Jeremiah 12-16 (NLT)

Discovering His heart: He longs for repentance rather than judgment

Remember being 13 years old? Help! I remember it well, and I would never ask God for a do-over because once in a lifetime is more than enough. Life was an emotional roller coaster, where one day I thought I was ready to take on the world and the next day I wanted to play with dolls. Laughing and carefree one moment, and crying and depressed the next. I’m not sure why God created us with that year of upheaval in our lives, but I’m sure of this — it’s only because of His mercy that we make it out alive! Jeremiah was just a few years older than this when he found himself prophesying in Judah, but he was flooded with emotions just the same over the assignment God gave him.

Jeremiah’s emotions during this time period seemed to run the gamut. When prophets speak the truth, listeners often get angry. After Jeremiah discovered the plot to kill him because of his truth-telling in Chapter 11, he was angered by these wicked men and called for justice. Why didn’t God just take them out? “Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered! Set them aside to be slaughtered!” (12:3) While swift justice seemed appropriate in this case, do we really want God to respond so quickly to all wrongdoing?

@ Jeremiah 14
Judgment was coming, but God gave Israel yet another opportunity to repent by sending a drought to the land. They responded by crying out for help to the God but did so without a heart of repentance for their rejection of Him. “Our wickedness has caught up with us, Lord, but help us for the sake of your own reputation.” (7) They took the first step by acknowledging their sin, but they did not follow through with repentance and refusal to sin. God wasn’t interested in saving His reputation; He was interested in saving their lives!

So God rejected them. Jeremiah went on, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Do not pray for these people anymore. When they fast, I will pay no attention…Instead, I will devour them with war, famine, and disease.’” (11-12). It seems to be human nature to run to God for help with our problems, but then refuse His Lordship in our lives. This is where mercy is valued over swift justice when we think of those we love who are in this place of disobedience. Unfortunately, God’s patience and mercy for Israel had ended and judgment was finally at the door. It could have been stopped had they been willing to repent. Hopefully, we understand the value of this lesson.

Jeremiah’s anger now turned to compassion as he appealed to God on behalf of Judah and Jerusalem, God’s Holy City, but God’s mind was set. Jeremiah’s response was to become filled with remorse and self-pity. Was all the pain and rejection he had endured for nothing? Now these evil people would take him down with them. He felt like God had rejected him too.

God called Jeremiah to come up higher, “You must influence them; do not let them influence you!” (15:19) He also offered restoration to Jeremiah and promises of protection for him. Because of God’s mercy rather than swift judgment, Jeremiah was given the opportunity to change his attitude. He then prayed with confidence, “Lord, you are my strength, and fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble!” (16:19)

There are times when my emotions can run this same gamut over a situation – all in one day! But, I cry for mercy for myself and for others, not swift justice, repenting when needed and relinquishing my thoughts and cares to Him. I join with Jeremiah, “Lord you are my strength and fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble!”

Moving Forward: Regardless of the situations I face today, I’ll guard my emotions and trust the One who is my strength.

Tomorrow @ Mark 9-10

Jeremiah 7-11 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He desires that we know Him and that we reflect His goodness

I’m not sure what it is that causes us to brag about ourselves sometimes, perhaps a need for acceptance or a need to feel valued. For some it is a way of life, living large in their own eyes on a daily basis. I remember a conversation that took place several years ago where two men were trying to impress me with who was wearing the most dollars. They had no idea that $500 shoes, $300 sweaters and $1,000 watches really didn’t impress me much. I kept thinking of what a missionary could do with that money.

I’ve found the best way to counteract habitual braggarts is to beat them to the punch by complimenting and bragging on them before they have a chance to open their mouths. This makes everyone happy. In our reading today, God has an even better idea on the subject.

@ Jeremiah 9
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things.’” (23-24)

If we find it necessary to boast, the only thing worth boasting about it that we know God. In Hebrew, the term to know speaks of an intimate and personal relationship. When we are intimate with someone, we know how they think and act, and we seem to know what they are going to say before they say it because we are of one mind. Of course, the more we know God, the more we realize how little we know Him. It’s an ongoing ever-present quest for us as believers, but what a journey!

The more we know Him, the more we understand and reflect His divine attributes, and He summed them up so clearly for us in His words to Jeremiah – unfailing love, justice or fairness, and righteousness. The more we exhibit these traits in our lives, the more obvious it is that we are on the quest to know Him, yet we understand with Jeremiah, “Lord, there is no one like you! For you are great, and your name is full of power… Among all the wise people of the earth and in all the kingdoms of the world, there is no one like you.” (10:6-7)

In light of this, should we give up on our pursuit to know Him, to be like Him? No! Paul challenged us in Ephesians 5:1, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children.” 2 Peter 1:3 gives us this hope, “By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence.” Most assuredly, no one will ever mistake us for God in our pursuit, but through Jesus, He has given us everything we need to Him resemble Him along the way.

