Tag Archives: Thought

An Ancient Smackdown

An Ancient Smackdown (CaD Jer 46) Wayfarer

“Go up to Gilead and get balm,
    Virgin Daughter Egypt.
But you try many medicines in vain;
    there is no healing for you.

Jeremiah 46:11 (NIV)

For much of my life, I was a radio guy. I listened to the radio a lot. As a child, I woke up every morning to my dad tuning into WHO radio. I always remember it being on in the mornings. Sunday mornings he tuned to KRNT’s Hymn Time sponsored by Anderson-Erickson dairy as we got ready for church. In college, I did a couple of years as the morning guy on the college radio station, and I loved it. When I was younger and spent a lot of time on the road for work, I listened to countless hours of radio.

With the advent of streaming music, podcasting, and having audiobooks right on my phone, I don’t listen to much radio anymore other than to have the Cubs game on while I’m doing something else. One of the genres of radio that I first lost all interest in was that of Sports Talk radio. If you love it, that’s cool. I just got to the point that I thought it was all the same. Some bombastic, loud talker (often with a New York or New Jersey accent) speaking this sort of code language they’ve developed for their show and followers. Rather than intelligent conversation about sports it’s like an on-air version of professional wrestling with people insulting one another and their rival teams.

I thought of Sports Talk radio as I read today’s chapter. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post/podcast, we’re entering the final chapters of the compilation of Jeremiah’s prophetic messages. It’s sort of an appendix to the compilation with some one-off messages Jeremiah delivered during his ministry. Today’s chapter was delivered to the nations of Egypt and Babylon way back during the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon’s reign.

Jeremiah’s message to Egypt reads like a Sports Talk smackdown on the highest level. It’s dripping with sarcasm and full of irony. Let me provide an apt sports metaphor.

The Egyptians had been the perennial Imperial power in the region forever. They were the nation everyone feared. They were rich and used their wealth to sign free-agent contracts with the greatest mercenaries in the world. Egypt was the New England Patriots at the height of their Tom Brady dynasty. They were a powerhouse. They were unstoppable.

Babylon, on the other hand, were like my Minnesota Vikings. Sure they’d had a few good seasons in the past but, but lately they’d been an average team in fly-over country overshadowed by others in their division (like the Assyrians). However, the Babylonians have a new quarterback at the helm, a young rookie named Nebuchadnezzar. He’s newly drafted and untested. There’s a huge battle anticipated between lowly Babylon and the powerhouse Egyptians.

Jeremiah’s message is basically his Sports Talk take on upcoming showdown between the two nations.

Consider the verses I quoted at the top of the post/podcast:

“Go up to Gilead and get balm,
    Virgin Daughter Egypt.
But you try many medicines in vain;
    there is no healing for you.

Egypt was well-known for their medicinal knowledge and practices. They’d learned a lot embalming and mummifying people for centuries. Gilead was a small town in Judah known for spices and healing balms. Jeremiah is writing these lines is like a Minnesota Vikings fan calling a Sports Talk station in Boston and saying:

“The Patriots are going to be so utterly destroyed by the Vikings that they’re going to have to rush Tom Brady to Mayo Clinic, but even Mayo Clinic won’t be able to heal the damage that the Vikings defense is going to do to him!”

To take the sports metaphor one more step. Jeremiah’s prognostication of a Babylonian defeat of Egypt was equivalent to Joe Namath’s promise of a Jets victory in the Super Bowl. It’s NC State winning the Big Dance. It’s the Miracle on Ice. And, he was right.

The battle of Carchemish (a city on the Euphrates River) in 605 B.C. remains one of the most important and decisive victories in history. It completely shifted power in the Near East.

In the quiet this morning, I find it interesting that Jeremiah’s prophetic works mark a major shift of thought. To this point in the Great Story, the narrative has been almost entirely focused on God’s relationship with the Hebrew people. Other nations are mentioned as they play various supporting roles in the story, but the focus has always been on the Hebrews. Jeremiah’s prophetic works are the first time that God claims another leader of another nation to be His “chosen servant.” Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t even know or worship the God of Abraham and Moses, though God uses Daniel and his friends to make the introduction.

Along most of my spiritual journey, I’ve focused time and energy on my personal relationship with God. As I’ve progressed, I’ve learned to increasingly embrace the understanding that God is at work in every person’s story. Like Nebuchadnezzar, a person may not recognize it and may freely and willfully reject the idea. It doesn’t change God’s desire to know and be known by that person.

I’ve also come to embrace the knowledge that my role as a disciple of Jesus is to be a loving conduit of God’s love to the Nebuchadnezzars in my life. That’s why I’ve purposefully tried to diminish my personal judgment and condemnation of others, no matter who they are or what they’ve said, believed, or done.

When I look at others through the lens of God’s love for them and God’s desire to be in relationship with them, it changes how I see them. That is foundational to what Jesus came to teach me.

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

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.

The Slave’s Return

The Slave's Return (CaD Jer 44) Wayfarer

“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

Choices and Destiny (CaD Jer 43) Wayfarer

[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.

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.

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.

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.

The Cup

The Cup (CaD Jer 25) Wayfarer

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”
Jeremiah 25:15 (NIV)

One of the things I love about reading through the ancient prophets is discovering the metaphorical threads and themes that tie the Great Story together from beginning-to-end. This past Sunday I gave a message in which I unpacked Jesus’ statement, “I am the Gate.” The reality is that the entire Great Story is a series of “outs” and “ins.” From the beginning of Genesis when Adam and Eve get kicked “out” of the Garden of Eden to the end of Revelation when those whose names are written in the Book of Life enter “in” to the City of God.

In today’s chapter, God through Jeremiah declares judgement and destruction on Jerusalem and the surrounding nations. This, of course, is not shocking. Judgement and the Babylonian exile were the dominant themes throughout Jeremiah’s long, prophetic ministry. What was different in today’s chapter was the metaphor God gave Jeremiah when He told Jerry to take “this cup filled with the wine of my wrath.”

Fast forward just over 500 years to the eve of Jesus’ execution. Jesus prays fervently that Father God would “let this cup pass from me.” What cup? The same one Jeremiah speaks of in today’s chapter. The “wine of God’s wrath” is the cup Jesus’ drank when he suffered and died on the cross even though He was innocent. Not only that, but earlier in that same evening Jesus took a cup of wine and told His followers, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

This was the great turning point in the Great Story, when God’s own Son drank the Cup of Wrath on behalf of humanity, that the Cup of Forgiveness might be consumed by any willing to drink it.

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.