Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Thorns

I have finished reading through Jeremiah and Lamentations and have decided to take a break from the prophets to read the NT accounts of Jesus’ birth.

Today Matthew 1,2

The image I get here is of God doing all that is needed to keep the flickering flame of His plan burning. His Son will be born. He uses ordinary means as long as they suffice. But He is never stymied by how grim or hopeless things look. When the situation needs a stronger message, a more direct approach he does what is necessary– breaks through in a vision to Joseph, causes the Magi to notice His star, comes to them in a vision warning them not to return to Herod, warns Joseph to flee to Egypt, and finally moves Joseph, again through a dream, away from Judea and to Nazareth. This tells me God will do what it takes to fulfill His plans and purposes. He can break through in any way He pleases.

Jesus survived. But along the way some were not spared. "...he (Herod) put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts..." (Matthew 2:16). With all the miracles in this story, surely God could have performed one more and interfered in some way to save these innocent lives. But He didn’t. Their deaths were apparently part of His purpose too.

We (I) like to think of Christmas as a pristine time when all is peace and beauty and joy and love. We celebrate the purity and whiteness of snow, the warmth of firelight and family, the beauty of Christmas music in the holy hush of candlelight services. We feel betrayed when our celebrations are marred by botch-ups – things like planes missed, people getting sick, death. But why should we expect any less thorn pokes than were part of the first Christmas.

In my world right now, all kinds of things seem wrong. My cousin has her first chemo treatment for Stage 3 ovarian cancer today. A friend is facing a year of chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer. A former neighbor is wasting away with pancreatic cancer. A young couple in our church discovered in the last week that the baby they were expecting was severely malformed, in fact had a condition which put the life of the mom in jeopardy and so they were forced to make a heart-rending decision.

I believe that God has the power to put all these ‘wrong’ things right. I pray and trust and watch, but so far He hasn’t chosen to do that. The only conclusion I can come to is that in some way, like those babies slaughtered by Herod, these things are part of His purpose. (And how He fulfills both His overall will in nations and history while simultaneously working out His particular will in the lives of individuals is a feat no smaller than creation itself.)

I find this revelation of my omnipotent God both comforting and disturbing. It’s comforting to realize that, no matter how things look, God’s plans won’t be thwarted by anyone or anything. My response is to want to be available to Him, to do whatever He wants through me. At the same time I know that just because I’m flowing in His river doesn’t guarantee me a pain-free, ease-filled life without its agonizing moments of bewilderment.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Jeremiah 46

When Israel decides to go to Egypt, Egypt becomes the target of God’s attentions. This oracle predicts how God will deal with that nation – how each part of the army will be defeated, how Babylon will come against her, how her complacent citizens will be destroyed.

God’s dealings with Egypt come about partly at least, to discipline and correct Israel and bring her back into a right relationship with Him. For this chapter of dire predictions ends with reassurance: "But do not fear, O My servant Jacob and do not be dismayed, O Israel! For behold I will save you from afar....I will rightly correct you."

correct, yasar (yah-sar); Strong’s 3256: to chasten, correct, instruct, reform. The discipline and correction necessary for moral training.

Deut. 8:5: "As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you." Here the word implies the disciplining action as a parent disciplines a child.

Proverbs 29:19 "A servant will not be corrected by mere words." Here the implication is that sometimes a tongue lashing isn’t enough.

I Kings 12:11 " father chastised you with whips but I will chastise you with scourges (points or barbs, lit. scorpions)." Correction can include physical pain.

1 Chronicles 15:22 "Chenaniah, leader of the Levites was instructor in charge of the music because he was skilful." Here the correction involves the discipline of the teaching / learning of musical technique.

Some thoughts:

1. God’s dealings with His own are always no-nonsense. He doesn’t pamper them or play games. He is truly our example in tough love.

(Tough love: n. The use of strict disciplinary measures and limitations on freedoms or privileges, as by a parent or guardian, as a means of fostering responsibility and expressing care or concern. [from the Free Online Dictionary].)

2. God is active on the large scale (as in nations) as well as in individual lives to bring people into right relations with Him.

3. I think of my prodigal and wonder, what kind of correction it will take to bring him back. When will the correction of words need to be ratcheted up to become the correction of chastisement?

4. In my own life I need to understand and cooperate with the long process of correction as it’s pictured in the teaching of musical technique. It took years for me to learn to play the piano. I spent hours perfecting scales, arpeggios and four-note chords in order to train my hands to play difficult music well. So then, why should I be surprised when the circumstances of life show me how much I still need to work on patience, trust, obedience, self-control...etc. etc.

