Thursday, October 31, 2019


Daniel had quite a reputation in Babylon. It's not clear whether anyone in Israel knew him, but the higher-ups in Babylon certainly did some of those lower-downs trying to climb the ladder. 

He was known for his wisdom, which he always attributed to God. He was known for his integrity, which he attributed to his faith. He was known for his insight, which he credited to God. He was known as a man of God, which led to his problems. 

See, Daniel passed up a lot of Babylonians on his quick ascent to the top. He comes in as an exile as is basically given the kingdom, so of course a lot of guys who have been working their lives away to get there are upset that this...this foreigner...just stole it right out from under them. And they decide they've had enough. They decide the best thing to do is to get rid of this Daniel. 

Now, usually, if you want to plot and scheme against someone, you set a trap for them. You get them to show their weakness, their fallibility. You get them to mess up and mess up good...and publicly...and then you shame them and drive them into the ground for it until the image of this upstanding, incredible, amazing person is shattered. You set them up to do wrong and then you tempt them into it until they take the bait. 

Except even Daniel's enemies knew that wouldn't work on him. 

The only way to get Daniel to do wrong...was to make doing right...wrong. It was to make his righteousness illegal, to make his goodness cause him problems. Big problems. 

He was known so much for being a faithful, righteous, humble man of God that the only way to get him was to make his faithful, righteous, humble life look like a threat. They had no other choice.

Which begs the question:

What are you known for?

I know, ouch. But it's worth thinking about. What do your enemies know you for that they could use against you if they wanted you to fall? Would you be an easy person to set a trap for? Would you be an easy one to snare? 

The answer, for every one of us, is that there's something. There's something you could set out in front of us that would cause us to break stride, that would make us stop and stumble. There's something you could draw us in with that would get us to turn our eyes, even for just a few seconds. There's something you could say or do or offer that we would honestly consider, or maybe we wouldn't even consider it, we'd just jump right in. 

We're fallible, every one of us. We've got our weaknesses, every one of us. We're not perfect, not one of us. And I'm going to say, the same is true of Daniel. 

But the witness of faith was so strong in his life that no one looking in on him could figure out what he would fall for. No one trying to trip him up knew where to tie the strings. He was so thoroughly authentic in his righteousness that when they decided to come against him, that was all they had to go on. It was not the only true thing about him, but it was the truest thing about him. 

What's the truest thing about you? You have to know the answer to this question because I'm telling you, that's the thing that your enemy is going to use against you. That's the thing you have to be on guard about. Is it goodness? Is it righteousness? Then that's the thing you have to guard. Whatever it is, that's what your enemy is coming for, so you better know for yourself before the trap is set. 

Then, at least, you know what you're getting into and where you're most likely to fall. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Soiled Linens

Okay, crude warning: today's post is another one that's a little...disgusting. If you consider yourself dignified, refined, or "cultured," this may not be for you. But if you're just human like the rest of on. (Remember recently when I talked about the stain on the skirt? Yeah, this one goes even further than that.  *Note: there's also a place in, I believe Isaiah, that talks about straining in labor pains but giving birth only to can decipher that one.)

One of the things that I've always found rather difficult to believe about the Scriptures is the relatively calm reaction that the biblical characters seem to have to the presence of God. Remember Moses and the burning bush? "He saw the bush on fire, but not burning up, and he said to himself, 'I must go over and investigate this bush.'" Who's doing that? FIRE! Or when we read about the soldiers at Jesus's death who felt the earth shake and the tombs open and heard the curtain torn in two. They whisper hushedly amongst themselves, breathless, "Truly, this was the son of God."

I'm not buying it. Have you ever noticed the first words the angels of the Lord always speak to those to whom they come? "Do not be afraid." Why? Because it's terrifying when God just...shows up in your presence. It's paradigm-shifting. It's tremble-in-your-britches time. 

And it's important that we know this. Because that's the reaction so many of us have. When God comes into our lives with big plans and bigger promises, our breath catches in our throats. Our legs start to quiver. Our hands shake. We're's...well, it's not a calm moment. That's for sure. Not one of us rubs our chin, narrows our brow and says, "Yes, yes. Well, I must look further into this." 

Oh, my God. This can't be happening right now. 

Which is why I appreciate so much the story that we find in Daniel 5. It's crude, yes. But it's raw, real, and honest, just like the rest of the Scripture. These Hebrews, they didn't mince words, and they have very vivid images for the way things happen, for the way we respond to things. They're just about telling it like it was, and this is, well, one of those moments. 

In this passage, we see the new king, Belshazzar, throwing a big party for all of the elite. They're using the utensils and cups that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple of God when he captured the Jews and fell Jerusalem, and that's a big no-no. You don't use the sacred things for a pagan party. You just don't. So the hand of God, just a disembodied hand, comes down and begins writing on the wall in front of the king and his entire guest list.

When we see this scene played out in dramatic Hollywood fashion, we see a silence fall over the room, mouths fall open, and everyone just stare at the wall, watching to see what the words are. Waiting to see what the hand has to say. Which is...cute, I guess, but you mean to tell me not one person in that room was scared? Not one person screamed? Not one got up and ran away? C'mon. The hand of God Himself is writing on the wall and there's not any hint of panic? I don't buy it.

Thankfully, I don't have to. Because the Scriptures say exactly what happened, and here's where it gets a little crude. "As the king watched the hand that was writing, his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that he soiled himself...." The Hebrew literally says, "the knots in his loins were loosed."

That's what it says. It's Scripture. Right there, plain and raw and real and honest. And I like seeing that. Not because I love what's crude, but because I love what's real. I love knowing that these characters in the Bible were real persons. They had real reactions to encounters with God. It was a full-body experience for them. They were shaken when God showed up. They were anxious and nervous and terrified. The weight of their sin came heavy on them. Man, I can identify with so much of this. 

Not because, hear me, not because I'm "afraid" of God. But because I know that in His fullness, my emptiness is exposed. It's all I can feel of myself. Because I know that in His presence, my absent places echo all the louder. In His strength, my weakness trembles. I know that if God were to come down right now as a hand and start writing on my wall, I would not rub my chin and think, "Well, this is interesting. Let me watch for awhile and see how this plays out." I would, well...I would pull a Belshazzar. Probably. I'm just guessing. 

The Scripture doesn't tell us what happened every time God showed up, but it does tell us again and again and again and again that His first words upon arrival are almost always, "Do not be afraid." Because that's the reaction we, as human beings, are prone to have. And you know what? The fact that God acknowledges that's okay. It's okay to have a gut-level, instinct reaction to the sudden tangible presence of God in our lives.

In fact, I think it's good. It means we're paying attention. It means our hearts are in it. It means we're involved in what's going on. Now, once we realize it's God, we can calm ourselves down and reorient to His goodness and our faith, but right out of the gate? Right in the moment?

Maybe we soil ourselves. Seems like a very human thing to do.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Little Aramaic

You may know that one of the languages that Jesus spoke fairly frequently was Aramaic. It's certain that He was also fluent in Hebrew, the language of the Jewish people, but some of His most famous words come in Aramaic. The question is: what even is Aramaic?

Jews historically spoke Hebrew; the Old Testament is written in it (and it's a beautiful language). Jews even in Jesus's day knew Hebrew, as that's what would have been taught and spoken in the Temple. The surrounding culture spoke Greek, so the Jews (including Jesus) would have been fluent in that, too; they would have had to be in order to function in the world in which they lived. 

