Tag Archives: Life

My Core Weakness

My Core Weakness (CaD Jer 45) Wayfarer

“Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’”
Jeremiah 45:5 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve experienced as an Enneagram coach is that it’s is common for people, upon reviewing their Enneagram Type, to say, “I don’t want that to be my Type!” In fact, there have been people I’ve encountered who insisted on mistyping themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, because they were uncomfortable with embracing their true selves. This is, I have discovered, sometimes part of the self-discovery journey for people.

Every Enneagram Type has its core fear, core weakness, core desire, and core longing. These may manifest themselves differently in different individuals. As an Enneagram Four, my core desire is to be “special and unique” while my core weakness is the sin of envy. It’s easy for me to feel that others have something special or unique that I lack. Without realizing it, I sometimes feel an intense antagonism toward people I don’t even know that’s rooted in my envy. It’s taken a long time for me to recognize that in myself and address it.

Coming in at only five verses, Jeremiah 45 is one of the shorter chapters in the Great Story, though there are a handful that are even shorter. When the messages of Jeremiah were compiled into what we now know as the book of Jeremiah they were compiled thematically. The final chapters of the book are a kind of appendix. Today’s chapter is a fascinating, personal message that God gave Jeremiah for his friend and faithful scribe Baruch.

I saw shades of myself as I read Baruch’s lament in the quiet this morning. Baruch’s brother occupied an important position in the administration of King Zedekiah. Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe, writing down the prophets dictated messages and then rewriting them all over again when the king burned the original copies in his anger. Let’s face it, the doom-and-gloom of Jeremiah’s prophetic works are bit repetitive and depressing. Add to that the fact that all of the anger, hatred, and animosity of Jeremiah trickled down to Baruch. When Jeremiah was banned from speaking in public, it was Baruch who got the job of proclaiming the words no one wanted to hear. Baruch sometimes got blamed when an accuser was afraid to confront the prophet himself.

“Why am I stuck doing this my whole life?” I can hear Baruch muttering to himself. “Why didn’t I get a cushy, high-profile job in the King’s administration like my brother?”

Jeremiah hears the muttering of his friend and scribe. God tells Jerry to tell Barry: “Don’t seek great things for yourself. Believe me, your brother’s story is not going to end well, but I will protect you and your life as the scribe of my anointed prophet.”

We don’t know what happened to Baruch’s brother Seraiah, though it was likely either captivity or death. Baruch, on the other hand, was still alive with Jeremiah in Egypt after the fall of Jerusalem.

In the quiet this morning, I confess that it’s always been easy for me to feel a certain level of discontent with my life. I was called specifically to do what I’m doing, and I trust that with all my being. Nevertheless, whenever I go through a tough stretch of the journey, my core desires and core weakness make it hard for me to stay in my lane without some dramatic and pessimistic brooding, and Wendy can tell you that I excel in this.

But that’s where God’s words to Baruch really resonate with me in all my “Fourness.” I can focus on obediently and faithfully fulfilling that to which I’ve been called, or I can waste a lot of time pining away in envy for what others have been called to do. The reality is that I have been and continue to be extremely blessed, and when I focus on that blessing, and the Source of that blessing, then I find contentment is soon to follow.

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.

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

Oh! The Places You'll Go! (CaD Jer 29) Wayfarer

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”
Jeremiah 29:10 (NIV)

It is mid-May. Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I believe that Mother’s Day weekend is the most popular weekend for colleges and universities to hold their graduation commencements. Social media was wall-to-wall young people in their caps and gowns this weekend. And, we’re not even close to being done. The coming weekends will be chock full of high school commencements, and there are exponentially more school graduates than college graduates. Punch bowls are getting pulled out of storage. White sheet cakes are being made en masse. Millions of greeting cards are being sold.

On Saturday morning, Wendy and I made a trip to her family’s gathering. She played for me a commencement address by writer and humorist, David Sedaris, who was receiving an honorary degree from a university. We laughed all the way to her parent’s house. It was a humorous take on the genre of speeches that millions of graduates will hear this month. Young people full of hope and optimism preparing to launch on their respective life paths with a fresh copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go tucked under their arm. That’s another thing you can plan on every May: the return of Dr. Seuss to the summit of the New York Times’ bestseller list.

