Gone But Not Forgotten II

Although Jeremiah 29, like much of the scripture, is written in a specific time to address particular needs of a specific group of people, we can still find mandates for ourselves.  I don’t think we can interpret this as, say, a promise that our plans include an absolute guarantee of getting the future we hope for - after all, maybe we are hoping for a future that is constructed out of fantasy living, false strategies, delusion and confusion.

 

 

Here is what I think we can notice and take heed of:  God gives strange instructions. He is asking people to thrive in captivity; he is asking people to pray for their captors; he is telling them to do small next right things - plant a garden, get married, make babies.

 

We get SOOOO caught up in right and wrong, good and bad, naughty or nice.  That’s ok so long as the person we are evaluating is our self. We can let the judgment of others go - they really are not our business to attend to.  In Jeremiah, God is asking his people to live at peace with their oppressors. He’s asking them to fill their temporary homes with love and laughter under trying times.  No matter that these folks brought the trouble on themselves! God is providing encouragement for us all - in even difficult situations, love well.

 

Today, try to look for the sacred in the profane.  Just try. See how it alters your mood, your thoughts, your choices and your awareness of God.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Fast forward with me to Jeremiah 29.  Jeremiah has not forestalled the inevitable timeout for the Israelites at the hands of the Babylonians. Jeremiah now speaks to an exiled crowd living in a foreign land.

This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and make yourselves at home. Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away. Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God: “Don’t let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don’t pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They’re a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me.” God’s Decree! This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” God’s Decree. “I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you”—God’s Decree—“bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.

~ Jeremiah 29:4-13 The Message

In light of what we have been talking about in previous days, what do you notice about this passage?  

Tomorrow we will chat more….

 

Love Idealized

Finally, this:

“You think it’s just a small thing, don’t you,  to try out another sin-project when the first one fails? But Egypt will leave you in the lurch  the same way that Assyria did. You’re going to walk away from there  wringing your hands. I, God, have blacklisted those you trusted. You’ll get not a lick of help from them.”
~ Jeremiah 2:36-37 The Message

Confusion.  The Israelites are desperately in search of a life of safety and significance;  they keep chasing after different dreams hoping to find the magic combination of love connection and purposeful living that brings them what they long for - wow, can you relate?  I can.

When my mentors talked on and on about the most important thing I needed to know they spoke about what I needed to do:  love well. I found this a hard pill to swallow. Today, I understand that in large part it seemed like a message without hope.  I didn’t know how to love well and found few models for it when I looked around at the people I knew - and I knew some pretty awesome people.  My confusion came in the form of black and white thinking. I thought that loving well meant loving perfectly - no selfishness, no conflict, no problems in relationships.

This is not what loving well means.  Loving well is more related to loving wholeheartedly - it begins and ends with our love for God and is revealed in our capacity to give and receive love for ourselves and to others.  

It isn’t about harmony - this kind of love is a battle cry!  It’s isn’t about not making mistakes or ever having a relational snafu - it is about caring enough to figure out how to navigate and stay the course. Love God. Respect self. Let others love us.  Learn how to love others.

How do you think you have confused love’s meaning in your own relationships?

 

Delusion

Jeremiah continues to systematically lay out God’s charges against his people, including:  

“What a generation you turned out to be! Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I warn you? Have I let you down, Israel? Am I nothing but a dead-end street? Why do my people say, ‘Good riddance! From now on we’re on our own’? Young women don’t forget their jewelry, do they? Brides don’t show up without their veils, do they? But my people forget me. Day after day after day they never give me a thought. What an impressive start you made to get the most out of life. You founded schools of sin, taught graduate courses in evil! And now you’re sending out graduates, resplendent in cap and gown—except the gowns are stained with the blood of your victims! All that blood convicts you. You cut and hurt a lot of people to get where you are. And yet you have the gall to say, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong. God doesn’t mind. He hasn’t punished me, has he?’ Don’t look now, but judgment’s on the way, aimed at you who say, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’  

~ Jeremiah 2: 31-35 The Message

I have done nothing wrong.

Although a few people struggle with feeling as if everything is their fault, many of us have the opposite issue.  We cannot seem to figure out what we’ve done wrong in a given situation. It’s awfully hard to give and receive love all willy nilly if we cannot see the ways that we either make it difficult for folks to love us or we find it difficult to love others.

The truth is, there are many things that we do and say and think and feel - all in the name of love - that is not love.

In what ways do you find it difficult to admit that what you have done wrong?

