Bad Figs

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Bad Figs

Jeremiah 24:1–10 (NRSV)

The LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the LORD. This was after King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”

Then the word of the LORD came to me: Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes upon 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 pluck them up. 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 thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth—a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.

While volunteering at our local food pantry, I got a little more insight into how wasteful we can be in our
American culture. Especially regarding food. We fortunately have a decent amount of food that is either given away or sold at a very discounted rate once it passes the “sell by” date. I just finished a bowl of melon and mixed fruit yesterday that had a sell by date of about 2 weeks ago and it was still good.

We are wasteful because we give up on things too easily, do not have the skill to fix them or adapt them to good use. So we end up throwing things away and buying new all the time. It has grown bad enough with home appliances that most of the time it is actually cheaper to buy new than to buy parts to fix something that is not working right. Sometimes we do that with our relationships – something breaks so we throw it away and go looking for a new one. Some of us have done that with God as well. Someday, someone may do it to us.

Israel was broken, many of them were taken away to Babylon, and only a few were left in the land. Those who were left may have seen themselves as the faithful, fortunate ones… but God apparently thought otherwise. He compared them to two baskets of fruit and said that the good fruit represented the future of those in exile, and the bad fruit – spoiled beyond use, represented those left behind.

You see, there is a flip side to this culture of wastefulness. We are also a culture of health. While we may throw out a lot of food, you are far less likely to catch food poisoning from our grocery stores than in other countries with little food regulation. In fact, the majority of our food issues tend to either come from a bad batch, which may have been shipped in from another country, or from mishandling of the food – not from the food itself. We are not perfect, but we set high standards for the quality of food we choose to sell.

So does God. Rather, He has high standards for the type of people He chooses to work with. We may come from bad seeds, and God will continue to work in us to redeem us, but He will not tolerate bad fruit, bad deeds among His people for long before making and intervention – either pruning us and nurturing our roots, or by cutting us down and forcing us to start over again.

What kind of fruit are you today?

How can you encourage those around you to bear good fruit as well?

Ordinance of Memory

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Ordinance of Memory

Psalm 81

God’s Appeal to Stubborn Israel

To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.

Sing aloud to God our strength;

shout for joy to the God of Jacob.

Raise a song, sound the tambourine,

the sweet lyre with the harp.

Blow the trumpet at the new moon,

at the full moon, on our festal day.

For it is a statute for Israel,

an ordinance of the God of Jacob.

He made it a decree in Joseph,

when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:

“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;

your hands were freed from the basket.

In distress you called, and I rescued you;

I answered you in the secret place of thunder;

I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

There shall be no strange god among you;

you shall not bow down to a foreign god.

I am the Lord your God,

who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.

Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

But my people did not listen to my voice;

Israel would not submit to me.

So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,

to follow their own counsels.

O that my people would listen to me,

that Israel would walk in my ways!

Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,

and turn my hand against their foes.

Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,

and their doom would last forever.

I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,

and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

An ordinance is a command given by an authority – whether political, spiritual, or both. It tends to be actions that are repeated on a regular basis. For Israel, the majority of these ordinances were feasts the communities celebrated together.

I’ve always find it kind of awesome that God actually commanded His people to throw parties. I think He did it because God is not just the Good Physician, He is also the Good Psychologist. God not only wants us to be happy, as the beer slogan misquotes and exploits, God also wants us to be holy. Holiness might be a loaded term for you, so perhaps it would be simpler to think good, grateful, truthful, and of a quality that leaves our world better than we found it. That is a bit more than just happy or high. It shows greater value and expectation on our lives.

God accomplishes this by centering those celebrations around the gratitude to God for His past favor and to remind us of the consequences for turning away and disobeying God. While enjoying the fruit of their partnership with God, the people were invited to think about whether it was worth giving up for the sake of going their own way instead if following God. It concludes with a reminder that God would much rather bless us if it were left entirely up to Him… and a reminder that the choice is not just up to God. It is left up to us.

What kind of ordinances do you have in your life?

What kind of traditions remind you of God’s favor and our need to be led by Him?

 

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?

Scarcity and Abundance

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Scarcity and Abundance

Isaiah 65:17-25 (NRSV)

“The Glorious New Creation
For I am about to create new heavens

and a new earth;

the former things shall not be remembered

or come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever

in what I am creating;

for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,

and its people as a delight.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem,

and delight in my people;

no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,

or the cry of distress.

No more shall there be in it

an infant that lives but a few days,

or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;

for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,

and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them;

they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build and another inhabit;

they shall not plant and another eat;

for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,

and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

They shall not labor in vain,

or bear children for calamity;

for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—

and their descendants as well.

Before they call I will answer,

while they are yet speaking I will hear.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,

the lion shall eat straw like the ox;

but the serpent—its food shall be dust!

They shall not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain,

says the Lord.”

Redemption looks like Justice. Redemption looks like Mercy. It is not one or the other.

I have a strong desire to paint God in my own image, and that image may depend upon the kind of day I’m having. It reminds me of the advise we often give young people who are trying to make new friends in a new place. “Just be yourself.” is the mantra, and probably urged more powerfully today in our culture of me than ever before. God does just that as He reaches out to me, but often I’m too busy trying to get Him to be the God I want that I am unable to see the God He is.

Thankfully that does not stop Him. It only limits me from experiencing the redemption that God offers. God looks down at my life like a glass of water. Is it full? Is it empty? Will I let Him have it, not knowing for sure what He will do with it? If I come from a perspective of abundance, I might be more likely to let Him because I know I have plenty I can lose and still be ok. Whereas if I look at my glass as half empty, fearing scarcity, worrying that this might be the only water I will ever get – I may be more protective of that water.

