Thursday, August 30, 2007

Week Three, Parts 1-4

Week 3 Part 1: Jeremiah 24, 25, & 26

The Good and Bad Figs

Again, quite a simple word picture. There are two baskets set before the temple in Jerusalem. One is filled with fresh, ripe figs. Perfect for eating. We don’t commonly eat figs in our part of the world. Most of us have probably had or seen a fig newton, and that makes me want to puke, I don’t know about you. But fig trees are found most commonly in the Mediterranean, and they were quite a treat. They could be eaten right from the tree, but they also had about a hundred other uses. Most usages were as a sweet treat, but could even be used medicinally. These figs were lovely and ready for use.
But the other basket was filled with nasty, rotten figs. Imagine, flies buzzing around them, rotten juice running out. Sick. No one would want anything to do with them, and certainly no one would take them home and make some jam with them.
The analogy was this. The good figs were the people that God allowed to be carried into captivity to Babylon. The bad figs were those who remained, and would be wiped out.
Imagine that you were one of those carried into captivity. I’m sure many of them would have wished to die! They were taken from their home land, and put under the reign of a King who cared nothing for them. I would imagine it to be like being taken as a prisoner of war. I can’t imagine anything for frightening!
But God’s great rescue plan was at work! What they perceived to be the worst possible scenario for them, was actually God’s plan to preserve them and raise them up again! He would allow them to be in captivity for seventy years, and then bring them back home again. He would restore them to Himself, and to their homeland. There was hope. There was a future. Not only for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren. They were the remnant.
For the bad figs, there was no hope. As they watched people being taken away into captivity, they probably felt like the lucky ones. They probably felt hopeful that they would be better off. They probably felt so much more comfortable in their homes. Much like people whose homes are being flooded. You know the people who refuse to evacuate? They will stay in their own homes, sitting on their roofs, determined not to leave. But destruction would come and wipe them away, along with their house. That’s exactly what was coming for those remaining in Jerusalem and Judah.
Sometimes things are not as they seem. God seems to turn everything around, upside-down. What we feel cannot be trusted. Jesus said the first would be last. No one likes to be last! He said to live, we must die! It doesn’t make sense to our brains. Our feelings just cannot seem to get on board. Why? Because His ways are not our ways! Isaiah 55:8-9 says:
“My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
The sooner we understand that we can’t think like God, the better we are. We have to trust the character of God, His promises, His Word, and not our circumstances.

It’s Not Easy Being Jeremiah…

In chapter 26, we see again what a fabulous job it was being a prophet of the Lord! (Not.) Jeremiah preached the same message to these rebellious people for about as long as I’ve been alive! And in this chapter, he preached God’s message, the people listened, and then they mobbed him, calling out for his death! Don’t you think he longed for a new message? Like maybe one day he could wake up, stand before the Temple, and be like Oprah, telling everyone to look under their seats to find keys to their brand new car! Everyone could jump up and down like those insane women that go to the Oprah show, and cry, and chant her name. If I were Jeremiah, I would have a very detailed daydream like that. Oh, I would long to be liked, I would ache to be popular, I would want some good news! Doesn’t everyone want to be the bearer of good news?
But the irony is, Jeremiah actually did have good news in his message. These hard-hearted people never heard it. What did God tell Jeremiah when he’s telling him what to say? 26:3
“Perhaps they will listen and turn from their evil ways. Then I will be able to withhold the disaster I am ready to pour out on them because of their sins.”
And look at verse 13 of chapter 26 and what Jeremiah says to them:
“But if you stop your sinning and begin to obey the Lord your God, he will cancel this disaster that he has announced against you.”
How merciful is God? These people surely deserved to be punished. How long would they spit on God without paying the price? A long time actually. He waited and waited, and then waited some more, asking them to turn back so they wouldn’t have to get what they deserved. Jeremiah’s message was NOT one of certain destruction…it was a message of hope. They still had a chance. If they feared God at all, they would have jumped at that chance. If they understood God’s love for them, they would know that he didn’t have to warn them at all. He loved them enough to do everything He could to save them.
We have good news to tell as well. We ought not shy away from the Truth about our sin, our depravity, and the unbelievable good news that Jesus has rescued us from what we deserve. We deserve punishment, just like the Israelites, but God has mercifully provided a way out. We only have to accept that Jesus paid the price with his own blood for us, standing in our place, and give him his rightful place of Kingship in our lives. What an amazing message of love and hope!

