Tears

Read Jeremiah 31:15

The news from Texas yesterday is almost impossible to comprehend. Thinking about what type of response we believers in Christ might make, a great number of words from Scripture came to mind. However, instead of seeking answers and responses right now, I decided it is best to sit awhile in our grief. There will be time to seek answers and proper responses as led by the Spirit. So today, read of the grief Jeremiah lifts up and be surrounded by the shared grief knowing nineteen children and three adults were killed in an act of human violence. I am confident our  Lord is shedding tears as well.

A Purpose

Read Jeremiah 17:7-8

During a recent podcast from our city’s mayor, she was interviewing a chaplain who serves as a mentor and guide at one of our local universities. She was asking the gentleman about the advice he gives to his own children and the young adults with whom he works daily. One piece of advice he mentioned was to realize that wherever God has led someone, there is something which God intends for them to do there. This comment was a reminder for me of a charge which a friend of mine gave at the end of every worship experience. The image of God planting us somewhere to produce fruit came into my mind. This image raised the passage from Jeremiah in my thoughts.

What does it mean to be planted in a location to bear fruit? First, it raises the idea that wherever we land in life is not by chance nor is it solely based on decisions which we make. There is a partnership in action when it comes to the community we claim as home. God guides us in the process but does not dictate the decision. We may not always adhere to God’s guidance but whether we do or not, God will provide opportunities for us to bear fruit wherever we land. When we trust God’s guidance, the landing is a little softer and the opportunities a little clearer.

Second, we are made aware that wherever we are, we have the opportunity to bear fruit in the Lord’s name. This bearing of fruit looks different for each person. Just as there are different colors, tastes and benefits of the fruits we find in nature, the produce from our actions and lives are different. The fruit which the Lord desires us to produce is the type which builds up others, introduces to them the possibilities with God, and communicates the love and grace of the Lord.

Jeremiah reminds us that where we are planted, we will find the necessary items which will feed us and sustain us. As a tree needs a water source to sustain its leaves and bear fruit, we need a source which feeds us spiritually. The Lord provides us that living water source so we never have to fear, can endure challenges, and are able to bear fruit for the Lord.

Quoting my friend:

” You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He (sic) has a purpose in you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in his (sic) grace and love and power.”

– The Reverend Rich King quoting Mark Batterson

God’s Plans

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NIV)

When a young person prepares to graduate from high school, the standard question he/she is asked relates to their future plans. At “senior night” of whatever extra curricular activities the individual participates in, when they are being introduced with their parents, their future plans are usually included in the introduction. For some determining future plans is relatively easy but others struggle in determining their plans. This will be the first time when they are making life altering plans. It will not be the last time of making such impactful plans though.

Jeremiah sends a letter to the Israelites who have been taken into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The purpose of the letter is to deliver a message from God. At the start of the message God instructs the people to live normally in whatever city into which they are exiled. Then God’s message shifts to their promised return to Judah and Jerusalem. God then tells them that they will be brought back to Judah when the appointed time arrives. God says that there are plans for them to prosper, have hope and a future. When the people seek God, God promises to be found.

This is a valuable message for anyone who is in the midst of working on plans to hear. Even before we start planning, God has already made plans for us. These plans are intended to assist us in being prosperous. God intends to bring hope and a meaningful future into our lives. If while we are doing our planning we seek the Lord, we are promised a successful search. Then God will actively be engaged in our planning. The plans which the Lord has for us can be integrated into our planning process.

God has plans for you. Are you including those plans into your own?

Placing Trust

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NIV)

Rain is vital for the sustainability of the earth. While there are desert sections of our world, much of the habitat areas of land require rain. Precipitation is necessary for most plant and animal growth. The oceans and waterways require moisture in some form to replenish and sustain life. When we experience periods of drought, the effects can be devastating to all forms of life. The dust bowl in the United States during the early 1930s shows what life changing impact draughts can have on the land, animals, humans, and economy. Simply put, we need rain and snow in order for us to live a comfortable and productive life.

The prophet Jeremiah has a message from God which he is sharing with the people. He tells them that they should not place their trust in humanity and turn their backs on the Lord. When one places trust for their lives in human power, they will come to suffer and be disappointed. Hardships and difficulties await those who rely on humanity completely. Instead, Jeremiah says that we are to trust in the Lord. When one does so, they will receive everything which they need to sustain their lives. Their lives will be productive. They will be able to withstand the difficulties which arise.

Relying upon one’s self or completely on the abilities of humans, leads to disappointment and even disaster. While God uses humans to achieve God’s work, humanity itself is not capable of providing everything. Humans have a limited perspective. The skill set of only one human or a small group of humans has limited effectiveness. God sees the whole picture and knows how to put together combinations which will produce effective and sustaining results. In partnership with humanity, the Lord does wondrous things.

Trust not in self or humanity. Trust in the Lord. When you do, the Lord will become a partner and you will have all which you need.

It Is Not Easy

Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehukal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah heard what Jeremiah was telling all the people when he said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. They will escape with their lives; they will live.’ And this is what the Lord says: ‘This city will certainly be given into the hands of the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’”

Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.”

“He is in your hands,” King Zedekiah answered. “The king can do nothing to oppose you.”

So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

But Ebed-Melek, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, Ebed-Melek went out of the palace and said to him, “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”

10 Then the king commanded Ebed-Melek the Cushite, “Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.”

11 So Ebed-Melek took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 12 Ebed-Melek the Cushite said to Jeremiah, “Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes.” Jeremiah did so, 13 and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.