Aramaic is an old language, too. And we actually see it mentioned in the Old Testament. Daniel, the faithful exile in Babylon, tells us that the Chaldeans spoke Aramaic (Daniel 2). "Chaldeans" was a term that meant the same thing as "Babylonians;" by the people of the time, they were used interchangeably, for all intents and purposes. Which means...Aramaic was the language of Babylon. 

This is something we have to pay attention to because it says so much about Jesus, so much that we could miss if we didn't understand this. 

Remember Babylon. Remember that Babylon was the nation that God sent against His people as punishment. Not since Egypt had another people bound the people of God, but Babylon did it. Babylon sieged and ransacked and destroyed the cities of Israel, took her people away, relocated them into a foreign territory. Babylon is where Israel was exiled. 

It's the same Babylon that Jeremiah talks so much about, where he is constantly delivering to the people a message from God to plant themselves in Babylon, pray, and prosper there because that's where they're going to be for awhile. And if you plant yourself and prosper somewhere, you probably pick up the language. 

So the people of God picked up the language of exile...Aramaic...and when Jesus comes, that's the language He speaks. 

Now, this says two things. First, it says that the people of God got deeply entrenched in their captivity, so much so that they continue to speak the language of not-their-homeland long after they've returned to Jerusalem. Jesus wouldn't have spoken it if the people couldn't understand Him; they understood every word, which means they were still speaking it themselves. And isn't that how it goes? We get so stuck in our ways that they just kind of come with us into the next season and the next and the next. Israel was home, but she still spoke like she was exiled. 

But second, and perhaps most importantly, it means that Jesus spoke the language of the exile. He shared so much the story of God's people that He comes speaking the language of their captivity. Think about that for a minute. Just think about it.

Jesus speaks the language of our captivity. 

If that doesn't get you, I don't know what will.


Note: it's worth saying here that Jesus has left us one Aramaic word that we've commonly adopted, and it is abba, "daddy." It's the word of tender affection that we use for God, and it's given to us in the language of captivity, in contrast to the many Jehovah- names that we have in the Hebrew, the language of faith. Think about that

Monday, October 28, 2019

Fishers of Men

One of the favorite activities of many Christians, and especially preachers, is to look back at the Old Testament in order to look forward to Jesus. Some of this, as I've written before, is a stretch and does a disservice to the real, powerful testimonies of our Old Testament fathers, but neither should we deny that the Old Testament at times does look forward to the Promise God gives His people of a Messiah. 

Sometimes, I think part of the prophecy of the Old Testament is that it can call into our hearts images of the New as we read it with eyes on the world where Christ has already come (once). I don't know whether the prophets of the OT were truly writing to say such things or if our knowledge of Christ and Him crucified opens our eyes to see things in a new way that the original audience might never have understood, but to be quite honest, that's above my pay grade; I just go with my heart when it's stirred.

And something that stirred it recently was an image that Ezekiel had of a river (Ezekiel 47). 

This is the river that the prophet was guided to wade in, and the further he went, the higher the waters rose until it was deep enough to swim in and could not be crossed by simply walking any longer. At the end of the river is a sea, and when the fresh water from the river enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the waters of the sea are healed and made fresh. Life teems within it again, living and breathing where the river flows. Trees planted on its banks prosper and bear great fruit, and their leaves will never wither. All because of this water that comes from the river, which flows from the sanctuary. 

Of course, it's easy to see a reference to Living Water here. Isn't this what Christ promises us? He is the Living Water that flows from the sanctuary and brings life to dead places and bears consistent fruit. I think that's an image that's easy to see; go ahead and let your sanctified imagination run wild with it in your heart for awhile. 

But what's interesting, and what stuck out to me as I read through this passage this particular time, was that Ezekiel saw visions of fishermen standing beside this river, all along it. They have spread their nets out to dry and are catching all kinds of fish, all kinds. Full to the brim.

What I wonder here, and I'm just beautifully wondering, is whether these might be fishers of men. Could this be the first vision we have of the disciples? 

We don't think about it much. We think the disciples are just some guys that Jesus picked because they happened to be around and strike His fancy. They were citizens of the region, so they were natural choices, but what if God was already thinking about these fishermen before Jesus ever called them out of their boats? 

What if He was thinking about them while He was giving a vision to the prophet Ezekiel? What if the guys that Ezekiel sees on the banks of this life-giving river, pulling all kinds of fish out of the sea, are none other that Peter, Andrew, James, and John? 

Something to think about. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Vision and a Shame

As the prophet Ezekiel nears the end of his writings, he gives to us a vision that he has for the Temple of God when it is restored and the Lord's glory returns to it. Remember, twelve years after the exile, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem - the place where the Temple was built. So it was of great importance to the Israelites what would happen to their holy place if they ever got to go back to their beloved city...if she was even worth going back to without a Temple. 

The vision for the Temple is very detailed - a measure here, a measure there. Exact numbers about just how long, how wide, how tall all of these things are, which way the rooms face, how the gates are opened, and so on and so forth. Reading it with modern eyes, there's part of us that wonders why all this mattered, what it matters now. Are we ever going to need a blueprint for building a Temple? 

Yet, it is in the exactness of the rebuilding that God's glory comes to the Temple. It is because it is precise and perfect that it is worthy of His indwelling. It's just the way He wants it, and that's not by accident. It's like if you were go into a home in your subdivision, meeting neighbors for the first time or even for the twentieth. The way that their home is set up tells you something about them. The decor on the mantle, the rug by the door, whether they use the front door or the side door, whether they take their shoes off or leave them on. All of these little things tell you big things about what the family values, and it's the same with God's Temple. All the little details about it reveal something about Him. 

After all, He lives there. This is the place where He's chosen to dwell among His people. 

And what God says when He finishes revealing this vision of the Temple to Ezekiel is that when His people see it, when they behold the Temple and the glory of the Lord that dwells in it, they will be ashamed of the ways they defiled the old one (Ezekiel 43).

They'll be ashamed of the times that they tried to bring cheaper offerings. They'll be ashamed of the times that they thought any old place would do, so worshiped at other sites. They'll be ashamed of the times they thought every god was just as good and bowed at other altars. They'll be ashamed of how lightly they took the majesty of this place, for when they see it again, they won't be able to ignore it any more. 

Because next to the real thing, substitutes always look cheap. 

This is an idea I've been hearing preached a lot lately. Next to the real deal, the fake just doesn't hold up any more. Next to real faith, cheap faith falls apart. Next to Jesus, our flesh breaks open. Next to real sacrifice, mere generosity flaps in the wind. It's the same thing here, it's what Ezekiel is trying to say to a brokenhearted, dejected, and exiled people - you're going to get the real thing back. And when you do, you'll understand just how little you settled for. You're going to go home again, and when you get there, you'll realize just how far you went astray. 

You've heard rumors of its rubble, but when you see the Temple in the fullness of its glory, you'll be ashamed of the so-called "worship" you've been engaged in. You've settled for other gods, but when the Lord comes back to you, you'll be ashamed of how weak all these others are. 

Because the truth? The truth is you thought you were your own gods, doing whatever you pleased and looking out for your own interests, but next to the real thing? Substitutes always look cheap. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Jerusalem Fell

When you think about the exile, how do you think things happened? We have this sort of Hollywood script in our heads where an invading army comes against Jerusalem, works it way inside, destroys the city, and leads the people out as prisoners, their hands clasped behind their heads, to go and live in Babylon for awhile. It's dark, it's dusty, it's's bloody. It's the kind of thing good movies are made of. 

And yet, life isn't so often a movie. 