I can guarantee you that a good percentage of graduates will receive at least one card of congratulations with a verse from today’s chapter. It’s the verse after the verse I quoted at the top of the post/podcast:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This is a verse that is tailor made for a graduation card, a calendar, a daily planner, a personal journal, a wall plaque, or any number of gifts and trinkets. Somewhere, I’m sure there’s a well-worn frisbee with that verse inspiring the dog who’s retrieving it for millionth time.

But here’s the thing…

Jeremiah’s words were not intended for young people crossing an educational finish line with a lifetime of hope and opportunity ahead of them. His words were addressed to a people who’d been ripped from their homes, bound (some were likely even been led with a ring through their nose), and drug hundreds of miles to a foreign land. Among them was a young man named Daniel, who certainly would have read Jeremiah’s words from today’s chapter. He was among those for whom they were intended. Daniel may have been the age of many people graduating this month when Jeremiah’s letter arrived, but “Oh! The places you’ll go!” in his young aspirations did not include the city of Babylon in the service of a mad-king. Yet, that’s where he found himself looking at enrollment in the school of hard-knocks and a lifetime of servitude. Jeremiah’s letter promised Daniel and his fellow exiles redemption and return in seventy years. Imagine how that promise sank in. Daniel knew the odds were against him being among those returning. Subsequent generations would enjoy that promise. He was looking at a life-sentence of exile.

And, in the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think that this contrasting reality is perhaps a more honest and truthful message for any graduate who is a follower of Jesus to hear in preparation for the rest of their life journey. It’s certainly more sobering, and not as entertaining as the words of David Sedaris that Wendy and I listened to this weekend. My life journey as a disciple of Jesus has confirmed for me the truth of Jeremiah’s promise. God does have a plan and purpose for me. But, the plans and purpose God has for me are ultimately not about my earthly success or my prosperity, security, safety, or comfort, though all of those things may certainly be experienced along the way. Rather, God’s purpose and plans are about my life of exile and captivity in a temporal, fallen world. They are about my spiritual maturity, my obedience to the One whom I follow, and my increasing measure of sacrificial love and generosity to others all the days of my exile. The purpose, I’ve discovered, is really about my bit part in a story that is ultimately not about me.

I doubt many graduates will hear this. Oh, the places we want to go don’t include the failures, difficulties, setbacks, losses, mistakes, broken dreams, divorce decrees, terminal illnesses, tragic deaths, or the painful consequences of our own poor choices. Nevertheless, those are the requisite pathways to the plans and purposes God has for His children like Daniel, like me.

Of course, like the false prophets that Jeremiah addresses in today’s chapter, there are far more popular messages to echo that are far more enjoyable to hear by mass audiences.

“Wear sunscreen,” for example.

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

Seasons of Struggle

Seasons of Struggle (CaD Jer 24) Wayfarer

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians.
Jeremiah 24:5 (NIV)

It’s still early in baseball season. Our Chicago Cubs have made a lot of moves in the past two years, selling off all of the star players from the 2016 World Series team. Younger players acquired in those trades along with those who are coming up in the system have been combined with short-term contracts of a few veterans to try and piece together a winning team. The result is that Wendy quite regularly blurts out, “Wait! Who is this guy? Where did he come from?”

C’est la vie.

In today’s rather short chapter, God gives Jeremiah a simple metaphor in two baskets of figs he came across at the front of the temple. It’s important to realize that the “exile” of Hebrews to Babylon was not a one-time occurrence that happened when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. There was an almost 20 year period in which Jerusalem was subject to the Babylonian Empire.

It began in 605 B.C. when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, fresh from his crushing defeat of Egypt, stopped by Jerusalem (and a lot of other cities) to demand tribute in exchange for not destroying the city. Empires had learned along the way that having city-states paying regular tributes and taxes was a more lucrative deal in the long-run than simply destroying them. One of the strategies to avoiding rebellion of these cities was to take people of royalty, nobility, along with the talented and gifted into captivity back in Babylon where they could be both useful and controlled. So Neb took the Who’s Who of Jerusalem and sent them off to Babylon.

