God's Words both build us up and destory us - Jeremiah 1:9-10

To Destroy and To Build

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” – Jeremiah 1:9-10 ESV

The book of the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament opens with Jeremiah talking about his call to be a prophet to the people. In this passage, as God is telling Jeremiah about the work he is to do, God tells him about the power of His words. God says that the words He put into Jeremiah’s mouth were, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” This dichotomy of purpose in the words Jeremiah will speak can be applied to our lives as well.

The first thing is to notice that the opposites here are referring to removing and giving. In other words, God will bring into our life, through us listening to Him, a flow of things. Sometimes things will come in, and sometimes things will go out. Ecclesiastes confirms this as well with the passage, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We need to acknowledge that there is time for being built up and receiving and there is a time for allowing ourselves to be destroyed.

Wait, that doesn’t sound right, does it? Why would God want to destroy something in our life? The obvious answer is that sin is in us and needs to be taken out. Seems simple enough, but yet it is often this work of tearing down that we fight.

When we think about who we are, we often have an image that God will keep adding or giving or teaching us where we are at. We become more and more like Him and this is how we go for the rest of our lives. Have you ever opened a cupboard or closet door and had things fall out on you? The storage space was too full to hold in all the things that were supposed to be in there. This is what happens to us if we keep wanting God to add and build, but we aren’t willing to let go of anything.

What falls out of the cupboard when it’s opened? The dusty things in the back that are covered in other dusty things? No, the thing that we’ve just put in, because that’s what we don’t have room for. If we want God to be giving us new words and new understandings, we must be willing to admit there are things that have to go.

When we first become a Christian, this isn’t all that hard. There are many things we can pull out and get rid of. In fact, we feel lighter and lighter as we hand off burdens and cares. He begins to heal us and to grow us.

After we’ve walked with the Lord for a while, we start having trouble finding the dusty things that can be cleared out. The trouble is that now the things the Lord is destroying in us are deeper and more personal. Pride stands in the way and says, “That’s not a sin, that’s just my personality!” There are behaviors we do that are driven by fear or selfishness that we’ve done so long, we can barely recognize them as problems.

We find that instead of simply removing problem behaviors, God wants to start changing our view of our very identity. He wants us to stop defining ourselves by our past and our troubles and our reactions and instead start defining ourselves in Him. We cling to our identity very tightly. The idea of letting go of who we think we are, even if we know it’s to experience who we could be, is terrifying.

But it must happen.  He has to have access to destroy anything in the dusty, dark recesses of our spiritual cupboard that He knows is keeping us from being built up. Only then can we be ready to accept the new truth He’s teaching us so we can begin to grow and be built up. He will build us up; He promises. We have to trust Him enough to give up anything and everything He’s asking to destroy from out of ourselves.

The Lord Delights in You - Isaiah 62:2-4

Delighted and Determined

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. – Isaiah 62:1-5 ESV

Isaiah 62:1-5 is a beautiful promise of hope and celebration. I love the idea of renewal fresh from God in, “you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give” (v. 2). I love the focus on belonging in, “your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her.” (v. 4). I love the imagery of happiness and joyful relationships in, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (v. 5).

There are so many beautiful promises in this passage, but those aren’t what jumped out to me at first. The first sentence is, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.” The emotion behind this is determination. God, through Isaiah, is telling us how determined He is to bring His righteousness to life through us. He doesn’t sit with His fingers crossed and hope that we figure it out. He isn’t silently waiting for us to remember or think things through. He is determined to bring bright shining salvation to His children, and He will be as loud as He need to be to do it.

As we learn about His salvation, grace, love and hope, we will then be able to the promised blessings in our life and our culture. Once we accept that Jesus is the hope for eternal life, we will be given a new name, a name given by God as we are adopted into His house (Ephesians 1:5). As the world see us being righteous by His power, they will learn to see righteousness as beautiful, not constricting or cruel (John 16:8). As we learn to trust in Him and walk closely with Him, He will pour out blessings beyond what we could have imagined for ourselves, even sometime material blessings (Ephesians 3:20).

The Lord is continually calling to us and desiring us. What is the Lord speaking into your life? What promise is He giving you that you can hold onto? Remember, He will never give up on you.

God Announces Himself - Isaiah 48:4-5

God Announces Himself

Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’ – Isaiah 48:4-5 ESV

God is doing a work in this world since creation and He won’t be stopping now. God wants us returned to Him so we can spend eternity with Him. As He’s working with us, He is shining His light on us so that we will know it’s Him. Our inability to hear Him is based on our determination to keep pride in our lives.

