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

Jeremiah 37-41 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He rewards our faithfulness when we face opposition

I always marveled at the tenacity and courage of an elderly man who stood day after day on various busy corners in our city wearing a placard that said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Through the years I saw him receive many signs of agreement with honking, thumbs up and friendly waves.  I also saw crude gestures and unkind words; however, this did not deter the man from doing what he felt was his part in building the Kingdom of God.  He didn’t let his temporary comfort level and the measure of his popularity affect the eternal destination of a soul that needed to hear the good news.  I never heard if anyone’s life was changed by his stand for the Lord, but rest assured, Heaven was keeping track of it.

The story of Judah’s last king is a sad one.  King Zedekiah was only 21 years old when he was appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to rule over Judah as his vassal.  Maybe his age played into his poor leadership, but regardless, he was only interested in saving his own life.  The prophet Jeremiah was unpopular with the king and the Israelites living in Judah because his message from God was one they didn’t want to hear – surrender to God or die.

The king’s officials had imprisoned and beaten Jeremiah because they hated his message, yet the king secretly listened to the prophet’s message, “King Zedekiah secretly requested that Jeremiah come to the palace, where the king asked him, ‘Do you have any messages from the Lord?’” (37:17)  Zedekiah was not willing to openly accept the message of the prophet because of fear of what his officials would think of him.  What would they do to him? Jeremiah, however, bravely spoke God’s message no matter what the consequences.

Zedekiah would one day regret his cowardice.  He eventually lost his kingdom, lost his family, lost his eyes and lost his freedom. (39:6-7)  We do not have the promise that our stand for God will always save our lives – many have been martyred through the centuries – but we will be able to look back without regret.

Jeremiah had suffered much because he took a stand in the face of opposition, but he ultimately came out the winner.  Jeremiah was offered freedom and protection by the Babylonian king who took Israel captive.  What a different outcome than that of Zedekiah!  The words of Jesus come to mind in Luke 12:8, “I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.”

God may never lead us to wear a sign on the street corner, but He is expecting us to boldly stand for truth whenever and wherever we are given the opportunity. Whether it’s a new job or new neighborhood or perhaps a new relationship, taking a stand and proclaiming truth in love are just easier over the long haul.  They involve no cover-up or fancy footwork, promise no regrets and secure a place in heaven before God’s angels. 

Moving Forward:  May I live this day without regrets, not missing even one opportunity to take a stand for the One who will one day take a stand for me before all of Heaven. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 3-4

Jeremiah 32-36 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He will not easily let go of us and rewards our commitment to stay

Because I went to a small college and knew my fellow students fairly well, the first day of school each term was somewhat revealing as to how difficult our classes would be.  After we filed into each of our classes, we would look around the room for the curve wreckers – those students that we knew would ace the tests and raise the grading curve for all the other students.  In our reading, Jeremiah, too, was looking in his day for those who would set the standard high and follow after God. 

@ Jeremiah 33
While Babylon was laying siege to the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah received these words of promise from the Lord, “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come…You expect to fight the Babylonians, but the men of this city are already as good as dead…Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace…I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line.  He will do what is just and right throughout the land…I will never abandon the descendants of Jacob or David, my servant…Instead, I will restore them to their land and have mercy on them.” (3-26)

This message to Jeremiah reveals the heart of our Lord.  He desires that we ask Him when we need direction for our lives.  In our asking, we are humbly saying that we cannot figure this out on our own and that we are dependent on Him for His help, and He responds to our submission to Him. “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.” (Matthew 7:7)

The “righteous descendant from King David’s line” is yet another Old Testament prophetic promise about Jesus.  Although Israel would face dismal times, God had not given up on His special treasure, and He had a plan to redeem them.  Even still, the Israelites rejected the first coming of Jesus, but these scriptures foretell of His second coming where His throne will be forever established in Jerusalem.

Israel’s existence today is proof that He has not given up on His chosen ones. As adoptees into this family, it is our assurance as well that He will not give up on us.  He will send Jeremiahs into our lives to call us back to Him if we stray, and as with Israel, He will not let us slip away without great effort to keep us.  Oh, how He loves us! 

@ Jeremiah 35
Oh, those Recabites! They were the curve wreckers of their day.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)  For over 200 years, this Nomadic group had followed their ancestor’s special vow of dedication to God to not drink wine, to not buy land and to not plant crops.  Because Israel had trouble keeping a commitment to God for two minutes, much less 200 years, God brought the Recabites before the Israelites as an example of steadfast devotion to Him.  “Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me…Jehonadab son of Recab will always have descendants who serve me.” (13,19)  As with the Recabites, I pray that my commitment to the Lord will be so evident that it is imprinted on the hearts of my children and my children’s children.

Today I have learned a lesson about how to obey Him. I am challenged to listen to the Jeremiahs of my generation even though their messages don’t always bring warm fuzzies to my heart.  Their messages from God are given to save me, protect me and keep me so that I may one day worship before God’s very throne in Heaven.  I’m challenged to be a curve wrecker in my generation, setting the bar high and keeping strong my commitment to follow the Lord in obedience.   If I do this, I believe He has promised that I will always have descendants who serve the Lord! 

Moving Forward: I move forward today so very thankful that He has not given up on me.  I pray that I will always have descendants who follow the Lord, and may they be the curve wreckers of their generation! 

Tomorrow @ Luke 1-2

Jeremiah 27-31 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He will be found when we search for Him with our whole hearts

When someone has both good news and bad news to offer us, we are often asked, “Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?  I usually prefer to hear the bad news first so that the conversation can end on a high note.  Some people feel they can only handle bad news after a healthy dose of good news to fortify them.  Jeremiah had been sharing devastating news to the Israelites for quite some time, not that it had done much to change their lifestyles, but finally he was given words of hope and encouragement from the Lord for His people.  And great news it was! 

@Jeremiah 29
Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon contained some of Scripture’s most quoted and encouraging verses, “For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.  ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.’” (11-13)

The best news on the planet today is that He has plans for us and He knows what they are even when we don’t.  If I understood why He so often waits to share those plans with us, I would certainly explain it, but most of the time I just don’t know why.  I do know that He reveals His hope-filled future for us at just the right moment, His right moment, and they are good plans, plans we could not have made through our own limited abilities.

In addition to the good advice from yesterday’s reading in Job to “glorify His mighty works, singing songs of praise” when we are waiting on Him, God has given us some tangible steps to follow while we wait on Him.  “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! (5-6)  In other words, we are encouraged to continue on in life with hopeful optimism, preparing for the future with what we know to do until His plans are revealed.  During this time, we are challenged to look for Him wholeheartedly – enthusiastically, sincerely, unconditionally, with a whole heart – and He has promised that He will be found.

In the holding pattern, it’s easy for me to become discouraged and want to give up.  Where are you, God?  What is Your plan? But, of course, this response to my challenge is not the wholehearted response He desires.  I have determined to keep building, planting and seeking Him with the understanding that He is listening and I will find Him!

Obviously, with all this activity there is little time for moping, pouting, withdrawing or hermiting.  If we follow His instructions, we move forward with hope, confidence and prayer, waiting for the revelation of His good plans! 

Moving Forward:  Help me today, Lord, to follow your instructions and wholeheartedly look for You and Your plan as I build, plant, eat and do all that I know to do. 

Tomorrow @ Mark 15-16

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 certain why God created us with that year of upheaval in our lives, but one thing I am sure of, 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 still 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 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 wrong doing?

@ 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 with 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 hand. 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 the 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 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 from it 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 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