Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 245: Jeremiah 46, 47 and 48

I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished. (Jeremiah 46:28)
God was bringing judgment on Egypt. Just as Babylon was a tool in the hands of God to discipline Judah, so would it be wielded to discipline Egypt. But God has assurance for the Jews living in Egypt: Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you (v. 28a).
God speaks through Jeremiah: I will discipline you but only with justice. As we said just a couple weeks ago, Rabbi Abraham Heschel teaches that God's anger/punishment is never without a purpose. Its purpose is to change our attitudes and behaviors so that we can live the life God designed us to live. God cannot bless us while we are living in disobedience. His punishment provides a way for him to bless us once again.
I will not let you go entirely unpunished. God has always been clear that there are consequences for bad behavior: He does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7). Yet as Isaiah and Jeremiah make clear, God still loves us even when he has to punish us, and we can be assured there is a future beyond judgment.
How would it affect your attitude toward God's discipline if you really believed it was a tool paving the way for him to bless you once again?

Day 244: Jeremiah 43, 44 and 45

Ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing. (Jeremiah 44:18)
After Jeremiah was kidnapped and taken to Egypt, he warned the Jews living there about continuing in the disobedience that led to Jerusalem's destruction. The refugees scoffed at him for they saw no connection between behavior and blessing.
The things that are best for us don't usually offer an immediate reward. We exercise for thirty minutes and still aren't buff, so we say, Forget this! We start putting a few bucks a week in savings and at the end of the first week we have... a few bucks. This isn't getting me anywhere. Might as well go out to eat! On the other hand the things that are worst for us don't usually pose an immediate threat. We eat a greasy hamburger without having a heart attack. We spend too much time at the office and our wife and kids still love us.
The fact that the consequences of our choices are cumulative rather than immediate allows us to live in denial. But just because the outcome is delayed doesn't mean it's not coming.
The Jews remembered fondly life in Judah back when they had been worshiping the Queen of Heaven [1]. They totally missed the connection between their previous lifestyle and their present circumstances.
What behaviors would you change if you were thinking long term?
[1] This title probably refers to the Canaanite goddess Ashtoreth.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 243: Jeremiah 40, 41 and 42

May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. (Jeremiah 42:5)
It had happened. Nebuchannezzar had broken through the walls of Jerusalem and captured the city. He killed Zedekiah's sons and put out his eyes before marching him off to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar installed Gedaliah as governor over Judah and the poor people who remained there, but he had been assassinated and his killer had escaped to Ammon.
Fearing reprisal for the death of this Babylonian appointee, a band of people led by Johanan asked Jeremiah for advice. Should they stay? Should they flee to Egypt? With God as our witness we'll do whatever you say. Jeremiah assured them that if they remained in Jerusalem, God would preserve and provide for them.
That wasn't the answer they were looking for. Johanan and his comrades accused Jeremiah of lying to them. God would never say that!
Hey, don't like the prophet's answer? Attack the prophet's character.
Not only did they reject Jeremiah's advice, they forcibly removed him to the city of Taphanhes in Egypt, where they continued to disregard his counsel.
What do you do when you pray and don't get the answer you want?

Day 242: Jeremiah 37, 38 and 39

While your feet were stuck in the mud, they left you. (Jeremiah 38:22)
Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. He was a wishy-washy king who found it difficult to make a decision. In his defense, he was scared of both Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar and his own advisors. They were telling him to resist the invading army, but Jeremiah was telling him he should surrender. Zedekiah was afraid Jeremiah was right, but he didn't want his advisors thinking he was weak. Too late.
The king's counselors were determined to shut Jeremiah up. Zedekiah spinelessly gave them his permission to throw the prophet into a cistern - empty of water but full of mud. There they left him but, thanks to another flip flop by the king, he was released. Zedekiah once again asked him for advice, but Jeremiah was reticent to speak, considering where his words had already landed him... literally.
Finally, Jeremiah told Zedekiah that if he surrendered he would fare better than if he continued the fight. He said that if the king rejected his counsel, the women of Jerusalem would be taken captive by the Babylonians, and taunt him about being misled and abandoned by his most trusted friends. While your feet were stuck in the mud, they left you.
Jeremiah was dropped in the cistern, but Zedekiah was the one stuck in the mud.
Have you ever been stuck and unable to make a decision?

