Day 226: Can We Apply Jeremiah 29:11 to Ourselves? (Jeremiah 29:11)

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 26-29

Several years ago, while our house was being built, my family came to the construction site late in the day, after the workers had left. We went from room to room, writing Scripture on the beams and on the concrete.

“Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13) went in the dining room.

“I have found the one my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4) was written in the bedroom my wife and I share.

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) is on the beam above the door to the bonus room, where lots of games have been played and lots of time with the Lord has been observed.

Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it” went above the door to the guest bedroom.

Our younger son, Joshua, wrote his life verse above the door to his bedroom: “Be strong and courageous!” from Joshua 1:9.

And our older son wrote his life verse above his bedroom door:

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

We didn’t think twice about applying the promises and commands God gave his people thousands of years ago to us. We believe that God knows the plans He has for us just as much as He did His people long ago.

Of course, it matters that this particular promise (Jeremiah 29:11) was given to God’s people while they were in Babylon, while they were in the midst of seventy years of exile. It matters that it was spoken through a prophet that had been rejected and mistreated by the very people to whom he was sent to minister.

All of those details contribute to our understanding of the text. But they don’t keep us from being able to apply it to our own family. Here’s why, line by line:

I know the plans I have for you: God is just as sovereign and just as omniscient for us as he was for the exiles of Judah. If He knew the plans He had for them, He knows the plans He has for us.

Plans for welfare and not for evil... Nothing that comes from God can be evil. It is contrary to His nature. And we know that our heavenly Father delights to give good gifts to His children. In Luke 12:32, Jesus told His disciples (and yes, that is us!) that it is “His Father’s good pleasure” to give us the kingdom. God delights in us, and so His plans for us will be to prosper us and not to harm us.

Now, this does not mean we think that the prosperity God plans for us is prosperity in the way well-orthodonticked television preachers talk about prosperity. The Hebrew word is shalom. It is a bigger concept than any single English word can convey, as this screen cap from the Blue Letter Bible app shows:

To give you a future and a hope: We have a future in God. We have placed our hope in God.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a specific promise to a certain group of people in a certain circumstance. But because of the nature of the One making the promise, it is also a general promise to all God’s people at any time. While we can’t do this with every one of God’s promises recorded in Scripture, I praise God that we can with this one.

Day 225: Here, There, and Everywhere (Jeremiah 23:23-24)

““Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭23:23-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 23-25

Immanence and Transcendence. Two big words; neither of which actually appear in the Bible, but nevertheless describe two opposite traits of God that are somehow both true.

First, God’s immanence. Immanence means presence. It is God’s “at hand-ness” to use the phrase from Jeremiah 23. Throughout Scripture, God’s nearness is highlighted. His Word is immanent in Deuteronomy 30:

““For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭30:11-14,ESV‬

God’s presence is also immanent. In Isaiah 43:2, He is the God who is with us when we pass through the waters. In Daniel 3, He is the fourth man in the fire with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.

Of course, nowhere is God’s immanence more apparent than in the Incarnation of Jesus. Although, like I said, the word “immanence” isn’t in Scripture, it almost is:

““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭1:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

As much as every page of Scripture resonates with God’s nearness, though; God’s transcendence is just as apparent. He is high and exalted in Isaiah 7. He dwells in unapproachable light in 1 Timothy 6:

“who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭6:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

God’s attributes are also transcendent. He does not share His omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence with anyone else. He tells Isaiah—remember him? The same prophet who revealed that Messiah would be called Immanuel—he told Isaiah,

“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭46:9-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Finally, God’s character is transcendent. While He is with us, he is altogether not like us. Numbers 23:19 tells us that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

And in Psalm 50, God gives this stunning word of rebuke to a people that had apparently become too familiar with Him:

“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭50:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This, apparently, was how the lying prophets viewed God in Jeremiah’s day. They thought nothing of “committing adultery and walking in lies” (Jer. 23:14). They had gotten so comfortable with speaking on God’s behalf that they were telling lies about him. So through Jeremiah, God reminded them that he wasn’t just immanent. He was also transcendent.

“But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭23:22-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Praise God that He is with us. But fear God because He is not like us. We have to keep both these truths in tension. Focus too much on God’s transcendence, and you will never approach Him. Focus too much on God’s immanence, and you will recast Him in your own image.

Day 224: A Fire in My Bones (Jeremiah 20:9)

Jeremiah, by Michelangelo, on Sistene Chapel ceiling
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:9

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 18-22

Jeremiah had such a tough ministry assignment. Caught between a people who didn’t want to listen and a God who was so fed up with the people that He told Jeremiah not to even pray for them.