A Word from the Wise
Everyone was ready to string up poor Jeremiah. But something interesting happened. Verse 17 says:
17 Then some of the wise old men stood and spoke to the people there. 18 They said, "Think back to the days when Micah of Moresheth prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. He told the people of Judah, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field; Jerusalem will be reduced to rubble! A great forest will grow on the hilltop, where the Temple now stands.' 19 But did King Hezekiah and the people kill him for saying this? No, they turned from their sins and worshiped the LORD. They begged him to have mercy on them. Then the LORD held back the terrible disaster he had pronounced against them. If we kill Jeremiah, who knows what will happen to us?"
There were a few, older, wiser men among them that spoke a spark of sense to this crowd. Older people have the advantage of looking back…back on experience…back on history, in order to make more sound decisions. This may seem like quite a detour from this passage, but I think it’s worth taking.
We need older, wiser people in our life. People who have been there, and know what’s ahead. They’ve walked where we have not yet even set foot. Instead of surrounding ourselves with people exactly our same age, and exactly our same stage of life, we ought to be seeking out older and wiser women, and younger women should be seeking us out. Titus 2 actually gives the church instructions about this. It says for the older women to train the younger women, and the older men to train the younger men in how to live. I am grateful to be apart of a church that is determined to be inter-generational. This is so wise! I know, by human nature, we naturally gravitate toward people just like us, and that is especially true about our age and stage of life. Somehow, churches have totally bought into this. In effort to please everyone, people are literally grouped together by their age, and stage of life. This way, everyone can feel comfortable, and they can all sit in the same boat. But where is the value in sitting in the same boat? And how are we supposed to be trained by the older generation, if we have absolutely no way of knowing them? Reading and studying Proverbs, I know one thing for sure. I should be pursuing wisdom! I am supposed to be searching for it like lost treasure. I lost some gift certificates once, and I turned my house upside-down trying to find them. That was the first time God spoke the truth of that verse to me. But sadly, our pursuit of wisdom does not compare with our pursuit of comfort and often someone to commiserate with. Jeremiah must have been awfully grateful for these older men on that day. Their words spared his life, and kept the people from killing the only prophet of the Lord’s they had left.

Can you look back on your life and find an example of when you felt like the “rotten figs”, but actually God was working your circumstances out for your good? Did you give way to your emotions? Did you learn something new about trusting God’s ways?

In what ways do we as Christians shy away from “unpleasant” topics, like sin, the penalty of sin, and our need for Jesus’ blood sacrifice? Why do we do this? What do you think this does to the gospel Good News?

In your own life, do you have older and wiser people guiding you? What do you think they have to offer you personally? What are you doing to pursue wisdom?

Week 3, Part 2: Chapters 27, 28, 29

Jeremiah and a Visual Aid (Ch. 27-28)

