What He Has Purposed

Honestly, I can’t imagine what Jerusalem looked like after the Babylonians had ransacked her. After they had entered her and burned down “every great house,” including “the house of the LORD” (Jer. 52:13). After they broke in pieces the massive pillars and other metal structures she had once protected that her God might be worshiped (52:17, 20-21). After she gave up the vessels used for temple service (52:18-20)–hauled away to join the plunder from other nations. After they had broken down the walls that surrounded her (52:14) and destroyed the gates that protected her. After they had emptied her of those who once freely walked her streets (52:15). I can’t imagine what it was like to stand amidst her ruins.

But, as I plod through Lamentations, I do get an inkling of how the devastation which so crushed Jerusalem also crushed the souls of those who were left to live in her ruins and behold her emaciated condition. Their eyes spent with weeping. Their stomachs tied in knots with an inner wringing of hands and torment. Their hearts so gripped by grief that their reflex response was to throw up. And all this because of “the destruction of the daughter” of God’s people (Lam. 2:11).

Heavy sigh!

And amidst the description of destruction, within the wailing of lament, something spoken about the Creator that causes me to pause and reflect.

The LORD has done what He purposed; He has carried out His word, which He commanded long ago . . .

(Lamentations 2:17a ESV)

God does what God says He’s going to do. His promises will come to pass. His pronouncements are past dispute. What He has commanded will be incontrovertible. His word will be the way.

That is the nature of God. That is the overall, presiding way of this world. Whether men choose to recognize it or not.

And it is this truth which is the hope of those who believe. This assurance, which motivates men and women, in this running with the devil world, to choose to walk with God (thanx Zach Williams for those lyrics).

But it should also be this truth which is the dread of those who refuse the kindness and grace of God. Who presume on His patience. Who, in effect, think so highly of themselves that they are willing to call His bluff.

The LORD will do what He has purposed. He will carry out His word.

Great comfort for those who trust in His word.

Great concern for those who ignore it.

. . . and on the day of the anger of the LORD no one escaped or survived . . .

(Lamentations 2:22b ESV)

How this world needs the good news of God’s rescue and redemption through the finished work of Christ on the cross.

And how we, as God’s people, need to be stewards and ambassadors of that good news.

For the LORD will do what He has purposed.

Showing grace. For His glory.

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Armed with Smart Thinking

Back in the day, I’d always laugh when a co-worker would remind me that “paranoia is just smart thinking when everybody’s against you.” This morning, I’m reminded of another kind of smart thinking as I read in 1Peter.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

(1Peter 4:1-2 ESV)

Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking. It’s a command to obey. And it’s what I’m chewing on this morning.

Peter is writing to those who are taking it in the teeth. Encouraging Christians you are on the run because of persecution. Writing to believers whose lives are really, really hard just because they believe. To families who are walking through the flames simply because of their faith. To moms and dads whose kids are being put through the ringer just because mom and dad won’t recant.

You gotta think that at least some of them are thinking, at least some of the time, there must be an easier way. Wondering if, with a little bit of compromise, there might not also be a little more comfort. That by putting themselves first it might provide a bit more safety. That by not being so overt about their allegiance to the kingdom of heaven, and trying to fit in a bit more with the world around them, it might ease their suffering for Jesus.

So Peter writes to these “elect exiles” (1Pet. 1:1) to encourage them to keep on keepin’ on. To hang in there. To remain faithful. To press on for the prize. To fight the good fight. And in fighting that fight, to arm themselves with smart thinking.

Apparently the original word used for arm is only used here in the New Testament. Literally a verb meaning to equip with a weapon. Weaponize yourself. Grab the utensil needed for the job. And the instrument of choice when tempted to try and ease suffering for the will of God by yielding to human passions? The same way of thinking that Christ demonstrated when He suffered in the flesh. Following the example that Christ left for those who would suffer after Him (2:19-24). Suffering for doing good, “if that should be God’s will” (3:17). Not being surprised, not becoming discouraged to the point of tapping out, but, in fact, rejoicing.