Moving Forward: My prayer and song today, “More love, more power, More of You in my life. More love, more power, More of You in my life. I will worship You with all of my heart. And I will worship You with all of my mind. And I will worship You with all of my strength. For you are my Lord, You are my Lord.” (Jeff Deyo)

Tomorrow @ Mark 7-8

Jeremiah 1-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He fills our mouths with words of hope for the lost

Artists are generally sensitive individuals. Having dabbled in oil painting through the years, I know that my best work is done when I’m not distracted and when I stay focused on the scene I’m painting. When I allow the beauty of the landscape or the drama of a scene that I’m painting to touch my heart, the feelings that are stirred end up on the canvas. They tell a story while leaving room for the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks, and that is the goal of any artist.

We begin the Book of Jeremiah today, a book filled with warnings and judgments from God for Judah and Israel through His prophet, Jeremiah. Fortunately, Jeremiah was a sensitive guy and an artist of sorts in the way he delivered God’s word. By using word pictures throughout the book, Jeremiah painted many pictures of warning for the Israelites, but sadly, they didn’t appreciate his work.

At only 20 years old, Jeremiah received this word from the Lord, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.’ ‘O Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!’ The Lord replied, ‘Don’t say, “I’m too young,” for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!’ Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, ‘Look, I have put my words in your mouth!’” (1:5-10) And so, the painting began…

“The heavens are shocked at such a thing…For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” (2:12-13) Picture a dry and thirsty nation leaving a life-giving fountain of water for cracked empty pots in the ground, forsaking the true and living God for dead, useless idols. Jeremiah’s illustrations showed the shocking foolishness of Judah’s behavior.

Jeremiah painted pictures of the unfaithful wife, the thief, the crooked road and wayward hearts, stalking lions, destroyed vineyards, storms, playing children, plowed ground and so many more vivid pictures. All were painted by a yielded artist who used the words that God had placed in his mouth to tell the story of judgment that would come if Judah did not repent. Each picture was worth a thousand words, but at the moment, Judah wasn’t into art.

“My heart, my heart—I writhe in pain! My heart pounds within me! I cannot be still. For I have heard the blast of enemy trumpets and the roar of their battle cries.” (4:13) We would expect this anguish from the heart of one so tender towards God. Jesus had much the same response to the condition of Jerusalem in His day, “But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, He began to weep. ‘How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.’” (Luke 19:41-42) However, all those who accept Him today joyfully celebrate the way to peace during this Easter Season.

Reading about the life of Jeremiah should be a wake-up call for us. For over 40 years he faithfully spoke the message God had given him although no one responded to it. Ever mindful of the task set before me, I am challenged to paint the picture and tell the story of Jesus to a world that is in much the same shape as the world in Jeremiah’s day. Will I be faithful regardless of the response? Am I so broken by all that I see around me that I weep for those without hope and those in need of a Savior? Before it’s too late…

Moving Forward: I pray today that I will share His message from a broken heart, painting a picture of hope for each lost soul. And as the Lord was with Jeremiah, I know He will be with me.

Tomorrow @ Mark 5-6

Job 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Unthreatened by our questions, He answers those at the heart of our need

The tales I’ve heard about the language mother’s-to-be have used in the throes of delivering their babies could make a grown woman blush, especially in the days before the pain relievers available today.  I think of the dear father coaching his sweet wife along in the process when the pain of an absolute explosion occurring in her abdomen causes her to lash out at the instigator of all this pain.  Obviously, the lack of understanding in his advice was insulting and not welcomed.  Poor guy – he was just trying to help!

Just like these fathers, we may experience something similar when we offer advice after listening to someone’s woes.  That well-intended advice could come back to bite us. Some questions come to mind from our reading today in Job:  In the midst of a struggle and in our telling of it to others, what response are we really expecting from them?  What is our responsibility as a listener? 

@ Job 3
In all the trials that Job faced, he did not take his wife’s advice to curse God, but he did do some cursing.  “At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth.” (1)  So miserable was his existence that he asked that the day of his birth be removed from the calendar. (6)  Job just wanted to die.  Jeremiah expressed similar words in Jeremiah 20:14, “Yet I curse the day I was born! May no one celebrate the day of my birth.  I curse the messenger who told my father, ‘Good news—you have a son!’”  Some struggles in life are so painful that dying just seems easier.

Job began his questioning of why, seven times just in this chapter alone. “Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die…Why is life given to those with no future?” etc. (11-23)  God isn’t really threatened by our questions because He made us and understands our desire to know the answer to our why; but in this testing, God had more important truths for Job to learn.

