Who Are We Listening To? (Jeremiah 23:9-22)

My head is reeling,
    my limbs are limp,
I’m staggering like a drunk,
    seeing double from too much wine—
And all because of God,
    because of his holy words.

Now for what God says regarding the lying prophets:

“Can you believe it? A country teeming with adulterers!
    faithless, promiscuous idolater-adulterers!
They’re a curse on the land.
    The land’s a wasteland.
Their unfaithfulness
    is turning the country into a cesspool,
Prophets and priests devoted to desecration.
    They have nothing to do with me as their God.
My very own Temple, mind you—
    mud-spattered with their crimes.” God’s Decree.
“But they won’t get by with it.
    They’ll find themselves on a slippery slope,
Careening into the darkness,
    somersaulting into the pitch-black dark.
I’ll make them pay for their crimes.
    It will be the Year of Doom.” God’s Decree.

“Over in Samaria I saw prophets
    acting like silly fools—shocking!
They preached using that no-god Baal for a text,
    messing with the minds of my people.
And the Jerusalem prophets are even worse—horrible!—
    sex-driven, living a lie,
Subsidizing a culture of wickedness,
    and never giving it a second thought.
They’re as bad as those wretches in old Sodom,
    the degenerates of old Gomorrah.”

So, here’s the Message to the prophets from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“I’ll cook them a supper of maggoty meat
    with after-dinner drinks of strychnine.
The Jerusalem prophets are behind all this.
    They’re the cause of the godlessness polluting this country.”

A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“Don’t listen to the sermons of the prophets.
    It’s all hot air. Lies, lies, and more lies.
They make it all up.
    Not a word they speak comes from me.
They preach their ‘Everything Will Turn Out Fine’ sermon
    to congregations with no taste for God,
Their ‘Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen to You’ sermon
    to people who are set in their own ways.

“Have any of these prophets bothered to meet with me, the true God?
    bothered to take in what I have to say?
    listened to and then lived out my Word?
Look out! God’s hurricane will be let loose—
    my hurricane blast,
Spinning the heads of the wicked like tops!
    God’s raging anger won’t let up
Until I’ve made a clean sweep,
    completing the job I began.
When the job’s done,
    you’ll see that it’s been well done.

“I never sent these prophets,
    but they ran anyway.
I never spoke to them,
    but they preached away.
If they’d have bothered to sit down and meet with me,
    they’d have preached my Message to my people.
They’d have gotten them back on the right track,
    gotten them out of their evil ruts. (The Message)

Jeremiah had a hard gig as a prophet of the Lord. And what made it especially difficult was the continual stream of false prophets, preaching their “everything will turn out just fine” sermons in the face of economic injustice, social unrighteousness, emotional denial, and spiritual adultery.

Methinks that Martin Luther King, Jr. must have felt a kinship with the prophet Jeremiah. After all, he was much like a modern-day prophet. In word and deed, he kept asking people to close the distance between the values they espoused and their actual behavior. 

The terrible treatment King and his allies received during the civil rights movement through non-violent marches and demonstrations, brought-out the awful gap between espoused American values of freedom, fairness, and tolerance, and the reality that Blacks really did not possess these in any manner close to the white population. 

Every prophetic ministry compels people to come face-to-face with the disparity between beliefs and behaviors.

Jeremiah knew all about the gulf between expressed values and actual conduct. And he faced a very large chasm between the two. 

Like Reverend King, Jeremiah was imprisoned, had rocks thrown at him, and was jeered for his message of calling people to live up to God’s agenda for humanity. 

White supremacy, or at least white privilege, was taken for granted in much of America before King. In the same way, Israelite privilege was taken for granted in Jerusalem, in Jeremiah’s day. Unfaithful prophets kept proclaiming Jewish supremacy and insisted that the Lord would be on their side of things. 

But the Lord insisted that these supposed prophets have neither attended a meeting of any divine council in heaven nor ever heard God speak to them.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who create dissensions and hindrances, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. (Romans 16:17-18, NRSV)

The spirit of the age simply accepted power, privilege, and pedigree as the norm that ought to always endure. But God thinks differently about it. And so, the Lord sends prophets to call people back to justice, righteousness, and peace for the benefit of all persons.  