And how’s that possible? By arming themselves with smart thinking, the same way of thinking that Christ had when He suffered for righteousness sake.

How did Christ think about His suffering? He endured the cross and despised the shame for the joy set that was before Him (Heb. 12:2). He considered the long game. Put His here and now in the context of the glorious there and then. That’s the mind of Christ. That’s being armed with smart thinking.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.

(1Peter 4:12-13 ESV)

We can rejoice now in our “various trials” (1:6) because of that coming day when His glory is revealed. We can tough it out today because we bring every thought captive and think about an out-of-this-world (literally) tomorrow. We look over the shoulder of the trials confronting us at this moment and we see Jesus who could come again at any moment.

Thus enduring. Maybe even rejoicing. And all because we’re armed with smart thinking.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Rebuke and An Encouragement

Truth be known, when the going get’s tough, I tend to get tough, too. When the heat is on, I have a propensity to harden. When I’m being tested, often I get testy. When I feel the seemingly relentless pressure of bad vibes, too frequently I get bad-tempered. And, to be clear, that’s not good. Not the way of Christ. Not the fruit of the Spirit. But an ugly, emerging-way-too-often remnant of the old man. And I’m thinking that’s why Peter’s exhortation hits so hard, this morning.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

(1Peter 3:8 ESV)

Peter writes to a people who were on the run (1:1). Persecuted for their faith, reviled for their beliefs, being grieved “by various trials” (1:6). And while Peter reminds them of who they are in Christ, and the future they possess through the resurrection of Jesus (1:3-5), he knows too–or at least the Spirit who moves Peter to write knows too–the ways of the flesh, and the default reactions of the old nature, when it comes to being in the fire. The tendency to fight back. The tendency to lash out. The tendency towards callousness. And not just towards one’s enemies, but towards one’s family and friends, as well.

That’s why, for the sake of their testimony for Christ, Peter exhorts these brothers and sisters in Christ, who are taking it in the teeth, to “put away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander” (2:1). Why he commands them to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (2:13).

And, because he knows that getting hammered from the enemy can often make us turn on our family, why he tells them to guard their relationships as believers. For servants to continue to serve well their masters (2:18). For wives to continue to follow the lead of their husbands (3:1). And, for husbands to not stop loving their wives just as they are (3:7).

And then he says, “Finally.” Not because he’s wrapping up his letter, but as in “Finally, here’s a word for you all.” Because, as a community of believers, they needed to hang together.

So, Peter says, despite the outward bombardment that tends to spawn inward bickering, they were to have unity of mind. Not a uniformity of thinking, but a desire for a harmony even amidst the heat they were feeling. What’s more, they were to be sympathetic toward — not suspicious of — one another. Suffering with one another, even as they suffered together.

They were to love as brothers and sisters for that, in truth, is what they were — family. All children of God. All unconditionally received, through the finished work of Christ, as sons and daughters, to be co-heirs with the Son.

And, in order to love one another as they should love, it would require their hearts to function as the new hearts of flesh they had been given (Ezek. 36:26), sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. Not functioning as the old heart of stone with it’s tendency to be cold, callous, and cynical. A heart made tender and supple through a humble mind. A mind not focused and concerned with self, but willing to speak and show grace to others because it put others first.

High expectations! Especially in the heated seasons of life. Heavy sigh!

Who is sufficient for such a walk? Not this guy (see my opening paragraph). Who’s failed, again and again? Uh, that would be me.

But that would also be why Jesus came. To provide a justified forgiveness for the failures of sinners like me. To pay the wages for sin I could never pay. And, just as importantly, to provide the power to overcome such sin, and to walk in a manner worthy of who I am in Christ. A power and ability to walk that I could never muster up on my own.