In 598-597, Neb returned to Jerusalem to put down an attempted rebellion led by King Jehoiakim. More captives were taken and Neb placed Zedekiah on the throne as his puppet. Ten years later, it was Zedekiah who rebelled and made an alliance with Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar returned to destroy Jerusalem in 586 to make an example of her to other city-states under his control. More exiles presumably were sent back to Babylon at that point.

Jeremiah’s prophetic career spanned all of these events. He watched as the best and brightest (the good figs) were taken away and the aged, poor, and weak (the bad figs) were left behind in Jerusalem. It’s kind of like our baseball team selling off and trading all its star players only to be left with scrubs and veterans past their prime to try and finish the season.

The word picture God gave Jeremiah in today’s chapter was a rare, hopeful message in the collection of Jeremiah’s prophetic works. God promises that all the “good figs” who had been taken into exile would survive, thrive, be protected, and would some day return. Most importantly, the captivity and exile in Babylon would teach those in captivity humility leading to repentance and much needed spiritual maturity.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that life is filled with difficult stretches for a reason. God, like a good father, allows His children to struggle because the pain and struggle is the essential ingredient to spiritual growth and outcome. He reminds Jeremiah of the hope of the exiles successful return which would occur seventy years later.

I am also reminded in the quiet this morning that before the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, they went through similar seasons in which players were sold off and traded in order to put together the young team who would end a 108 year World Series drought. Every baseball team, like every life journey, has seasons of struggle.

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

Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing (CaD Jer 22) Wayfarer

This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right.
Jeremiah 22:3a (NIV)

Doing the right thing is not always the easiest thing. It sounds so simple, but it is not. Like yesterday’s post, it sometimes requires surrender. I spent some time meditating on my life journey and the times I’ve had to make a willful decision to do the right thing.

I lost friendships because I chose to intervene and try to get my friends the help they needed rather than let them destroy themselves further. I still grieve the loss of those friendships.

I gave up multiple jobs because I refused to be a part of the corrupt or unjust things going on in the workplace. I’ve never regretted it.

As I meditate on those decisive moments, it strikes me that my decision was fairly simple because the circumstances were fairly black and white to me.

What’s less simple are the times when being a follower of Jesus has meant I had to forgive those who wronged me and choose grace instead of anger, judgment, retaliation, and resentment. If I’m honest, the hardest have perhaps been the times when doing the right thing meant surrendering my very strong personal will and self-centric desires in order for a greater good to flourish.

In today’s chapter, God sends Jeremiah to confront the kings of Judah. He begins by laying out what God expects of the King:

Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Jeremiah then goes on to pick apart those who have inhabited the throne for “building the palace with injustice” and for setting their “eyes and heart on dishonest gain.”

It’s fairly easy for me to gloss over Jeremiah’s prophetic smack-down of kings who lived 2500 years ago, but then in the quiet this morning I thought about a message I gave just a couple of weeks ago. In that message I talked about my “sin” being simply my personal, willful indulgence of my base and self-centric appetites and desires. I used two kings from the works of Shakespeare as examples. I even wore a crown as I did so.

My grandfather used to say, “I’m king of this castle! And, I have my wife’s permission to say so.” All jokes aside, I am very much ruler of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I can choose to rule my life with self-indulgence, chasing after dishonest gain, and seeking only my own personal desires. Or, I can surrender my crown and my will in order to love God and love others with my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I enter this day which will be filled with a myriad of choices and decisions. I endeavor, O Lord, to consistently do what you ask of me: do the right thing.

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

The Essential Ingredient

The Essential Ingredient (CaD Jer 19) Wayfarer

“Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.” 
Jeremiah 19:10-11 (NIV)

This past weekend, I took a couple of days to spend with my friend Matthew at the lake. We both have April birthdays, so it was a mutual birthday celebration.

One of the things I love about the lake is that the combination of quiet and separation from daily routines allow for a level of contemplation and conversation that normal daily schedules don’t afford. In those conversations this weekend, Matthew and I peeled back deeper layers of knowing and being known.

