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Arrested Development

“Jacob’s portion is utterly different because God has formed all things, including Israel, his very own people— the LORD of heavenly forces is his name!”

‭‭(Jeremiah‬ ‭10‬:‭16‬ ‭CEB‬‬)

Our 3 year old, Hayley, thinks she’s in charge. And if being in charge means being the loudest and the most stubborn then she’s right! (She’s also the cutest and the sweetest… especially while she’s sleeping).

The phase of tyrannical toddlerhood is a normal part of a child’s development, but imagine if Hayley never grew out of it. Imagine she was frozen in a state of perpetual bossiness demanding the world kowtow to her perspective from 38 inches off the ground.

Unfortunately there are adults in the world today who behave like tall toddlers. Their worldview is narrow and underdeveloped, yet they parade around like experts at life. What’s more, some of them act as though they know everything there is to know about God. Their depictions of the Lord are nearly as reductive and vapid as the handmade idols that led so many astray in Jeremiah’s day.

Part of what makes the gospel good news is that the Creator of the universe isn’t done forming us. If we humble ourselves and let Jesus lead, we can be people who never stagnate but continue to grow for as long as we live.

O Lord, thank you for loving us as we are while constantly guiding us toward something better. Amen.

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More Than Conquerors

“The LORD proclaims: the learned should not boast of their knowledge, nor warriors boast of their might, nor the rich boast of their wealth. No, those who boast should boast in this: that they understand and know me. I am the LORD who acts with kindness, justice, and righteousness in the world, and I delight in these things, declares the LORD” (‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭9‬:‭23‬-‭24‬ ‭CEB‬‬).

Joe had the strength of ten 2 year olds. He never smiled. He never took off his camouflage jacket. He was born with the beginnings of a mustache. In a corner of the church nursery, blending in with the plastic foliage, he would wait patiently until I finished constructing my block tower. Then, with unstoppable force, he would kick and punch my masterpiece until every last block was flat on the carpet.

Now Joe was just being a toddler, but there are fully grown adults who use their intelligence, power, and resources to tear down instead of build up. What’s more, their brutish ways are often encouraged by disenfranchised masses who just want to watch the world burn.

What good is knowledge, strength or riches if they are only used to contribute to chaos? Our self-worth should come from our relationship with the living God, the Lord who acts with kindness, justice, and righteousness to create a world we can be proud of.

Dear God, help us delight in the things you delight in. Amen.

Looking Back to Go Forward

“The LORD proclaims: Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths. Where is the good way? Then walk in it and find a resting place for yourselves” (‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6‬:‭16‬a ‭CEB‬‬).

I love innovation. Smart phones, smart watches, smart water—I’m a sucker for all of it. I figure if I use the latest productivity schemes I can optimize performance teams and generate revenue streams at the speed of laser beams… but innovation isn’t always what it seems.

The reality is that fancy new solutions often create fresh batches of problems. Living in the fast lane usually means we zoom past rest stops and neighbors who are stranded on the side of the road.

This was the way of life, so to speak, for many in the Kingdom of Judah when Jeremiah served as a prophet and priest. Trendy things to do at the time included: worship of foreign gods, extreme sacrifices, and oppression of the poor. However, the young King Josiah did something unexpected for a whippersnapper. He moved the nation forward by looking backward—to God’s life giving, rest restoring law. In doing so, Josiah earned the respect of Jeremiah and the loyalty of once-exiled Israelites.

Dear God, grant us the wisdom to know when when we should seek new paths and when we should revisit old ones. Amen.

New Year, Same Resolutions

“I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope” (Jeremiah‬ ‭29‬:‭11‬ ‭CEB‬‬).

Happy New Year! It’s the season of resolutions. My personal New Year’s resolution is to work out three times… that’s it. Maybe you were expecting me to say three times a week. Nope, three times total in 2023 (it’s still three times more than what I did in 2022).

Sometimes, as Christians, we put a lot of emphasis on ourselves: what mistakes we’ve made, what opportunities we’re missing out on, what we ought to do moving forward. There’s nothing wrong with making plans to improve ourselves, but interestingly the Bible spends a lot more time focusing on God’s plans. When Jeremiah prophesied to Judahites scattered throughout Babylon they hadn’t done anything to earn the Lord’s favor—and yet God was resolute in leading them home, establishing peace, and providing them hope.

We humans are notoriously unfaithful and inconsistent, but God steadfastly continues to do what God set out to do from the start. With every passing year God’s ancient resolutions draw nearer to the day of ultimate realization, when Jesus returns to fill the earth with peace and make his home with us forever.

Lord, at the start of this new year, open our eyes to see how you’re at work in our lives and in the world around us. Amen.

Heroes of the Holidays

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah‬ ‭66‬:‭13‬a ‭CEB‬‬).

I grew up in Michigan, spoiled by snowy Christmases. Dad took me out on all sorts of chilling adventures: sledding, tobogganing, downhill skiing. Some of my earliest memories are getting bundled up in immobilizing winter gear to make snowmen, snow angels, and snow forts with my father. It was great fun right up until the moment my fingertips went numb with cold. It didn’t take long to thaw out though because Mom was always ready to welcome me back inside with dry clothes, a blanket, and a mug of hot chocolate filled to the brim with marshmallows.

My parents worked as a team to make Christmas special. They were the heroes of the holidays. Likewise, Joseph and Mary were the human heroes of Christ’s nativity. They worked as a team to protect and nurture the Lord Jesus while he was most vulnerable. In doing so, they imitated a combination of characteristics that can be attributed to God.

We all know God is fatherly, but according to Isaiah God is also motherly. The Lord is both a protector and a nurturer. All of the best qualities we find in one another—whether they are masculine or feminine, big or small, young or old—are qualities we find in the triune God.