Job’s friends had come to him and sat in silence which was the custom of the day, but also because grief and anguish leave many of us without words.  However, when Job started to ask his many questions, his friends felt compelled to answer, and answer they did.  As in the mother scenario, Job did not care for their answers.  Perhaps we can learn from Job’s experience that when going through a crisis, we can express our sadness and pain to caring listeners, but for the answers to our difficult questions, we are wise to go to those who may have actual answers, and even more so, we should seek the Lord. 

@ Job 4
Put on the spot, Eliphaz, the most seasoned of Job’s friends, felt obliged to answer, “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed?  My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same.” (7-8)  Because we are privy to the dialogue of Chapter 1, we know that Eliphaz, in all his experience, was just offering his opinion in Job’s case and even had the audacity to say he was speaking on God’s behalf.  His counsel to Job was inaccurate and wasn’t helpful.

In Galatians 6:2, Paul strongly encouraged to “Share each other’s burdens,” and this is one of the many blessings we receive as believers.  Sometimes we feel all we can do is listen to our hurting friend, but so often, that is exactly what is needed.  The most valuable time Job’s friends spent with him was when they sat in silence.  From Eliphaz’s poor counsel, we learn that the best and most helpful advice is based on fact and not on opinion.  Finally, praying with our friend is the one thing we can do that opens the door to God’s supernatural intervention for their need. Whether He uses us or someone else to help our friend, He is the One who knows all the right answers to all the questions and reveals them at just the right moment.

Moving Forward: For those I meet today who may be hurting, I pray that my response is Spirit-led, whether in simply listening or in sharing truths. 

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 7-11

Lamentations (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  “Great is His faithfulness”

“I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken.”(2:11) Jeremiah cried in anguish over the ruins of Jerusalem in Lamentations, appropriately named.  A lamentation is a song or poem expressing grief or sorrow, and the book of Lamentations is just that, a funeral dirge for the loss of lives, the devastation of war and God’s rejection of Israel because of their rebellion.  God  removed His hand of protection from Israel, and the enemy came to destroy it.  Jeremiah was at a funeral, but before we put on our black garb and pass the tissues, we need to continue reading.

After experiencing the devastation of September 11, we have an idea of Jeremiah’s pain and emotions as he looked over the smoldering city.  One of his greatest sorrows was remembering what was – the beautiful palaces and city gates, the children laughing and playing.  And he remembered the temple, the place of holy festivals and Sabbath days, His altar and sanctuary (2:6).

With the many, many churches in each of our cities today, we may not understand the importance and focal point of the Temple in early cultures. Traveling through Europe today and viewing the landscape of old cities, I have noticed that the dominant structure in each one is the church in the heart of the city.  Jeremiah grieved over his broken temple, the focal point of his city, his life.

I understand this heartache when I think of my nation that is broken in so many ways, remembering what was – a nation founded on Biblical principles where God’s blessing and hand of protection were valued and sought after.  Sadly, we have taken God’s role in our nation’s beginning out of our textbooks, our schools and our hearts.  And with Jeremiah, I shout, “Cry aloud before the Lord…let your tears flow like a river day and night.  Give yourselves no rest…rise during the night and cry out.  Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.  Lift up your hands to Him in prayer, pleading for your children.”(2:18-19)  This can be our only response, turning our hearts back to our God in prayer, not only for us, but for our children as well.

The hope of Jeremiah’s Lamentations and of ours is this, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning..For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever…because of the greatness of His unfailing love.” (3:21-23,31-32)  The restoration of Israel has been slow, but Jeremiah’s tears and prayers have reached down through the centuries, along with the prayers of countless others, and Israel is once again a strong nation.  No one can deny that His hand of protection has been on Israel. Great is His faithfulness.

I am challenged today to pray harder than ever before for the restoration of my nation with the understanding that we do not have centuries for it to happen.  If we pray, if we repent, He will respond to our prayers because of His unfailing love – He just can’t help Himself. 

Moving Forward: I am encouraged today by God’s unfailing love and His new mercies for me and for my nation.  With hope I believe and sing, “Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever will be.” 

Tomorrow @ Luke 9-10

Jeremiah 47-52 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He patiently waits for His long-lost children to return home, not wanting any to be lost

There’s little that concerns me more than waiting for my husband and children when they’re late returning home.  I’ve never considered myself highly imaginative, but in moments like this, I surprise myself.  I imagine accidents and breakdowns, degenerates and aliens, all converging on my loved ones. Help!  Even when I know everything is fine, I just want them home, safe and sound. Regardless of the anticipation I feel on these occasions, I really can’t begin to imagine the longing that our Father has for His long-lost children to come home, but one thing I am certain of is that He’s waiting for them.