One of the things I love about my Enneagram Five friend, Matthew is his natural curiosity that leads to a depth of knowledge and understanding about how humans feel, think, and behave. This feeds his work as a therapist. Matthew unpacked for me some of the things being studied on the cutting edge of his field in the area of neurobiology, the study of the brain.

Matthew shared with me how the brain, like a computer, has both hardware and software. In our earliest years, our experiences and the feelings they stir in us lead to the hard-wiring which becomes our mental hardware. As we grow, the emotional center of our brain (how we feel) and the resulting hardware center of the brain (how we think) combine to determine how we see everything around us (what we believe). As he described this, it sounded awfully hopeless to me. If my brain becomes hard-wired in these patterns at an early age, is re-wiring it even possible?!

“Yes!” Matthew answered emphatically. “God made our bodies with the ability to heal, and that includes the brain. But there is one ingredient that is essential in facilitating the rewiring process: pain.”

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet Jeremiah is told by God to take a clay jar from the local potter, gather some civic and priestly elders, and take them to the “Potsherd Gate” of Jerusalem which overlooked the Valley of Hinnom. The Potsherd Gate was so-called because the area right outside the city wall was a garbage dump for people’s broken and useless pottery. The Valley of Hinnom had long served as an area where citizens of Jerusalem met to worship pagan deities like Baal, which included the sacrifice of first-born children to the god Molech.

Having reached the gate and overlooking the Valley, Jeremiah smashed his clay jar and prophesied that God was going to lay waste to Jerusalem because of her unwillingness to turn away from the worship of their false gods and their detestable practices. This prophetic word picture had a layer of meaning for the elders he brought along with them. Rulers in that region, particularly Egypt, would write the names of their enemies on pottery and then smash them as a curse.

God was sending His people through a painful siege followed by a painful captivity in Babylon. God ultimately wanted to rewire His people’s thinking and beliefs, their minds and hearts, which had become hard-wired to hold fast to their duplicitous worship system while stubbornly rejecting God’s ways. As I read this in the quiet this morning, I heard Matthew’s words echoing in my own heart: “…there is one ingredient that is essential in facilitating the rewiring process: pain.”

Matthew and I spent some time talking through some of the most painful experiences in our respective life journeys. In doing so, we learned some intimate details about one another, things we’d never shared before. We were not only able to extend grace to one another, but we were able to appreciate and articulate how God used those deeply painful experiences to teach us important qualities like faith, endurance, patience, joy, and hope.

In the quiet this morning, as I get ready to head into another work week, I am reminded that God repeatedly reminds me throughout the Great Story that I am to rejoice, exult, and “consider it all joy” when life gets shattered like an earthenware jar. If I am willing to respond to those painful stretches of the journey with spiritual openness, God will use them rewire my heart and mind in ways that are otherwise impossible.

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

Scarred Hearts

Scarred Hearts (CaD Jer 17) Wayfarer

“Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool,
    inscribed with a flint point,
on the tablets of their hearts
    and on the horns of their altars.
Even their children remember
    their altars and Asherah poles
beside the spreading trees
    and on the high hills.”

Jeremiah 17:1-2 (NIV)

Wendy and I were sitting in the back row in our usual spot among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Worship was beginning when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

He stood there looking like a lost puppy. Shoulders slumped, head downcast, and his face covered in a thick veneer of shame.

“I’m drunk,” he whispered in my ear, though my olfactory senses picked up on this long before his quaking voice told me.

“I’m glad you’re here,” I responded, placing my arm around his shoulders and pulling him in tight.

I didn’t know this man’s story, but I immediately read his heart. That is a familiar script. It’s just like Hollywood, or the Hallmark Channel who tell the same story over and over again simply switching out names, settings, and actors. I didn’t need to know this man’s particulars. I sensed the story. It’s was a tragedy of life and relationships that had long ago engraved false words of defeat and shame on his heart. He had been self medicating for who knows how long. I didn’t know if he’d already hit rock bottom or if something had scared him enough to know that he was falling fast. His movie eventually ends one of two ways: a dark tragedy, or a tale of redemption.