Lord, I thank You for Your correction in my life and the life of my family. I’m happy that you don’t relent when we cry ‘Enough!’ Keep correcting us, Lord, for we want to become everything You have in mind for us.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Prophetic

Jeremiah 45.

This five-verse chapter is Jeremiah’s prophecy to Baruch his scribe.

I imagine the scene. Baruch has stuck with Jeremiah in the muscle-cramping hours of taking dictation. He has seen the scroll, product of their joint efforts, through from getting it onto parchment, to reading it before a few princes, to giving it to one of them to read to the king.

Baruch and Jeremiah were in hiding when King Jehoiakim systematically sliced and fed the laboriously written document to the fire. Then Baruch stuck with Jeremiah through the days, weeks, perhaps months of getting all those prophecies into writing again.

Somewhere in the process he (Baruch) had the thought or said the words, "Woe is me now! For the Lord has added grief to my sorrow..."

We’re not told from where this emotion sprang. But we do know that it was intermingled with a little of the yeast of ambition. Perhaps it was completely rooted in the frustration of seeing a personal agenda thwarted. For God’s message to Baruch through Jeremiah contains this pointed admonition: "And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them..."

What a jab in his spirit those words must have been. What a heart-pounding moment as light shone into the deepest recesses: I’m discovered - found out!

Whether prophetic words come to me through people or the words of Scripture that is always their effect. For true words of prophecy come from the One of whom David said, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" (
Psalm 139).

A true prophetic word comes from God the Holy Spirit’s insight – like when Peter was given a knowing about Ananias and Sapphira (
Acts 5:1-11). It frictions with our spirit to produce the spark of conviction which can be ignored or acted on (Acts 24:25; James 1:23-25).

God, who sees everything, who knows my secret thoughts – those things I don’t even put into words or admit to myself – reveal me to myself today. Then give me the courage to act on Your revelation.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Faith in Desperate Times

I’ve been working my way through Jeremiah. Tucked away in the middle of all the oracles are some chapters of interesting narrative (36-44)

Judah is in desperate times. Jeremiah’s prophecies that the land will be taken over by the Babylonians have come true. Judah’s king Zedekiah is captured. Anybody who is anybody in Judah is taken into captivity (Jer. 39). The commoners and Jeremiah remain. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar commands that Jeremiah be protected. He appoints Gedaliah as governor.

After a short while Ishmael, a remaining prince of the royal family (it seems he was on the battlefield during the siege and therefore escaped being taken captive - Jeremiah 40:7,8), kills Gedaliah and the warriors who protect him. Before the news of Gedaliah’s death gets out, Ishmael also kills most of an envoy of 80 men who arrive from various parts of the kingdom to Jerusalem to worship at the temple.

When Ishmael’s treachery becomes known, the people of Judah are justifiably concerned. Will Ishmael’s blood bath continue? And what will be the reaction of Nebuchadnezzar when he discovers the governor he appointed has been butchered?

It is in this setting the captains of the armed forces that remain in the land and all the people come to Jeremiah, and ask that he inquire of God what they should do. (It’s obvious from the context that they are planning to leave Judah and go to Egypt.)

After ten days Jeremiah hears from God. His words:
1. You should stay in the land and good will come to you (42:9,10).

2. You should not fear the king of Babylon. God is your protector. He will cause Nebuchadnezzar to have mercy on you (42:11,12).

3. Don’t flee to Egypt. If you do, the things you fear under Nebuchadnezzar will happen to you there (42:13-19).

4. And don’t think that I (Jeremiah) don’t know that in your hearts you were hypocritical when you asked me to consult God for you and have no intention of obeying what He says.


This story convicts me. How often don’t I pray and with my words assure God I am on-side to obey whatever He says.
But then, when the answer comes back and:

1. it doesn’t make sense with how circumstances look


2. it doesn’t fit with what I’ve already determined I want to do,

I turn my back on what the ears of faith have heard. Instead I rationalize it away, like these people did, saying things like, that couldn’t possibly be God; He wouldn’t be saying that ("You speak falsely! The Lord our God has not sent you ..." etc. (43:1,2)!

The story continues. These people do go to Egypt and thus seal their doom (Jer. 43, 44).

And so I ask myself, what danger have I placed myself in when I’ve done something similar.

God, help me to listen to and obey Your voice - even when circumstance and the advice of others contradicts what I hear from You.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to. ~George Seaton

The acid test of our faith in the promises of God is never found in the easy-going, comfortable ways of life, but in the great emergencies, the times of storm and of stress, the days of adversity, when all human aid fails. ~ Ethel Bell

Faith is putting all your eggs in God's basket, then counting your blessings before they hatch. ~Ramona C. Carroll

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