Jeremiah 38:1-13 (NIV)

One of my childhood memories is watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. I felt a strong connection with Kermit the Frog who was a star on both shows. He sang a song that resonated with some aspects of my life, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

As I read the passage from Jeremiah today, that song came into my mind. Clearly being a prophet, a human messenger for God, was not easy. Many of the prophets recorded in the Bible complain to God about their work at least at some point. People do not always like what God has to say to them. Here we clearly see the idea of killing the messenger when you do not like the message.

There are times when each of us is called by the Lord to be prophets. We are asked to share a message which some may not wish to hear. Our experience may result in rejection and/or isolation. While we may not have to fear the possible loss of our life like Jeremiah did, we may fear losing our status or relationships in our lives.

Yet Jeremiah’s story here does not end in a cistern. Instead, through the voice of a Cushite palace official, God provides a rescue of Jeremiah by changing the king’s heart. Our story will not end either if we face rejection and isolation due to our sharing of God’s message. God will rescue us. Like Kermit, even though it is not easy, we will see that it is what we are meant to be.

History Matters

This word came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews living in Lower Egypt—in Migdol, Tahpanhes and Memphis—and in Upper Egypt: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins because of the evil they have done. They aroused my anger by burning incense to and worshiping other gods that neither they nor you nor your ancestors ever knew. Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, ‘Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!’ But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods. Therefore, my fierce anger was poured out; it raged against the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem and made them the desolate ruins they are today.

“Now this is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Why bring such great disaster on yourselves by cutting off from Judah the men and women, the children and infants, and so leave yourselves without a remnant? Why arouse my anger with what your hands have made, burning incense to other gods in Egypt, where you have come to live? You will destroy yourselves and make yourselves a curse[a] and an object of reproach among all the nations on earth. Have you forgotten the wickedness committed by your ancestors and by the kings and queens of Judah and the wickedness committed by you and your wives in the land of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem? 10 To this day they have not humbled themselves or shown reverence, nor have they followed my law and the decrees I set before you and your ancestors.

11 “Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I am determined to bring disaster on you and to destroy all Judah. 12 I will take away the remnant of Judah who were determined to go to Egypt to settle there. They will all perish in Egypt; they will fall by the sword or die from famine. From the least to the greatest, they will die by sword or famine. They will become a curse and an object of horror, a curse and an object of reproach. 13 I will punish those who live in Egypt with the sword, famine and plague, as I punished Jerusalem. 14 None of the remnant of Judah who have gone to live in Egypt will escape or survive to return to the land of Judah, to which they long to return and live; none will return except a few fugitives.”

Jeremiah 44:1-14 (NIV)

I have always been a history buff. In fact, history was part of my college major. One of the reasons I enjoy history so much is because I subscribe to the words of the 19th century philosopher, George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Winston

Churchill paraphrased Santayana in his 1948 speech by saying, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately, history is too easily forgotten and/or not taught and we see a  repeat of wrong decisions with disastrous results.

In the passage from Jeremiah, we see God communicating the same message. God has a message for the Jews who fled to Egypt. Jeremiah shares this message. Here God reminds them of what happened when they lived in Judah and Jerusalem. The people had chosen to burn incense and worship gods other than God.  Despite continued warnings to stop, the behavior continued. This led to the destruction of the Temple and all the Judean cities, including Jerusalem. Now the remnants in Egypt are repeating the same behaviors. They have failed to remember their history so they will experience the same negative results.

Here is a lesson for us today. God may have put the words spoken into Santayana and Churchill’s mouths. We are to remember those events which occurred before us. It is important that we understand what led to the negative times in order that when we see or partake in similar behaviors, we stop. Only then will we not suffer the same outcomes or worse.

Making Plans

Personally, I am a planner. I have calendars and to-do lists. Daily routines are important in my life. I feel more secure when I have a plan and then a backup plan to handle situations if my first plan gets disrupted. There have been many conversations between God and myself about plans. I often request that God helps me to follow through on my plans. The man who I married is also a planner who used to plan activities out months in advance and in great detail. Planning is a key part of my life.

I had a close friend who used to remind people that they can go ahead and put together a timeline but not to be surprised if God decides to chuckle and rearrange those plans. He was specifically talking about a process which was used to find a new pastor for a congregation. However, I think his words of wisdom apply to much more than that specific life event.

Over the years I have been placed in positions where planning was important but more important was being able to adapt at a moments notice. Having spent time working with youth required me to plan but know that at any time the Holy Spirit (or sometimes human intervention) could show up and quickly alter the plans. I have learned that making room for the Holy Spirit is more important than having a well-thought-out plan and sticking to it no more what.

God has told us in the words of Jeremiah:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord

Jeremiah 29:11-14a

An important observation to make here is that the plans are not spelled out or in detail. We are just given the assurance that God has a plan which will benefit us in the most important ways.

I strongly believe that God desires us to plan. We are reminded of the importance of planning and being prepared in the story which Jesus told of the ten virgins:

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Matthew 25:1-13

For me, the key regarding planning is to realize that while planning is important and must be done, the Holy Spirit may lead us in a much different direction. Every time that I have allowed my plans to be altered by the guidance of the Spirit, I have discovered that the end result is much better than anything I could have imagined in my planning.

Go ahead and plan. Then listen for God’s chuckle and the feel of the Spirit showing you a change or a whole new plan.