If you read the Scriptures carefully, you see something more beautiful unfolding - a good story, although I'm not sure it would make for the same kind of action movie. Ezekiel 33 has a pretty good timeline of it. The prophet says that twelve years into the exile, Jerusalem fell. 

Read that again: twelve years after the people of God were taken out of their city, Babylon destroyed their city. 

Now, that raises a couple of points worth looking at. First, that means that God arranged for His people to be somewhere safe well before their home was destroyed. He took them out of there long before He had to, gave them a chance to get settled somewhere else, to have a new life on some kind of decent foundation before everything that they had known was shaken and reduced to rubble. 

It's not that Babylon was that great of a place to be. Anyone who had an opinion on the matter would rather have been in Jerusalem; they wanted to be home. Most of us can't understand when God takes us to a place that doesn't make sense to us, a place like Babylon when Jerusalem is so tall and strong and beautiful. But it doesn't change the fact that God moved them anyway. Just like He sometimes moves us to places we don't want to go or we don't understand. It's natural for us to question, God, why did You bring me to a place like this? 

But maybe the better question is, God, why did You take me out of a place like that? 

You never know what's coming for Jerusalem, but God does. And maybe that's why He moves you out of there.

The second thing that this little snippet from Ezekiel brings up is just how dogged our enemies are, just how relentless. Babylon had already taken Israel captive; the people had picked up and moved and were officially, and firmly, in exile. Yet, they continued to go after the city of Jerusalem until it was fully and completely destroyed. Twelve whole years. Not because they needed the people out of Jerusalem (they already had them), but because they needed Jerusalem out of the people.

The hearts of God's people were firmly in Jerusalem; that was the center of their faith, which made it the center of their lives. As long as Jerusalem was standing, there would always be a piece of Israel that remained there, no matter where their physical bodies were. That's why Babylon had to keep going after it until they wiped it out. They took Israel away, then took away her love and that...that's how you take over a people. 

Our enemies are the same way. It's not enough to just have us; they have to destroy what we love, too. They have to take away wherever our hearts are. It's why you can give up a fight, but still find yourself in a war. It's why you can surrender, but you can't save your life. Because your enemy goes after what's important to you. It's not enough to just have you; the enemy wants all of you, no matter how long it takes. 

Even twelve years. 

Which is why the saving grace of God is so good. After twelve years, yes, our hearts are still in Jerusalem, but our lives...our lives have started to settle somewhere else. So it's a devastating blow, but it's not everything. We still have God to cling to, for He has already brought us out of there. 

And all of a sudden, Babylon makes sense. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

False Prophets

When we went through the book of Jeremiah a few weeks ago, we talked a bit about the trouble that Israel had with false prophets. In fact, that God's people in general have always had (and still have) with false prophets. There's never been a shortage of persons willing to walk around and shout from the hillsides all the things that God never said. 

But when we get to Ezekiel, we see that the problem with false prophets is not just about what they said, but something more. A false prophet, the real prophet tells us, may speak what God has not spoken or may speak when God has not spoken (Ezekiel 22). 

And it is the second part of that that is truly scary. 

Most of us consider ourselves decently intelligent. It's not too hard, much of the time, to figure out when someone is claiming something to be of God that isn't of God. God has revealed His character to us over and over and over again and some things just don't gel with who we know that God is. For example, if someone came shouting that God wanted you to take care of yourself first, to watch out for your own interests, to never worry about what was happening to anyone else, we'd probably be pretty quick to say that can't be God. (Probably...but "preachers" are claiming this sort of thing all the time, and the church is buying into it.) If we're honest with ourselves and can push past the appeal of being told what we want to hear, we know that that's not really what God is about, so that's not a word that God would give us. 

It's much harder, though, to know God's timing, and here's where we run into trouble. Because we know that there are some things that God would say. There are some things that God would do. There are things that God would absolutely promise to us, ways He would absolutely act in our lives that are in perfect accordance with His character and everything that we know about Him. For example, take a difficult health diagnosis. We know that God is a Healer and that He loves restoring broken things, so we don't give a second thought to someone who wants to step into our circumstance and declare that God is going to heal us. Of course He is. That's what God does. That's in God's character. might not be in God's timing. Therein lies the rub. Because it's absolutely something that God would do, but is it something that God would do right now? Is it something God is doing? 

This is where so much heartache comes in. Right? It's when we pray, knowing that God is a healer, and we don't get better. Or we pray, knowing God is a healer, and our loved one dies anyway. It's when we hold onto the character of God, absolutely sure in who He is, and hear those words of His heart spoken over our lives...but we haven't bothered to investigate the timing. 

Now, I know. It sounds cruel. It sounds un-God-like. It's hard to take. As if God, the Healer, the Lover of our souls, would heal us, but it's a Wednesday, so not today. That's not what we mean when we talk about God's timing. It's not some wishy-washy tick-of-the-clock sort of thing. God's timing has to do with a whole lot more. 

It has to do not with the position of the stars, but with the position of our hearts. It has to do not with this chapter, necessarily, but with the story as it's being told. It has to do with maximizing the glory that God's going to get out of this, and He doesn't get glory from stepping in prematurely. God doesn't get the same glory keeping His people out of Egypt as He does leading them out through parted waters. A sinful heart doesn't repent the same way if it is kept from its consequences as it does when the heavy weight suddenly becomes lighter. 

Jesus doesn't take the world captive unless they are looking for Him, and they aren't looking for Him until they get to that place in the story. Put Jesus anywhere else in history, literally anywhere else, and the story is fundamentally changed. It changes everything. 

It's all about timing. 

So when we hear a word of God spoken over our lives, when we're tempted to listen to the prophets among us, we have to ask ourselves not just whether what they're saying is true of God's character - is it something He would do? but whether what they're saying is also true of God's timing - is it something He would do right now

This could save us a lot of heartache. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Making a Covenant

There's something we ought to notice about the covenants that God makes with His people in the Bible - they are never made in good times or comfortable places. Think about when God comes to Abraham. Abraham is an old man without an heir and no hope of ever getting one. Or when God comes to Jacob. God makes His covenant with Jacob after He wrestles him in the dark on the banks of a river. Or what about Job? Job doesn't get a promise before his trials begin; God comes to him while he's sitting in dust and ashes, covered in boils. 

One of the greatest covenants God ever made, the covenant He made with His people as a people, He made with them while they were in Egypt (Ezekiel 20). While they were slaves. While they were abused. While they were captive. While they were struggling. While they were lost. While they were hurting. While they were a people living inside another nation, God covenanted with them to make them their own nation. 

We are a people who want the kind of covenant with God that promises us that hard times are never going to come. That promises that we'll always be safe. That promises that we'll always be happy. That promises that we'll always have enough, that we'll live our own kind of life, that we'll be blessed with smooth roads and sunshine. That's the kind of covenant we often seek. 

Yet, that's not the example of any of God's promises in the Bible. Not one. You never see God's people's good lives becoming better; you see their hard lives becoming good. You never see them without struggle. One of the complaints about God is that the Old Testament is so full of war and bloodshed. That's because His people's lives were full of war and bloodshed! That was part of living where they were living, just as in the New Testament, we see lives full of occupation and politics. That's the real world, folks; welcome to it. 

But the real world is where God's made every single one of His promises. Every covenant. Every blessing. Right in the middle of it all. Surrounded by mud and muck and mire and bloodshed and politics and sickness and sin, that's where God comes to His people and covenants with them. Because anyone can have faith in anything on easy street; it's in the dark alleys where you discover what faith really means. 