God, if you wanted a prophet who wouldn’t pray for the people, why didn’t you send Jonah?

But Jeremiah loves God’s people, so he prays for them even when God says not to (see 14:19-21). And he loves God’s Word so much that he speaks it even when the people don’t want him to (see 20:9).

Jeremiah 20:9 could be seen as an inspiring verse for a preacher who won’t quit. I actually quoted this verse when I was interviewed by the Pastor Search Committee for the church I serve now. When they asked me why I wanted to be a pastor, I told them, “I have to preach,” and quoted this verse.

I got the job.

But, as we talked about a few days ago (see Day 221: On Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth), we can’t just pick a verse that says what we are trying to say. God’s word isn’t a rack of greeting cards. Thus, when you read Jeremiah 20:9 in context, you realize that it isn’t the triumphant cry of a fearless preacher. It’s the discouraged admission of a burnout who hates his job:

7 O Lord, you have deceived me,
    and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
    and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
    everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I cry out,
    I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
    a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:7-9

(By the way, have you ever had the guts to begin a conversation with God by saying, “Lord, you deceived me.”? No? Me neither.)

Jeremiah is at his absolute lowest in chapter 20; cursing his birthday, even cursing the man who brought his dad a cigar and said “It’s a boy.”

“Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭20:14-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

What’s the lesson for me in Chapter 20?

  • Maybe it’s that no matter how hard ministry gets, it will never be as tough for me as it was for Jeremiah.
  • Maybe it is to be so burdened for people that I never stop praying for them, and so burdened for the Word that I never stop speaking to them.
  • Or maybe it’s that I don’t have to be afraid to pour out my heart to God, even when it’s ugly, and even when I say things I don’t really mean.

I don’t think Jeremiah really thought God deceived him. I don’t think he really wished he had never been born. But he could pour that out to God because there was absolute security in that relationship. He trusted God even with the darkest corners of his heart. And we can too.

Day 223: Stay on Target (Jeremiah 17:9)

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 14-17

When a fighter jet locks in on a target, the computer helps the pilot stay on target, no matter how many shots the enemy fires at him. If he gets off course, the targeting computer corrects him.

I am a huge Star Wars fan. And if you’ve seen the original movie, you remember the scene of Luke making his final attack run on the Death Star. His targeting computer is locked in on the tiny exhaust port. He’s about to launch his photon torpedoes. Suddenly he hears the voice of Obi Wan in his head: Trust your feelings. So he switches to manual and lets the Force guide him.

It would be tempting to stop there and say, “See– that’s the Holy Spirit!” But there’s that troublesome line: Trust your feelings. And that’s the problem. Your feelings will get you in trouble. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” So following your heart might sound great for a Disney princess, but it isn’t good advice for a child of God.

I need to not do what Luke Skywalker did when he switched off his computer and trusted his feelings. My feelings can and will lead me astray. If (in this very random analogy) the Holy Spirit is my targeting computer, then I’m never gonna blow up the Death Star by switching to manual.

A Year Without a Shooting: Prayer for the new School Year

God, bless children, parents, teachers, administrators, bus drivers, guidance counselors, lunch ladies, coaches, custodians, academic advisors, and youth ministers, as another school year begins.

Bless kids that are driving for the first time. Keep them safe.

Bless kids that are going to their first parties and their first dates. Keep them safe, too.

And God, I beg You; let this be a year without a school shooting. Make yourself real and present for any kid that would consider hurting himself or others. Overcome hate and darkness, anger and loneliness, bullying and prejudice and desperation. Replace them with love and light and peace and community and friendship and understanding and hope.

Let this year be the year that anonymous small towns stay anonymous. I wish to God I had never heard of Uvalde. Or Parkland. Or Columbine. So Lord, I beg You: put a friend in the life a a kid in a town somewhere that I’ve never heard of, so that at the end of this school year, I still will have never heard of it.

I know you can do it Lord. These thoughts and prayers are going out before the tragedy. Before the makeshift memorials. Before the news helicopters. Because the thoughts and prayers that go out after feel hollow. So Lord, let this be an unusual year, simply because it’s normal.

Amen.

Day 222: Why Do the Wicked Prosper? (Jeremiah 12:1)

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 10-13

You are always righteous, Lord,
    when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
    Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jeremiah 12:1)

We’ve all had times we wondered why bad things happen to good people. Yet, here the prophet Jeremiah wonders why good things are happening to bad people. Some Bible scholars believe he is talking about the false prophets of his day, who were enjoying the favor of the king while Jeremiah himself was being criticized.