I love that God not only loves word pictures, but he loves visual aids. He knows how we learn best, doesn’t he? However, once again, it’s not easy being Jeremiah. I wonder how he felt in general about calling attention to himself? Not only was he to prophesy God’s wrath, but he was to do it while wearing an ox’s yoke. I picture this somewhat like one of those poor people wearing a sandwich board on the street. Not very comfortable, I would imagine, and there’s absolutely no possible way you can look cool in it. But looking cool was probably not on Jeremiah’s radar, and it certainly wasn’t God’s. He had a message, and the people weren’t getting it. It’s like God tells Jeremiah “Okay, you know they’re not getting it…it’s time for more visual aids.” He reaches into his handy bag of visual aids, and “voila!” Jeremiah is wearing an ox’s yoke.
His message today was about submission. See, the false prophets were predicting one thing, and Jeremiah had to come in and clean-up the mess. We’ll talk more about false prophets, but Jeremiah had to bust their bubbles. These “prophets” were claiming that the captives to Babylon would only be gone for two years, and then all would be restored. What a pleasant thought, but they were about 68 years off.
God was calling them to SUBMIT to the Babylonian king. God had planned for King Nebuchadnezzar to be a pawn in His plan. Not because the Babylonian king was worthy of their submission, not because he loved God (he did not), and not because he wanted the Babylonians to prosper. He did not. Confused?
This may be an idea we must all wrap our brains around. God controls everything. He is not at the mercy of our enemies. In fact, He chooses to even use them to carry out His purposes sometimes. Here is a verse that comes to mind.
Prov 21:1
21:1 The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he turns it wherever he pleases.
When my family goes before a judge who will determine the fate of our foster son, I know that God can use any judge, any lawyer, and any social worker for his purposes. He can carry out His plans in ways that we would not think logical or most convenient.
Why did God choose the Babylonian bullies to carry out his plans? Don’t know. But that’s not really for us to know. What we DO know, is that God was telling His people point-blank that they needed to submit to this ungodly authority. They would be taken captive there for 70 years, and then God would restore them, and punish the Babylonians in their due time. This was the authority God was placing over them for a season.
What does the Bible say about authority for us?
1 Peter 2:13 “For the Lord’s sake, accept all authority-the king as head of state, and the officials he has appointed.”

2:18 “You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters. Do whatever they tell you-not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are harsh.”

3:1 “In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News.”

What does it say will be the result?
2:15 “It is God’s will that your good lives should silence those who make foolish accusations against you.”

3:19 “For God is pleased with you when, for the sake of your conscience, you patiently endure unfair treatment.”

3:1b (Wives) “Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior.”

It’s funny, because when we start teaching wives about being submissive to their husbands, I think the best question we can first ask is ‘are you submissive to anyone?’ Because our culture has trained us to be rebellious, to seek fairness and be self-promoting. That could not be more contrary to God’s Word! The Bible is telling us to submit to the authorities placed over us even when it’s unfair, even if they’re unkind, and even if they’re not believers. That means our government and law officials, our employers, our pastors, our husbands, they don’t have to earn our respect and submission. It should flow from our obedience to God’s Word. He says our submissive lives will win people for Christ! That we will silence people’s accusations against us! That we will be seen blameless by God! But there are times we will have to submit to people who are far from worthy of it. The truth is, God is worthy of it. If His Word says it, we must check not only our actions, but our hearts. Do we have submissive hearts?
We can also take note of the fact that the disciples, and Paul, were submissive to authority, with the only exception being preaching and following Jesus Christ. That’s when they broke ranks. We too can follow that example…if we are asked to denounce Christ or forsake His Word, we know exactly who to follow. We are subject to God first! But that is not the reason we are rebellious to authority. We want to jump to the first possible scenario where we don’t have to submit, and so we start pulling out far-fetched examples to soothe our rebellious spirit. There may come a day when we are tested to stand for Christ, but our rebelliousness is usually not rooted in a loyalty to Christ, it’s rooted in a love for self.
The Israelites were being asked to submit to what the Babylonian king was doing to them…not to fight it…and to live under their rule for 70 years. This went against every inclination they had, of course! They wanted to fight! They wanted their independence! But God was clearly telling them ‘no.’