Day 241: Jeremiah 34, 35 and 36

Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe's knife and threw them into the firepot. (Jeremiah 36:23)
It was a fasting day when many of the faithful would flock to the temple for worship and prayer, yet Jeremiah had been barred from that sacred place. So Jeremiah instructed Baruch, his secretary, to write down his prophecies on a scroll and then read them to the people of Judah who had traveled to Jerusalem for the fast. (This was likely after the first exiles had been transported to Babylon but prior to the taking of the second group. People could still travel and there was probably little if any Babylonian military presence.)
Baruch complied with Jeremiah's instructions, but when palace officials heard him reading from the scroll, they were alarmed, knowing they would have to report these events to the king. Still, being sympathetic to Jeremiah, they sent both Baruch and the prophet into hiding before making their report.
Seated before the fire in his winter quarters, the king demanded the scroll be read in his presence. As three or four columns were read, Jehoiakim took a knife and cut that portion from the scroll and burned it in his firepot. By the time the assistant was finished reading, the entire scroll had been burned to ashes.
How do you respond to Scripture that makes you uncomfortable?

Day 240: Jeremiah 31, 32 and 33

Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land. (Jeremiah 32:15)
Times were bad in Jerusalem. The first (the best) and the second (the brightest) waves of exiles had already been transported to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was besieging the city, Jeremiah was imprisoned by the palace guard, and things were looking bleak. Then Jeremiah's cousin showed up and asked him to purchase his field in Anathoth (where Jeremiah was from - in the tribal holding of Benjamin - probably to the north, but not too far from Jerusalem).
While your city is being besieged and the country is being trampled underfoot by a vast army is probably not the best time to try and sell property - not exactly a seller's market. On the other hand, Jeremiah was the one who prophesied Jerusalem would be defeated while other prophets were saying it would be spared. Jeremiah would hardly be the most likely candidate to buy a piece of property... but he did.
In spite of their hard times, Jeremiah knew things were going to improve. Not right away... in fact things were going to get much worse before they got better, but things were eventually going to start looking up. He bought the field from his cousin, sealed the deed away in the 6th century BC equivalent of a safe deposit box, as a witness that one day things would once again be good in Jerusalem.
During hard times, how can you demonstrate your faith that things are going to improve?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 239: Jeremiah 28, 29 and 30

Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. (Jeremiah 29:8)
After the first wave of captives was taken from Judah to Babylon, there was an expectation among those exiles that their release would be speedy and they would soon return to their beloved Jerusalem. The prophets who accompanied them not only shared that expectation, but felt pressured to tell the people what they wanted to hear. They encouraged the Israelites that they would not be there long, that deliverance was at hand.
Jeremiah knew differently and wrote them a letter: Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. . . . Find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage... (29:5,6). He went on to warn them not to listen to those whose propecies were influenced by the expectations of those around them. Even though they might be well meaning, they were uneasy giving the people bad news.
The bad news: Get comfortable; you're going to be here awhile. The good news: Even 70 years in Babylon cannot thwart God's plans for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (29:10,11).
Is bad news ever really bad news if God has your back?
Can you be released to speak the truth this week, knowing that even bad news falls under the promise of Romans 8:28? "All things work together for good..."

Day 238: Jeremiah 25, 26 and 27

The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city . . . Do with me whatever you think is good and right. (Jeremiah 26:12,14)
On August 5, 1864, during the Civil War, the Union Navy sailed into Mobile Bay. The lead ship was destroyed by a tethered mine and those following faltered amid the confusion. Taking charge of the situation, Rear Admiral David Farragut steered his ship around those adrift and uttered the famous charge: Damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead! The remaining ships followed him; there were no more losses, and the forts lining Mobile Bay surrendered.
Jeremiah's ministry was about as welcome in Jerusalem as the Union Navy in Mobile Bay, and the potential consequences no less disastrous. But Jeremiah knew he had been sent by God and, regardless of the outcome, he must be faithful to his mission. Jeremiah's courage was not without consequence; he was hated, labeled a traitor, imprisoned, and eventually forcibly removed to Egypt. However, in his declining years he could lay his head on his pillow at night and know he had done everything asked of him.
When's the last time you said, "Damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead!"?