this period of history. Ezra and Ezekiel were other Hebrews in the same exile experience having eerily similar visions and visitations of a fantastical nature. They were all experiencing a particularly painful time of being captives far from home. They were all in mourning for their people, their home, their culture, and their faith in uncertain times and circumstances. They had spent a lifetime in exile and were eager for a sign or promise that their people would return home from captivity, that their Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and that restoration God promised through the prophets would actually happen (think 90-year-old Cubs fans prior to 2016). In today’s chapter, Daniel had been fasting, praying, and mourning for three weeks before the vision in today’s chapter was given to him.

My takeaway from this is that these dreams and visions were given to a specific group of mourning Hebrew exiles after a long period of suffering and in the midst of a time of intense personal struggle against doubt, despair, and grief.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking back to particularly stressful and painful stretches of my own journey. It was in these dark valleys of the journey that very specific and important spiritual lessons and personal revelations came to light. Is there a connection? I believe that there is.

In my message on Sunday, I quoted from Peter’s letters to the suffering believers scattered around the known world. He compares the trials they are experiencing to the way fire refines gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). I have come to believe through experience that it is in the midst of suffering and trial that the non-essential trivialities with which we daily concern ourselves are burned away. When our hearts are broken and our spirits laid bare with suffering we are particularly open to what God described to the prophet Jeremiah (33:3) as “great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

[Note: Speaking of messages, I realized in writing the post this morning that it’s been a while since I updated my Messages page, which I subsequently did for anyone interested.]

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

“But today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.”
Jeremiah 40:4 (NIV)

Some time ago a potential opportunity presented itself to me. It was unexpected, and ultimately not meant to be. However, for a few weeks Wendy and I grappled with the notion of picking up the tent pegs of the life we’ve established and moving on. It does seem, at times, as if the grass is always greener, the possibilities broader, and the road easier “in a new place.” Present reality and circumstance always feels like such a slog. It’s easy for my imagination to conjure how easy it must be in a different place with different circumstances.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s story continues to unfold the events after the City of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, had left Jeremiah in the custody of the Captain of the guard. When the time came for the Captain to return to Babylon he releases Jeremiah from his chains and gives Jeremiah a choice. Go back to Babylon with the Captain and all the exiles, or stay in Judah with the remnant of people left to work the land (the poorest, oldest, and sickest of the population). Jeremiah, who is now advanced in years himself, chooses to stay.

Should I stay or should I go?

This morning I’m thinking about that question which I have grappled with on different occasions in my life journey. I’ve also walked beside friends and family members who have been presented with that question in their own respective journeys. The answer, I have found, is rarely clear or easy.

What I have found, however, is that sometimes there is no clear choice, and really no wrong choice. I choose to stay, or to go, and God weaves my choice into the tapestry of my story and journey. Other times I have found clarity for the right choice through prayer, contemplation, and conversation with my closest of confidants. The more I pray and ponder the more peace I feel with one choice or the other, and pursuing the Spirit’s flow to the path of peace is always a wise choice. Still other times I have found that God makes it very clear through a direct spiritual word, a sign, or the word of a prophet. I have stories I could tell, but I’ll save those for other posts.

This morning I’m thinking about Jeremiah and the choice given him. Was it hard for him? Did God give him clear direction what to do? Or did staying in the rubble of Jerusalem just seem easier for an old man than the long journey to a foreign land? Today’s chapter doesn’t say, but I can imagine his thoughts and questions.

As for me, I’m grateful for where my journey has led me. I’m thankful to be in this place, in this reality, with this people, even when the present circumstances feel like a slog (and they often do). I’m have peace. Last night Wendy and I sat on our back patio and stared out at the back yard which spread out like a huge, thick carpet on a beautiful spring evening in Iowa.

The green grass I’m standing on right here, right now, is just fine.

The Hope of Dawn

Dawn Over Lake of the Ozarks
photo by Tom Vander Well

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Psalm 143:8 (NIV)

Morning has always been one of my favorite times of the day. Each day I wake up and the sun rises it is a fresh eucatastrophe of Life. Hope comes with the dawn and I have a fresh start and a clean slate in front of me. Whatever poor choices I made yesterday, the dawn brings opportunity to make different and better choices today. I can’t change the past, but each morning I am reminded that I have this day to love well, live well, laugh well, en-joy my blessings, be a blessing to others, and join the Creator in the art of creating something new.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote in his poem of Lamentation that God’s love and compassion are “new every morning.”  Old things pass away each night, and new things come with the break of each dawn.

Today lies before me like a blank canvas. What picture will I paint in my relationships? What story will I write with my choices? I am not guaranteed a tomorrow. What will I do with this one day that is dawning; The one day I know I have before me?

Good morning.