And what faith really means is that there's hope. And is there any better place for hope than exactly where you need it? 

Imagine if God offered you life when you were already living. A home when you already had a roof over your head. A parcel of land when you were already sowing your own fields. Sorry, but if you've already got it, then what do you need God for? 

No, He comes to you when you're lost. When you're away from home. When you're stuck somewhere you don't want to be. When you're tilling someone else's soil. When the stars are your roof at night. When your blanket is in tatters and your body is cold. That's when God comes to you and says, "I am good, and I can't wait to bless you with it." 

Yeah, right, we say. If God's so good, then how come I'm in this mess to begin with? Why didn't I get the perfect covenant, the one of good times and easy living? If God's so good, why is life so hard? 

Because God's goodness doesn't matter if you don't need it. 

Read that again: God's goodness doesn't matter - to you, to your heart - if you don't need it. His living water doesn't draw you unless you're thirsty. You can't hope for what you already have. You have to be in a desolate place to hold onto a promise; it's how so many of us lose our way so quickly. We start to think we have things good and forget how bad they really are, so we let go. We don't need that promise here. Here is good. 

That's why God covenants with us in Egypt, not Canaan. So we know just how desperately we need it. So we know just how priceless it is. So that we know just how much He loves us. 

Monday, October 21, 2019


You're beautiful; do you know that? Do you know why you're beautiful? You're beautiful because God made you beautiful. The only question that remains, then, is what you will do with your beauty. 

This is what Ezekiel was talking about when he spoke to Israel in chapter 16 of his prophecy. He reminds them that yes, they are a beautiful people and a beautiful nation, but they are beautiful only because the Lord their God made them beautiful. Yet, they used their beauty to whore themselves, becoming prostitutes and chasing after other gods. 


It's exactly, though, the kind of reminder that we often need, especially in America. Many of us live blessed lives. They don't always seem blessed because they are so, well, average. They're the kind of lives that we expect to live in this place and at this time, so we use the blessings that we have to go out and try to get all the things that the world promises - promotions, wealth, status, opportunity. We parade ourselves around, using every good thing we've got to get more. Our lives are beautiful because of what they can get us. And boy, do we flaunt it. 

What we've forgotten is why our lives are beautiful. That's why we take the liberty to use it to whatever advantage we see fit. We think that's just naturally who we are, that that's just the benefit of being born in this place and time, that that's just life...for everyone. If we open our eyes just a little bit, though, we see that our blessed lives are not just life for everyone; they are the gift of life for us. 

Beautiful little gifts of life from the One who loves us enough to make us beautiful. 

...and we whore it out. We strut it down the street in high heels and too much makeup. We put skin-tight clothing around it and show off all of its curves. We take what is blessedly beautiful and make, all the while telling ourselves that we're doing ourselves a favor. That we're working for us. 

Never mind that what we're working is the streets. 

Sorry, but we need to hear this. Myself included. Because we understand, on some level, just how beautiful our blessed lives are. If we didn't, we wouldn't believe they could get us anything. It's precisely because they're beautiful that we figure out how to leverage them. It's precisely because they're beautiful that we count them worth displaying. It's precisely because they're beautiful that we're okay with the world seeing. 

But why is your blessed life beautiful? 

It's not because you were fortunate enough to live in America in 2019. Or another first-world country able to access this blog right now. There are plenty of first-world residents living third-world lives. It's not because you worked hard and earned everything you've got. There are plenty of persons who work hard and have nothing to show for it. It's not because you have the best family or the best friends or the best genes or the best dog or whatever it is you think you've got the best of. 

Your blessed life is beautiful because God made it so. Because God loves you enough to make your life make you beautiful. 

And if you're taking that beauty and doing anything with it but praising Him, honoring Him, witnessing Him, loving Him...then you're no better than Israel in the time of Ezekiel. You're a whore. Hey, I didn't say it - the prophet said it (okay, I kind of said it, too....harsh, but true). 

So what are you gonna do with that? 

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Standard of Righteousness

If you were to go through the Old Testament and pick out the heavyweights, the men (and perhaps women) who set the example that we ought to be following, who would you pick? Certainly, you might say David should be near the top of that list, being the great king and all and the line from which Jesus proceeded. A case could be made for Abraham, who received a tremendous covenant from God to be the father of a people too numerous to count. And if we're counting Abraham, we're just steps away from Isaac and Jacob, and indeed, God is often called the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." It might even be tempting to draw Solomon into this mix, on account of his great wisdom. 

But when given to list the standard of righteousness, the prophet Ezekiel chose none of these men. Rather, he lists a quite interesting three: 

Noah, Daniel, and Job (Ez. 14).

Noah, of course, is the man God called to shelter creation from the coming storm. Long before it even started to rain, God gave Noah the plans for a giant boat, and the man got to work building. In the middle of a field, far from water, Noah built a boat. Against the taunting of the people and the mockery of his community, Noah built a boat. Without anything but a whisper and a word, Noah built a boat. He was faithful at a time and in a way that the world around him thought laughably unnecessary; that was his righteousness. 

Daniel was an Israelite taken to Babylon in captivity, and there, he became one of the elite men of the nation. But it was not his success that made him a righteous man; his righteousness made him a success. So what, then, was the heart of it? It was that, when the nation where he lived issued a decree that no one should pray to any god but the king himself, Daniel was found in an upper room, on his knees, praying toward Jerusalem. And when he was given the chance at all the riches and power and honor in the kingdom on account of the gift God had given him, he never failed to acknowledge God and defer all praise from himself onto the One who truly deserved it. Daniel was faithful in a place where his kind of faith was unpopular; that was his righteousness.

Job perhaps needs not a lot of discussion, but let's talk about him anyway. Job was a man who had it all, and through no fault of his own, lost everything. His friends pushed and pushed him to just confess his sin, but he had no sin to confess. They pressed him to curse God, but he wouldn't do it. Even his wife, at one point, tells him to just curse God and die, but he graciously declines; there's nothing he can think of to curse. So he sits in the ashes of his former life, scratching the itch of his skin disease with broken shards of his own pottery, defending God and praising Him. He was faithful in a time when everyone watching thought it impossible; that was his righteousness. 

It's easy to talk about righteousness with someone like Abraham, who had a promise to go on. Or someone like David, who lived under God's incredible favor. Or someone like Solomon, with a great gift of wisdom. But requiring an example of what righteousness looks like, Ezekiel doesn't turn to a man in a good place; he turns to the men in hard places. That's where true faith is tested. 

And righteousness shows itself in faithfulness where it is unnecessary, unpopular, or impossible...but persists anyway. Believes anyway. Trusts anyway. Prays anyway. Praises anyway. In lives like Noah's, Daniel's, and Job's. 

And mine. 

And yours. 

Are you righteous?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Drunk on His Cup

Have you ever wondered if it's possible to have too much faith in God? It's a strange question, but one that our hearts resonate with. Especially when we realize that we haven't received everything we've asked for in prayer, when our lives are still broken, when our hearts still ache. We wonder if perhaps we haven't believed too much, if the world is right...if we're just foolish to believe in God at all. 

The trouble isn't really having "too much" faith or trusting Him too much or believing in Him too much. The trouble is having the wrong heart of faith, and it's not a new problem. It goes all the way back, at the very least, to Lamentations 4. Here, the author cautions that if you become too cocky about God, you will become drunk on His cup. 

Let's break that down a little bit because this is important. Note that the problem is not trusting God too much or being too sure of what He's capable of; the problem is being arrogant about what you expect from Him. It's a subtle difference, but a vital one. When you're arrogant about what you expect from God, what you're really saying is that God works for you. 