Can you relate? The guy at the office who slacks off at work yet gets a promotion. The coach’s son who gets a starting spot even though your grandson has practiced twice as hard.

However, if Jeremiah is looking for sympathy from God, he gets a good dose of tough love instead. In verse 5, God responds,

“If you have raced with men on foot
    and they have worn you out,
    how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
    how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

While interpretations vary on the meaning of verse 5, essentially God is telling Jeremiah that if these little annoyances are wearing him out, how will he handle it when times are really tough?

For Judah, times are about to get really tough. Jeremiah will see Judah fall to Babylon in his lifetime. When she does, the irritation Jeremiah feels over these false prophets won’t seem like anything at all.

While it may not be what I want to hear, I praise God for the reality checks He graciously gives me. I know God loves me enough to always tell the truth.

Father, thank you for always speaking the truth to me in love.

Day 221: On Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (Jeremiah 8:20)

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. (Jeremiah 8:20, ESV)

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 7-9

Preachers can be the worst at making a point and then cherry picking a Bible verse that seems to support their point. I can say this because I’m a preacher, and I’ve definitely been guilty of the same thing.

Years ago, when I was working for a Christian publisher, a prominent pastor was the guest preacher for our employee chapel service. This particular pastor had developed a very effective evangelism strategy, and had partnered with our company to publish and distribute the strategy.

In his sermon he was passionate and convicting, and his heart for the lost was evident. But he used Jeremiah 8:20 to paint a picture of all our lost friends and neighbors wondering why we haven’t shared the gospel with them. “They’re all looking at us and pleading,” he said, his voice trembling. “‘The harvest has passed. The summer has ended. And still, we are not saved.’”

It was powerful and convicting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t faithful to the text. Jeremiah was mourning for God’s people who, because of their idolatry, were in exile. They had bought into false prophets such as Hananiah who had promised the exile would only last two years (see Jeremiah 28:3).

I know the guy meant well. And I know that the point he was making is valid. People really are desperate for the Gospel.

But we aren’t serving the Gospel if we twist and manipulate its very words. The end doesn’t justify the means.

That’s why what you are doing in this reading challenge is so very important. You are learning to “rightly handle the word of truth” (1 Timothy 2:15). Stay with it! And no matter how charismatic or engaging a Bible teacher or preacher is, don’t just take his or her word about what the Bible says. Do the hard work of studying it for yourself.

Day 220: Cringeworthy, But Compelling (Jeremiah 4:4)

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.””
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭4:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 4-6

The ancient Hebrews were not nearly as squeamish as we are (or at least as I am) when talking about our private parts (see Day 017: Guys, We Need to Talk About Genesis 17:23). As a result, sometimes we encounter metaphors that will make us cringe a little, like Jeremiah’s admonition that the men of Judah “remove the foreskin of their hearts.” If I were an English teacher grading a freshman poetry class, I would circle this phrase and write “awkward metaphor” in the margin. Hearts don’t have foreskins, after all, so eww.

But this isn’t 9th grade poetry; it is God’s inspired Word. So I just have to get over myself and seek to understand what the Lord is trying to say to me through this cringeworthy comparison. I see at least two things:

1. Circumcision as Covenant: When God made His covenant with His people, circumcision was the outward symbol of the covenant (see Genesis 17:10-14). Certainly, the physical act of circumcision was a pretty extreme step, especially for an adult. But what God has in mind is Jeremiah is even more extreme. Don’t just submit to an outward ritual.

2. Circumcision as Uncovering: This one is less comfortable to write about, but more meaningful to me personally. When a man is circumcised, he is having the covering removed from the most personal, private part of himself. He is leaving himself exposed and vulnerable in a process that cannot be reversed.

In that sense, “removing the foreskin of your heart” doesn’t get any less awkward, but it couldn’t be any more appropriate. God wants our hearts to be exposed and vulnerable before Him. Of course, Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us they are anyway:

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

But I believe God would much rather have a heart that is willingly open to Him, as opposed to a heart that is forcibly exposed. We can’t hide from Him anyway– in His presence, we would be overdressed with even so much as a fig leaf.

In his original, unfallen state, Adam was naked and unashamed. It wasn’t until sin entered the picture that he became naked and afraid. A circumcised heart simply gets us back to the way God intended us to be: vulnerable, uncovered, and safe. God, in His judgment, will expose anything we try to cover. But God, in His love, will cover anything we willingly expose.