And so I chew on Peter’s commands this morning–both as a rebuke and, as an encouragement. Both confessing my tendency to be testy, and believing in the Spirit’s promised power to overcome such tendencies. Sorry for having fallen short, but wanting so much to live as I should.

Only by His grace. Only for His glory.

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A Lion

Again, it’s repetition in Jeremiah that’s caused me to pause and reflect this morning. Something said of God’s judgment of Babylon in this morning’s reading that was also declared concerning His judgment of Edom in yesterday’s reading. And it’s got me thinking about a lion.

“Behold, like a lion coming up from the thicket of the Jordan against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly make them run away from her, and I will appoint over her whomever I choose. For who is like Me? Who will summon Me? What shepherd can stand before Me? Therefore hear the plan that the LORD has made against Babylon, and the purposes that He has formed against the land of the Chaldeans . . . ”

(Jeremiah 50:44-45a ESV)

Check out Jeremiah 49:19-20 and you’ll find pretty much the same declaration, word for word, directed towards the Edomites.

At first, what grabbed me is the rhetorical challenge of the LORD of hosts. Who is like Me? Who’s going to set a time for Me to appear before them and defend Myself? What protector of any flock is going to hold their ground against Me? Short answers to these three questions? No one. No one. And . . . no one. For God appoints over every nation and every peoples whom He will. Either to rule them or to chastise them.

“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?” (Exodus 15:11 ESV)

No one.

But then, it was the shepherd reference that caught my attention. Why refer to the leaders of Edom and Babylon as shepherds? Why not king or ruler? Why use that word picture? And it seems to me it’s because one of the shepherd’s jobs is to protect the flock. To ward off ravenous beasts who would harm and disperse the flock. At least that was a big part of David’s resume (1Sam. 17:34-37).

So, noodling on the shepherd motif it led me to meditate on what these impotent, unable to stand, shepherds were up against in trying to withstand the Sovereign LORD’s determination. They were up against a lion.

“Behold, like a lion coming up from the thicket of the Jordan against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly make them run away from her . . . “

Our God is like a lion. Earlier in his prophetic declarations, Jeremiah said that, in the day of God’s wrath, the “lords of the flock” would cry out and would fall and shatter “like a fragile vessel.” That their pastures would be laid wasted and their “peaceful folds devastated.” And all this “because of the fierce anger of the LORD” who “like a lion, has left His lair” (Jer. 25:34-38).

Chew on that imagery for bit. Our God is not only a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24, Heb. 12:29), He is also an unquenchable fire. A lion that cannot be opposed.

Who is like our God? No one! He is a Lion.

Yes He is! And one day He will again leave His lair. When this day of patient forbearance closes, when this age of grace has seen the harvest of every soul readied to respond to the gospel by faith, then again the Lion will leave His lair.

And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, . . . And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne.

(Revelation 5:3-7 ESV)

The Lamb is the Lion. On that day when God will again judge the nations–those who refused the offer of His free salvation through the judgment already born for them by Christ on the cross–it will be the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the risen ruling Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who will come forth in justice.

And who then will summon Him to give an account? Which shepherd will be able to stand before Him? No one!

Who is like Him? No one!

All praise and honor be to the Lion of the tribe of Judah. To the Lamb that slain.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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For God So Loves the World

I am far from an expert or scholar when it comes to the Old Testament prophets. However, having read through them at least once a year for the past several years, I do feel like I’ve become more familiar with the “big ideas” and the general themes within them. For example, the LORD, through His prophets, not only warns His people in various ways of the judgment to come for their rebellion and spiritual infidelity, but also promises them a day when they would return to the land after the discipline of their exile.

Also quite common in the prophets is the declaration that God would judge Israel’s enemies. That not only would He raise up the Babylonians as His sword against His people, but also use them to destroy those who, over the years, had repeatedly opposed and oppressed them.

