Have it your way
Jeremiah 2: When things go badly, they don’t hesitate to come running.
Jeremiah’s charge against his people is that they’re addicted to pagan gods and that they run this way and that way in search of something that will satisfy them. They ignore God until things go wrong, then they don’t hesitate to run to him for help. The Lord says, “You’ve plenty of gods, let them take care of you; let them save you from the bad times.” I’ve seen it. I’ve known people who know God’s purpose for them but don’t want any part of it. When the wheels come off, they “get religion” and want God to rescue them. I know the Lord is gracious and forgiving and long suffering. As one of his people I want those qualities to be evident in my life. At the same time, there’s a fair word of warning in this. At some point, the Lord yields to our decisions and allows us to have it our way. We shouldn’t presume on the grace of God.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his grace – at the same time don’t be so foolish as to see just how far you can push the Almighty.
Have it your way
Walking with God against the flow
Jeremiah 1: You’re a one-man defense system against this culture.
Several times in my journeys I’ve had the misfortune of driving along the highway, minding my own business, and coming up on fresh skunk road kill. The stench lingers in the car even after the site of the demise of the skunk is behind me. In commissioning Jeremiah to his life’s work, the Lord says that the culture of his nation stinks. God’s sick of it and is going to bring in enemies of theirs from the north to do a thorough cleaning. Jeremiah’s job is to prepare the way for that event by mounting an offense against that rotten culture. From the beginning it’s made clear to him that he’ll operate counter to the prevailing culture of that day. He’s going to be the focal point of some big explosions and his only hope of surviving them is that God’s going to make him rough and tough, as “solid as a concrete wall.” Jeremiah’s ministry is to be one of confrontation. Frankly, I doubt that the culture of my nation is any better than was that of Jeremiah’s. If God was sick of the stench of that culture then he must be pretty tired of that of our day too. Who knows? Right now God might be rising up a new Jeremiah. Whether or not that’s so, I do understand this: we believers have to do more than just go with the flow and feel pleased that we’re keeping our heads above water. We need to take a stand for righteousness in our homes and in other places where we have influence. Can God count on me to be a “one-man defense system” at least in those areas?
Take Away: Sometimes Christians have to take a stand for righteousness, even if that stand isn’t well accepted.
Speaking God’s Word
Jeremiah 1: I’ve just put my words in your mouth.
Jeremiah isn’t being falsely humble when he hesitates to accept the role of prophet. Frankly, he doesn’t think he’s up to it. After all, what will he say? He feels inadequate for the task. The Lord understands. In fact, the Lord probably agrees that Jeremiah’s an unlikely prophet. However, the Lord isn’t necessarily looking for the most capable person anyway. For reasons known only to him, the Lord chose an unlikely person for a very important job. To encourage Jeremiah, the Lord puts words in his mouth, a demonstration of how it will work. Today, I very much identify with Jeremiah. As a young person I felt God’s call on my life. Growing up in a small, wonderfully supportive church I marched forward with the confidence of youth. It was during my first year in college that I realized I’m, at best, a very average person. One day, as I faced my inadequacies the Lord took mercy on me as he did for Jeremiah in this passage. As I read Matthew 10 these words became a personal promise to me: “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” It seemed to me that the Lord said to me, “If I could give words to the disciples even when they were being abused, I can help you as a preacher to say things I want you to say.” That day was a “Jeremiah 1” day for me. It wasn’t that I now understood all there was to know, but I grasped this promise of God to me. If he called me to the ministry, he would help me do ministry. Almost 40 years later, I can report that the Lord has been faithful to keep that promise.
Take Away: If the Lord calls you to it he will help you do it.
Jeremiah 1: Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you.
It would be easy for me to make this into a pro-life passage. In fact, I am tempted to do just that. However, I find myself thinking more about God’s call on lives. How does God pick people to speak on his behalf? What criteria does he use? Apparently, at least sometimes, he picks people to represent him who have no credentials at all! In this case Jeremiah looks back on his call to be a prophet and remembers that it was God who picked him, not he who picked God. Before he had any “credentials,” in fact, before he could make any decisions at all, God laid his hand on him, calling him to be his servant. Clearly, the Almighty has his own agenda and makes decisions based on things totally beyond us. Now, I have to add that that doesn’t mean that Jeremiah had no say in the matter. God’s call came: that was God’s role alone. Jeremiah had to cooperate: that was his role. In theory at least, Jeremiah could have refused God and walked away and another person’s ministry would appear in place of this book of the Bible. Since God called and Jeremiah (howbeit reluctantly) said “yes” we have his story here. I’m reminded today that when God calls we can’t always understand why. We just have to “trust and obey.”
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t call us to understand everything but he does call us to obey all we understand him to call us to.
Taking too much for granted
Jeremiah 1: The Message of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah…this is what the Lord said.
Jeremiah lives in a time of international upheaval that rivals anything we see in history. His nation is caught in the middle of it all. They’re small players caught between giants and have only one hope of survival: the supernatural. Only God can save them from the disaster that’s marching relentlessly through history toward them. The problem is that his people take God for granted. After all, God gave their forefathers that land saying it was theirs forever. They’ve concluded that they don’t have to do anything to remain under the protection of God. In fact, they don’t even have to live God’s way. Jeremiah is given the task of telling them that they have it all wrong and that God can never be taken for granted. This message isn’t preached just once, but repeatedly and in various forms. Sadly, we know that his message is rejected and Jerusalem falls in 587 B.C. Since I live in days of unrest and amazing change, and since my nation seems to take a lot for granted, I’m going to read Jeremiah as not only a historical figure, but as a man who just might have something to say to my society too.
