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?

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Fire

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“For wickedness burned like a fire,

consuming briers and thorns;

it kindled the thickets of the forest,

and they swirled upward in a column of smoke.

Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts

the land was burned,

and the people became like fuel for the fire;

no one spared another.

They gorged on the right, but still were hungry,

and they devoured on the left, but were not satisfied;

they devoured the flesh of their own kindred;

Manasseh devoured Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh,

and together they were against Judah.

For all this his anger has not turned away;

his hand is stretched out still.

 

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,

who write oppressive statutes,

to turn aside the needy from justice

and to rob the poor of my people of their right,

that widows may be your spoil,

and that you may make the orphans your prey!

What will you do on the day of punishment,

in the calamity that will come from far away?

To whom will you flee for help,

and where will you leave your wealth,

so as not to crouch among the prisoners

or fall among the slain?

For all this his anger has not turned away;

his hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 9.18-10.4 (NRSV)

The hunger of wickedness is never sated. It burns with a fire that consumes everything around until it finally turns back on the hungry ones themselves. In doing so, the wicked bring destruction upon themselves.

I had a frank conversation with some friends of mine from Cuba, concerning the death of Fidel Castro and the feelings of the people of Cuba. In the US, Castro had a reputation of infamy, but in Cuba, among the rich and poor alike, there were mixed feelings about his leadership. As harsh as his rule had been, he successfully kept much of the drug trade and human trafficking out of Cuba, especially in camparison to much of Central and parts of South America. Many of those other countries had political freedom at the cost of oprression by the wealthy. The concern was that these drug lords would sweep in to take over the nation.

The ancient philosopher Plato wrote that governments shift in cycles. We see all the time, one dictator replaced by another. The corruption of one party makes way for the corrupt leadership of the opposition when it finally rises. When the oppressed take up arms and become revolutionaries – beating, looting, and killing any who get between them and their justice, we are simply making way for the next oppressors.

Isaiah’s words of warning are not just for the rich. They are for everyone. If we let our hunger for possessions rule us instead of a hunger for righteousness, we will lose our way and find ourselves on the path of wickedness. That path ends in flames and our own destruction. It is more than a problem of just wickedness and the quest for power, because, as Paul reminds us in Romans, we all fall short and are subject to temptation and corruption. If we simply eliminated everyone who had ever been wicked, we would have no one left.

I think the answer to avoiding this fiery judgment upon ourselves and our communities can be found in a simple piece of economic wisdom: Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry. What does that have to do with power and politics in our lives? It means we need to check our motives before seeking power. Those who feel insecure themselves often seek power over others and just as often end up being poor leaders. Whether you are running for political office or just thinking about having or raising children – you need to make sure you are secure enough yourself and “well fed” spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc… to be able to lead, nurture, and protect anyone else. It is only from this place of being full and satisfied, (which can only be fully realized in a relationship with God) that we find ourselves secure enough in our weakness to ask God for help instead of jumping in and trying to fix things ourselves… often taking us all out of the frying pan and into the fire.

  • Where do you feel anxiety the most this Advent and Christmas season?
  • When you feel God’s hand upon you, where does it seem to be guiding you?
  • What answers to your fiery trials do you find in the manger of Bethlehem?

Hungry

I come to you

For I know

Your love will satsify

Thursday December 15, 2016

Sanctuary

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Then the Lord said to me, Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, “Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz,” and have it attested for me by reliable witnesses, the priest Uriah and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah. And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the child knows how to call “My father” or “My mother,” the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria. The Lord spoke to me again: Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and melt in fear before Rezin and the son of Remaliah; therefore, the Lord is bringing up against it the mighty flood waters of the River, the king of Assyria and all his glory; it will rise above all its channels and overflow all its banks; it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel. Band together, you peoples, and be dismayed; listen, all you far countries; gird yourselves and be dismayed; gird yourselves and be dismayed! Take counsel together, but it shall be brought to naught; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us. For the Lord spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken. Isaiah 8:1-15 (NRSV)

Immanuel, (or the Latinized version Emmanuel) literally means “God with us”. I that if I had to summarize all 66 chapters of the prophet Isaiah, I could not do better than that. Immanuel. God with us.

The impact of that is enormous! If God walked into my living room today, I would have about ten different emotions going through me. That’s about 9 more than I can normally handle at a time. I think my mind would be filled with wonder and worry all at once. I’d probably just stand there speechless and hope I didn’t drool. To believe that God could become a human being is one thing. Meeting Him in person is another thing altogether.

Israel was not looking for God in flesh. They only desired the return of His presence, noted most importantly by His favor. They wanted the blessing, not the Blesser Himself. God just wanted them.

God’s presence means more than just good times for all his people. It means judgment too. I think He chooses to begin judgment with His own people because He knows we can be better with His guidance. His judgment tempered with His mercy transforms us from fallen creatures into a new creation by being a “rock” or “snare”, as Isaiah puts it, that trips us up and captures anyone who crosses His path. There is no escape from God. He is coming. He will not stay away.

Many of us find God by being tripped up and falling, or by being caught in a snare and in need of rescue. But we do not have to wait to hit rock bottom before coming to God. He is ready and waiting for us right now. His only desire is to be with us. God wants to come be with us, so that we can learn to come and live in Him. Will you welcome God into your sanctuary today so that He can become your sanctuary Himself?

  • What part of your life do you wish God was more present in?
  • What in your life do you wish God would leave alone?
  • What is different about the way you see yourself when you are spending time in God’s presence?

All that is within me cries

For you alone be glorified

Emmanuel

God with us

Saturday December 10, 2016

Leadership

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For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves. Tell the innocent how fortunate they are, for they shall eat the fruit of their labors. Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them. My people—children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths. The Lord rises to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples. The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts. Isaiah 3:8-15 (NRSV)

Those who seek authority find themselves contending with God. There is good reason that we preach that our hope is found in God and not in people. That statement holds both a promise and a warning.

The promise is that God will always be there for us, no matter who we are our where we’ve been. In some ways, it may actually be argued that the lower we find ourselves, the more God watches over us. Those who avoid taking up authority gain no special blessing, as authority and responsibility usually go hand in hand. Dodging responsibility does not put you in God’s good graces. But those who remember that we all will stand in judgment before God one day, regardless of our status today.

That is the warning as well. We will all answer for the leadership we give as lords and ladies, preachers and teachers, mothers and fathers… Every honor we receive brings us closer to the throne of God which brings its own honor and joy, but God expects us to share his own heart for the least, the last, and the lost, the more of them he brings under our care. Christian maturity certainly brings with it honor and wisdom, but the cold-hearted cannot be mistaken for elders of the faith in God’s Kingdom. For God so loved the world… and woe be upon the man or woman who thinks they know better than the love of God, which did not hold back His only begotten Son. No fire burns hotter than the love of God for his people, and that fire will burn right through us to warm if we stand in the way of it bringing warmth to God’s lost children.

  • Whom has God put into your care?
  • How well do you reflect God in your leadership over them?
  • What do you need change today to allow God to lead through you more?

I wanna set the world on fire

Until it’s burning bright for you

It’s everything that I desire

Can I be the one you use?

I wanna feed the hungry children.

And reach across the farthest land

And tell the broken there is healing

And mercy in the Father’s hands.

Friday December 2, 2016