False Prophets

Not many people want to be bearers of unpleasant news (Jeremiah), but everyone wants to be the bearer of good news (false prophets.) They want to be popular. And who will the people choose to believe? Everyone wants to believe what is more appealing to them! This is how it has always gone with God! As you can see, God was deeply offended, to say the very least, by these false prophets. He was furious actually.
In chapter 28 we see a little prophet showdown. Read it again, but imagine a western shoot-out type scenario in your mind…that’s fun for me.
This falso prophet’s name was Hannaniah, and he decided to take advantage of the most public moment, in the Temple, where everyone was gathered, to confront Jeremiah and proclaim the release of the King and the people who had been captured. He yells “God himself is saying that everyone will be released in two years time. All the Temple treasures will be restored, and the yoke of slavery will be removed! I, the Lord, have spoken!” Are you so afraid for this guy? I mean, he knows he’s full of it, and yet he still claims to be speaking directly for God twice in his prophecy! I mean, does this guy have zero fear of God, or what?
I can picture Jeremiah’s face. He replies “Amen! I hope what you’re saying is true. That would be great! But listen to this…all the prophets of the Lord’s that have ever come before us have spoken against nations, warned of war, famine, and disease. So if you’re going to predict peace, you better be ready to prove it. Only when this really happens can we know your message is from the Lord.”
But then, stupid Hannaniah, evidently had a flair for the dramatic. He took the wooden yoke from Jeremiah and smashes it on the ground. He says “The Lord has promised that in two years he will break the yoke of oppression from all the nations now under King Nebuchadnezzar’s rule in Babylon!”
This guy is crazy! Everything that Jeremiah has predicted so far has happened. He’s clearly from the Lord. This guys knows he didn’t hear this from God! What is he thinking?
Jeremiah told him, basically, you’re the first bearer of good news of your kind, so I hope you’re ready to back this up. And really, this guy has painted himself into a corner. In two years time, everyone will see that he is phony! But of course, we see that he won’t live that long. God gives a message to be delivered directly to this guy, and promises he won’t live much longer. He was dead two months later.
Hopefully none of us are as crazy as Hannaniah, but let’s put ourselves in the position of the people watching this showdown take place in the Temple.
Who would we believe? Would we believe Hannaniah, because it’s much easier and more pleasant to assume the more palatable message? I’m sure the people did not understand God’s reasons for having them under Babylon’s rule. They couldn’t see the big picture. They didn’t want to believe it. But Jeremiah had more than proven himself, and they refused to listen.
I fear we do the same. We try to draw conclusions based on our feelings, and what we can see, think, and touch. But God does not always operate in the realm of our understanding, and we cannot always understand His ways. I pray we would have discernment to know a Hannaniah when we see one, so that we are not duped into anything that is not completely in line with God’s Word and God’s ways. Because there are “prophets”, preachers, religious leaders, among us today who will only speak a “positive message.” Why? Because it makes them popular. Their name and face will be plastered on billboards, featured on the news…they’ll make t-shirts, coffee mugs, and mouse pads with his teethy grin…and people will flock to it! They’ll pack out stadiums just to hear their “positive message.” People love to hear messages that center around themselves and their own happiness, success, and personal glory! You can wrap it all up in a neat little package and stamp “Jesus Christ” on the top, and everyone feels good.
But pastors who are speaking Truth from God’s Word about sin, holiness, dying to self, and living only for God’s glory…no mouse pads. Their book won’t be spotted in the grocery store check-out aisle.
What do you think are the marks of a modern day false prophet? How can we safeguard ourselves from falling into these traps laid out by the Enemy?

In your own self-reflection, do you find that you are submissive at heart, or rebellious? List the authorities placed over you in your life right now, and go over each one, evaluating how you are doing at submissiveness, in both action and heart.

Can you think of a time when God used your obedience or submissive heart to speak of Him in your life? And if not, can you think of a time when you wished you had been submissive in order to bring God glory?