That's a far cry from the humble confession that He loves you. 

What you're saying in arrogance is that you know God so well that you know everything that He's going to do, and you're sure He's going to act in accordance with your will. You're certain He's going to act just the way that you want Him to, just the way that you expect Him to. And when you say this, what you're really saying is: I am God. I see everything that He can see, I know everything that He can know, I feel everything that He can feel. Therefore, He is completely predictable to me because He and I are the same.

It's not true, of course. God can always see more than you can see. He always knows more than you can know. He always feels more than you can feel. You are limited in your flesh; He is not. There is always something more to God than even the fullest thing that we know about Him. Something our flesh just cannot fathom. 

And it's why so many end up "drunk" on God. You've probably met some of them throughout your life. They're the ones who don't seem to care about anything, who live their lives hands-off because they believe so strongly in what God is going to do...even though from the outside looking in, it's clear that He's never actually done any of those things for them. They're the ones that go on believing without any evidence at all, without any promise at all, because they are so sure they know so fully exactly who God is that it doesn't ever occur to them that He is greater even than this. 

So they stumble. They fumble around in the dark, unable to keep their eyes open. Unable to focus their vision on the things they cannot see. They slur their words, always trying to defend what they call faith, but which is really arrogance; they're cocky, so sure of the fullness of God when really, they are only full of themselves. And if ever they start to come out of it, even a little, they feel the sickness deep in their souls, and it's unbearable. So they take another drink and double down. 

Alcoholics, for sure. 

Now, listen, I'm not saying that confident assurance is a bad thing; it's not. We absolutely ought to be certain about what we believe about our Lord. He has revealed Himself to us, and there are things that we can know about Him. That we should know about Him. It's a faith we ought to be building our lives on. 

But this unexamined faith, this blind faith that clings to a caricature of Him, this arrogant faith that declares that God works for us rather than merely that He loves us, this cockiness that depends upon His power but never rests in His's dangerous. It gives us a god made in our image, and it's intoxicating, but it's not real. It's not life-giving. It's not love-giving. It's not Him. 

Every single person who has ever come in contact with God, every story that we have in Scripture, every testimony from the history of the world...their encounter has resulted in a humbling of the heart. They become more realistic about who they are when they discover for real who God is. Not one person has ever truly met God and become cocky about it, even when they have become confidently assured. 

So we must beware of becoming a people who proclaim Him too boldly and we must beware of others who do the same, for it might be that it's not Him, but us. It might be not that He is moving the way we expect Him to, but that we have become arrogant about what we think that we know. It might be that we have taken away all expectation of mystery and convinced ourselves that we have nailed Him down, that He works for us exactly in the ways that we expect and declare Him to. It might be that we have lost sight of His love. 

It might be...that we're just drunk. Drunk on His cup, but drunk nonetheless, stumbling about and slurring our words, about to wake up in the gutter covered in our own grime. 

Lamentations warns us about this, and while we can't let it keep us from believing and from being confidently assured, we must let it remind us that true faith is never arrogant. 

It's always humble. Always.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Mixed Medium

What does it mean to be the people of God? The author of Lamentations says that at one time, the people of God were considered to be gold - precious, valuable, a status symbol, a statement of richness and wealth. Not everybody could have gold and not everything could be gold, so what was made of gold was something that mattered deeply and revealed who the owner was, what kind of means the owner had. God's people revealed that about Him; they were precious and were the evidence of how deeply God loved them and what kind of means He has. 

But something changed, the author says, and now, God's people are regarded as clay pots. They're average, everyday sorts of things. They're common, the kinds of things you can run down to the Walmart and pick up rather quickly....and cheaply. Which is not to say that God's people had become cheap to Him; there's never a moment when you are not precious in His sight. It's just that somehow, they've lost their status as a status. They've become common folk, with a common use, with common lives. 

Likely due to their own sin, which has separated them from the favor that made them God's showcase. Which is another difference we have to recognize between what is gold and what is clay - gold can be purified and washed and cleansed and kept and reused; clay, once sullied, must be broken and discarded. It cannot be restored. 

When we read this in Lamentations 4, we can't help but What a bold and clear statement about just how far Israel has fallen in God's sight. How terrible it is that they've come to this place, where they are just cheap, common pottery and no longer a precious jewel. It's stark. It's sobering. 

And then...

And then the author adds just one little statement more about the pottery, and it changes everything. He says they were once gold, but have become clay..."the work of the potter's hands." Ah, yes. There is that. 

Every piece of pottery, every "common" bowl or dish, every "cheap" and "generic" kind of thing that you could have was still painstakingly created by a craftsman. It started not on a shelf, but in someone's skilled hands. It was nothing but a lump, but look at it now. Common though it is, is has a special sort of design to it and it's one of a kind. There is not another one exactly like it anywhere, nor will there ever be. 

It's easy for us to think about whether we're gold or whether we're clay, and what we most often come up with is that we're clay. We don't often feel like a treasure; we more often feel common. Cheap. Generic. We're the kind of something you can go down to the Walmart and pick up pretty quickly, a standard, run-of-the-mill human being kind of person that's not a symbol of God's wealth or goodness or even His love. We're just...clay pots. 

But we forget that even that shows how loved we are, how carefully and skillfully crafted by a Potter. After all, at one point, we were just dust. Just specks of dust blown about by the wind and now...and now, look at us. Common though we are, there is a special sort of design to us and every one of us is one of a kind. There is not another human being exactly like you anywhere, nor will there ever be. 

Maybe we are clay. Maybe we are. But if we are, that means always this - we are a work of the Potter's hand. And is that really such a bad thing? 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Stain on the Skirt

Can I make you a little uncomfortable today? Just a little? 

Lamentations is written for dramatic effect, to put strong words to the heartache that Israel is causing by her sinfulness. To grieve, out loud, for what she is losing and doesn't even seem to be aware of. It's meant to shake a few shoulders and say, hey, pay attention - this is serious. So it's no wonder, then, that right in the opening chapter, the book states outright that Jerusalem's "uncleanness stains her skirts" (Lamentations 1). 

In other words, her uncleanness is menstrual blood. 

It doesn't take a giant leap to understand that; it just takes a willingness to see it for what the author wants you to see it as. What else is going to stain the skirt? Oh, sure, we could clean it up and say it's flour from baking, the way all of us have dropped a little powder down the front of us in the kitchen. Or we could say maybe it's dirt, from the way that women may have turned up their skirts to make a basket for carrying items. Maybe it's playful, the way children might run up and smear something all over the skirt of a mother. 

But if we're being honest and not bashful about such things, we know that it's menstrual blood the author is talking about. 

And he should be. 

The whole topic makes us a little squeamish, even today. Those are private things, don't you know. Women's kinds of things that only women should talk about in women's kinds of places. We should tuck our hygiene products neatly away where no one has to see them, dispose of them quietly, and mark our calendars in secret so that we can prepare for such unfortunate things and, well, not stain our skirts. 

We get some of this idea, wrongly, from the Scriptures, where we see the Old Testament take a hard line on menstruation. A woman cannot have sex during her period. Anything she touches becomes unclean. She herself is cut off from the community during her active bleeding and then for a period (no pun intended) thereafter, until it's sure she is "clean" again...and we read this in our modern minds and figure she must be cleansed because, well, it's dirty. That's why she has to be cut off. That's why things become tainted. It's dirty

But the menstrual period was never, in Old Testament times, dirty; it was simply unclean. And it's unclean not because of what is gross about it, but because of what is actually going on here:

The very potential for life is flowing out of the woman, unused. The egg, which holds so much promise, is being passed into the die, before it ever even fully lived. Our God, who is Life, grieves over the loss, and how could He not?