So, this morning, it really hit me when I came across a phrase in Jeremiah 49 that I recalled (or, I’m thinking, the Spirit reminded me of) from yesterday’s reading in Jeremiah 48. And not only did I encounter it once in today’s reading, but twice. And, as I chewed on this thrice repeated phrase, these three witnesses testified, “For God so loves the world.”

“Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the latter days, declares the LORD.”

“But afterward I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites, declares the LORD.”


“But in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, declares the LORD.”

(Jeremiah 48:47; 49:6; 49:39 ESV)

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered God’s promise to restore the fortunes in Jeremiah. But up to this point it has been the fortunes of Judah (Jer. 30:3, 18; 33:7,11). The promise to bring back the captives of His covenant people from captivity. To return them to their former prosperity. And it’s kind of what you’d expect from a God who had made unconditional promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning their descendants, a promised land, and the blessing that they would know, and the blessing that would proceed to all peoples through them.

But to also promise to restore the fortunes of Moab? Of the Ammonites? Of the arrogant, highland dwellers of Elam? Honestly, wasn’t expecting that. But also, as I noodled on it a bit, not surprised by it either. For God so loves the world.

A reminder that all men and women are created in the image of God. A reminder that God’s purpose in choosing a people was that He might rescue all people from their bondage to sin and the destruction of death. A reminder that while He might be known as the God of Jacob, He is the LORD over all nations, the Sovereign determiner of who will rule, for how long, and to what ends. Even if that end is to know His sword through another conquering nation in order that they might experience His grace when, by His determination and power, He restores their fortunes.

All pointing to the ultimate restoration of fortunes, eternal life, which was to come through the finished work of the cross of Christ. And will be fully realized when, face to face, we behold the living King of kings.

The sure promise for all who believe.

For God so loves the world.

Because of His grace. All for His glory.

Amen?

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Freed for Slavery

When you know who you are, it goes a long way to being who you should be. What identifies you will drive you. If you view yourself as impoverished, you’ll live like a poor person–either languishing because of a perceived lack of resources or, striving to acquire what you think you need in order to shed your poverty.

That’s why, at least in part, I think Peter wrote his letter to those displaced by persecution. As exiles, as sojourners, as those who had no place to call home, it would have been easy to be discouraged. To see themselves as displaced outcasts could have easily led them to live as those who wandered about aimlessly. To think of themselves as unclaimed orphans would have tempted them seek to be more like those who seemed to fit in better with society.

But they weren’t outcasts, they were part of a chosen community, gathered under the banner of a “living hope” and with the promise of a future home. So, Peter reminds them that, having been born again into God’s forever family and becoming a joint heir with Christ, they had the assurance of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” kept for them in heaven (1:3-4).

And, he wanted them to know that they weren’t orphans, alone and on their own, needing to rely on their own wisdom and resources to get through each day. But, in fact, as God’s children they were being guarded by God’s power for “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5).

In reality, they had been chosen of God to be “living stones being built up as a spiritual house”, a new priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession and glory (2:5a, 9a).

Sojourners and exiles? Sure. But they were also saints and ambassadors!

Peter knew that they needed to know who they were in Christ if they were going to be able to live for Christ.

And, apparently, they needed to know they were people who were free if they were going to fulfill their call to live as slaves.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

(1Peter 2:15-16 ESV)

I like verses like verse 15. Wanna know what the will of God is? Listen up, Peter says, here it is . . . do good!

But then you come to verse 16 and, for me at least, it kind of stops me in my tracks with its apparent contradiction.

They were exhorted to live as people who are free. But doing so would mean living as servants of God. Huh?

They needed to know that when they were born again they were freeborn. That they ceased to be slaves to sin and death through the finished work of the cross. That the heavy yoke of the Mosaic law had been removed. That they were now unrestrained and unfettered from any and all performance-based obligation. As Jesus Himself declared, that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

Yet, these emancipated people were then to subject themselves as servants of God. To again consider themselves a people of servile condition, devoted to Another to the disregard of their own interests. Willingly abdicating the throne of their own will and subjecting themselves as slaves to God’s will.

