A few years back, I was talking to a friend of mine. His daughter had recently moved to a different country and taken a job there. He wasn't happy about it though. In addition to missing her, he questioned her motivation for moving. Their family had experienced a high degree of conflict and disfunction during the years prior and he was convinced that she had moved far away, particularly to avoid having to interact with her mother. He described what she was doing as "running."
Have you ever felt like you were trying to run from something? Has there ever been a season of your life when you may have been running from God? I know that in my life, there have been a few occasions when I was trying to run from Him. I'll let you in on a little secret. It doesn't work.
Sometimes, God tells us things we don't want to hear. Sometimes He asks us to be obedient to Him in ways that conflict with our preferences or personal goals. Sometimes He confronts the prevailing logic of our generation and asks us to go in a different direction. How do we respond to Him in those moments?
In Jeremiah 39, we can see an example of someone who spent plenty of time ignoring the voice of God. His heart spent years running from the Lord, and then his legs attempted to do some running as well. What do you suppose the Lord wants us to learn from a passage like this? What kind of questions should we be asking ourselves as we look at this sad season in King Zedekiah's life?
Several years ago, I had a conversation with a friend regarding our opinions on how to help impoverished nations. We debated how best to do so and didn't necessarily agree on our approach. But one thing we did agree upon was the importance of showing them compassion.
The other day I saw a video of Christians in South Korea filling plastic water bottles with rice and throwing them into the sea in such a way that they stood a chance of washing up on the beaches of North Korea and feeding the impoverished people living there. In addition to the rice, they also attached copies of the Bible to the bottles with the intention to reach them with the gospel since religion is illegal in North Korea.
Compassion is something our Lord inspires within His people and empowers them to practice. When the Lord fosters a sense of compassion within your heart, how do you respond? Do you contemplate it until the impression goes away, or does Christ-centered compassion motivate you to take action?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central event of our faith. Everything we believe rests on that singular event. If Jesus did not rise from death, our faith would be pointless. If our Savior is dead and buried, then we are still spiritually dead, chained to our sins, and destined to spend our eternities as rebels who are banished from the presence of God.
But Jesus is not dead. The tomb is empty. He rose from the grave just as He assured His followers He would. Because of His resurrection, we can be assured that we who believe in Him will also rise from death. As we trust in Jesus, He lives within us. The grip sin had on our lives has been broken. The command Satan had over us has been nullified. The sting of death has been replaced with the assurance of everlasting life.
I bring this up today to encourage our hearts with the truth that Jesus took the time to explain to His early followers. We don't need to be troubled, because everything is going to work out. Jesus has secured the ultimate victory, on our behalf, over everything that was torturing and defeating us. This is the kind of confidence Jesus was seeking to instill in His followers after His resurrection. As we look at this passage, and attempt to foster the same kind of confidence in Christ that His early followers were developing, there are several questions, based on this passage, that are worth asking.
When you're stressed, upset, or anxious, how do you deal with those emotions? When your mind is filled with worries, what do you try to think about instead? What do you daydream about? I bring these questions up because our answers can help us identify what we actually believe can provide us a sense of peace.
This world is looking for peace. Ever since mankind severed our fellowship with our Creator, we've been attempting to find the peace that we long for through created things instead of through Him. This has been the struggle of humanity ever since our earliest days.
This struggle was also highly visible on the day of Christ's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. As He entered into the city on that day, He was surrounded by all kinds of people. Some genuinely trusted in Him. Others were looking for Him to be the means by which they could acquire the worldly things they actually trusted in. Still others despised Him and openly rebuked and rejected Him.
Each of us can find someone in that crowd that represents the state our hearts are in right now. Would you like to know how true and lasting peace can be obtained? Let's take a look at what we're told in Luke 19.
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.