Why have you forsaken me?

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Why have you forsaken me?

Jeremiah 16:10–21 (NRSV)

And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, “Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?” then you shall say to them: It is because your ancestors have forsaken me, says the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law; and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors, for here you are, every one of you, following your stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.

I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.

O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, 
my refuge in the day of trouble, 
to you shall the nations come 
from the ends of the earth and say: 
Our ancestors have inherited nothing but lies, 
worthless things in which there is no profit. 
Can mortals make for themselves gods? 
Such are no gods! 

“Therefore I am surely going to teach them, this time I am going to teach them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the LORD.”

Would you have believed 20 years ago that one of, if not the biggest political issue facing our nation today in 2017 would be insurance? I don’t think I would have. Between shootings, bombings, human trafficking, abortion, education, and a host of other issues out there, I would not have imagined that insurance would be foremost on the minds of our leaders. To be fair, it is not just any insurance, it is health insurance – which does hit home for many of us. We are a mess though, and it looks like we will be for awhile longer.

We struggle, as did Israel before us, with placing our faith first and foremost in God. It seems more sensible to get insurance, take vitamins, eat healthy, exercise regularly, visit the doctor, get a second opinion, and then, if that fails, take up yoga and meditation to promote healing in our bodies. It is only when every other resource is exhausted that we turn to God and ask for help. That is completely backwards and is really downright sinful when it comes to our relationship with God.

I’m not opposed to any of the above methods of finding healing. What is wrong is when we do not go to God first. He may lead us to skip some or all of those methods. He may want to walk us through all of them and more.

Israel did not deal with health insurance thankfully, but they had a lot of struggles with foreign relations and their own economy. They felt they would make better friends and have better trade, if they welcomed other spiritual practices into their camps. God expressly forbade this and the little indiscretions sowed the seeds for greater catastrophe later on in the life of that nation. Finally, during the time of Jeremiah, God decided to judge Judah (Southern Israel) according to the same measure that He judged the other nations around them, and lo and behold, Judah, was no better than any of their neighbors. If anything, they were worse because they, unlike Babylon and Assyria, had the Law of Moses and knew better. They were supposed to be the leader, influencing others for good and not the follower, doing worse things to impress their friends.

So here God promises not only to forsake them and leave them to their own ends… He promises to come and punish them himself. He will remove them from their Promised Land, starting with their hunters and fishermen, the source of food and wealth for many of these communities.

There are times in life where we feel abandoned by God. Sometimes we blame Him. Other times we may feel like we are being justly punished for our own wrongdoing. Whatever our situation, Jeremiah reminds us that those things we are tempted to trust are not gods. They cannot save us. But God can and will if we make Him our strength and stronghold, our refuge in time of trouble. We cannot rely on our ancestors to have faith for us, we have to claim it and live it for ourselves. To that end, it does not matter what our nation or our world chooses to do, so much as it matters what you and I choose to do today.

Remember that the story did not end with the deportation of the Jews and the fall of Jerusalem. Several centuries later, even after it was rebuilt, albeit not the most faithfully, God came seeking fishermen again. This time, is was not to send them away in punishment, but rather to send them away in mission. Their faithfulness, in spite of the persecution they faced, changed the world, and helped shape who we are today.

Where do you feel abandoned by God?

Where have you trusted in others before seeking God?

Can you see ways that God is working even in the midst of your suffering?

Changing of the Gods

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Changing of the Gods

###Jeremiah 2:4-13

“Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

What wrong did your ancestors find in me

that they went far from me,

and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?

They did not say, “Where is the Lord

who brought us up from the land of Egypt,

who led us in the wilderness,

in a land of deserts and pits,

in a land of drought and deep darkness,

in a land that no one passes through,

where no one lives?”

I brought you into a plentiful land

to eat its fruits and its good things.

But when you entered you defiled my land,

and made my heritage an abomination.

The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”

Those who handle the law did not know me;

the rulers transgressed against me;

the prophets prophesied by Baal,

and went after things that do not profit.

Therefore once more I accuse you,

says the Lord,

and I accuse your children’s children.

Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,

send to Kedar and examine with care;

see if there has ever been such a thing.

Has a nation changed its gods,

even though they are no gods?

But my people have changed their glory

for something that does not profit.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,

be shocked, be utterly desolate,

says the Lord,

for my people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living water,

and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns

that can hold no water. ”

Spoiler alert!

American Gods is coming to television… and it’s not going to be a Christian show. How do I know? I read the book several years ago. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, but I wasn’t looking in it for any kind of Christian affirmation.

