Not long ago, our family took a small trip to stay in a log cabin near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. We had a lot of fun. The cabin was really accommodating. There were a lot of things for us to do nearby. And on top of it all, the cost to take this trip was extremely cheap. It was quite possibly the most affordable excursion we've ever taken as a family.
On our last day of the trip, the weather outside was very cold and windy, so we spent some time indoors playing board games. Specifically, we played Monopoly. I'd like to tell you that I won, but I didn't. The game was dominated by my son, Daniel who got off to a strong start and never looked back.
At one point, I landed on one of his properties and didn't have enough cash to pay him. I tried to work out a deal with him, but he wasn't interested in what I offered him. So I tried to use psychology to influence him to give me the deal I wanted. I said, "If you turn this deal down, you can see what I'm going to have to do next, right?" He wasn't sure what I was going to do, but he risked it and turned down my offer anyway. Basically, my only option was to make deals with everyone else in order to raise the capital I needed to pay him.
When we look at this portion of Scripture from Jeremiah, God lets us see ahead of time what He's about to do. He has chosen not to keep His plans secret. He prophetically reveals His intentions for His people. Still, it requires faith to be able to trust Him to do what He has said He will do. It requires a God-given ability to look forward and treat the future like it's a foregone conclusion. Do we have that kind of faith? Can we see what the Lord is about to do? Are we willing to trust Him for things that aren't right in front of us at present? This Scripture gives us some great counsel regarding that very concept.
Have you ever made a promise to God? Did you keep it? I remember when I was 12-years-old and a friend of mine offered me some chewing tobacco. I knew better than to try it, but I tried it anyway. As gross as this sounds, he also encouraged me and another friend of mine to swallow the saliva that was generated while we were chewing it, instead of spitting it out. I took his advice and did that. Within minutes, I went from feeling healthy and fine to feeling like I had the worst case of the flu. My stomach was upset and my head was pounding. It felt like the sick feeling would never go away.
So I made a promise to God. If He helped me to feel better, I promised to never chew tobacco again. In an hour or so, I started to feel a little better, but instead of keeping my promise, I started to use tobacco in just about every form it came in for the next two years. For me, it was very difficult to stop, and in the process I made many promises to God that I broke.
Throughout the Scriptures, we're told of various "covenants" or "agreements" God has made with His people. Interestingly, He always keeps His end of the agreement while His people have a consistent tendency of breaking theirs. But one of the covenants God initiated, the New Covenant, offers us the opportunity to have our sin permanently forgiven and our fellowship with God restored forever. This portion of Jeremiah's book speaks of the New Covenant.
Years ago, I remember a family that I was friends with telling me that they had five separate calendars hanging up in their kitchen. They did this to keep track of the schedules of everyone in their household. At this point, I do something similar except in digital form. I have the schedules of each member of my family in my phone and I also keep track of our church calendar and other ministry obligations.
Having a schedule that I can look at helps me to plan and get things accomplished. It helps me make the best use of my time. You probably feel the same way about your schedule and calendar.
Planning isn't unique to us. In fact, Scripture reveals to us that the Lord Himself has a long-term plan that He is in the process of unfolding. But what is God's plan and do we understand what He's actually trying to accomplish? Let's take a look at some of what He reveals about His plan in Jeremiah 29.
When you hear the word "discipline", what thoughts come to your mind? Do you think about the concept of practicing personal disciplines like eating healthy foods and getting exercise? Do you think about incorporating the spiritual disciples of prayer and the reading of Scripture into your daily routine? Or do you primarily associate the word "discipline" with the word "punishment"?
When you were a child, it's likely that you didn't get too excited about your parents disciplining you. Likewise, if you're a parent, I can just about guarantee that some of the most unpleasant moments of your experience with raising children have involved discipline. But the truth is, when you're seeking to shepherd a young life, the enforcement of discipline is actually evidence of love.
That's something we see playing out in Jeremiah 25. The Lord loved the people of Judah, but because of their lack of faith and stubborn disobedience, He disciplined them with the long-term goal that His act of discipline would convince them of His love and encourage them to repent.
When I was growing up, we didn't have very many TV channels. At best, we could usually get four or five through the over-the-air antenna. I have always been someone who struggled to fall asleep at a normal time, so growing up, I would often find myself watching TV while trying to doze off. I remember noticing a pattern with many of the shows that came on during those late hours. Many of the shows were paid infomercials by people who made some sort of promise that they could give you the kind of life you've always wanted.
Some shows focused on your finances. Others focused on your health. There were also programs that spoke of spiritual issues. Truthfully speaking, most of these shows were garbage. I'm grateful that I was able to see through that, even at a young age, but I knew people who fell for the pitches and promises of these late-night gurus because they were so desperate for help that they would listen to anyone who sounded at least moderately convincing.
But the promises we find in Scripture go deeper than the vain promises of men. In God's word, we learn that there is one leader who actually does have the power to make our lives flourish in every healthy way. That person is Jesus Christ and this chapter of Jeremiah's book speaks prophetically of Him while also cautioning us about the presence of contrasting leadership that seeks to steer us in ungodly directions.
A while back, I had a very strange experience. I was teaching an adult Sunday School class to a group of about twenty-five people. As I was speaking, I noticed that very abruptly, I lost the hearing in my right ear. I paused for a moment because it was a very strange sensation, told the class what was happening, tried to wiggle my ear to see if the problem would go away, and when it didn't correct itself, I just continued to teach the class.
