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Jeremiah 29

December 16, 2016 Leave a comment

I think I’m going to restart doing this regularly. I have a few creative outlets I’m focusing on right now, but I currently have none where I am specifically focusing on Scripture, save for sub 140 character twitter posts, but that hardly counts. This type of writing is also nice to do because it’s fairly easy and I hold it to a very low standard. These blog posts aren’t completely without thought, but they don’t require very extensive thinking either.

Jeremiah 29, huh. There are so many rabbit trails on which we could travel. I’ll work on staying focused and brief.

How about Jeremiah 29:12-14. These verses are a part of a message sent to people from Jerusalem who were taken and are now living in exile in Babylon. God chose to use this time to speak hope to His people in their time of potential despair. They didn’t heed Jeremiah’s warnings and repent, thus God chose not to prevent their conquering. So, now what. God didn’t protect them because of their sin. As covenant breakers in a foreign land, where do they stand with God? The passage in its

12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

The Jewish religious practices ascribe a lot of importance to objects and geography in the worship of YHWH. So much emphasis is placed on these things, the very presence of God is thought to be directly connected to them. God is where the Ark of the Covenant is. The Holy of Holies is where God’s presence is strongest. As one moves outward, the potency of God’s presence decreases. It’s next strongest in the sanctuary, less in the outer courts, still less in the city of Jerusalem, and still present, but weaker in the land of Judea as a whole. The further away one gets from the Temple, the further away one gets from God Himself.

If the presence of God is geographically related, then the exiled Jews have a problem. They’re in Babylon. They’re really far from Jerusalem and they can no longer make trips to the Temple. God directly addresses any fears about His absence. YHWH lets them know His presence extends even to Babylon. Away from home, under power of a foreign rulers, in the midst of a multitude of other gods, YHWH is with them. And He’s as available for relationship as ever. They need only seek Him truly and honestly to find Him. The promise of presence is wonderful and unexpected news to a people who thought their sin drove them away from God.

These words were penned to a very specific group (Jewish exiles in Babylon), at a very specific time (during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar – I don’t know dates people), with a very specific message (God will bring the Jewish people back to Jerusalem). How might a message of return from exile apply to followers of Jesus thousands of years later?

For most of human history, the people of God have been a people in exile. Followers of Jesus are no exception. We are told by new testament authors to identify so strongly as citizens of the kingdom of heaven that we consider ourselves as strangers in a foreign land wherever we find ourselves in the world. We are told to live like those whose home is elsewhere, whose home is different, than the place and culture in which we currently reside. In our exile, God speaks a message of hope – including promises of His presence where we are and promises of a return back to where we belong.

Ultimately, the people of God then and the people of God now are waiting for the same grand return from exile. It is the sin of the world which makes followers of Jesus exiles at present. It was the sin of the Israelites which made them exiles in their time. It was sin in the garden which exiled humanity from the world as it should be. All people of God across history look forward to this final return, when redeemed humanity is brought back to the home for which their heart has always yearned.

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Oooh Jeremiah: Protecting God’s Blessings

April 27, 2013 Leave a comment

“Like these good figs, so I will regard the exiles from Judah… I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
But… Like the bag figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and a pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”
Jeremiah 24:4-10

There are a lot of interesting things going on in this passage.* One thing that stuck out to me is who YHWH says will have the land He promised to Israel. It is not the ones I would naturally expect to inherit the land. Those who stay in Jerusalem and try to keep it are those very people who will lose it. Those who voluntarily depart from Jerusalem into exile are the people God promises will have the land and God’s blessing. The people who abandon the land are the people who will keep the land.
To be fair, this isn’t some arbitrary decision by God to bless those who leave and let those who stay die, He already warned very clearly that destruction was coming upon the city and that the way out was to surrender to the attackers (Jer 21). Those who believed God’s words are those who are saved. It’s pretty fitting in light of the rest of Scripture. Still, it’s an odd circumstance to think about. Israel is in the land of the promise, but in order to inherit the land of the promise later, they have to abandon it now.
Their abandonment of the land YHWH promised them is actually an act of obedience to Him. Those who left the land are those who cling to God’s words in the presence and not the blessings of the past. Those who choose to remain in Jerusalem are protecting their city, their homes, their families, their lifestyles – God’s blessings. In protecting these blessings from YHWH they are abandoning YHWH. Those who are willing to abandon YHWH’s blessings are protecting their relationship with Him.
What are you protecting? What are you clinging to?