Somebody will get upset about and perhaps boycott it because that seems to be our way of communicating values nowadays. The more upset it makes people, the more attention it will get, adding fuel to the fire, and gathering up the attention of everyone who will have missed it on their radar. I would love for this attention to be paired with an adaptation of the novel that does it justice, but I have no influence on that at all.

I think, sometime after it all blows up, Christian leaders will pick up on the theme of trading out gods that is a major movement of this story. That will spark some discussion and create some sermon series, and at some point, someone will open up the scroll (or scroll down and find) Jeremiah 2.

“There is nothing new under the sun”, wrote King Solomon. The current struggles we have with the temptation to trade out Christian values for the newest pop culture (in music, clothing, video, and other media…) are not new and are not only in American culture. God’s people have struggled with this since the beginning.

Why do we trade out our everything for nothing? Why do I entrust my life to broken things? I’m sure there are as many answers to those questions as there are people. These are the kind of questions that God can’t answer for us, nor can anyone else around us. We can only answer them for ourselves. Only the buyer knows why they settle on a particular price.

While Jeremiah claims that his ancestors never questioned where God was, I’m not sure how true that was. Some people go through life without questioning the details of God, but most of them are atheists. Disciples ask questions. They want to know God more. But those who are growing in their love of God will be sure of who needs to be questioned before blaming the God they know and praising the new relationship they are still learning about.

I think Neil Gaiman would concur that our past is important and that broken things will eventually fail us, but there is always hope to start in the right direction today, trading our false gods away for the love found only in our Lord Jesus.

What things in life would you struggle to live without?

How can you ask God to help you hold them more loosely and gratefully today?

Do you have anything you need to let go of entirely?

 

 

Taking Turns and Making Turns

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Taking Turns and Making Turns

Jeremiah 3:6–18 (NRSV)

A Call to Repentance

6 The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? 7 And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me”; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. 8 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. 9 Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. 10 Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense, says the LORD.

11 Then the LORD said to me: Faithless Israel has shown herself less guilty than false Judah. 12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say:
Return, faithless Israel,
says the LORD.

I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
says the LORD;

I will not be angry forever.

13 Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you have rebelled against the LORD your God,
and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree,
and have not obeyed my voice,
says the LORD.

14 Return, O faithless children,
says the LORD,
for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
and I will bring you to Zion.

15 I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16 And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the LORD, they shall no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made. 17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will. 18 In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your ancestors for a heritage.

God acts strange. In the ocean of sinners that cover this world, He does not simply wipe out the worst of us and threaten us with extinction if we don’t shape up our act. That is the way of fallen humanity. That might even be the way of nature. It is not God’s way though.

Jeremiah was the prophet sent to Judah, the southern half of former Israel, who deemed themselves superior because they had the Temple in Jerusalem. (If you would like to know more about this split, check out the aftereffects of the land Samaria in places like John 4.) His message, to Judah/Judea was that they did not learn from their sister’s mistakes of giving up their trust in God to make treaties with other nations. Whenever you see the word adultery in the Old Testament prophets, it is often referring to political/spiritual adultery more than sexual adultery. The Israelites entered into a political/spiritual marriage with God and he saw their treaties with other nations as cheating on Him.

Judah, did not just make treaties though. They made false idols of wood and stone – probably other gods imported from those other nations. They did not want to be seen as a backward nation with only one God while bigger nations grew around them. They sold themselves and their country out to foreign powers in hopes to attain mercy at their hands. It failed miserably. They lived – and history shows this truth through their story – that if you indeed “…will not stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

Both nations were promised restoration, but the promise was not to every individual. God promised hope and new life, new shepherds, and a new start in this Promised Land to those who would turn away from past mistakes. As it turns out, God can save us from anything, but the one thing He refuses to save us from is ourselves. He will not bar us from following our own evil wills. Repentance means surrender. It is like taking our own will under arrest and putting God in charge. Rather than just taking turns pointing out who the bigger sinner is and blaming each other, God calls us to make turns in our own path, turning around and walking back to Him.

What sins in the world around you stand out the most to you today?

How do those sins affect your own life?

What is something you can do today to take another step in surrendering your selfish will to God?

Breaking things

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Breaking things

Deuteronomy 9:13–21

13 Furthermore the LORD said to me, “I have seen that this people is indeed a stubborn people. 14 Let me alone that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and more numerous than they.”

15 So I turned and went down from the mountain, while the mountain was ablaze; the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 Then I saw that you had indeed sinned against the LORD your God, by casting for yourselves an image of a calf; you had been quick to turn from the way that the LORD had commanded you. 17 So I took hold of the two tablets and flung them from my two hands, smashing them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the LORD as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the LORD by doing what was evil in his sight. 19 For I was afraid that the anger that the LORD bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the LORD listened to me that time also. 20 The LORD was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him, but I interceded also on behalf of Aaron at that same time. 21 Then I took the sinful thing you had made, the calf, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it thoroughly, until it was reduced to dust; and I threw the dust of it into the stream that runs down the mountain.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Dt 9:13–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Yesterday I wrote about the power of God in breaking down our idols and Temples we build in ourselves that we use to serve other gods. Today’s scripture shows us what happens to the idols we refuse to give over to Jesus.