Freed for slavery. Really?

Yup! We may be free indeed, but, as Paul reminded the Corinthians, we are also not our own (1Cor. 6:19-20).

If we really believe we are the redeemed, then we should be eager to live as the redeemed. If we embrace our identity as a holy priesthood, then we’ll want “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5b). The more we lean into our reality as a royal priesthood, then the greater our desire to “proclaim the excellencies” of the One who called us “out darkness and into His marvelous light” (2:9b).

When we know who we are, then we are free to be who we are to be.

Even if that’s being freed for slavery.

All because of grace. Only for His glory.

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Be Careful What You Pray For

The Babylonians had come and gone. Though Jerusalem lay in ruins, those who were left in the land, and those who returned to the land from surrounding regions, sensed somewhat of a return to normality. A governor, Gedaliah, had been set in place by the conquering Chaldeans and, along with him, some semblance of order had been re-established. And, the daily, mundane tasks of working the land were once again their preoccupation as “they gathered wine and summer fruits in great abundance” (Jer. 40:12).

But then someone upset their apple cart. A foreign power sets their eye on the vulnerable land of the Jewish remnant. The governor is murdered. Violence returns to the land. Turmoil and uncertainty again greet every dawn as people wonder how are the Babylonians going to respond to their appointed governor being taken out? What to do?

Pray. Or, at least have Jeremiah pray for them.

[They] said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the LORD your God for us, for all this remnant — because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us — that the LORD your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do. . . . Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.”

(Jeremiah 42:2-6 ESV)

Seems simple enough. Jeremiah, we know you’re a prophet. Things have played out just as you, for years, have told us it would. Where we are now, is exactly where you said we’d be, though many refused to believe you. So now, we’re coming to you for another word from the LORD your God. Things are crazy around here. We need some guidance. Show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.

So Jeremiah prays. And the LORD his God answers. But it’s not the people wanted to hear. Be careful what you pray for.

They thought there should be a way to go. They were expecting to be given something we should do. Instead, the response is, “Stay where you are.”

[Jeremiah] said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before Him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the LORD, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. . . . The LORD has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.'”

(Jeremiah 42:9-11, 19a ESV)

And the people’s response? We’re going to Egypt!

When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the LORD their God, with which the LORD their God had sent him to them, . . . [they] said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The LORD our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there’” . . . And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the LORD.

(Jeremiah 43:1-2, 7 ESV)

It really is an incredible story as you chew on it. Whatever the Lord says we will do, they say. Whether good or bad, they say, we will obey. But they were bluffing. They were so sure of their own wisdom and ways that, when God’s way was a different way, they responded, “No way!”

As they assessed the situation they thought that what the way to go, and the thing we should do, was a no-brainer. As they leaned on their own understanding, they were confident they understood what should be done. Head for the hills. Or, at least direct themselves towards the delta. Leave the uncertainty. Find a way out of the chaos. And what they really wanted when they asked Jeremiah to pray was to get some heavenly approval for their earthly thinking. But God said, “Don’t do it!” But they did it, anyhow.

And you sit back and think, “How dumb!” And then you think on it some more and you start to acknowledge, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

How often do we want out of our current circumstance? How often do we think we know the best way out? And then we “pray about it.” Not seeking God’s wisdom and way as much as we’re wanting God’s amen and approval. We start with, “God show me whatever’s the right thing to do.” But when it’s not our way we respond, effectively, “That’s what you want me to do? Whatever!”

Sometimes . . . maybe most times . . . it’s hard to stay put in a hard situation. It’s hard to trust that God is present and that His promises are still in play. It’s hard not to fear. It’s hard to believe that He will deliver us out of the trial someday when we think we know a way we can deliver ourselves today.

So be careful what you pray for. It could be hard.

But it will always be the right way to go and the right thing to do.

By His grace. For His glory.

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