The zeitgeist of our own age is one of turmoil, uncertainty – and even chaos, violence, and death. We have our own contemporary self-appointed prophets who proclaim peace where there is no peace; safety, at the expense of others’ protection; militant forms of xenophobia; and an American exceptionalism which places a thin veneer of respectability over the graves of dead people’s bones.

The Lord will not contend with this forever.

An exercise in healthy introspection would be to consider these questions:

  • What are our most cherished values?
  • Where did we get them? Who are we listening to?
  • Are they God’s values? 
  • Who is really in control as the arbiter of values?
  • How might godly values of justice, righteousness, and peace be expressed in our everyday actions and behaviors?
  • Will we seek to engraft such values into our organizations, systems, faith communities, neighborhoods, and governments?
  • Can we work together in humility?
  • Do we have the courage to change, to share power, and to seek the common good of all persons?

Lord, have mercy, and grant us your peace.

All-Seeing God, you know the true state of every heart and every people group. Do your work of making me holy in all I do and say so that your values, and the words and ways of Jesus, might be expressed through me in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hebrews 11:1-7 – Live By Faith

The Mackinac Bridge, joining the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. (New International Version)

“Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.” Elisabeth Elliot

Faith is dynamic, not static. Faith is both knowledge and mystery. Faith encompasses past, present, and future.

The Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere at 26,372 feet long. At its highest, the roadway is 200 feet above the strait that separates the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan in the United States. 

All suspension bridges are designed to move to accommodate wind, change in temperature, and weight. It is possible that the deck at center span could move as much as 35 feet either east or west, due to severe wind conditions.

It’s one thing to know facts about the bridge, and it’s another thing to actually drive on it and cross the strait. 

Some people don’t try it. I’ve driven the Mackinac Bridge many times, and it’s a hoot! In order to cross the bridge, we need to know it will hold us up above the water. And then, we actually need to drive on it.

True biblical faith is neither an existential leap into darkness, nor a simple recognition of certain facts. 

Rather, Christian faith is a reliance upon and commitment to Jesus that results in taking a risk. 

Faith is knowledge that God exists. Faith is stepping out and acting. Faith requires both knowledge and action. 

One can read all the facts about the Mackinac Bridge, but it isn’t the same thing as crossing it. Conversely, one can cross the bridge, even daily, and have no real appreciation for its true magnificence and structural wonder.

The New Testament of the Bible wants us to know Jesus, both intellectually and experientially. Only through those two elements of faith will anyone have a sustainable faith which perseveres throughout life. 

A lack of high-level commitment from professing Christians points to the reality that many believers are missing a crucial part of faith. There are those who rush into situations half-cocked without a solid base of understanding. And then, there are others who talk an issue to death and never act. 

A full-orbed biblical faith seeks knowledge and understanding so that it may respond in loving action.

Faith is important. It’s part of us. We are all people of faith – maybe not sharing the same faith – but it is faith, none-the-less.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie ten Boom

Belief transcends time. Faith is rooted in the past, experienced in the present, and future-oriented. In Christianity, faith is historically moored to the redemptive events of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. This historic faith has continuing ramifications into the present time. And it is a faith which believes Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead.

All of this means our salvation encompasses past, present, and future. So, it is appropriate and accurate to say the Christian has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved.

Deliverance from sin, death, and hell was achieved on the cross. We are presently in the process of being delivered from our sinful nature and the effects of a fallen world. And we will be completely delivered at the end of the age from disease, disaster, and death.

The New Testament brings out all these dimensions of time. Whereas the Apostle Paul tended to continually look back to the past of God’s action in history, the author of Hebrews consistently looks ahead and brings out the future orientation of our faith.

And that is what the great Hall of Faith in chapter eleven of Hebrews is about – giving repeated examples of individuals who transcended their present hard circumstances through realizing what will be eventually coming. All of them acted particular ways in the present time because of what they believed would happen in the future.

People of faith allow their belief in what is coming to shape how they live now in daily life.

Abel took the absolute best of his flock and made it an offering, with the intent of giving God an appropriate gift. Whereas his brother Cain cobbled together some of the leftovers from his vegetable harvest and gave them a nonchalant toss to God. Then, he got upset when God looked with disfavor on it.