 

Bringing Charges

Through Jeremiah God explains to his people how their relationship got into such a mess that even his patience has run its course:

       —God’s Decree—  “charging you and your children and your grandchildren. Look around. Have you ever seen anything quite like this? Sail to the western islands and look. Travel to the Kedar wilderness and look. Look closely. Has this ever happened before, that a nation has traded in its gods for gods that aren’t even close to gods? But my people have traded my Glory for empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.  
`“Stand in shock, heavens, at what you see! Throw up your hands in disbelief—this can’t be!” God’s Decree. “My people have committed a compound sin:  they’ve walked out on me, the fountain of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves.”
~Jeremiah 2: 11-13 The Message

My son who studies such things explained to me recently that, historically, people who worshipped many gods didn’t throw one away and replace them with a better god, they added to their deity collection.  In this passage God is saying to his people, in essence, you have respected me less than the tribes around you who worship idols. You traded me in. To make matters worse God says that his people have adopted false strategies by putting their hope in other countries, leaders and material possessions to keep them safe.  I believe that our conscious contact with God through the practice of spiritual disciplines provides us with wisdom, insight and healing that cannot be found anywhere else. But we, like the Israelites of old, keep looking in all the wrong places to find our sense of well-being and our wholeness.

What about you?  What have you pursued in the hope that it would make you whole and well?  There are many tools and treatments and such that help us recover our lives, but to reject hope in a power greater than ourselves and try to handle life on our own, independent of spiritual pursuits, may fall under the category of false strategy.

 

Love in Context

The bible provides us stories of God calling his people to do extraordinary things.  Who doesn’t want to be extraordinary? I do! I want to be courageous and a full on follower of God.  Because these stories (which we emphasize and challenge ourselves to live up to) feed our own egos and desires for significance, I think it has caused us to miss the obvious.

 

 

It is true that some people are called to do extraordinary things as an expression of their faith.  But those are actually the exceptions. Mostly, I believe, we are provided a vision for living an ordinary day-to-day life with extraordinary vision for its sacredness. The longest book in the bible is the book of Jeremiah.  In it we find an unflinching portrayal of a people who have forgotten who they are because they have lost touch with what they once knew of God and his relationship to them. This is our eternal dilemma it appears. Maintaining conscious contact with God and his inspired way of seeing is for whatever reason, I do not know it, a constant challenge.  

 

Jeremiah is tasked with trying to wake up his sleepy tribe and help them remember in a vain attempt to avoid the 70 year banishment.  He’s a gloomy guy and not very popular (the truth rarely is well-received). But he combines his doom and gloom prophesy with the promise of restoration - if his people would just wake up and return to God.  There are three things that plagued the Israelites and I suspect continue to plague us - all of which distort our capacity to give and receive love:

 

  1. False strategies for abundant living

  2. Self-deception

  3. Straight up confusion

 

I hope to break these down and explain them further in the next blog post but just to be clear - these three problems impact our capacity to give and receive love.  And love, in the kingdom of God is a big freaking deal.

 

Today, take some time to assess your own love potential and practices.  Do you ever get confused about how to express love in a challenging relationship?

Woe and Hope

People throughout time have encountered God.  Abraham and Sarah had a nightly visitor who made them laugh in disbelief.  Don’t forget the burning bush incident – that was weird.  Jacob wrestled with God at night and ended up with both blessing and a chronic injury.  Adam and Eve walked with him in the Garden and then were banished from the garden.  Moses got handed a set of stone tablets but never saw the Promised Land.  Elizabeth and Mary heard from the angels more than modern ultrasounds ever tell us and managed to each experience a miraculous birth.  There were so many, many more times when God entered the lives of his people.

 

I hear the stories today too.  A friend of mine was once diagnosed with cancer and a bunch of his friends prayed over him and his next visit the doctor couldn’t find the cancer - a modern day miracle.  My own brother in 1986 heard the voice of God and he wasn’t even interested in God but that didn’t bother God.  As my brother recounted later, “God said, ‘Gary, this is your chance.  Your last chance.  Call for help or tonight is your last.’ ”  He called.  A few days later he experienced a remarkable and miraculous healing and baptism.  The thing that was also odd about this experience is prior to hearing God’s voice he had WANTED to die.

 

We love these stories, don’t we?  It gives us hope that in our hour of need perhaps God will come for us and save us!  But some of these God encounters are more disturbing than delightful.

 

Isaiah comes to my mind.  Or Jeremiah.  Both had “Woe is me!” moments in the midst of loving God and serving Him.  I suspect many of us have had those moments too.  Both men were sent by God to deliver truth, hard truth, to a people who had grown forgetful of God, his promises and his sovereignty. 

 

What amazes me is how God continues to show up with the exact message folks need to hear.  Some get healing; others rebuke; all his love.  My prayer for us all is that we continue to listen, listen for the voice of God.  Whether it shows up in the wind and rain or sunshine, may He continue to lead us, his beloved children. May we follow his lead today!