Take Away: The Lord must never be taken for granted.
Everyone a missionary
Isaiah 66: I’ll send them out as missionaries to preach my glory among the nations.
The final section of Isaiah’s prophecy has to do with restoration. The Lord’s going to gather his people from the exile and restore them to their beloved homeland. Then, he’ll send them out again. This time, though, it won’t be as slaves being relocated by a conquering king. Instead, it’ll be as missionaries spreading throughout the world proclaiming God’s goodness. Isaiah pictures them returning with those who’ve responded to the message, presenting these newly found followers of the Lord to the Lord as an offering gladly received by God. In this I see the heart of God. His desire is that all his Creation be gathered in love; that we experience unity with one another and with him. Jesus says the same thing when he talks about us being “one.” As a believer I’m called to participate in that missionary task; to understand the culture of my society and to go out and engage it for the cause of Christ. The day will come when, as it is in Isaiah’s prophecy, I’ll stand before God. I don’t want to do so empty handed.
Take Away: The Lord uses his people to reach out to all peoples; engaging them, inviting them, and then bringing them to himself.
Old Testament worship wars
Isaiah 66: You choose self-serving worship, you delight in self-centered worship — disgusting!
And all this time I thought that the “worship wars” started in my generation with battles between “traditionalists” and “contemporaries.” In Isaiah’s case the Lord is weary of all the “I like it this way” approaches to worship. He says that when I insist on worshiping “my way” that, no matter “what way” might be, it isn’t “his way.” The Lord tells them that they can do worship in technically correct ways but because of their attitude, it’ll be seen as an act of sin rather than an act of worship. What does the Lord think of my approach to worship? As a pastor am I so wrapped up in keeping the program on track that I fail to give myself over to the act of worship? It’s likely that only a pastor or worship leader will understand this, but I find myself in services wondering why the sound person doesn’t adjust the volume down a bit or if the head usher is aware that one of the regular ushers is out of town or if anyone has greeted the guests who’ve just slipped into the back row. While I’m worrying about such things, the “worship” service is proceeding without me. If I’m giving more energy to organizing and running the service according to my standards, whatever standard that might be, than I am in surrendering myself to worship, then my worship experience is self-centered rather than God-centered. Isaiah reminds me today that that isn’t a good thing!
Take Away: When I insist on worshiping “my way” that, no matter “what way” might be, it isn’t “his way.”
A given life
Isaiah 66: But there is something I’m looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.
I don’t know much about the wise men in the Christmas story, but I do know that they come to Jesus. The gifts they bring are, I understand, expensive ones. Beyond those material things, though, the important thing is that they bring themselves. In this passage Isaiah reminds me that God made it all and he owns it all. He’s not depending on me to bring him gold, frankincense, and myrrh or anything else for that matter. He is, though, counting on me to bring him my reverent obedience. I believe a person ought to practice their faith in Christ in practical ways, including being a good steward of all that has been placed in his or her hands. However, the offering I give is simply an outflow of a given life. That’s a gift that’s guaranteed to please the Lord.
Take Away: Our offerings are an outflow of our given lives.
Sometimes God answers before I even ask
Isaiah 65: Before they call out, I’ll answer.
This passage is written in future tense. The day being described is certainly coming but it hasn’t arrived yet. Isaiah probably sees it as a time in their near future when Israel’s restored and lives under the direct blessing of God. Today, I read it as the promise of a blessed future when under the rule of the Messiah the peace promised at his First Coming is made real in the world. One of the promised blessings is that God will answer our prayers before we can even voice them. I’m reminded that I already have at least a taste of that. There are times when I realize God has been at work in some concern of my life before I ever realized it was there. What would have been a cry for God’s help becomes, instead, a word of praise for what the Lord did for me when I was ignorant of the need. Since I’ve experienced things like this, I have just a faint vision of what it will be like in that blessed future. Obviously, in that day I’ll spend a lot more time thanking and praising God and a lot less time earnestly asking for his help. Since that kind of praying will be the norm, maybe I had better start practicing the praising part a bit more right now.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for answering our prayers – even before we’ve known enough to pray them!
God doing something new
Isaiah 65: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
This is an interesting passage. Later on, the Revelator will remember these words when the Lord describes to him what’s coming at the end of time. In fact, some think that Isaiah is having a vision of the same thing John sees in Revelation. However, left in context Isaiah’s describing the end of the exile of his people; the return to their beloved Jerusalem. The language is that of poetry: God’s doing something new and is, therefore changing everything. Life’s going to be much better than it has been. Wonderful blessings are in store. I think this is another dual prophecy. Isaiah’s speaking to current events, describing things in a big way but unaware that his words will literally come true in his (and our) distant future. If I leave things there, I still find the transformational language of Isaiah quite interesting. The Lord is bringing salvation to his people and as a result, everything’s going to change for the better. However, at an entirely different level than Isaiah speaking to his contemporaries or John writing about the New Jerusalem I find myself thinking of the change Christ makes when he bring salvation to an individual’s life. When I’m forgiven of my sins and become a child of God “all things become new.” If Isaiah’s view of the restoration of Israel brings to mind visions of “new heavens and a new earth” I don’t think that it’s off base to find a parallel to the radical transformation being “born again” brings to each life.
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t just forgive us our sins – he also goes to work in us, transforming our lives, remaking us in wonderful ways.