Abel’s actions demonstrated the attitude of his heart. His knowledge and action worked together. The gift he gave to God cost him his life, as Cain was inflamed with anger and killed his brother. Only by looking ahead and seeing that God’s reward is better than anything this world can offer, can we endure hardship.

Enoch focused on pleasing God through his three-hundred year life, knowing he would then enjoy an eternity with the Lord who provides good rewards. Enoch displayed his faith through obedience to God. He believed God existed and that God is good, and then proceeded to live a life of goodness.

Noah, despite the jeering of his neighbors, took one-hundred years of his life to build a big ark, believing without a doubt that God’s judgment was coming. The daily grind of constructing an ark for such a long time was made possible because Noah was looking ahead. His present actions were shaped by his forward thinking faith.

In each individual’s life, their daily actions were a result of their unshakable belief in what was to come.

Faith enables us to persevere patiently through any kind of adversity.

Knowing we have a better reward ahead; realizing our present trouble will not last forever; and believing Christ will eventually make all things right in this world – forms the foundation of our faith. Such a faith buoys us so that we do not drown in a sea of injustice, microaggressions, unhealthy power dynamics, as well as plain old meanness and insensitivity from others.

So, when we face those times which tempt us to get lost or stuck in an ever-enclosing existential angst, take a pause, check the facts, and then confidently cross the bridge.

Live by faith. You’ll be glad you did.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Amen. – A Prayer of St. Patrick

Luke 24:36-40 – Peace Be with You

Jesus Shows Himself to Thomas by Rowan and Irene LeCompte, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. (New International Version)

Christ’s disciples were abuzz. Two dudes showed up and told eleven of the original disciples that they had seen and talked to Jesus himself! This was a lot to wrap both their heads and their hearts around. Maybe they dared to hope it was true.

Peter and John encountered an empty tomb. Now these guys from Emmaus are giving this wild testimony of a risen Savior. Into the weird mix of doubt, curiosity, grief, hope, wondering, and outright confusion, Jesus materializes out of the blue and says, “Peace be with you.”

Already feeling unsettled and uncertain, the disciples had anything but a peaceful response to the presence of their Lord. Startled, troubled, and frightened they were, as if somebody had just dropped a skunk into the room.

Why the fear? Why not be overjoyed or overcome with sheer delight at seeing Jesus?

The disciples were caught off guard, as if they had zero expectation of seeing Jesus. Believing him to be dead, they immediately went to thinking this was some ghost. After all, the door was locked. Nobody could have gotten into the room without the disciples knowing it. (John 20:19)

As it turns out, faith and belief are not uniform static terms. There are layers to faith. Yes, the disciples really did believe, and their faith developed over time with Jesus. However, their belief had not yet come to full bloom. So, in this sense, they still possessed a lack of faith and were rebuked by Jesus for it. (Mark 16:14)

A full-orbed belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is more than words, more than making professions, and more than signing-off on a doctrinal statement of faith. Faith is shown for what it is through our actions. (James 1:19- 2:26)

Faith comes to fruition when the head, the heart, and the hands all align together and conspire to proclaim the gospel in thought, word, and deed. If they are misaligned or incongruent with each other, then that faith is inadequate. There is yet another level to the belief which needs to emerge.

Perhaps this is instructive for people today. While maintaining beliefs about the person and work of Jesus, and acknowledging Christ’s death and resurrection, some Christians live as though he had never risen from the grave. If Jesus were to suddenly show up and say, “Peace be with you,” like a startled puppy, they’d likely have an accident on the floor.

As Jesus had done so many times before in his earthly ministry, he invited the disciples to experience him in a real, tangible, visceral way. This is no ghost. This is a Christ who has physical flesh and bones. You can eat with this Jesus, real food and drink. Look at his hands and feet. Touch and feel them if you must. But, by all means, believe!

Jesus came to give them, and us, peace. Peace is more than a greeting, more than the absence of conflict or anxiety. It is to enjoy harmony with self, others, and God. Peace is wholeness and integrity of being, even when all is going to hell around us.

A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
    for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
    establishing and sustaining it
    with justice and righteousness
    now and forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7, CEB)

The peace of God is closely associated with the presence of God. And so, conversely, the lack of peace is to experience a sense of divine absence. God’s peace and presence are inseparable. It is, therefore, no surprise that Jesus demonstrated his actual physical presence and spoke to the disciples about peace.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked in fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23, NIV)

Chronic spiritual anxiety usually arises from the inability to perceive a generous and hospitable God having our backs and working on our behalf. Knowing God, who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, leads to peace and settled rest. 

