Here is the video from our middle school fall retreat, if you’d like to see it.
I’m continuing to read through the book of Jeremiah, reading chapters 14-17 today.
I admit it. I’m already tired of Jeremiah. The constant warning to the people to repent, the repetitive threats of what will happen to them, the constant beat down of how sinful they are and how the nation is going to fall, it’s all wearing on me. I confess it, and put it out in the open. I am tired of reading this book.
Which, of course, makes me wonder, why am I so tired of this book? Shouldn’t I feel compassion for the people who about the be destroyed? Shouldn’t I feel awe for God’s power and mercy? Shouldn’t I run to hide in God’s holiness as I realize how serious He is about obedience?
But instead, I feel beat up and weary of the message.
I think part of it is conviction, because I know I am guilty of what the Israelites were guilty of. They worshiped fake gods instead of worshiping and serving the True God. I do that all the time, whenever I turn to anything for comfort that isn’t Jesus. It’s idolatry, and I am guilty. So, as I read this, I know this is how God should treat me. It scares me, and brings my guilt to the surface. I don’t like the daily reminder, and I want to move on to the more “loving” passages where I feel better. But, these passages in Jeremiah are about love.
Second, I don’t like this side of God. The vengeful, judging, angry side of God. It makes Him seem like a big whiny baby. ”I’m gonna get you!” is all He seems to say. I don’t like hearing God say that. I like the loving God of other parts of the Bible. As I ask God about all of this, I begin to realize something that may just be my own issues, I’m not sure if any of you ever have these feelings or not. But, here is what I am understanding a little more.
If we back up from the Jeremiah story, God loves the whole world. Every person made is loved by Him. He speaks to them, calls them, and wants them to trust Him. His story with Israel wasn’t the ONLY story of Him loving people. It is the main story, but not the only story. God equally loves every person from Adam on down through the lines. He does NOT love Israel MORE than other people. Sometimes, reading the Old Testament, I begin to quietly believe He was only working with the Jews. But He wasn’t. Their story was special, not because God loved them more, but because He gave them more opportunity to serve Him. Because He has incredible grace and mercy, He picked them to receive extra gifts. He put His temple with them, He blessed their kings, He gave them the Scriptures. They didn’t deserve it all. He just did it. His plan was for them to take these special gifts, and as they used them to obey Him, other nations would see it, and then those nations would understand the truth, and be drawn closer to Him as well. It’s actually a plan filled with kindness. He knew people needed a visual to understand things, so He gave them the nation of Israel as that visual. The Jews just happened to benefit from the deal, because God chose them. He could have chosen anyone, but He chose them.
So, as the Jews were obeying God, the other nations would be blessed as they saw what obeying God looked like, and followed suit. The problem was, the Jews thought they were special, that God owed them, and that all of this blessing was for them to spend on themselves. They were selfish with it, and never really shared it. Because they held it to themselves, in time they lost their love for God as well, and THEY copied the OTHER nations, completely reversing what God had set up.
By the time we get to Jeremiah, the Jews have stubbornly, selfishly, and immaturely so screwed the whole thing up, it was irreparable. God had no choice but to do away with the nation of Israel, and start over. That is where the prophets come in. God is trying to warn the few remaining people who might still love Him to get ready. Most of the people were not going to listen, no matter what. The prophets are the last little voice telling anyone who still loved God to prepare themselves for what is coming.
So, when we read the ominous and dark words in Jeremiah, they aren’t the words of a pouty God throwing a fit. They are the last verses of a love song God is trying to sing to the few remaining people who know and love Him. When we understand this, it all makes a lot more sense, and it doesn’t feel so dreadful.
But the question still remains, what do we do with it? Are we spending God’s blessing in our lives on ourselves, instead of spreading it out around the world? Where are you and I personally guilty of the sins of the Israelites? The call to repent and fix it is still the same, and it’s not too late. What will you do differently today?
I’m reading through the Blue Letter Bible study schedule on You Version. It’s a schedule that puts the Bible in chronological order, so that you read chapters and books in the order they happened. Overall, it’s been very interesting.
Today, I hit Jeremiah, and read the first few chapters. The message is pretty clear, God is frustrated with His people. You read through the book, and it is full of threats, angry words, and dreadful images. For a lot of people this is the image of God they have, an angry old king in a far off land railing on the people He created. For others, they will talk about how there is one side of God in the Old Testament (angry) and the other side of God in the New Testament (happy). Neither of these ideas fit at all with what the Bible teaches us about God.
So, what gives then, when we hit stuff like Jeremiah’s writing in the Bible? How do we make sense of it?