In Isaiah 48:4-5, God is saying that He knew His people would be stubborn and difficult and only hear what they wanted to hear. It didn’t throw Him off, or make Him give up, though. Instead, He planned for it. He knew that prideful nature of our hearts and our minds and He made sure to tell us about Himself and what He would do so we’d know it was Him.

Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of the World could have come without announcement and He still could have died for our sins. But, by having prophecy that came before we could see that God had a plan. We couldn’t say anything about the wisdom of the Greeks and the power of the Romans and the piety of the Jews combined to make Him. No, we could see that God had a plan from the beginning and that He was working it out to bring salvation to His beloved and lost children.

The temptation in these situations is to take the credit to our choices, or our lifestyle. Today, not many of us worship idols the way they would have been in Isaiah’s day (referring mostly to the Western Hemisphere, here. There are still many idolatrous religions in the world, but not many are predominate in the United States). Instead, we try to take the credit for ourselves straight up. We say it’s because I’ve worked so hard for so long, or it’s my money that bought it or my connections in the world. All these things disappoint and lie, because it wasn’t any of them to begin with.

God’s promises to us in His Word and true and real. He tells us about Himself and what’s He doing so that when we see promises fulfilled in our lives we can be sure to honor Him and recognize Him. God wants us to know Him and He is actively working for us to hear Him.

A Future And A Hope - Jeremiah 29:11

Peace During Troubles

For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:10-11 NKJV

Jeremiah 29:11 is very commonly quoted scriptures. Searching the internet for images of this scripture brings up many fancy and beautifully made images of it. It is a wonderful verse of hope and promise. Often this verse is looked at without the context of the passage around it. In and of itself, it’s a good verse, but by adding in the context of what’s happening around it, we find this promise to be extra special in the context of troubled times.

This verse is given to the Israelites after the Babylonians had come in and taken their people captive. They were in exile in a foreign land and they were looking for hope that they would be able to come back home. Jeremiah receives this message from the Lord and it’s a message of peace to the people who have just had their entire lives upturned and uprooted (Jeremiah 29:4)

In the first part of the chapter, we hear God telling His people to settle into the land of Babylon. They are not to fight or rise up or listen to people who encourage anything other than this (v. 5-9). God also says in verse 4 that this exile has been allowed by God.

The comfort from this passage is this: no matter where you are or how hopeless your circumstances seem, God has not forsaken you. He knows where you are and how you got there and what’s going to happen to you tomorrow. God is always bigger than our circumstances and He is working for our good and His eternal plan.

Verse 10 begins God promise to Israel: your captivity will end, I know the day and I will keep my Word that you will come home. But it also contains an unpleasant truth, this captivity will last 70 years.

The hope we can glean from this is knowing that God knows the exact passage out that we need. He knows when to bring it and He will, because He is good. We can trust Him and live in peace knowing that He’s the ultimate authority in our lives.

Now, we come to the verse of promise. Verse 11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This promise is even sweeter when we know that it’s God reminding a lost and hurting people that they won’t be lost forever. God is working toward the good of all of his people, not simply the people in one time or in one place. His plan for a future and a hope is good and trustworthy. No matter what we feel like or see around us, we can rely on that.

What’s your captivity right now? What’s your struggle that feels like it’s overwhelming you? God has an appointed time for you to step into His blessing. Lean on His word and live in peace while His plans come to a beautiful conclusion.

God Finds Joy in Doing Good - Jeremiah 32:41

God Finds Joy in Doing Good for Us

I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land. – Jeremiah 32:41 NLT

I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.

I love places in the scripture where we see the joy and love that God has for us. It’s so easy to get caught up in “being good” or theological truths and miss the personality that is behind it all. In Jeremiah 32:41 God tell us that he finds joy in doing good. Chastisement comes because He loves us (Proverbs 3:11-12) and wants us to understand how to be more like Him (Hebrews 12:6). What He finds joy in, though, is doing good for us.