Those idols break us.

There are so many instances of brokenness in this passage. First the people turn from God and break their relationship of gratitude with Him. Then, Moses, moving down the mountain to inspect the situation becomes broken-hearted over the unfaithfulness he sees. He responds by breaking the two stone tablets – the physical representations of God’s promise to the people and the people’s promise to God. Then Moses breaks the idol of the gold calf down before the people. By the end of the story, everyone has experienced brokenness.

That is what sin does when we let it sit and stay with us. It festers and rots away at us, eating into the good parts of our life until nothing is left.

Moses intervened on behalf of the people. God was ready to wipe them out that day, but Moses acted on their behalf and pleaded for mercy. Then Moses went and disciplined the people, destroying all of the wealth they had used to create that golden calf. That was wealth that could have been traded to make things easier in the Promised Land, but because of their unfaithfulness, it was destroyed.

Jesus is the one who mediates between us and God. It is He who pleads for mercy on our behalf and then disciplining us.

Where are you feeling the grindstone in your life?

What can you turn over today to God so that your life does not get broken along with your idols?

Leaning

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“On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on the one who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in all the earth.

Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: O my people, who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians when they beat you with a rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. For in a very little while my indignation will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. The Lord of hosts will wield a whip against them, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb; his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.” Isaiah 10.20-27 (NRSV)

When the wind blows and the snow falls, what do you lean on? Who do you find yourself turning to? Psychologists have long noted that in traumatic situations, our first instinct is usually to go to our deepest point of security. Children run to their mothers, parents run to their children, we all run to our cars, and as soon as we put some distance between ourselves and the danger, we grab our security vice of choice: cigarettes, alchohol, chocolate, and Facebook. Some of us who are more talented can do all of the above.

We blame a lot in our nation on consumerism – as if it were some kind of foreign entity that has infiltrated our lives and taken control from the inside out. It is easier to act as though we have no choice when it comes to dealing with our consumeristic culture. But Isaiah points out all through his prophecies that consumerism is just another idol that we pull out, dust off, and put on the mantle of our hearts each and every day. We find ourselves wavering between claims that “I can quit anytime we want to…” and “I have no control over my life.”

I love the way Isaiah describes this problem. He calls it leaning. We all find ourselves needing to lean on something or someone every day, even if just for a moment. There is something incredibly human, maybe even just part of walking on two legs, that creates a need to lean. Isaiah, warns us to be careful of what we lean on though. Some things in life look sturdy but will collapse under our weight and end up piercing us with broken pieces if we put our weight upon them. Other things may be much sturdier than they look. What we see consistently with God is that He calls us to lean on Him, even when we cannot see Him at all!

Leaning on God is like leaning into a strong wind sometimes. We cannot see it, but we can feel it and see the effects of it. Yet we have no control over it and live in constant concern that it may stop and leave us toppling over. This, invisible, uncontrollable, Spirit of God is the very thing that we need to put all our weight into… and this is what the Bible describes as living by faith.

It is ridiculous and incredible to live like this. It is as ridiculous an incredible as believing that the God who created the universe was born as a baby from a virgin woman in a manger outside the small town of Bethlehem, and that we would know his name and celebrate his birth on the other side of the world 2000 years later… This ridiculous, unbelievable story is powerful enough to make Wall Street take the day off, inspire songs in hundreds of languages, and cause us all to stop and focus on loving God and loving one another at least one day out of the year. That is the God, Isaiah invites us to lean on!

  • Who do you lean on when you find yourself in trouble?
  • What do you go to or do when you are looking for comfort?
  • How can you, as an act of faith, lean on God a little more today?

in excelsis deo

Saturday December 17, 2016

Tremble

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“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;

it will come like destruction from the Almighty!

Therefore all hands will be feeble,

and every human heart will melt,

and they will be dismayed.

Pangs and agony will seize them;

they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.

They will look aghast at one another;

their faces will be aflame.

See, the day of the Lord comes,

cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,

to make the earth a desolation,

and to destroy its sinners from it.

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations

will not give their light;

the sun will be dark at its rising,

and the moon will not shed its light.

I will punish the world for its evil,

and the wicked for their iniquity;

I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant,

and lay low the insolence of tyrants.