It's a stretch, of course, to say that every woman should become pregnant and bear a child every time she is able to do so. We don't see an example of that anywhere, even in Scripture, so that's not the plan. The uncleanness is built into the rhythm of life so that we remember how precious it is; it's part of what God wants us to know, without a doubt. He wants us to take seriously the potential for life and recognize every time it passes us by without notice. Being cut off from her community? It's not punishment, for the man or the woman; it's prayerfulness. 

Never forget, He says, life. The value of life, the meaning of life, the wonder of life, the promise of life, the hope of life, the gift of life.

And that's what's happening in Jerusalem when the author of Lamentations writes these words. They have failed to embrace the opportunity for life by their sinfulness, by their fallenness, by their uncleanness. And yet, it doesn't simply pass by unnoticed; it can't. It stains their skirts, like menstrual blood, for all the world to see the missed opportunity, for all the world to pause to remember, for the people to pray and to repent, for they have forgotten the very thing that He told them never to forget: life. They've lost hold of it because they are unclean...and they are unclean because they have lost hold of it.

So it has become for them a stain that they can no longer ignore, so bold, so glaring, so patently obvious that there's nothing to do but to cut themselves off, to mourn, to pray, and to cleanse their souls so that one coming day after a period of time...they may come back and be a community again. Be His community again. Be His people. 

Washed clean, every stain gone. Cleansed, purified, and full of life once more.

Monday, October 14, 2019

My Brother's Keeper

The last post may have been a little confusing, as it looked at only one angle of the circumstance. What I don't want you to take from it is this idea that the only person you have to worry about in the world is yourself, that you should be constantly focused on your own deeds and doing, or that nothing that happens to others - including your enemies - is your business. That wasn't the point at all. And in fact, the truth is quite the opposite.

For isn't truly caring about others what love is all about? And love is the highest law. 

So it's not that we shouldn't care what others are doing. It's not that we shouldn't invest ourselves in helping even our enemies to overcome their hurts, trials, and sins. Rather, we absolutely should give freely of ourselves in love to help anyone and everyone that we can...because that's what Jesus did. 

What we cannot do is let our own happiness or "success" be staked on the outcome of that. Our lives are not dictated by what others do. Our joy is not dependent upon others. Our peace, our prosperity, our promise doesn't boil down to someone else; we live the faith from our own heart, not from circumstance. 

Which brings us to the heart of the question: am I my brother's keeper? And the answer is...sort of. 

This phrase takes us back to Cain and Abel; it is the response that Cain had when God asked him where Abel was, though both knew exactly where Abel was - Cain had killed him. "Where is your brother?" How should I know? Am I my brother's keeper?

It's another story, like that in Jeremiah, that has this undertone of needing to do something about our enemies in order to secure our own righteousness. In Jeremiah, the people attempted to heal Babylon; in Genesis, brother killed brother. Remember, Abel's sacrifice was accepted and Cain's was not, so he figured that if he eliminated his brother, then his would be the only sacrifice, and it wouldn't have to be better than anyone else's; God would have to accept it. 

But the blood of Abel, the blood of the "enemy," cried out to God from the earth and condemned Cain anyway. And he says, am I my brother's keeper? 

The answer should have been. 

Because whatever you do to your enemies, it doesn't change your life. It doesn't change your righteousness. It doesn't change your circumstances. Whether you heal them, the way Israel tried to heal Babylon, or you destroy them, the way Cain did Abel, you are accepted...or not...based on the way that you live your life, not on the way that someone else lives theirs. 

On this account, then, you should live your life in a way that helps all to live the same kind of life by love. That is, you should labor to help everyone to live a righteous, redeemed life. You should invest yourself in loving others well so that they can see the love of Christ. You should help them to restore their broken places, to overcome their trials, to break free of their chains. You should bring food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, companionship to the lonely. Take care of orphans and widows. 

Are you your brother's keeper? Yes. That's what love is. 

You just have to remember that your life does not hinge on what your brother does with that love; it depends only upon how well you love him in the first place. Brother, neighbor, alien, stranger, enemy - love them all. For this is what we are called to do. And doing this, we show our righteousness. Doing this, we show our faithfulness. Doing this, we show our heart. On this, your life is judged. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Healing Babylon

Jeremiah contains a lot of passages intended to teach Israel how to live in exile. Not only in a way that demonstrates their righteousness and faithfulness, but in a way that is a blessing to Babylon, too. And it would only be human nature if Israel thought maybe this was her chance to turn the tables a bit.

Babylon had always been Israel's monster. Babylon was strong, powerful, and ruthless, and Israel knew that this enemy nation was marching forward, taking prisoners, and conquering lands. She knew it was only a matter of time before this army was on her doorstep, and for a few generations, she lived in great fear. Knowing the heavy shoe that was about to drop. (The prophecies promising exactly that didn't help much in the fear department.) 

And now, here she was, living as exiles in a foreign land, having finally been conquered and taken by Babylon. God's wisdom continues to talk to them about living honorably even in this foreign place, about living faithfully, about praying for Babylon, about how to prosper there, and Israel's probably thinking that if she can really just do all of this, Babylon will see what a great people she is and will feel indebted to her. They can take back the place of power by being good people. They can turn Babylon's wrath away from the people of God. They can somehow set things right by convincing Babylon how wrong it was and by driving them, through the faithfulness of Israel, to repentance. 

And then we come to the end of Jeremiah, and we see that that's just not the case. Jeremiah 51 relays the truth, that God's people tried to heal Babylon, but they couldn't. 

They couldn't. 

Some of you need to hear this truth right now. Yes, I'm talking to you. 

Because we are a people with eyes on our enemies, and we often think that the key to our own lives is somehow healing those who have hurt us. It's better for us if they have peace, if they prosper, if we pray for them. We want to fix others who are broken because it seems like we ought to be able to, and it seems a whole lot easier than just taking responsibility for ourselves. 

So we try to reconcile someone else's broken marriage. We try to eliminate someone else's financial burden. We try to eradicate someone else's unhealthy addiction to alcohol or drugs. We pour ourselves into healing our enemies because hey, maybe we can turn these tables. Maybe we can make them indebted to us. Thankful for us. Pleased by us. And if they're thankful for us, maybe they won't be our bogeyman any more. 

Maybe...if they're not broken, we won't have to be, either. 

But the truth is this, and this is the truth that all need to be reminded of: try as we may, we cannot heal anyone else. We can't. God's people lived in exile for decades and couldn't do it. Too many of us spend most of our life trying, and we will fail. 

The good news, however, is that that's not what God was after. God didn't judge His people and their exile by whether or not they were able to heal Babylon. He judged them by whether or not they lived faithfully in the place that He had put them. That's it. He didn't hold them accountable for "fixing" their enemy or even for turning the tables; He held them accountable for living righteous, faithful lives in a hard place. That's it. 

And we can do that. Can't we? 

We must. Because the book of Jeremiah makes clear that that is what God's asking of us. That's all He's asking of us. Live the faithful life, wherever you are. Even if it's not where you want to be. Even if you're under your enemy's thumb. Even in hard places and troubled times. Live the faithful life. Live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God, and love one another. That's what God's looking for. 