*References to other parts of the book abound in this little section: This passage directly references uprooting, planting, tearing, and building which are all a part of the section on the first chapter in Jeremiah we discussed. Told you it was one of the “broader themes of the book.” The prophet warned Israel not to go to Egypt and told them they would be safe if they left the city in peace of their own free will. The two groups who didn’t listen to this are specifically singled out as bad figs due to their insistence on rejecting God’s words spoken through this sections. The true people of God are those who hear and obey, and thus even amongst the Israelites YHWH distinguishes between his people and those who have rejected Him. Like so many other parts of this prophecy, we see God through Jeremiah talking about the increased culpability of those who have power.

Jeremiah Was A Dragon-Man: Faithless Marriages Don’t Work

June 8, 2012 1 comment

One of the most powerful and common metaphors in Scripture that God uses to describe his relationship with us is a marriage metaphor. YHWH is the bridegroom and His people are His bride. I believe this helps us understand not only the depth of God’s love for us, but also what sin does to our relationship. Our sin is an act of adultery. Jeremiah 3 uses the metaphor extensively:

“Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this, she will return to me,’ but she did not return.” 3:6-7*

When I imagine myself in these circumstances, with my wife going out and whoring herself to man after man everywhere she can find them, my heart and soul break. God’s response to His bride prostituting herself is far different than my response would be. My anger and brokenness would not let me take her back, but YHWH is not concerned about vengeance or brokenness or finding another bride who would not be so faithless. He just hopes that when His bride realizes there is no life outside of His fountain of living water, she will come back to Him.

Judah also went out and played the whore, and came back to Him, but it was a farce.

“Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.” 3:10

A pretentious return to YHWH is like a wife saying to her husband that she wants to be married to him and have a relationship with him while she continues in unceasing adultery. Faithless marriages are sham marriages. Judah wanted the benefits of being married to their God while keeping up her adulterous ways with other gods. It doesn’t work.**

Beautiful, loving YHWH is still not deterred by the incessant whoring of His wives and their pretense toward Him. He is deeply concerned about, angered by, and hurt by their breaking of the marriage covenant, but He is continuing His relentless pursuit of them. YHWH just wants them to admit their wrong and come back to Him, for He will remain faithful even when they are not. His love will not be stopped even when it is rejected.

In the middle of Israel and Judah’s whoring, YHWH, although He is the last one who deserves to be treated like this, is willing to endure all of the shame their actions cause Him if it means there is still a chance for the restoration of relationship. This God, our God, has always been willing to take the shame of our sin upon Himself and rid us of it through forgiveness, restoration, and the new life of His cleansing waters. The shame Jesus endured on the cross is the epitomic example of what God has been doing for us all along. No one has a more humble and powerful love than our God.

So, you and I, we’ve played the whore. We’ve followed other gods. We’ve pursued life elsewhere. We’ve broken the terms of the marriage covenant with our bridegroom. Our sin is not okay, it’s horrible and disgusting, but it is made okay by God’s love if we would only return and receive His new life. He doesn’t ask us to get better and return, but merely to acknowledge what we’ve done and return with our whole hearts. No longer is there any need to worry about our shame, for our God, as He as always done, has taken our shame upon Himself and eliminated it. Do not fear, with a husband who loves like this, it is always safe to come home and find hope and life and love beyond comprehension in His embrace. May we never leave His arms.

*When I write these, I’m hoping that you’ll be reading the whole chapter along with it. Chapter 3 comes highly recommended by Jeremiah.
** The desire to have both God and other gods is discussed more extensively here.

Jeremiah Was A Dragon-Man*: One of these things is not like the other.