I will make mortals more rare than fine gold,

and humans than the gold of Ophir.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,

and the earth will be shaken out of its place,

at the wrath of the Lord of hosts

in the day of his fierce anger. “ Isaiah 13.6-13 (NRSV)

There is a difference between punishment and payback. Punishment involves correction. In a way, it is only done when the victim sees more in the perpetrator than that perpetrators sees in themselves. Punishment requires some hope of restoration and redemption in both parties – even if whatever was taken or destroyed cannot be brought back.

I heard a story a few months back about two women who travel the country doing church revivals and raising awareness of drunk driving. One of the women lost a son to a drunk driver. The other woman was the drunk driver who took her son’s life. There was punishment meted out, fines and prison time served, but relationships are restored and redeemed and now both women work to make sure it does not happen again.

Payback is something else. Payback dehumanizes the perpetrator and seeks only to do to them what had been done to their victim. There is no hope for restoration or redemption. It is exemplified in the phrase, “an eye for an eye” which Mahatma Ghandi taught that when followed, “leaves everyone blind”. Incidently, Ghandi may have taken his cues from Jesus here….

God punishes those who disobedient, particularly those who disobey him to the point of causing harm. Not just intentional harm either. A big part of God’s law is to prevent us from even accidentally causing harm. We harm one another when we let our arrogance and envy get in the way of looking out for one another. The best cure for an arrogant or envious community is to be shaken up, so they are forced to reassess what they already have and should be grateful for, as well as who they should be grateful to. God’s punishment involves shaking things up so that those who put their trust in things other than God see them fall away, leaving only God left standing. God does not punish out of spite or cruelty… He simply wants us to see the truth that He is the only one we can truly count on.

This Advent season we remember the justice of God and the way He came to earth Himself to take the bulk of that punishment Himself.

  • How does God shake up your life in order to bring you closer to Him?
  • When life gets stressful, who or what do you turn to for support?
  • Does that support bring you closer to God? How so?

From the squalor of a borrowed stable

By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith

To the anguish and the shame of scandal

Came the Savior of the human race

Sunday December 11, 2016

Fear

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The Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; against all the high mountains, and against all the lofty hills; against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. The haughtiness of people shall be humbled, and the pride of everyone shall be brought low; and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day. The idols shall utterly pass away. Enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. On that day people will throw away to the moles and to the bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts in the crags, from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. Turn away from mortals, who have only breath in their nostrils, for of what account are they? Isaiah 2:12-22 (NRSV)

We worship the things we fear. Does that sound strange? Out of all the animal kingdom, all the beautiful creatures that abound, why would Israel create golden bats and moles as idols? Because those creatures represented the things that destroyed their livestock and crops and therefore were to be feared. Dagon, the fish god of the Philistines was not represented as a tame dolphin, but as a fearsome sea creature who wielded the potential to terrorize the fishermen out at sea. All these things were worshipped out of fear.

Making idols of these terrifying things was a way of trying to bed in control of them. Sacrifices offered to such idols was thought to appease these creatures and forces of nature, making the people feel safer. But this is an illusion of control that only created greater superstitious behavior. When small sacrifices did not seem to keep them safe and happy, instead of abandoning the idols, they made bigger sacrifices. It was the same kind of mindset that plagues gambling addicts today, willing to trade away anything for a “system” they have that they believe guarantees success.

God consistently sets Himself apart from these idols as the one from whom we really have reason to fear… and yet, the one whom comes to us gently. He is the Almighty who comes to us as an infant, lying in a manger-turned-cradle. He does not break idols with his fierceness, but merely by his gentle presence, for his kindness is stronger than any other spiritual force that can come against Him, or those He calls His own.

The Psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?” He recognized that we have nothing to fear but God, and God does not desire our fear, but our love. God does not always rise up as a fearsome adversary, but sometimes he steps away and leaves us to our own devices.

Just look at the people of Israel during the time of the birth of Jesus. Those who were looking for God managed to find Him in the most unlikely of places – whether they came from near or far. Those who were not looking for God but were merely looking out for themselves never got to see Him at all and would suffer consequences on their own afterwards. It some cases it became a matter of life and death as those who had no room for the infant Jesus and who cowered in fear before King Herod lost their infant children as the king sent guards from house to house intending to kill the infant Jesus.

God wants us all to move beyond our fears of anything and everything. He wants us to find hope in Him. He wants us to worship Him, the only one who is truly in control and can change our lives for the better.

  • Where do you most experienced fear in your life?
  • What do you do when you experience fear?
  • How does worship bring you relief from fear?

I know who goes before me

I know who stands behind

The God of angel armies

Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever

He is a friend of mine

The God of angel armies

Is always by my side

Thursday December 1, 2016