(*Okay, so that last bit came from Micah and then from Jesus, but it encompasses so much of what Jeremiah also had to say to God's people. It just seemed to work. So I went with it.) 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

In Troubles and Hard Times

It's no surprise that when Israel comes under attack from a rampaging Babylon, her first inclination is to run. Fight or flight, and she doesn't think she has the fight in her. Siege ramps are going in, food supplies are being cut off, famine and defeat are right on the horizon, so she starts weighing her options. And in terms of options, "anywhere but here" is looking pretty good right now. There's even talk of fleeing back to Egypt. (Oh, silly Israel. Can't ever seem to shake that Egypt complex you have, can you?) 

It's basic human instinct, and we're very familiar with it. The truth is, most of us run, too. When times get hard, when things are tough, when we don't want to deal with whatever it is that life has thrown at us, our first inclination is to run away. Go somewhere where the problems aren't. Take shelter under someone, or something, stronger than us. It's how we get most of our addictions...and miss so many of our opportunities. 

Yet, we know that God doesn't work like that. Neither does life. And He tells us as much, straight up, just as He told the people of Israel when they started to pack for their trip. 

God says, if you stay faithfully in the war and persevere faithfully through the famine, God Himself will protect and bless you. But if you try to run and shield yourself, you will die (Jeremiah 42). 

In other words, if God has put a trial or a trouble in front of you, the best thing to do is to faithfully stand in it. For then, you will see His power and love played out in your life. It doesn't get much plainer than that. 

Man, it's hard, though. Let's not pretend that it's not hard. It's a lot easier to just run away to a place where those trials and troubles aren't, to a world where they aren't in your face all the time. It's why, after a tough diagnosis, we throw ourselves into our work. Or after we get fired from a job, we throw ourselves into our family. Or after our family breaks up, we drown our sorrows in alcohol. "Anywhere but here" is looking pretty good right now. 

But no good ever comes from running from a hardship. What's the saying? No matter where you go, there you are. Your diagnosis, your unemployment, your divorce, your whatever...these things follow you. You can't just go to Egypt and get away from them. Try as you might, it's just not possible. 

Equally true, however, is what God says, and what He's said all along. That if you'll stand faithfully and persevere, you will see His protection and blessing poured out all over your life. 

I don't know anyone who has regretted fighting a cancer, who has regretted getting a new job, who has regretted working on a broken marriage. I don't know anyone who has fought through some of the hardest darknesses this world has to offer and said, "You know what? It wasn't worth it." Not one. 

I don't know anyone even who has ended up in Babylon anyway, taken by force to a place where they didn't want to be, forced to fight and to serve in ways they never imagined, who, in the end, said, "You know what? Egypt would have been better." Not one. 

And more than that, I don't know anyone who has fought through these troubles and hard times and come out on the other side to say, "I knew it all along; God is not good." Or real. Or loving. Or whatever. Again, not one. 

I've spent a lifetime in hard and broken places, met a lot of persons along the path, and without exception, those who have faithfully endured have come to know exactly what God promised they would - His goodness. Every. single. time. 

So what are you facing right now? What trouble has come against you? Where are the siege ramps in your life being built? What is it that's got you thinking, "anywhere but here?" Because you have it from the Word of God is where it's at. Because it's where He's at. 

Stand tough, even though it's hard, and you'll see Him. Protection and blessing and love poured out on you. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Burning the Scroll

Perhaps one of the most cinematic scenes in all of Scripture comes in the heart of the book of Jeremiah, chapter 36. Here, the king has received a scroll containing the words of the prophet Jeremiah. As he listens to it being read to him next to the fire, he cuts off the scroll every few lines and burns it up. 

And isn't that how we do it, too? 

He could have waited. He could have had the entire scroll read to him, then decided it was not worth keeping around for whatever reason and heaved the entire thing into the fire all at once. How dramatic that would have been! What a statement he would have made! It's the way the atheist makes a bold statement and throws the whole Bible out the window, all at once. Or in the garbage. 

It's blasphemy, we say. Heinous! How dare someone take the whole word of God and just throw it away? How dare this king set it on fire and destroy it? But the king doesn't do it as a whole; he does it little by little, line by line, piece by piece. Which leaves us crying out, but wait! He hasn't even heard the whole thing yet. 

Yet, we're doing exactly the same thing. And we may be doing it more in our current day and age than it has ever been done before (maybe; maybe not). Because we who are Christians take the Bible seriously...but not all of it. We believe it is the Word of God...but there are some things we're not sure about. We preach Jesus...but not all of Him. We talk about the words...but are willing to bend what they mean. 

We take our bibles, line by line, and we throw some of them into the fire. Things that don't fit with the life we're trying to live. Or things that the culture finds offensive. Or parts that we find indefensible. We take it and edit it and whittle it down until all that's left is whatever seems palatable and a pile of ashes, and we say that's still okay - that what we have left is the Word of God. 

But it is oh, so much less. 

And then we try to teach from that, and we can't. We try to live by it, and we can't. We try to love by it, and it's just not possible. We've destroyed so much of it that we haven't heard the whole thing any more. We've tossed so many lines away that what we're left with leaves too many gaps.

Then, the world tells us that our Bible doesn't make any sense, and you want to know something? They're right! It doesn't make any sense. We've edited out the parts of it that make it make sense, that make it radical and revolutionary and remarkable, and it's left us with just a nice neat little story much akin to some kind of fairy tale that makes us smile and feel good and trust in a story that turns out all rainbows and sunshine, but we're missing the meat of it. We're missing the very heart of it. 

Because it was difficult, and so we threw it in the fire. Not all at one, but line by line, piece by piece, little by little as it became just too much to bear. And now, without it, not only do we not have the whole story, but we've got nothing. Nothing

No wonder so many of us are struggling to build a faithful, righteous, sanctified life around that. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


As Judah prepares to go into exile in Babylon, God has a final command for them: free your Hebrew slaves (Jeremiah 34). Whatever brothers and sisters have come into your household as servants due to debt or trespass or whatever, set them free before Babylon takes you. And you might think maybe it doesn't matter all that much - if we're all about to become slaves to another kingdom, what does it matter if Bill is already my slave or if he's a free man?

Oh, it matters. 

It matters for a lot of reasons, actually. First, it matters because the rules in Babylon are different than the rules in Judah. In Judah, a Hebrew slave goes free every 50 years; that's part of the Jubilee. But if you take your slave into Babylon with you, the Babylonian rules make that slave part of your property; he's considered yours, and he loses every right that he has. If you free your Hebrew slave before the captivity, then he goes in as his own man...and comes out that way. If you don't free him, he goes in as property...and likely dies that way. 

Second, you free him to be a good servant to Babylon and to be part of the Judean culture there. Jesus would later say that nobody can serve two masters, and the same principle is at play here. Bill cannot be your servant and faithfully serve you and also be a captive of Babylon and faithfully serve them. And as we've seen, God is all about being faithful even in exile, being nice to Babylon, living a righteous life in captivity. "Pray for Babylon," He tells His people, "for their peace is your peace." (Not an exact quote; the gist of the thing.) Anyway, if Bill has to be first concerned about you, then about your people, then about Babylon...that's too much for Bill to worry about. Free him from being your slave, and you free him to live the kind of righteous life in a foreign land that God is calling you all to. 

Third, if you free your Hebrew slave now, he might not even have to go to Babylon. He may become part of the remnant. Because we know that Babylon left behind some of the poor to work the land, to stay and to dwell and even to govern this new territory that they have taken over. And who is poorer than a man who has spent the last many years as a slave in someone else's house? You could say that in this case, maybe you're doing your Hebrew slave a favor and saving him from the exile altogether by making him a free man, but it's much more than that. 