Maybe. Common sense says this is how it should all work. More and more stories I read and hear show a different angle though. It seems every bit as often that the more we have, the more protective we become of it (whatever your ‘it’ may be). Those who have nothing to lose can be every bit as generous as those who have everything they need. In the end, I think we all find ourselves in the struggle to trust God to take care of us.

That is what Isaiah saw… the promise made true. God remaking the world in His image, instead of being twisted by our own desires. There is peace between all creatures. No one dies too young. Nothing harms anything else. Even the lions become vegetarians in this place.

But did you catch the last creature mentioned? The serpent alone is picked out and made to eat dust. I’m sure this is not just a prejudice against snakes. I expect it is a reference to Genesis 3 where the serpent existed in another paradise and tempted Adam and Eve into sin – failing God and their responsibilities in the garden. So there is another serpent in this paradise as well, but it alone seems to live under that curse that it brought upon creation. There is mercy in that it is allowed to live there, but there is justice in that it has been defanged and will not harm anyone ever again.

I believe there is a reality beyond simple optimism or pessimism and that this reality is created by and redeemed by God. Our foolishness to doubt God’s provision or to squander his gift, either way, shows a lack of faith in God. It is not about just staying positive. It is about being willing to surrender it all to God whether we believe we have little or a lot.

Is your glass half empty or half full?

Where are you being challenged to trust God today?

Harvesting in the Spring

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Harvesting in the Spring

John 4:27–42 (NRSV)

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

The past few months I have come across several amazing passages of scripture that defy logic and common sense. I’m not talking about miraculous healing or stories of Jesus bending the laws of nature. What I found were stories of people going from sinner to saint in a moment. Well, that might be a little bit of an overstatement, but I do see them going from sinner to evangelist in a moment. Instantaneous transformation without years of schooling, mentoring, book reading, or church attendance. Even in the most contemporary religious settings, this goes against much of what we believe and how we function.

Last year, I was presented with a challenge. To us, baptism is a sign of invitation into God’s kingdom and His Church via our own local congregation. We don’t believe that water saves you from anything, spiritually speaking. Instead of an end, we view it as a beginning of a lifelong journey following Jesus with the hope the person will eventually mature into their calling – whatever that might be. When we baptize children, we usually hope to have 10 to 20 years to help them mature into that role. The challenge I faced last year was baptizing a young lady who would be moving out of the country in 2 weeks, to a place where churches were not prevalent or even legal in some cases. She was going from new believer to missionary and I only had a couple of weeks to prepare her. Where do I even start?

That is the dilemma that Jesus was talking to His disciples about here. They wanted to wait until they had graduated disciple-making school to go out and start the work of disciple makers… but Jesus explained that there was no time for that. Even while they were planting seeds here and there, diligently and strategically trying to bring about fruit for God, Jesus pointed out that there was already fruit in the field that someone else had planted. Who could have planted it? Who else could have come before Jesus and put people on the road to salvation?

God.

God is always working ahead of us, often doing the very work that He is calling us to do. Sometimes we get too caught up in wanting God to use us that we forget that He doesn’t need us for anything. He loves us, yes, but not for what we do. He can save this world without us. The whole motivation for calling us to follow Him is because He wants us to be with Him.

This Samaritan woman, along with the demon possessed man of the Gerasenes, and Zaccheus the tax collector were making disciples of Jesus before Peter and the twelve really got to work. They didn’t have the benefit of spending all the time listening to and learning from Jesus like the twelve disciples. They just took what little they knew and shared it obediently. They didn’t concern themselves with the season and the strategy of what everyone else around them was doing. Their focus was fixed on Jesus. Because of their faith, Jesus worked with them and changed the world around them.

What has God done that has changed your life?

How can you respond to that intervention with gratitude and obedience?

Born again?

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John 3:1–15 (NRSV)

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 

 

In Between

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In Between

John 3:22–36 (NRSV)

Jesus and John the Baptist

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized 24 —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The One Who Comes from Heaven

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

Some of us have difficulty navigating the times in between great moments of our lives. Today, we have an entire age group named for this particular stage of life called “Tweens”. These are young people who are no longer children, but who are not quite teenagers yet. It is a crazy age where hormones are beginning to fire up at random intervals and growth spurts are occurring, yet the maturity and responsibility we ask of many teenagers may not have come yet. In many ways, it is just some of the most awkward moments of a young person’s life. They know where they are heading – some of it good, some of it maybe not so good – and all they can do is wait.

But wait, is that true? The only thing we are able to do in-between these moments in life is wait? I’m not so sure.

Look at John the Baptist. He had a brief time in between the climax of his ministry: Baptizing Jesus, up to his death in prison for preaching God’s Word. People were coming to him and asking how he felt about all those who had been following him who were now going to Jesus, getting baptized by his disciples, and following Jesus instead of John. John may not have understood everything that was going to happen. Like you and I, he was not God and did not know everything. Yet he knew his own particular role, so he felt he knew enough. John explained that he was like the best man at a wedding, who was there simply to celebrate the wedding of his dear friend, the groom.

So, one thing John could do in between was celebrate.

The other thing he mentioned was a knowledge that Jesus must increase and John must decrease. John was exercising his humility in between his own highlighted moments. In fact, I think this exercise in humility probably helped prepare him for his witness in prison. We do not often talk about humility as a preparation for great things, but I believe it is one of the best preparations. No matter what you are going through and going to, learning and practicing humility will make you more prepared when you get there.

What do you find yourself “in between” today?

How can you practice humility, and how might that help prepare you for your next transition?