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Life, and All That Jazz

Playing Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The elders no longer sit in the city gates;
    the young men no longer dance and sing.
Joy has left our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning.
Lamentations 5:14-15 (NLT)

I had a great evening with my friend, Kevin, last night. It was guys night, and after wonderful meal out we drank cold beer in the hot evening and smoked cigars while sharing great conversation. One of the things I most appreciate about my friend is that he can not only talk about sports (last night we talked through and decided who we thought the best Chicago Cub of all time at each position on the field…more on that in a minute), but we can also talk about theatre and the stage with equal passion.

Last night I made the comment that I personally don’t enjoy musical theatre as well as non-musical theatre because, well, in everyday real life we don’t break out in song. Kevin pounced on my snooty declaration as if I had just suggested that Carlos Marmol was the best Cubs pitcher of all time. “I think we DO break out in song all the time,” Kevin argued (and I paraphrase). “We think about music, situations bring songs to our heads, and we regularly break out in  song in the shower, in the car, and when I’m talking with my wife!” I hesitated and conceded the point, thinking to myself that I should have clarified: we don’t break out in large scale production numbers.

I get to the end of the prophet Jeremiah’s poem of Lamentation this morning and stumbled on the verse I pasted at the top of this post. How fascinating that after describing scenes of societal breakdown, starvation, cannibalism, torture, and rape the prophet sums it up by saying: our young men no longer break out in singing and dancing, the joy has left our hearts.

For the record, Kevin was right and I stand corrected by the ancient prophet. God forbid that this life should ever become an endless and tragic Long Days Journey Into Night without All That Jazz to keep us breaking out in joyful song.

 

Back to Reality

Italy
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tenderhearted women
    have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
    to survive the siege.
Lamentations 4:1o (NLT)

Wendy and I just returned from ten days at the lake. We had a wonderful time with a house full of family for Independence Day, then had a week of peace and quiet. When I stopped to see my folks on Tuesday, my mother commented (numerous times, in fact) that this week was “back to reality” for me. After spending summers at the lake for a decade, she and my dad know what it’s like to unplug for a couple weeks at the lake only to return to a pile of things demanding your attention that have been building up back home.

In yesterday’s post I commented at the 180 turn Jeremiah’s epic blues poem made in the previous chapter. From the depths of the pit he is reminded of God’s love, faithfulness, and mercy. Out of the darkness his spirit is raised with unexpected ray of hope. What struck me this morning is the “back to reality” nature of today’s chapter. Jeremiah’s hope did not change his present circumstances. People were still starving. Death and destruction still surrounded him on all sides. Women were still eating the flesh of their own children to survive.

So it is with hope. Hope does not change our circumstances, but it changes our perspective of those circumstances. Jeremiah’s faith did not miraculously turn stones into bread to feed his stomach, but it fed his soul the nourishment needed to press on another day.

Hope does not change our reality, it simply changes our view of reality.

 

No Pit So Deep

Bradley Olin via Flickr
Bradley Olin via Flickr

But I called on your name, Lord,
    from deep within the pit.
Lamentations 3:55 (NLT)

The man stood before me, tears streaming down his cheeks, as I explained to him a simple truth. Salvation was just a heart’s prayer a way. Call out to God. Open your heart. Ask Him in. Then it came. The pushback of shame I’ve heard many times:

But you don’t understand the things I’ve done. If you knew where I’ve been. The terrible things… the horrible… the awful….”

I’ve discovered along my journey that when you live for any time in a pit, darkness has a tendency to attach itself to your soul. You begin absorbing the lies of darkness:

  • You are no good
  • What you’ve done in the darkness permanently marks you
  • You don’t deserve forgiveness
  • God doesn’t want you; No one wants you
  • You deserve this pit in which you find yourself
  • There is no way out.

The most amazing thing about Jeremiah’s Lamentation is the 180 turnabout he makes in today’s chapter. After two and a half chapters of wailing, weeping, and woe, Jeremiah dares to look up from his pit and see the Light. Amidst the destruction, depression and carnage Jeremiah reaches out to the life line of God’s love, compassion and faithfulness.

I can’t think of a more apt contemporary parallel to the type of suffering Jeremiah experienced than the victims of Nazi death camps in World War II. This morning I was reminded of the words of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who was sent to the camps with her family for hiding Jews in The Hiding Place they’d made in their home. Her family all died in the concentration camps. Corrie was freed by a clerical error. Later in life she continuously shared this message from her own personal Lamentations:

There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

After a litany of shame filled confessions out of the darkness of the spiritual pit he lived in, the man I mentioned at the beginning of my post looked up and saw a glimpse of light. He opened his heart. He took a step of faith. He uttered a simple prayer. His life changed forever.

Yours can too.