May 28, 2012 1 comment

I’ve avoided the book of Jeremiah for a long time because that’s my name. I always thought that I would naturally tend toward reading it more than the other prophets so I would deliberately read a different book instead. Now, realizing how little I know it, I decided to start engaging with the text a little bit. My plan is to write some thoughts on a short passage of each chapter and blog about it on a regular basis. I’m sure my interpretations will be superficial given my lack of familiarity with the text, but there will probably be some things of note in this upcoming 52 post series.

A lot of sweet stuff I could touch on in chapter 1 of Jeremiah. We could talk about his youth, God’s plan for his life, crazy visions, God’s affirmation, and the like. I think I’d like to start by talking about broader themes of the book and the Bible in general. So we go to verse 9-10:

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and kingdoms,
To pluck up and to break down,
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant.”

I love the way that God sets Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms. Jeremiah doesn’t receive Samsonite strength. YHWH doesn’t give him military power. YHWH doesn’t give him anything which would typically place Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms. YHWH gives Jeremiah His words. God’s words are a mechanism by which His power is unleashed and his will is accomplished. I think it is important to keep Jeremiah’s power over nations because he has God’s words. When Jeremiah is being mocked by everyone, facing the overwhelming flow of culture, and standing before kings and armies, it’s easy to think that Jeremiah is the one who is vulnerable when the truth is Jeremiah has the upper hand. He has been given the words of YHWH, through which the world was created and the world will be judged.

Being placed over nations, what the prophet is supposed to do with God’s words is what God does a lot of in Scripture. These nations will be plucked up, broke down, destroyed, and overthrown. It’s judgment time. As we go through this book together, we will see God warning of punishment coming for Israel and Judah because of their unceasing disobedience. His people will be torn from their lands because of their refusal to repent, turning away from their other gods who are not really gods and following YHWH.

However punishment is not the final goal. When God judges, he doesn’t just punish the perpetrator because that’s not justice. YHWH’s ultimate purpose is not to destroy, but to rectify. What has been built and what has grown up is heinous, helpless, and hopeless so it must be demolished, not to leave destruction but to leave a solid foundation on which to build and good soil in which to plant. YHWH wants to rebuild His people, restore their relationship, that they would be His people and He would be their God. YHWH is using Jeremiah to bring his justice – to set things right.

By this time in human history, God’s had a lot of practice with this. He created the world to be good, then he destroyed most of the people in a flood. Why? To get back at everyone for disrespecting him? No, YHWH destroyed what was ruining His creation so that He could re-create. Breaking down in order to build and plucking up in order to plant is what God has been doing since the beginning, is doing in this story to set His people right, and what God is doing today to set us right. This is why we must die with Christ to the old man and put on the new one. This is what it means to die daily.** Insofar as the old man or woman which runs counter to God is in our life, we will not experience God’s New Creation. Israel’s story and ours are the same
* ‘If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.’ -Jeremiah 20:9 See Also: the other dragon man

** It would be interesting if someone used the devastation images of the prophets to talk about dying to oneself in order to live for God. Surely dying to ourselves is sometimes a tumultuous process and at times seems overwhelming and hopeless. The end is new life, but the process includes violent death.

Simply Church: World Rectification

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

We are a family with a mission. Our family has been charged with caring for creation, and because creation has been messed up, we have been charged with the rectification of creation. We don’t just exist because we happen to be born from the same parents, we exist because Love invited us in and we wanted that Love to consume our lives. When love consumes us, we must express it. A part of this expression is rectifying what has gone wrong with the world. Setting things right is one of our purposes for existing.