God, in His judgment, will expose anything we try to cover. But God, in His love, will cover anything we willingly expose.

Day 219: Who’s Your Daddy, Jeremiah? (Jeremiah 1)

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, (Jeremiah 1:1)

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 1-3

The prophet Jeremiah is one of the towering figures of the Old Testament. His ministry spanned the reigns of four kings. He was an eyewitness to the Babylonian captivity. He was responsible for two books of the Bible–Jeremiah and Lamentations. When it comes to the major prophets, only Isaiah was major-er.

But what gets missed by a lot of people, especially if they have never done a chronological read through of the Bible, is that Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, “one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin” (Jeremiah 1:1). We know that Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the thirteenth year of the reign of King Josiah.

Here’s where it gets interesting. In 2 Kings 22, we read that in the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah commissioned the repair of the temple. And who did Josiah put in charge of making sure the workers got paid? The high priest, Hilkiah.

4 “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. 5 Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord— 6 the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. (2 Kings 22:4-7).

It gets better. A few verses later, Hilkiah finds the Book of the Law in the temple. He and his secretary Shaphan bring it to Josiah, and read it to the king. When Josiah hears the words of the law, he weeps, tears his clothes, and begins an incredible period of reform–tearing down high places, desecrating pagan altars, and reinstating the Passover (see 2 Kings 22:8-23:28).

It is not universally accepted that Hilkiah, Jeremiah’s father is the same Hilkiah that oversaw the repair of the temple, found the book of the Law, and presented it to Josiah. Matthew Henry, for example, says definitively that they were not the same person. Tremper Longman, another Old Testament scholar, is not quite as definitive as Matthew Henry, but still argues against it:

It is not impossible that this high priest was Jeremiah’s father, but if this Hilkiah were meant, it is likely that would have been specified. In addition, that Jeremiah was from Anathoth and not Jerusalem also mitigates against the identification of the Jeremiah’s father with the high priest.

“Remember Jeremiah’s Father,” sermon by Franklin L. Kirskey, at www.pastorlife.com

Even though we can’t know for sure, I love the possibility that it was the same Hilkiah. We know from Jeremiah 1:1 that Jeremiah’s father was a priest, then he was a man who was okay with his son not going into the “family business,” choosing a career as a prophet instead of a priest. He was also apparently okay with his son criticizing the priesthood (see Jeremiah 23:11-32).

But if it was the same Hilkiah who was the high priest during Josiah’s reign, then we can draw some conclusions about the impact of a godly father’s example on his children. Jeremiah saw his father act with integrity toward the contractors in the temple. What’s more, he saw his father speak truth to power when he presented the book of the law to Josiah. Both of these would have had a profound effect on the man who would speak truth to the kings that followed Josiah.

Dads, your children may not pursue the same life calling that you did. And we need to be okay with that. Let’s just make sure that we are following Jesus, and modeling that for our kids. That way, even if they don’t follow in our footsteps, they will follow in His.

For a compelling argument that Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah the High Priest, check out this article.

Day 218: What You Think About When You Think About God (Zephaniah 1-3)

“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’”
‭‭Zephaniah‬ ‭1:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The 20th century preacher AW Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

It’s true. Our faith will be shaped by our conception of God. If we see Him as a benevolent father, then we will tend to be loving and gentle. If we see God as a stern taskmaster, then we will tend to be strict and unforgiving.

And if, like the people of Zephaniah’s day, we see God as complacent and unengaged, doing neither good nor evil, then we will tend to follow our own devices, and decide that we, not God, are the masters of our own fate and the captains of our own destiny.

This is why your reading through the Bible this year is such a valuable exercise. We are developing our understanding of who God really is, as opposed to however we have attempted to cast Him in our own image.

Zephaniah, as much as any Old Testament book, gives us a balanced portrait of God. He is both full of wrath and full of love. He is the bringer of apocalyptic judgment in chapters 1-2, but He is also the redeemer of the nations in chapter 3, who is mighty to save:

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
‭‭Zephaniah‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Is there room in your view of God for a God who is not complacent, but active in the world? Who judges the nations with righteousness and the peoples with equity (Psalm 98:9)? Who, at the same time, will quiet you with His love and rejoice over you with loud singing ?

This is the God you are coming to know through this journey. Stay with it! Because in less than two months, you will see every character trait of the invisible God on display in the person of Jesus.

And let who He is shape you, instead of allowing who you are to shape Him.

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