Now that I have a daughter, I can relate to the Father/Children dynamic and a different way. I understood it before, but now I can feel and experience the parent role instead of just the child role. I love doing good things for my baby girl! I also love seeing the result of her learning to make the right choices. At 20 months old the looks like listening to mommy when I tell her not to eat the crayons (or all the other many things she tries to chew through). In the times when I’m having to discipline, I don’t feel the warm fuzzies, but I do feel good knowing I’m keeping her best in mind. Then, when I see her choose to make the right choice (starting to put the crayon in her mouth and stop before it gets there. Hey, it happened once…), I feel so good about having done the right thing for her. On top of that kind of feeling good, I love to give her things that she likes and are good for her. So much feeling good (assuming we all have had our nap… 😀 )

I can also take this and see how the Lord is doing good things for me. I would love to see that He gives me anything I want as soon as I want it, but that’s not truly giving me good things. He finds joy in making sure I’m getting the best possible things, including discipline. When something happens that I’m not excited about, I can still say, “Thank you Lord for this, because I know you find joy in giving me good things. I hope someday I can understand it more, but for now, I’ll just say thanks and know that I can trust you.”

That feels good!

You Have Wholly Followed the Lord - Joshua 14:9

Be the Losing Voice

In Numbers chapter 13, we see Caleb, a strong man of God among the Israelites who left Egypt, choosing to be the losing voice in a pressure filled situation. Caleb was one of 12 men who were sent to scout out the land of promise after leaving the slavery of Egypt. They were told to look over the land God had given to them and report back to the Israelites. After their spying trip, they met up with the people and delivered a report: it’s good, but not that good. They agreed that it was bountiful land flowing with milk and honey, but it also happened to have big cities and big dudes in it (Numbers 13:32-33).

Imagine, if you will, standing in the stead of Caleb. Not only do 11 of the leaders of the Israelites disagree with you, the people are most likely going to side with them. Who wants to face giants and walled cities? Think of the most peer-pressured situation you’ve faced and how it felt to be up against it. Imagine the adrenaline and the physical pressure and stress of wanting to go against what the others are saying. If you go with the flow, no troubles. If you stand against it, even your own body reacts, sweating and shaking. There’s the fear of what others will say or even do if you don’t agree with them. I imagine that Caleb felt all that. He not only had the peer-pressure of the situation, but he’d seen the threats first-hand. He knew how big the cities were and how strong the enemy looked.

In spite of all that, he chose to be the losing voice and stand up for what the Lord had promised. He not only voiced his opinion, he made sure the whole crowd was quiet before he started speaking, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” His response showed no fear and sense of urgency. He wanted to go right now and occupy the land. The giants? The cities? No worries, we got this!

Caleb was the reminder voice. Caleb was God giving the Israelite a final choice to obey him. In spite of all the blessing of God and Caleb’s dissenting opinion, the Israelites chose to take the deceitful path that seemed safer, but really took them away from blessing. How heartbreaking for Caleb! His words make him sound like a passionate type of person and I can’t imagine how frustrated and disappointed he was that they’d chosen so poorly.

It’s easy to think that the story stops there, but it doesn’t. God isn’t done with his faithful servant. We find Caleb again in two places, Deuteronomy 1:35-36 and Joshua 14:6-15. First, in Deuteronomy, Moses tells us something special about Caleb.

‘Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his children I am giving the land on which he walked, because he wholly followed the LORD.’ (Deuteronomy 1:35-36 NKJV)

God had seen the faithfulness of Caleb and he’d remembered him and let him enter the Promised Land when everyone else who had been his peer was condemned to die.

The next time we see Caleb, the Israelites have entered Canaan and started claiming the land. They’ve reached the part of the land that Caleb helped spy out and he goes to Joshua (the only other person who was allowed to enter the Promised Land from that generation).

“I [was] forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as [it was] in my heart. … “So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ “And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old.” As yet I [am as] strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength [was] then, so now [is] my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. (Joshua 14:7, 9-11 NKJV)

What a crazy life! He’s now 85 and he’s just as strong as he was at 40. Granted, people in this part of the Bible are living a little longer than we live, 100 – 120 years. But even with that slightly longer lifespan, 85 is still pushing the higher end. And to say that his strength is the same, and he’s ready to fight? Amazing!

I wish I could know the sweetness and victory in this moment for Caleb. He had to endure 40 years of wandering in the dessert with the faithless generation. But here, finally was the answer to the prayers he’d been praying, and he wasn’t going to miss out at all!

When we have to wait for blessings that we know God is holding for us, sometimes we can feel that it won’t be as good or we won’t be able to enjoy it as much, if we’re too old. But when God promises something he’s faithful and He doesn’t go half-way. He blessed Caleb and, on top of the blessing, he gave him the strength and energy to do what he was willing to do all those years before.

God is good and His blessing are amazing! It’s always worth the cost of obedience and God will never, ever forget His servants.