I want to reiterate that the first purpose of the family, and by far the most important, is to be formed into the likeness of our older brother Jesus who is the idyllic human reflection of our Dad. Our primary goal as a family is to be an incubator for Dad’s transforming love. Our secondary goal is inseparably connected to the first, we love God by becoming like Him, and in becoming like Him we are filled with love for the world that reaches out to invite others into our family. These are solutions to the two real problems in the world, which are: All of humanity has not been reconciled to their true Father and those that are reconciled have not yet grown up to be like Him. Everything else is symptomatic.*

Treating symptoms of sin’s disease is still worthwhile, honorable, an act of love, and a reflection of our Father. Ultimately though, if we are not bringing people into the family and strengthening the family, we aren’t really solving the problems. I think that while we treat symptoms out of love, not motivated merely by the desire for converts, we need to keep in mind that there is nothing more loving than the reparation of a broken relationship with Dad because this brokenness is the . I’m not trying to undermine the importance of treating symptoms as this manner of love expression is beautiful and there is great reward in heaven for expressing it. I do want to make sure we are primarily focused on healing the disease even while we are treating the symptoms.

In Scripture, helping the poor is one of the most important ways we make the world right. Throughout both Testaments are injunctions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. In the U.S., I’m sure Christians give a lot of money to other people to do these things. However, I think that the further we are from the actual feeding, clothing, and sheltering, the less beneficial it is for the kingdom of God. Mass provisions of food in a mess hall, cardboard boxes full of free clothing, and mattresses on a floor are great because of their efficiency, but their impact in bringing more people into the family is diminished because the personal expression of love is diluted. It is one thing to put a scoop of mashed potatoes on someone’s plate, it is quite another to invite them to your dinner table in your home and engage them in conversation. The more intimately involved we are in helping the poor, the more our Father is put on display to those we are helping.

In many nations and in many cultures, oppression against certain groups of people is a serious problem. Often this oppression is based upon something like: socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, races, gender, religion, and perhaps sexuality. I believe that the response of the church to oppression should be twofold. We should first act to publically love the oppressed, declaring to them and to the oppressive government or culture that these people bear God’s image and should be treated with that dignity. Second, we should publically reveal oppression, denounce it, make clear its absurdity, and teach a different way. Through both of these actions, we are being God’s prophets to the world.

When humanity was first created God told them to find a name for the animals and take care of the world. The redeemed family of God is also called to be the caretakers of the earth and the animals. Paul describes creation as groaning in eagerness, longing for the family of God to be fully transformed into the likeness of our Father in the glory of our resurrected bodies. Creation itself was subjected to the Fall when we were subjected to it. When we are in freedom and glory, creation’s freedom from bondage to corruption also ends because its caretakers are redeemed in full. In the meantime, we are to be caretakers over whatever creation is under our rule. Additionally, I believe that the church can also function as a prophet with regards to the world’s treatment of creation. Where the environment is being irreparably damaged, where animals are being pointlessly destroyed or cruelly treated, where orcas are subjugated to a lifetime of forced labor by their human enslavers, the prophets of God’s people should be speaking out as God’s voice to humanity.

More important than rectifying these things in the world, we should make sure that these things are not a part of our family. Let’s make sure that our family is not ignoring the poor or treating them dishonorably, creating outcasts, oppressing others, or destroying the creation God wants to redeem. May being adopted into God’s family mean that there is no black nor white, Arab nor Asian, slave nor free, male nor female, rich nor poor, and may it not matter if one was gay or straight, Muslim or Jew, for those of all pats are equally welcome to be God’s children. Insofar as our family is free of these problems, the solution to these problems is simple, we adopt as many people into our family as we can. The more brothers and sisters we have, the more the world is set right.

*I’m still not sure if this is hyperbole or true. Thoughts?

For My Stuck Friends: The World Is Watching

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:11-12

As we learned previously, we have been made into a holy priesthood of believers whose job it is to proclaim God’s goodness to the world. This wonderful and marvelous task of ours makes the way we live all the more important. Just as God is holy, we are to be holy. Just as Jesus is good, we are to be good. As God is worthy of all honor and glory, we are to live honorably. Our lives need to reflect the message that we are preaching, because the world is watching.

If we are grossly misrepresenting Jesus to those who do not yet know him, then how can we expect them to see him? We can’t. Out of love for those around us we need to abstain from the passions of the flesh. We have to live honorably among those that haven’t met the risen Messiah yet. The world doesn’t respond well to those who claim Jesus’ power and live under the power of sin. What good is one that saves from sin if those who claim to be saved still insist on being stuck in it? The world that doesn’t know Jesus would say not much good at all. And they would be right.