The people whom the ancient prophet Jeremiah is addressing are not unlike a corporate version of the same storyline. In today’s chapter, Jeremiah reads the false words of defiance and rebellion on their hearts. They had been repeatedly cut-into their hearts for generations like a lost teenager cutting the words of their shame into their flesh with a razor blade. Over time the words become scar tissue that keep building up with increasing hardness.

Jeremiah had watched as King Josiah tried to impose change through institutional legal demand, but Jeremiah observed what I mentioned a week or two ago: Dictates Don’t Change Hearts. In today’s chapter, Jerry notices that it was not just the adults with sin and rebellion carved on their hearts no matter what the King said was legal or illegal. These types of internal messaging get passed down through the generations. Josiah may have destroyed the idols and burned them into ashes, but it didn’t make a lick of difference, even in the hearts of children whose parents had impressed their thoughts and behavior onto their children from the womb.

Behavior modification will never change a scarred heart.

My arm wrapped around my intoxicated friend, I asked him to look around the room as my free hand gestured across the small crowd gathered there. There are a bunch of people in that room who have found themselves a character in basically the same movie, myself included. The script is just a little different from person-to-person. In that room are addicts, ex-cons, liars, cheats, and adulterers whose hearts were hardened and scarred, but then they experienced a personal encounter with Jesus who spiritually performed a cardiac transplant described by Jeremiah’s colleague, Ezekiel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

As my hand swept over the crowd and described these transplant patients to my new friend, I was aware that there are others who are still trying to do the behavior modification thing. There always will be. The human condition hasn’t changed since the days of Jeremiah. There will always be those who dress up their lives in a religious facade in hopes that no one will notice their scarred heart and the things it leads them to do in the dark when no one is looking. They are in a little bit different movie, but it’s also a well-worn storyline that’s been told a million different ways. The similarity is in the same two endings to which the story leads, tragedy or redemption, dependent on the same choice between heart transplant or not.

“Just keep coming,” I told my friend before praying over him.

He did.

The last time I ran into him he had a smile on his face. He was standing erect. There was life in his eyes and light in his countenance. As we walked together, he shared with me that there had been a change in his life, but I knew it before he said it just as I knew he was drunk that one day before he said it.

The tell-tale signs of a spiritual heart transplant were evident.

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

Learning the Lesson (or Not)

Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!”
Jeremiah 15:1 (NIV)

I was really struggling with my current waypoint on this life journey. I knew where God had led me and was continuing to lead me but I didn’t want it. At least, I was afraid of it for all sorts of reasons. I wanted to run away.

One Sunday morning we were among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Every week there are people available to pray with and over those whoever needs it. I thought about going up for prayer, but was fighting with myself internally about doing so. Then, ironically, Wendy leaned over and whispered in my ear that she thought I should go up for prayer.

As my spiritual sister was praying over me, her hand on my heart, she suddenly just stopped praying. She was quiet and said nothing for a long moment. She then told me that, in her mind’s eye, she had been given an image of me as a little boy. “It’s like the first day of school and you know you need to go. You know it’s the right place for you to be, but you’re anxious and afraid and don’t want to be there. Father God just wants you to take His hand. He will walk with you where you need to go.”

I began to weep.

You see, what she didn’t know is that when I was a child, on the first day of school, my mom had to take me kicking and screaming into my kindergarten class. In fact, a few minutes into the class I got up, ran out the door and ran all the way home to plead with my mom not to make me go. My kindergarten teacher ran down the sidewalk after me. She was wearing heels. I got the “Walk” sign at the traffic light on the corner. Of course, mom drug me right back to school kicking, screaming, and crying. I recall her having to do so several times in those first weeks.

When I told my dear sister this, and why I was crying, we then shed a few tears together and a hug.

Here I am over 50 years later and I’m spiritually still having to learn the same lesson that I had to physically learn when I was five years old.

The story of God’s relationship with the Hebrew people is, in itself, a word picture of spiritual lessons like the one I just described.

God delivered the Hebrew people from being slaves in Egypt. Working through Moses, God pursued, delivered, provided for and then made a covenant with the Hebrew tribes to be in relationship with them just like a husband and wife make a covenant to be in relationship with one another.

