Tag Archives: Jeremiah

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.

Truth Amidst the Noise

Sarah Ross Photography via Flickr
Sarah Ross Photography via Flickr

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope.
Lamentations 2:14 (NLT)

When I read about the ancient prophets telling people what they wanted to hear, I can’t help but think of the talking heads I find on every news channel and Sunday morning political talk show. I have gone on record saying that I find myself watching less and less of the news channels and news programs these days. The spinning and distortion of facts to defend untenable political positions happens on every side of the political isle. Whether a socialist regime, a tyrant, a dictatorship, a monarchy, a commonwealth or a representative republic, politics is filled with people who are vying for and clinging to power and all the personal gain it creates.

It was no different in Jeremiah’s day. The story of Jeremiah is a story of Shakespearean proportions. Jeremiah went to great lengths to warn the people of Jerusalem, including the king, that Babylon was coming. He urged the king and people to wake up from their spiritual slumber and repent. Yet Jeremiah stood alone against a host of prophets who spun and distorted the facts to solidify their personal standing and to tell the king and the public what they wanted to hear: everything is okay. Jeremiah was hated, publicly humiliated, persecuted, tortured and imprisoned for speaking the truth. The book of Lamentations is one of the most tragic “I told you so”s in history.

As I progress in my journey I find myself caring more about and concerning myself more with what is really true, and less about political opinions and social rhetoric. Finding what is true amidst the noise of media blasting at us 24/7/365 can be a daunting task. I often feel like a spinning compass seeking true north. To find it, I try to identify nuggets of truth to guide my thoughts.

If you keep going deeper in debt spending money you don’t have, at some point you face financial ruin. That’s true.

Since the beginning of time evil people have done evil things, and when they gain power they do evil things on a grand scale. Evil is not going away. That’s true.

Jesus said there are just two commandments. Love God. Love people. That’s true.

 

I can make a difference, even a small one, in the lives of people with whom I interact today through simple acts of kindness, love, grace and forgiveness. That’s true.