You've just gifted your slave to your people. 

Think about it. He's learned to serve others by serving you. He's probably pretty good at it. Most slaves were. He was probably dutiful, respectful, hard-working, honest. He was probably thankful for the opportunity to provide for his family in the way that servitude allowed him, giving them all the things he couldn't have given them if he wasn't working for you (and you, then, providing them for him). Yes, indeed, your Hebrew slave has been a great slave and now...and now, he's about to become exactly the kind of guy who preserves Judah. Who keeps Judah. Who works Judah. 

He's the guy who's going to take care of your homeland while you're out of it. Ironically, he can't take care of your house if he's still in it; only by freeing him do you allow him the opportunity to continue to care for your house. And not just your physical property, but the promised land of your people. He's the guy going to take care of the country until you get back. And isn't he exactly the kind of guy you want doing that? A good, faithful, brother who has happened to be a servant...and still will be? If you keep all of your poor brothers in bondage going into captivity, then I'm telling you - aliens are going to become the keepers of Judah, not Hebrews. So not only do you lose your home, but you lose your homeland. 

So on the edge of your own exile, set your brother free. For you may just find that he is your keeper after all, living the righteous life wherever he ends up and holding onto the dignity that is his as a being created in the image of God.  

Monday, October 7, 2019

Loving God

When you made the decision to love God, was that an easy choice or a hard one? Did you come to it after years of prayer and searching or was it an instant love affair? Have you "accepted" Christ, but you're not sure yet if that was really a decision of love or something else?

What about...this morning? What about today when you made the decision to love God again? Or still. Or have you made a decision today to love God?

Do you only make decisions to love God on days when you're actively engaged with Him? You know, like Sundays. Or days when you have to pray. Or days when you need Him for something. Or those rare days when you're just thankful? 

It's complicated, right? This whole Christian life we live is rather difficult, when you think about it. First, we have to figure out how to love God. Then, we have to figure out how to love Him again. And again. And again. And still. Until every day, we love Him, but only, you know, when we're actively thinking about Him, which means that the first thing that we have to figure out when we try to bring God into our lives in a new moment is whether we love Him or not. It's like we have to ask ourselves over and over again; we don't just wake up loving Him. 

If we did, we'd spend all day every day with Him. Thinking about Him. Talking to Him. Texting Him. Smiling at all the little reminders of Him. 

So let's just be honest with ourselves: we don't just "automatically" love God, even when we love Him. Even when we're Christians. We love the idea of God, but put us face-to-face with our need for Him, and we have to decide all over again, it seems, if we love Him. 

What if it weren't that hard? What if it wasn't supposed to be? 

Because, you see, there's a cheat code wired into your very DNA for this exact thing. God Himself has done it. 

He has put it on your heart to love Him (Jeremiah 32).

Think about that for a second. When God created you, when He knit you together in your mother's womb, when He started counting the hairs on your head before you even grew them, He built into your very being an inclination to love Him. 

Which means that all this hesitation we have, all these catch-your-breath moments, all this time we spend trying to figure out if we love Him or's mess. It's distraction. It's the things of this world, the trials of this life, casting shadows in the way. Of course we love Him. 

We love Him in the same way that our hair is brown or our eyes are green or our eyebrows are straight across. Sure, we can dye our hair or get colored contact lenses or pluck and tweeze our brows into some kind of shape - sure, we can choose not to love Him, but our default love. It's just natural. 

And if it's natural, is it really as hard as we're making it? If God has given us to love Him, built it into our very beings, wired it into our circuitry...why do we act like we have to do it out of our own volition? Why do we act like we have to make ourselves love God?

No, no. We just have to let ourselves love Him. 

Although, sometimes, I think that's harder.... 

Friday, October 4, 2019


It's one of the most oft-quoted verses in all of Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future." I've written before about how the "you" in this verse is most properly actually translated "ya'll" - a collective for God's people - but there's something else you can't afford to miss about this verse. 

God speaks it in Babylon. 

In fact, when you read this verse in the context of its passage, you see that the theme of the whole section is basically this: "live and thrive wherever God has you, even if it's not where you want to be."

God tells His people He has a plan in a place where there doesn't seem to be a plan. He tells them He has a hope in a place where there doesn't seem to be a hope. He tells them He has a future in a place where they cannot fathom a future. Most of us would look right back at God and say, "Yeah, I'm not seeing it."

Or, more holy-sounding, "Lord, I cannot see Your plan right now, and I don't know what You're up to. Get me out of this place so that I can see You again. Get me out of here so that I know You are good."

But this passage says God is good right here. There's a plan right here. This is part of it. This place is part of it. If you want to be part of the plan, you have to be part of this place because the plan. starts. now. 

Without today, there is no tomorrow. Without now, there is no later. Without the present, there is no future. Everything that's going to happen starts right here, right now. It has to.

And that means that if you want to live and thrive in a land of your own, start right now by living and thriving here. It means if you want to go home, make home right where you are. It means if you want God to move you, you have to let Him into the place you're living now. He's got to be where you are so that you can get to where He's taking you. 

The plan. starts. now. 

It's hard to hear. I get it. My life is not where I thought it would be at this point, not where I hope it's going to be five years from now. But it's here, and there's a lot of blessed work that I can do right here and a lot of hope that I can have and a lot of lessons that I can learn, and if I spend all of today waiting for tomorrow, then I'm going to miss out on both of them. Live and thrive wherever God has you, even if it's not where you want to be. 

Because tomorrow, it may not be where you are. But if you don't live and thrive today, you've got nothing.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Another Prophet

In the classic way that God works, when His people go astray and start listening to their false prophets because they cannot fathom a way to interpret their faith for themselves, God sends to them a man who can tell them the truth about everything...including their false prophets. 

In other words, when the people get hoodwinked by their false prophets, God sends them a...prophet. (As He does in Jeremiah 23, among other places.) 

This is the kind of thing that drives us absolutely crazy about God, isn't it? We're a people who live in a place with a lot of noise, and at a time when we realize just how much is going on around us, what we really want is for God to put an end to it all and make things clear. 

We want the loud, booming voice. We want the thunder and lightning. We want the smitings and the earth opening up to swallow sinners whole. We want God to just show up and make clear that it's Him and then tell us what's going on. 

But God doesn't work like that, not often. Rather, God often sends us something that looks awfully similar to what we already have. He sends a prophet among prophets, a blessing among blessings, an opportunity in the midst of opportunity. He sends it with a quiet sort of spirit, but a spirit of fire that burns with a passion that cannot be denied. It's the kind of thing we have to look and listen for, but once we're willing to hear it, we can never forget it. 

How do we come to listen to Jeremiah when he tells us to stop listening to the prophets? How do we know that this is the man to listen to when he tells us not to listen to all the men we've been listening to? How do we trust that this is the man who speaks for God when he tells us that these other men are not speaking for God? He looks just like them, and yet...

And yet.

And yet, there was something about Jeremiah that was fundamentally different than all of the false prophets. There was something about him that made him worth listening to. There was something about him that rang out above all of the noise. 

That's what we have to look for. In those times where we're looking for some sign of God that we can't miss, what we really ought to be looking for is that little something that we can't ignore. Yes, maybe it looks like all of the others, but there's something fundamentally different about it that makes it undeniable. That's God. 

Thunder and lightning. Loud, booming voice. Still, small something that tugs at the heart and doesn't let go.