Week 3, Part 3; Read Chapters 30, 31, & 32

“Jerusalem will be rebuilt on her ruins…” 30:18

The Character of God

These chapters just speak to me about the character of God! I really hope you have not skimmed over these amazing, tender, loving passages. This is good stuff!
He has had to warn them over and over again about what was coming in previous chapters…He’s been saying repent, turn back, destruction is about to result from your sin and rebellion. They have not been listening. It feels like how I discipline my children. I say obey, you can’t do that, it’s going to result in a spanking if you do. If my child does not listen, and I have to discipline them for it, I then get to hold them in their moment of repentance, and promise them that good is coming. They are learning to do right. Well, God has finally seen the sun break through the clouds on his hard-hearted people, and he is pouring out his promises of restoration and hope. He is promising them that though this discipline was absolutely necessary, the result is going to be so good. He is telling them to leave a trail of bread crumbs on their way out to Babylon, because they will be following it back home in time. And then he will build a beautiful, prosperous city on top of the ashes. He will take what was ugly and make it beautiful. That is a God-thing.
He is finally seeing repentance come. Not the kind of false repentance exhibited because they’re sorry for the consequences. Real heart repentance. Chapter 31:18-19 says
“I have heard Israel saying, ‘You disciplined me severely, but I deserved it. I was like a calf that needed to be trained for the yoke and plow. Turn me again to you and restore me, for you alone are the Lord my God. I turned away from God, but then I was sorry. I kicked myself for my stupidity! I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.’”
If my kids, ever in my lifetime, come to me saying something like that after they’ve been disciplined by us, I think I would fall out from pure shock and joy! That’s every parent’s dream! This is what God has been desiring from them all along, and He knew it would not happen without disciplining them appropriately. He is a loving Father, and He loves us enough to discipline us. Even under the new covenant today, even though our sins have been paid for, He loves us enough to discipline us when we just aren‘t getting it.
Let’s re-cap a little. We are operating under the old covenant in Jeremiah. That means that Jesus has not yet paid the price, the ultimate sacrifice, for our sins. Today, we no longer have to sacrifice for our own sins, to make things right between us and God. God made a way for us through His Son Jesus.
God is, as He has always been, a holy God. He is just. He has been gracious to them for generations, but the time has come for justice and correction for his rebellious, hard-hearted people. He could have punished them like this years and years ago. He did not. He has been patient. He has waited and warned and asked them to turn back. He has expressed His immense love for them and His broken heart over their betrayal, likening it to a husband betrayed by his wife’s infidelity. (Interesting that God has been using the analogy of marriage for a long time to demonstrate His love for His people.) He is faithful to restore them and even bless them upon their return to Him, because of His great love.
So even though the covenant between God and us has changed, the character of God has not. Let’s look at some of the words I just used above to describe Him in other portions of the scripture.

HOLY: Revelations 4:8


DISCIPLINARIAN: Hebrews 12:7-13

JUST: Psalm 111:7

PATIENT: Exodus 34:6, 2 Peter 3:9

FAITHFUL: Deuteronomy 7:9

LOVING: Ephesians 3:18-19

As I have thought about the character of God, I have become more and more desperate to know His character…to know who He really is! We cannot know Him, and know how to respond to Him, unless we know who He is. We cannot know who He is unless we study the scripture as a whole. There was a time in my spiritual immaturity that I shied away from the Old Testament because I didn’t know how to interpret it. I was wrong to do that, because I can’t know God if I just study the New Testament, or just study the Old Testament. I need to know the big picture…the heart He has had for us from the beginning.

Write out Psalm 145 (one of my favorites) on a piece of paper or in a prayer journal. Then go back through it and circle, highlight, underline, whatever, words and phrases that speak to you about the character of God. How do these apply to your life? How has He been patient with you? Provided for you? Etc. Take the time to do this and enjoy this passage!!!

Week 3, Part 4; Read Chapters 33, 34, & 35

A Promise is a Promise…is a Promise

I love how clear God is in what He is doing here. He is not vague. He lets them know exactly what is going on. He tells them straight up that there land will be destroyed, and if they survive, they will be taken captive to Babylon. But He even tells them how long they will be there! What a luxury for them to know the time frame! God tells them in chapter 29, “Build homes and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food you produce.” He gives them a timeline, and forewarns them that they will be there a while. God didn’t have to tell them that. He could have let them sweat it out! But He is driving home the promise that He is going to restore them. He pours out His promises to them in chapter 33, again, and paints a picture of what it will be like when He builds upon their ruins.
Jer 33:10-11 says:

10 "This is what the LORD says: You say, 'This land has been ravaged, and the people and animals have all disappeared.' Yet in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah's other towns, there will be heard once more 11 the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the LORD. They will sing,
'Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good.
His faithful love endures forever!'
For I will restore the prosperity of this land to what it was in the past, says the LORD.