O Lord, thank you for making us in your image. Help us, as a community, spread joy and warmth this Christmas. Amen.

Christmas Spirit

“The LORD God’s spirit is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (Isaiah‬ ‭61‬:‭1‬-‭2‬a ‭CEB).‬‬

After being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” and read the above scriptures aloud in his hometown of Nazareth. He then made the audacious declaration that he had fulfilled the great prophet’s words in that very moment (Luke 4).

500+ years earlier, Isaiah was the Spirit-filled anointed one, a messenger who brought good news to the exiled people of God, but freedom from Babylon didn’t mean returned control of the promised land. The kingdom of Judah was never restored and religious liberty was constantly threatened. It would have been understandable if 1st Century Jews felt Isaiah’s gospel had fallen a bit flat.

Some holiday seasons we attend Advent services, sing carols, watch claymation movies, yet somehow fail to tap into the “Christmas spirit.” Perhaps we are guilty of trying to throw a party without the birthday boy. The Lord’s Spirit is with Jesus. He IS the good news. Everything else is ornamental.

Lord Jesus, we want to be near you this Christmas. Fill our minds with peace, fill our hearts with joy, fill our eyes with hope—in the power of the Spirit. Amen.

Light and Life

“Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the LORD’s glory has shone upon you. Though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the LORD will shine upon you; God’s glory will appear over you” (Isaiah‬ ‭60‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭CEB‬‬).

Michel Siffre, a French geologist, spent 6 months in a darkened cave. Why? Because it was the 70s, that’s why. Eleven weeks in, he was losing his fine motor skills along with his mind.*

People need light. We depend on the sun to illuminate the earth, to nurture our bodies, to wake us from sleep. Without the sun our planet would devolve into utter chaos. In the same way—even more so—people need Jesus. Where there is darkness and death, he brings light and life. We depend on the Sun of Righteousness to illuminate the world, to nurture our souls, to wake us from apathy.

Arise! Shine! You don’t have to carry around the weight of past mistakes. You don’t have to cover up the scars of emotional wounds. Your light has come! The Lord’s glory has shone upon you! Embracing anything but light and life this Christmas would be like choosing to live in a cave.

Father in heaven, thank you for sending your Son into the world. May your glory shine through us this Advent season. Amen.

*Larry Getlen, “This Explorer Discovered Human Time Warp by Living in a Cave,” New York Post, January 22, 2017.

Incarnation

“The one who is high and lifted up, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says: I live on high, in holiness, and also with the crushed and the lowly, reviving the spirit of the lowly, reviving the heart of those who have been crushed” (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭57‬:‭15‬ ‭CEB‬‬).

As a child, without question, my favorite grownups were the ones that spent time on the ground. Some played with toys. Some wrestled. All of them stooped to my level and looked me in the eyes like I was important enough to be seen up close.

Many of them were quite tall, the type of grownups that came to the rescue when your paper airplane got stuck atop a Christmas tree. Others were rather fast, the type of grownups that rushed to your side with a bandage and a hug when you scraped your knee.

I don’t think we ever age out of needing bigger people’s time and attention, especially to the extent we’ve been knocked down and scraped up in life. To that end, Jesus began saving us the moment he descended from on high, taking the form of a baby here on earth. Our Messiah was not content to orchestrate our redemption from a distance—he wanted to look us in the eyes and heal us up close.

Lord God, thank you for your son, Jesus, who befriends us in his humanity and rescues us in his divinity. Amen.

CANCELED

“I swept away your rebellions like a cloud, and your sins like fog. Return to me, because I have redeemed you” (Isaiah‬ ‭44:22‬ ‭CEB‬‬).

I grew up in Carrollton, Michigan, a little township that was known for a sugar beet factory that filled the air with a smell that was anything but sweet. Occasionally I would meet kids from other school districts who’d turn their nose up at me and walk away just because of where I was from.

Everyone has experienced the awful feeling of being pre-judged. Some of us have missed out on opportunities or even lost friendships because we were sentenced without a trial in the court of popular opinion. The world can be cruel and quick to condemn, but God is the exact opposite.

The people of Judah were disloyal to the Lord and brought the burden of Babylon upon themselves. Now we might expect our merciful God to consider rescuing a rebellious nation if they beg and plead hard enough, but the Lord went a step further. Our scripture verse above reveals that God rescued the Judahites FIRST—before they repented! Likewise, Jesus went to the cross and secured salvation for us WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS (Rom 5:8). We do not worship a transactional god; we worship a covenantal, familial God who loves us unconditionally and redeems us undeservedly.

O Lord, help us turn away from seeking acceptance from the fickle and return to you, our faithful redeemer. Amen.

When Everything Falls Apart

“Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness” (Isaiah‬ ‭43:19‬ ‭CEB‬‬).

Every so often, something peculiar happens at seminary. A student who starts off fired up for Jesus and eager to be trained for ministerial work winds up having a crisis of faith. Some drop out of school. Others walk away from the church.

This typically happens when things they’d been taught about the Bible their whole lives are called into question—by other Christians! Suddenly, the book that once made them feel close to the Lord leaves them feeling distant and disoriented.

Similarly, but more devastating, the Judahites watched Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple crumble under the weight of Babylon’s military might. In an instant, everything they knew about their faith and identity was deconstructed. It was amid these bleak circumstances that God spoke to them, “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.”

Even after everything had fallen apart, the Lord was able to bring the people of Judah home and restore their strength. And the Lord can do the same for the struggling seminarian or anyone else wrestling with doubt. After all, our salvation doesn’t come from a rigid structure but from the living God.

O Lord, please find us in the wilderness and provide us with a path home. Amen.