May the Lord bless you
    and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace. Amen. (Numbers 6:24-26, NLT)

Psalm 27 – Wait…

Psalm 27:4 painting by Marguerite Moreau McCarthy

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
    to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
    yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, do I seek.
    Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
    you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
    O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will take me up.

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they are breathing out violence.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! (New Revised Standard Version)

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

Arnold H. Glasow

The Christian season of Lent is a time of waiting…. Believers patiently wait for Easter and the resurrection of the Lord. But there must be a crucifixion before there is a resurrection. There must be suffering before there is glory. Truncating the process of spiritual development, including the hard circumstances of life, will stunt our growth.

So, we need to wait for the Lord….

But, dang it, waiting is hard! Patience is especially difficult whenever we are experiencing hardship and difficulty. We already know that praying for patience is problematic; we end up getting plenty of opportunities to exercise patience and may feel like we’re worse off than before. So, what do we do?

The way to wait patiently is through hope. And hope is a reality which needs to be continually fortified.

Whatever we long to see realized…

the return of a wayward son or daughter…

revitalization and revival within the church…

courage to face the high wall of adversity…

protection and deliverance from mean-spirited people…

an end to pandemic…

freedom from racism and injustice…

healing from chronic pain…

enough finances to make our budget budge…

whatever the situation we long for, patience is to be our breakfast every morning to help us through each day, living one day at a time, putting one foot forward.

Apart from patience, faith, and hope in God, we will lose our spiritual zeal and settle for a mediocre existence with tepid relationships and lukewarm engagement of the world. 

God desires more for us…

than simply having a marriage in which two people only exist under the same roof…

for church to be more than buildings, budgets, and butts in the pews…

for our work to be more than a necessary evil to make a living…

for our lives to be more than fear, worry, and anxiety…

for much more than broken dreams, messed up relationships, and situations gone sideways.

The confident expectation of hope neither eliminates trouble from our lives nor magically makes everything better.

Deep faith, like the psalmist expressed, does not change or alter reality – but it does change us.

The way in which we view and handle our troubles is understood differently through the filter of faith and the lens of hope.

The mammoth adversity in our lives is no longer feared because of settled trust in God; the danger which lurks about has no teeth to hold us when we are secure in the Lord.

The actions believers take toward God amidst the fallen nature of this world are to wait and hope, to be strong and take courage. It is precisely when we are totally discombobulated that faith and confident expectation kick in and take effect.

Our faith leads us to confess:

I believe the Lord is the Light which keeps me safe and illumines my path.

I believe the Lord is my Fortress, a castle to protect me.

I believe the Lord is an Army surrounding me, defending my life.

I believe the Lord is the Rock of my salvation, keeping me secure.

I believe the Lord is a Parent who holds me close and does not let go.

I believe the Lord is the right and good Judge, always extending grace and mercy to me.

I believe the Lord is Healer, oftentimes healing me from the need to be healed.

Therefore:

I have confidence and courage to engage the world, knowing God has my back.

I have confidence God will handle malevolent persons, systemic evil, and sinister forces on my behalf.

I have confidence I can approach God, since God’s character is always gracious and loving.

I have confidence to pray with authority, understanding God is the Sovereign of the universe.

I have confidence better days are ahead, that the Christ is soon coming.

I have confidence God bends to attentively listen to me praying.

I have confidence God is neither angry at me nor hidden from me.

I have confidence God shall lead me, guide me, and teach me in the way I ought to go.

I have confidence knowing that God has my best interests in mind.

Rather than losing heart, we can be strengthened with solid theology. Making daily affirmations of faith, persevering in hope, and performing small acts of love are our daily tasks while we wait and watch….

Almighty and everlasting God, the One who sees, knows, and protects, by the power of your Holy Spirit, you are refining us, purifying our discipleship, pulling us into following Jesus in this scary new world of uncertainty. Grant us mercy and grace to trust you more deeply, for the only secure place is with you, our light and our salvation, the stronghold of our life. We pray in the name of Jesus, the first-born of your new creation, and our hope, our life. Amen.