God is good with words, have you noticed? He gives pictures of sights and sounds to describe the prosperity He will graciously give them. And most of all, He is assuring them that He will keeps His promise. Why? Why should He have to keep telling them that?
Because they (we) are people who don’t keep promises. We can’t really even comprehend God’s faithfulness. It is not of us, according to our flesh. We immediately second guess and doubt a promise, no matter where it comes from. Why is that true? Because we ourselves are not promise keepers. We mistakenly assume that God mirrors our unfaithfulness. So God is driving home his point about keeping His promise. He promised David that his descendants would remain on the throne of His people. So in 33:19-22 He says this:

19 Then this message came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 20 "If you can break my covenant with the day and the night so that they do not come on their usual schedule, 21 only then will my covenant with David, my servant, be broken. Only then will he no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. The same is true for my covenant with the Levitical priests who minister before me. 22 And as the stars cannot be counted and the sand on the seashores cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David, my servant, and the Levites who minister before me."
Again in verse 25 He makes this clear:
25 But this is the LORD's reply: I would no more reject my people than I would change my laws of night and day, of earth and sky. 26 I will never abandon the descendants of Jacob or David, my servant, or change the plan that David's descendants will rule the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Instead, I will restore them to their land and have mercy on them."

He breaks it down for us so we can grasp this…He says, you know how you can count on night and day? They always come when you expect them to…you cannot change them, and you never will…that’s how my promises are. If you can mess-up this whole night and day routine, then you can mess-up my promise. Go ahead and try. Just as He has set the laws of night and day, earth and sky, in place, that cannot be altered, so He has made a promise to you that cannot be altered.
That’s a promise, people! Compare the promises we make to God’s promises. Even if we cross our heart and hope to die, is it as sure as the sun will rise? No way. That means we will do it if we don’t forget, if nothing else comes up, and if we feel like it. We can’t grasp God’s promises in scripture, we can’t count on His faithfulness, until we wrap our minds around what a promise is when it comes to God. It does not depend on us, it does not depend on His mood, and it does not depend on His schedule. If He says it, it’s for real.
I desperately want to be that kind of promise maker.

A Lesson in Obedience: WWRD? What Would the Recabites Do?

Obedience. This is a word that comes up in our house a lot. What is obedience, according to God’s standard? There were some people in the Bible who really obeyed God and He blessed them for it. Such as Noah. God gave him very specific instructions. They probably didn’t even make sense to Noah. The whole thing had to sound a little crazy. But Genesis 6:22 said “So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.”Exactly! He did not veer out on his own path. He did not think, and come up with a slightly different but easier plan. Partial obedience would have given him a boat full of animals that didn’t float. He did everything EXACTLY.
That’s the kind of obedience these people, the Recabites, exhibited. But they were obeying their ancestor, Recab. He had told his people it was not wise to drink wine. So long after he was gone, these people were still obeying this instruction, completely! Even when the Israelites invite them over, and are being hospitable to them, offering them some wine, they didn’t decide, “okay, just this once.” They had been instructed NOT to drink wine. So they didn’t.
God said “Gather round people. Let’s have a lesson on obedience. These people know how to obey, and they aren’t even responding to the Almighty God’s instructions. I’ve been calling for you to obey for years and years, sending prophet after prophet, and you still don’t obey me. I’m telling you to stop worshiping your false gods so that you can have peace and be blessed, but you refuse to obey.” God decided to bless these Recabites just for being obedient people.
Are we obedient people? When given instructions, do we follow them completely, or do we think about them, revise them a little, wait a while, decide if they’re convenient, and then follow through, possibly, with partial obedience, justifying our revisions? The problem is, we see them as “revisions” and God sees them as rebellion. Our perspective on obedience is a little skewed.
Do you remember Saul? Read 1 Samuel 15:1-23.

What did God tell Saul to do, specifically?

What did Saul actually do?

Where was Saul when Samuel was looking for him? (v.12)

What insight does that give you into his heart?

Copy verses 22 & 23 here below. What does God’s version of obedience look like? What does he compare rebellion to?

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