I definitely don’t grasp all of why God says what He does. I mean, after all, He’s God. I’m not. Not much more to it than that.
BUT, as I was reading today, I was asking God about this, and he reminded me of something that goes on in my own house. Sometimes, as we are dealing with our daughters, they simply won’t listen to what we are telling them. I know, I know, it’s a shock that our kids act like that. We constantly get “I can’t imagine your daughter being disrespectful. She’s so sweet!” Yes, they are. They are both wonderful girls. But, they do have a condition that makes them act disrespectful, disobedient, and difficult sometimes. I think the technical medical name for it is “human”. They are human, their parents are human, so stuff happens.
Anyway, I was thinking about this week, when I had been asking/requesting/telling/ordering one of the girls to do some jobs around the house that they were supposed to have done. I tried every tactic I knew to get her to take the responsibility on herself and do the job herself. Finally, after quite a while, I had to get stern with her, and do the “dad” thing with my voice and tone. I remember telling her that I had tried to avoid that tone for quite a while, but she wasn’t listening, and I had to resort to it. I mean, she had a role to play, she needed to do it for her own development and good, and I would have been irresponsible to let her get away with skipping out on it. So, I asked. I cajoled. I hinted. I spoke clearly. I spoke directly. Then I had to do the “dad” voice to motivate her. Not because I was hurt, angry, or threatened. She simply needed to get this job done, and wouldn’t listen otherwise.
I think in part that is what we see in Jeremiah and the other prophets in the Old Testament. God has tried to get His people to do what was best for them for hundreds of years. He has shown them miracles, He has blessed them, He has shown them mercy and love over and over. By the time we get to the prophets in the Old Testament, He has had to resort to using his “dad” voice to get their attention. It still doesn’t work, so He has to punish them. You can’t send the entire nation to their room, so He sends them to another country as slaves.
Often my daughters want to accuse me of not loving them when I act like this. The opposite is true. I train them, force them to learn self-discipline and self control, because I love them. That is the only reason I would go through so much hurt with them. It’s no different with God. I mean, think about it. He should have simply had another country wipe the nation of Israel out, and never let it return. Yet, it exists today, thousands of years later.
The God of the Old Testament is a God of love and truth. We just don’t like hearing his “dad voice”. Don’t avoid the message you find in the prophets. It’s a message that still applies to us, today.
Chris over at Youth Ministry Geek has put up two links to some free fonts. If you do any sort of graphics work, check out the links. There’s some really good stuff on there.
Here is the video from our 8th Grade Graduation night.
I discovered a great website today. It’s Humble Beast, a group of hip hop artists who are producing some amazing music. They are making it available for free/donation. Check it out, download some new favorites, and donate. It’s well worth it.
Why does God put limits on things? I mean, really, why does He feel it’s so necessary to tell us where to start and where to stop? In Numbers 34, the Israelites are getting ready to go into the promised land. They have to go in and fight for the land, and drive other people living there out. You would think whatever they could conquer, they could have. That’s how it works. If you can take over land, it’s yours. If the owners can defend it, it’s theirs. At least, 4000 years ago that’s how it worked. Today we have lawyers. But that’s another discussion.
Even though that is how it worked in their day (strength/conquering = land), that wasn’t exactly how God wanted it to work. So He promises the people they will conquer the land if they obey Him. But then He tells them where the boundaries to the land are. He says “You can go this far, and then stop” It’s like He’s telling them He will bless them completely, up to a point. Then it will end. Why?
He was giving them more land than they needed. But He knows us. He knows greed and selfishness destroy us. If they kept conquering and conquering, a couple of things would happen. One, with no enemies around them, they would quit depending on God. And that is the point of our very existence, to know God and be in relationship with Him. If He gave them unlimited success, they would convince themselves they were in charge, and abandon God for land. They would be trading the reason they were made for some dirt. Secondly, this self-reliant attitude would destroy them. If they kept conquering other lands, they would spread out so thin that there would be no way to defend themselves. Their greed would make them vulnerable to attack.
Not much changes. God still puts boundaries around me in life, guiding me on what actions are helpful to my growth, and which ones will destroy me. Lying? Destroy. Prayer? Growth. Selfishness? Destroy. Forgiveness? Growth. Lust? Destroy. Purity? Growth. Judging others? Destroy. Humility? Growth. He puts boundaries all around my life. Now, understand, He blesses me every day, and gives me PLENTY of room to move. But when I challenge one of the borders God has put around my life, it leads me to depend less on Him, depend more on me, and it leaves me weak and vulnerable to attack.
Not much changes.
What about you? What boundaries that God gives are you pushing against? Where do you want to expand your life out into, that God is saying “No, that’s too far?” And at what cost?