I visited my doctor the next day. He explained to me the nature of the problem, and walked me through the process of correcting it. It took about a week, but by the end of the week, after one more visit to the doctor, my hearing was restored. I'll spare you the details of what was wrong, but I was quite relieved to have my hearing again after losing it for several days.
Ironically, sometimes when our hearing is in perfectly good order, we still struggle to listen. That's what this passage of Scripture is speaking about. The Lord's people were struggling to listen to the instructions, directions, and counsel He graciously offered them, and they were paying a price for their willful ignorance.
In our context, why is it so difficult for us to listen to what we really need to hear? This portion of Scripture helps us understand why.
Something that seems to entertain my children, when it comes up in conversation, is how many years I can get out of a pair of shoes. In fact, I have a pair of sneakers that I like to wear that still look reasonably new, even though I bought them several years ago.
But that wasn't the case when I was a kid. As a child, I would go through sneakers rather quickly. I was always outside doing something and I played several sports that involved a high degree of running, so if a pair of sneakers lasted me a few months, that was considered good.
Being one of three siblings, the rate at which I would burn through a pair of shoes during that season wasn't a minor expense for my parents. That being the case, on occasion, we would opt for buying some knock off brands from time to time. Unfortunately, even though it initially felt like we were saving money, those shoes didn't hold up very long. They were cheap substitutes and I can still remember the way they would crack and tear after very little use.
There are some areas where it doesn't pay to settle for a cheap substitute, the most obvious being in our spiritual lives. There is no substitute for a relationship with the true and living God. No idol or humanly invented deity can comfort the heart and give lasting hope to the soul. That's something the Lord makes clear to Jeremiah in this passage of Scripture.
I think it's fair to say that most, if not all people, desire to experience good national leadership during the course of their lifetime. Jeremiah's life spanned the reign of multiple kings of Judah, but the events spoken of in Chapter 7 took place during the reign of a godly king. For a time, Josiah reigned as king in Judah. His reign began when he was eight, but when he was sixteen, he became a fully devoted follower of the Lord. In his 20's, he sought to eradicate idols from the land. He also ordered the remodeling of the temple. In the process of remodeling, the books of the Old Testament Law were rediscovered and Josiah encouraged the people to begin obeying the Lord's teaching again.
2 Chronicles 35 tells us about the completion of the work on the temple and the celebration of the Passover that took place at that time. The people were excited, and in a very celebratory mood. From all outside appearances, it would have seemed like a great revival was taking place among the people and that a renewed interest in walking with the Lord was taking place on a large scale. But the Lord knows people's hearts. He knows when we're faking. He knows when we're trying to craft an image that's the opposite of what's taking place in our hearts. It was into this context that the Lord spoke through Jeremiah to address the distant hearts of the people of Judah that were being disguised by their outward display.
When I was in my early 20's, I knew a couple that had been dating for several years. From all outside appearances, it seemed that their relationship was healthy and strong. They spent time together. They enjoyed each others personalities. Their spiritual beliefs seemed to mesh. Everything looked fine. Then, seemingly out of the blue, the woman left her boyfriend for another man. On top of that, she abruptly married the other man which puzzled us all.
At the time this was taking place, my wife and I were dating and getting near to the day when we were planning on marrying. I couldn't help but wonder how I would react if something so unexpected and painful happened to me.
Fast forward a few months, and we learned that the woman ended her abruptly established marriage. We were told that the man she married was abusive and engaged in additional forms of sin. Not long after that, we learned that her previous boyfriend had accepted her repentance, and taken her back. Again, I couldn't help but wonder what I would have done in a situation like that. I also found it difficult not to feel slightly judgmental at how flighty and foolish that woman was starting to seem to me.
Multiple times in Scripture, the Lord refers to his children as being his bride. The people of Israel and Judah are spoken of this way. Likewise, those who trust in Jesus Christ and are part of His church are spoken of as His bride. Historically, the people the Lord has called His own have struggled to remain faithful to Him. We've wandered from Him like a faithless spouse. We've been flighty and foolish. Yet amazingly, God still wants us back. This portion of Scripture illustrates some very interesting things about God's loving heart toward His bride.
What does it take to become good at something? By what standard might someone actually be considered great at something? Typically, our standard for measuring the skill, talent, or giftedness of a person is by the results they produce. And if that's the kind of standard we applied to the prophet Jeremiah, we might call him a failure, and we would be dead wrong.
Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Judah beginning in the year 627 B.C. He was faithful to the Lord's calling on his life. He was courageous in the midst of persecution. He was given a thankless task as he proclaimed the truth to a rebellious people that didn't want to hear what the Lord was saying through him. His message was mocked. He was called a liar. His life was threatened, and the people of Judah did not repent of their sins.
But God gave Jeremiah the task to speak the truth to a dying nation, and Jeremiah relied on the Lord to provide him the strength to accomplish this task. Later in his life, he was taken to Egypt and it's believe that he was stoned to death and buried in an unmarked grave because his message was so despised. Yet we can be confident that he received a rich welcome into the presence of God as one who trusted in Him and poured out his heart and his life trying to point others to the Lord.