I’ve heard people say things about being a Christian like, “I’m not less sinful than anyone else, just forgiven.” Part of the point of that is that Christians should be humble and honest in their interactions with the ones that don’t know Jesus, and that point is well made. But part of it is just bologna. Forgiveness is only part of the message of Jesus. It’s only a small portion of what he offers. Other important parts are salvation from sin, entrance into his holy priesthood, and ransom payment that our captivity would cease. These parts involve true freedom from sin and real transformation of character. It is through this sort of goodness with which Jesus Messiah blesses us so that the world will “glorify God on the day of visitation.” The world isn’t going to glorify God because we’re forgiven and they’re not.

Now, as with all of my difficult words (which are more directed at myself than anyone), do not be discouraged! Don’t get down about your lack of transformation, but rather, embrace your forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. And thank God for it! Then, embrace your calling to be priests, letting the past suffice for doing what is of the world and living a life of meaning in all circumstances because you have been ransomed by his precious blood.* Do not let words exhorting transformation to drive you to shame, but rather to joy in forgiveness and to live in the breathtaking calling we have received. Be transformed because the world around you needs to be transformed too. When you live freed, they will want the freedom you have to offer through Messiah Jesus.

*It’s all wonderfully connected…

For My Stuck Friends: Your Freedom Is Paid For

August 25, 2011 3 comments

Another beautiful and simple message from insightful Peter.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. – 1 Peter 1:17-19

You did inherit futile ways from your forefathers: from your dad, from your grandpa, and most importantly, from Adam. Their ways became your ways. This inheritance was not something you had power over that you could reject, but, like a genetic inheritance, one that comes without your consent and controls you. This inheritance owns you. This inheritance holds you captive to futile ways. You cannot escape.
But there is a price that can be paid to free you. Your true Father has paid off your captors and set you free. You were trapped. You were controlled by your inheritance of sin. You were incarcerated in a dark room with no light and no visible way out. And your Dad paid your imprisoner so that you could be free. The cost for your freedom from your inheritance was beyond all riches, and Dad sent a Messiah to pay for your freedom with His own perfect blood. A sacrifice of infinite value in exchange for freedom of an infinite cost. And now, you are ransomed from those who stole you from your Father, free to run into His arms.

This passage is not a guilt trip. It’s not saying, “Look what Jesus did for you. You better live holy or else!” It’s not a passage trying to guilt you into living well. The point of the passage is to communicate how beautiful and powerful and loving the act of God was that freed you. The point is not that you would be sad about how sinful you are despite Jesus’ ransoming act of redemption. Quit making it about you. It’s about God and His Love and His Sacrifice and His Power and His Glory.

Sometimes I think we have grown so accustomed to these ideas of being freed from the slavery of sin, of being redeemed, and of being ransomed from the sin passed from generation to generation that the idea loses its impact on us. We have gotten so used to living in captivity while acknowledging that we are free that reading about the freedom of Jesus does nothing for us. The thing is people, these aren’t just ideas. Peter isn’t just giving us a nice mental image of God saving us through Jesus. It’s a metaphorical description, sure, but it’s a description of what actually happened.

The reality is that your captivity is a thing of the past. The time of being imprisoned by the futile ways of your inheritance is actually over. I know you spent a long time kidnapped, kept in the darkness, trapped and unable to escape. I know you don’t really know life outside of your cell, but it’s still available. I know that you still feel like you are in captivity to your inheritance, but that’s not the reality. The ransom has been paid. The door to your cell has been opened. You can choose to continue to sit in the dark cell, but you are now free to leave.

Do you really want to sit in the futile ways of your forefathers? Haven’t you had enough? You can enter freedom if you would choose to do so. The sin which once overpowered you now has no power over you. You’re free. Conduct yourselves as free people under God’s reign. Live in the kingdom of God. Leave your cage. Stop pretending you’re still in chains. The Messiah has come and you have been ransomed.

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