Fast forward about 800 years and the marriage between God and the Hebrews is on the rocks. She’s a serial adulterer constantly breaking covenant and chasing after other gods.

In today’s chapter, God begins with the statement that even if Moses were to stand before Him to plead for the Hebrew people, it wouldn’t not change His mind. He then says “Let them go!”

What did God through Moses repeatedly tell Pharaoh?

“Let my people go!”

Later in the chapter, God says, “I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know.”

The Hebrews had not spiritually learned the lesson that God was trying to physically teach them in their infancy as a nation. God physically freed them from slavery in Egypt only to have the Hebrews spiritually give themselves over to be slaves of sin and idolatry. The consequences? Back to physical slavery in Babylon to learn the lesson that wasn’t learned 800 years earlier.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of an observation I’ve repeatedly made along my spiritual journey. God doesn’t work like the American educational system in which you keep moving up a grade whether or not you actually learned anything during the school year. In God’s Kingdom system, I have to actually learn the lesson before I get to move up to the next level of spiritual maturity. Jesus expressed frustration with His disciples regularly. “Where is your faith?” He would ask along with “Why are you so afraid?” When those same disciples couldn’t drive the demon out of a boy, Jesus responded, “You unbelieving and perverse generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”

When Paul wrote the believers in Corinth he complained that they should have spiritually matured to eating solid food, but they were spiritually still bottle feeding on milk. It’s possible, he implies, for people to remain spiritual babes sucking on the bottle and never graduate to solid food.

It’s possible for the Hebrews to have never learned the spiritual lessons of God’s very real deliverance, protection, and provision during the Exodus.

It’s possible for me to have not learned the very real lesson of kindergarten and to be spiritually afraid and anxious of where I know I need to go and am being led by God’s hand.

In the quiet this morning, I enter this Good Friday mindful of Jesus going where He needed to go, led by the Father’s hand. I’m equally mindful of the reality that it is possible for me to be freed and delivered from my enslavement to sin, only to willingly allow myself to be enslaved once more. And God will let me enslave myself just as He let the Hebrews enslave themselves, if I fail to learn the lesson.

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

What I Want to Hear

What I Want to Hear (CaD Jer 14) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore this is what the Lord says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine.
Jeremiah 14:14-15 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah describes a drought that struck sometime in his prophetic ministry. No one knows when this was, but drought is a periodic reality in that area of the world, just as it is here in Iowa.

What intrigued me about Jerry’s conversation with God was his description of all the other prophets who, claiming to speak in God’s name, continued to tell everyone that every little thing was going to be alright, that the drought would not lead to famine nor would the Babylonians attack as Jeremiah has repeatedly warned.

It made me meditate on three things this morning:

First, there have always been false prophets like Jeremiah describes. In today’s terms, I’m reminded the name-it-and-claim it preachers of prosperity gospel. Health, wealth, and bullet-proof optimism flow from their lips, telling their donors (they are always asking for money) and followers that God wants to bless them with health and wealth, too. I was in college during the televangelist scandals back in the late 80s. They are still around.

The second thing on which I meditated is the current state of our culture and media. This is my observation, not a political statement. The fact is that news organizations on both sides of the political spectrum have abandoned objective reporting to feed their viewers whatever those viewers political bent happens to be. One of the fascinating things I’ve witnessed coming out of the Covid years are small, independent news and journalism outlets on platforms like Substack. One that Wendy and I have begun reading regularly states openly that they began their site in order to return to journalism that’s about objective reporting of facts. The founders of the site came from one of the most prestigious news outlets in the world and complained of editors demanding that reporters write within the preferred political narrative the editors were pushing. It’s happening everywhere, and it’s happening on both sides of our cultural divide.

