Sunday, November 29, 2015

This week's lesson (November 28 - December 4): the Destruction of Jerusalem

"Jesus wept" --John 11:35 (NIV).

Want to know what Jeremiah really thought about the fall of Jerusalem?

Read the Book of Lamentations.
Just like its name says, Lamentation is a collection of laments -- five poems (the first four of which are acrostics) that mourn the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
And yes, there is hope; at the heart of these poems is this promise:
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."
The LORD is good to those whose hope its in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust -- there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. 
For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men -- Lamentations 3:21-33 (NIV).
But this message of hope is surrounded by grim accounts of Jerusalem's desolation -- accounts such as this one in Jeremiah 2:11f (NIV):
My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city. They say to their mothers, "Where is bread and wine?" as they faint like wounded men in the streets of the city, as their lives ebb away in their mothers' arms.
Jeremiah's hope is not glib, in other words -- and his account of God's judgment is not some bloodless balancing of karma's scale.

No, there is a human cost to it all -- a human tragedy -- and his recognition of that human cost gives pathos to Jeremiah's message.

You cannot denounce sin, in other words, if you don't love the sinner.

You cannot denounce sin if you don't mourn what it does to the sinner.

No, you cannot preach judgment like Jeremiah . . .

Not unless you cry like Lamentations.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

This week's lesson (November 21-27): Jeremiah's yoke

"To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 'We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by her deeds" -- Matthew 11:16-19, NIV.
It's no wonder people preferred Hananiah to Jeremiah.

Hananiah told them what they wanted to hear.

It's 594 BC, remember, and Babylon's already invaded Judah.

Twice.

"And it's not over," says Jeremiah. "In fact, it's going to get worse."

"Nonsense," says Hananiah. There's nothing but good times ahead."

Guess which prophet was most popular?

Yes, Jeremiah 28's a good example of confirmation bias, i.e. our tendency to hear the news we want to hear (and ignore anything we don't).
  • Want to know if that dress makes you look fat? Ask the people whom you know will say, "no."
  • Looking for insight on the day's news? Watch the station that supports your views on politics.
  • Holding a conference on The Great Issues of Our Day? Invite experts who support "the right side" -- and tell everyone else to stay home.
Hananiah may be dead and gone, in other words -- but his spiritual descendants are alive and well (and making more money all the time).
To be sure, reality is not always kind to the Hananiahs of this world (viz. Jeremiah 28:9).

And it can be even more unkind to the people who listen to the Hananiahs of this world.

That's because you might get the prophets you want.

But they may not be the prophets you need.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

This week's lesson (November 14-20): Josiah's reforms

"Desire without knowledge is not good -- how much more will hasty feet miss the way" (Proverbs 19:2, NIV).
Josiah was a righteous man.

Too bad that wasn't enough.

Of his righteousness, the Bible is clear:
  • He orders repairs on the Temple -- repairs that discover a Book of the Law.
  • In accordance with this Book of the Law, he orders the destruction of pagan shrines, and the celebration of a great Passover.
  • And "neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did -- with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses" (2 Kings 23:25, NIV).
So far, so good.
Unfortunately, Josiah gets involved in politics -- international politics. When Pharaoh Necho of Egypt sent troops to assist Assyria in its fight against Babylon . . . 
Josiah marched out to meet him in battle. But Necho sent messengers to him, saying, "What quarrel is there, king of Judah, between you and me? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you." 
Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Necho had said at God's command but went to fight him on the plains of Megiddo. 
Archers shot King Josiah, and he told his officers, "Take me away; I am badly wounded." So they took him out of his chariots, put him in his other chariot and brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. He was buried in the tombs of his ancestors, and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him [And] Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah . . . (II Chronicles 35:20-25, NIV).
In short, even good people can make mistakes.
Even righteous people can be wrong.
And even though Josiah led God's people in reformation and revival, that didn't mean you should always follow him.

No, there was nothing wrong with Josiah's heart.

It's his head that got him in trouble.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This week's lesson (November 7-13): the crisis continues

Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.
-- Philip P. Bliss (1873)
Jeremiah never stood alone.

And yes, it's easy to think he did -- to think of him as a solitary prophet, preaching to to an uncaring crowd, risking opprobrium with his unpopular message . . .

Just as we must do so today -- right?

But for someone with such an unpopular message, Jeremiah sure seemed to have a lot of friends.
  • Consider Baruch ben Neriah, for instance -- the aristocratic scribe who records and spreads his message (cf. Jeremiah 36).
  • Or Ahikam and Gedaliah -- both descendants of the same court secretary who delivered the Law to Josiah (cf. II Kings 22), and both officials who protect Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 26 & 40).
  • When "priests and prophets" all agreed Jeremiah should die, it's the "officials" and "elders of the land" who defend him (Jeremiah 26).
  • Then you have Ebed-Melech -- the Ethiopian eunuch who rescues Jeremiah from certain death in a cistern (Jeremiah 38).
  • And when Jeremiah is bound in chains and ready to be carried into exile, he is freed by Nebuzaradan, the commander of Babylon's imperial guard (Jeremiah 40)!
To be sure, Jeremiah faced all kinds of opposition.
But he also had friends, supporters, and protectors.
And the same should be true today. 
You may not be called to speak for God, after all, but you can support those who do.
No, you may not be called to be another Jeremiah -- but you can be another Baruch, Ahikam, Ebed-Melech, or even another Nebuzaradan.
Yes, to paraphrase an old song:
Stand with Jeremiah!
He must not stand alone!
Help to make get his message out!
Help to make it known!

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

This week's lesson (October 31 - November 6): symbolic acts

"The best way to predict your future
 is to create it." -- Peter Drucker.
True prophets predict the future.
Except, of course, when they don't.
Take Jeremiah 18, for instance -- a chapter that plays with our usual notions of "Destiny" and "Fate."
  • God is the potter and we are the clay? CHECK
  • God shapes and molds us as He thinks best? CHECK
  • Therefore, our destinies are fixed, our fates have been sealed, and everything proceeds according to the sovereign plans of an omniscient, omnipotent God? UMMMM . . . 
Sorry.
But Jeremiah 18 says God doesn't work that way.
Instead, it pictures prophecy as provisional -- as contingent upon our response.
  • If God promises something good, for instance, then that's no reason to relax.
  • And if God promises something bad, then that's no reason to despair.
  • But do good, says Jeremiah and good things will happen . . . 
Even if God didn't say they would.
Prophecy is not a parade, in other words -- a parade in which everyone marches along the route God told them to go.
Instead, it is a dance -- a dance in which God responds to us as we respond to God . . . 
Not to mention His response to our response to His response . . . 
Okay, I'll stop there.
In short, you never know what God will do -- not even if He's the one who predicted.
But you can always predict what God wants.
Yes, He wants you to be saved.
So what are you going to do about it?