Jeremiah opened his book with this declaration from God, “I will certainly carry out all my plans,” (1:12), and by the last chapter of Jeremiah, He did just that.  Jeremiah 46 was the beginning of pronouncements from God against the countries surrounding Israel.  Powerful Egypt met its doom and was ultimately consumed by the Babylonians.  The following chapters continue with many other indictments on nations, including Israel itself.  The futures of Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, Elam and Babylon were not rosy.

It’s interesting that the Moabites and Ammonites, who had long been contentious with Israel, were actually descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and the Edomites descended from Jacob’s twin brother, Esau. All were considered enemies of Israel and had done their best to wipe them out, but their day was coming. God judged them for their pride and their vicious treatment of His wayward sheep, Israel.

At first glance, these chapters in Jeremiah are negative and certainly not uplifting, but with a second look, we can find a tiny bud of hope amongst all the destruction.  Although Israel’s sins were many as they copied the idolatry of the surrounding nations, God had made a covenant with Abraham and His eye was on a remnant, a remnant that would turn to Him in their hour of need.  He was waiting for them. 

@ Jeremiah 50
“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains.  They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.” (6)  But He would help them.  In coming days Israel would return to their land, weeping and searching for God, “They will bind themselves to the Lord with an eternal covenant that will never be forgotten.” (5)  “In those days…no sin will be found in Israel or in Judah for I will forgive the remnant I preserve.” (20)

Israel did return home, they restored their culture and temple and their sins were forgiven.  However, many centuries later they rejected the Messiah because they were so full of their religious ways that they did not recognize Him.  Through His Word, we have the promise that one day the Messiah will reign in Israel, and it will be fully restored and forgiven.  He is waiting for them.

Jeremiah 50 is a source of hope for me.  When things looked so devastating for Israel, God had not given up on them. He found the remnant, the lost sheep of Israel, and brought them home. There are those we love who are lost, and they can’t seem to remember how to get back to the sheepfold.  But the Great Shepherd has not given up on them, and He will find them! (Luke 15:4)  While we anxiously wait for the day that the Messiah  returns to reign, it is for our loved ones He is waiting.  “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9)  He is waiting for them. 

Moving Forward: I pray today, once again, for those I love who can’t seem to find their way to God.  I’m so thankful that He is longsuffering and patient and that He loves them even more than I do.

Tomorrow @ Luke 7-8

Jeremiah 42-46 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He measures our success by our obedience to Him

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are about on my last nerve!?”  I think this sentiment would be a fitting assessment of God’s feelings toward Judah at this point in the book of Jeremiah. Approximately 140 years earlier the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the invading Assyrians because of their unrepentant hearts.  God had sent numerous prophets to warn Judah of a similar outcome if they did not repent of their sins and turn to Him.  Even after Judah’s beloved Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, the remaining Jews fled to Egypt in disobedience. Right there, last nerve.

The message of God’s last prophet in Judah, Jeremiah, had not been well received.  He was ridiculed, imprisoned, abandoned and finally dragged off to Egypt against his will by the fleeing Jews because his message convicted them of their willful idolatry.  After his move to Egypt, no other events in Jeremiah’s life are recorded in Scripture.  The remaining chapters in Jeremiah consist of earlier prophecies and events.  Jeremiah traveled a rough road, to say the least.

In Chapter 44, Jeremiah gave his final warning from God to the Judeans living in Egypt, and their response was, “We will not listen to your message from the Lord!  We will do whatever we want.” (44:16-17) Very few scriptures in the Bible so accurately reflect the attitude of people today. Through media’s subtle message, we have been told that we are our own moral compass, and we can do whatever we want.  Those who must follow God are just not very enlightened.

We unenlightened ones have a formidable task in presenting the gospel at times, but so very few of us have ever faced the ridicule and treatment that Jeremiah faced, not that it couldn’t happen one day.  It just seems like, in light of the story of Jeremiah and what he endured, I could take a few moments to share the wonderful love of Jesus with, say, my neighbor…

Many would say Jeremiah was not very successful in his ministry.  He did not turn thousands to the Lord through his eloquent speaking and the multitudes did not clamor for his healing touch.  In fact, nobody really even liked Jeremiah – I mean, who wants to hang out with someone who is negative and cries all the time!  But then, as we know, God doesn’t measure our success by how well we are liked.

God doesn’t even measure our success by the many sacrifices we have made. “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,” (I Samuel 15:22)  No, Jeremiah was successful because he was obedient to God.  Whether we walk a road like Jeremiah or never experience a bump in the road, we are successful when we do what He wants us to do. 

Moving Forward: I’m challenged by the life of Jeremiah to share God’s message of truth with those around me and walk in obedience to whatever He wants. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 5-6