Which leads me to the third thing on which I meditated this morning. False prophets of religion, news, and politics are not going away just as Israel and Iowa will continue to experience periodic droughts as has always been the case. As I chewed on these things in the quiet this morning, I was reminded of Paul’s mentoring words to his young protégé Timothy:

You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.
1 Timothy 4:3-5 (MSG)

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that life is filled with tragedy and difficulties. It’s also filled will facts and realities that inconveniently refuse to fit into what I want to believe about the world as I desire it to be in the comfortable little box of my personal worldview. Jerry had the difficult job of being the lone voice pointing out the proverbial handwriting on the wall; A message no one wanted to hear. They preferred to have their fancies tickled with false assurances. It was still that way when Paul was mentoring Timothy. It’s still that way today.

I concluded in the quiet this morning that I am on a faith journey as I follow in the steps of Jesus. It is Maundy Thursday as I write these words (the commemoration of Jesus’ final night before His execution) and I’m reminded that the end of Jesus’ earthly journey was not a pleasant one. It’s funny how easy it is for me to believe that it should be different for me than for the One in whose steps I follow. If the world operated perfectly within the comfortable little box of my personal worldview then Jesus would never have had to cry out, “Father, let this cup pass from me” and I would never need faith.

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

Faith-less or Un-faithful?

The Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”
Jeremiah 3:11 (NIV)

There is a stretch of my life journey that I look back on and call “the dark years.” I was angry for a number of reasons, and underneath the anger was an internal struggle with God, with myself, and with my circumstances. In this struggle, I acted out in unhealthy ways.

A therapist friend of mine says that “everyone is having a conversation with Life,” and I have found this to be true in my own experience. During my dark years, I wasn’t ignoring God or pretending He didn’t exist. I was in constant conversation with God. Like a rebellious teenager, I screamed at God. I threw tantrums. I argued with God, I swore at God, and I defiantly did things I was forbidden to do out of spite. And, when my attitude and actions led to really painful places, I found myself walking in the shoes of the Prodigal. I was humbled. I was broken. I was ashamed of the pain I had caused my loved ones, and I returned to the arms of my Heavenly Father and learned what “amazing grace” really means.

The dark years came to mind as I read today’s chapter. It begins with God addressing the southern kingdom of Judah. Judah couldn’t make up their mind regarding their relationship with God. Of their 20 monarchs, nine of them were somewhat faithful to God, while 11 of them followed after the local pagan gods. I can’t help but think of the words of the prophet Elijah from a couple hundred years before Jeremiah: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

I have to remember that Jeremiah is addressing the people of Judah amidst the religious reforms enforced by King Josiah. The people of Judah are pining for their idols despite the fact that the king has destroyed and outlawed them. They feel no shame about this. Theirs is a life of duplicity and wavering. They want it both ways. They contend to have an open marriage with God. “I should be able to make love to my pagan idols, and God should love and bless me anyway.”

God then tells Jeremiah to consider the northern kingdom of Israel. At the time of Jeremiah’s prophetic sermon, Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians and led into captivity a hundred years before. Unlike Judah, Israel didn’t waver. They wholeheartedly went after idolatry. Not one of their 19 kings was faithful to God. Like me in my dark years, they flipped off their Heavenly Father in oppositional defiance. And, then they hit rock bottom thanks to the Assyrian Empire.

Now God speaks to Jeremiah as a frustrated yet loving Father. He sees Israel’s outright rebellion as more honest than the duplicitous wavering of her sister, Judah. God uses two different Hebrew adjectives. Israel was “faith-less” (there was no attempt to even pretend they cared) while Judah was “un-faithful” (they toyed and pretended they would be faithful, only to betray God over and over again). Father God then has Jeremiah face the leftover remnants of His people in the north and pleads for the Prodigal to return.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over my dark years. Ugh! I honestly see the shadow of both Judah and Israel in my own oppositional defiance, neither of them good. But today’s chapter has me contemplating the fact that there is something that God respects in those sinners who don’t even pretend to care about Him in contrast to those who say they love Him and then live as if they love the world and the things of the world. I see this in the way Jesus hung out with the outright “sinners” like Israel while directing His sharpest criticism and condemnation on the “religious” leaders who, like Judah, pretended they were faithful, but whom Jesus described as “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

I head into the day with this episode from Matthew 9:11-13 resonating in my spirit:

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Featured Image: Prodigal Son by Thomas Hart Benton

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