The first half of Jeremiah 7 is all about cleaning up their act. In fact those are the very words God uses: “clean up your act – the way you live – the things you do”. This is a pretty direct command God gives, but the reason is more important – catch what God says here: “so I can make my home with you in this place”. Did you get that? God cannot dwell among evil or sin. He cannot live where life is being lived in a way inconsistent with His requirements. So what were the issues? The list here is pretty long……
- Sex with neighborhood wives
- Worship local gods
- Buy every novel religious commodity
- Exploit street people and orphans and widows
- Take advantage of innocent people
- Mistreat neighbors
- Use the temple as a front for other gods
This list is really long and shows the level that the people had fallen in their walk with God. Obedience had left the area. They were focused totally on self, did what they wanted, and ignored God completely. Jeremiah tells them this: “Take a trip down to the place that was once in Shiloh, where I met my people in the early days. Take a look at those ruins, what I did to it because of the evil ways of my people Israel”. God cares how we live. God notices when we sin. God will respond if we do not get it cleaned up.
Is it time for some spring cleaning in your life? Are there areas you have hidden away in a closet or dark corner that nobody else sees that certainly God does. Pornography? An illicit relationship? Mistreating people? Another god? We need to look carefully at how we are living and what needs to be cleaned up. God is not going to turn and look the other way. He can’t. Don’t be part of the ruins. Take action now to make it right.
Jeremiah 6 talks about the utter futility God faces with the people. Scripture says they have “tuned out God” and have created the false sense that everything will be ok when actually “things are not just fine”. There is much deceit going on here in the hearts of the people. They have bought into the lie that they can do whatever they want and it will be alright. God doesn’t look the other way on sin. He can’t – it is against His very nature. So Jeremiah’s counsel is so important: “Ask for directions to the old road, The tried and true road”. Are you seeking direction from God and the spiritual mentors in your life to find the tried and true road? Or are you wandering aimlessly on your own. Scripture gives us a lot of direction in life – how we ought live. It lays out the path we should follow for a huge percentage of the things we deal with in life. God wants us to be walking in obedience to those things before He spends a lot of time telling us the details for the ones not covered in His Word. Why does it make sense for Him to give me specifics if I am ignoring the general directions He has already provided? Why should I assume He will invest in me with details if I completely blow of the big picture directions.
Some things are very clear in scripture. Love the Lord your God, love your neighbor as yourself, husbands love your wife as Christ loved the church, wives submit to your husbands, children obey your parents. The list of very specific instructions that apply to me is long and detailed. I need to start living in obedience to those things NOW. Then I can get to the finer points of life and focus on asking for directions on specifics. Does your life line up with scripture? Are you focused on obedience? Until you are, it is really sort of ridiculous to expect God to be all that worried about the other stuff we may want to know. But once we do line up, He is more than ready to give us all the information we seek.
The second half of Jeremiah 5 is pretty straight and in their face (ours too). God is clear that the people get what they deserve – the Message version calls it “tit for tat” – you get what you have coming. “…as you left me….so now you must serve”. The people are going into slavery to a foreign land because they have walked away from God. There is a price to pay for sin. There is a consequence when we chose to do things that are outside of God’s ways. Sometimes we focus so much on the grace of Jesus and His forgiveness that we forget the reality of the cost of sin. Yes Jesus blood does cover us from all sin in terms of the eternal separation from God, but it does not remove the consequences of sin that occur. There is still peripheral damage from those choices and salvation does not mean it won’t hurt. The key is to focus on obedience. That is how we avoid the pain and damage done by sin.
The problem is clearly pointed out in this section: Jeremiah makes it clear that they have “eyes that see but don’t really look, and ears that hear but don’t really listen”. Sound like something I might hear from my wife or kids. We don’t always pay attention to those close to us, and that is certainly true of our relationship with God. We allow the distraction of life, or just a plain lack of focus on Him, to prevent us from seeing or hearing what He has for us. How can we be happy about that? How can we let it continue? I know certainly I am guilty here. If I don’t take intentional steps to connect with Him in a meaningful way, things of this world push in and keep it from happening. But He goes further and asks: “Why don’t you honor me? Why aren’t you in awe before me”? Now that is a very good question. We serve the God of the universe and yet we don’t treat him that way – at least I certainly don’t always relate to Him as the great I AM. God not only deserves our honor and respect, our awe and focus, He demands it. We need to pay attention to that.
The price for our lack of relationship: “Your sins keep my blessings at a distance”. This is the really sad truth of the somewhat hidden cost of sin. It really isn’t hidden, but unless we stop to realize it, we may miss it. God is unable to bless us indeed when we allow sin to keep us apart from His blessing. We limit His ability to pour out all his richness on us. What a sad result – to miss some of what He wants to freely give us. Get it right – listen to Him, walk in obedience, resist the devil and keep sin at bay. That is how we get God’s best!
The first half of Jeremiah 5 is filled with some straight talk about how we have to live. God is looking for “A single soul who does what is right and tries to live a true life. I want to forgive that person”. How sad is that. One solitary soul – that is all God is looking for that is living a “true life”. How about us today? Are any of us living the way God desires? He continues and makes the comment “if all they do is say….”. Lot’s of talk, not much obedience. That describes a lot of Christians today. We can quote scripture and act righteous, but how do we live? Does our walk match our talk? Do we live the way we tell others to live? God is not amused by our lack of obedience.
So God moves on to those who were “taught about God…went to prayer meetings…from the best families”. And the results: “They were no better off”. They were a bunch of hipocrytes too. Just because you come from stock that went to church doesn’t mean you will live it any better than those who hardly know what God expects. We best be careful we don’t get too pious about being in church on Sunday mornings. That doesn’t cut it with God. The proof is in the pudding – are we walking in obedience to His commands? Do we do what we say and know to be true?
The problem is clear in scripture: “the people’s sins are piled sky-high”. We have a sin problem and it isn’t going away. We have the exact same disease they did in Jeremiah’s time – ME. We put ourself on the throne, we want to do things our way and we ignore God’s command. We talk a good game when it applies to those around us, but somehow we are exempt from God’s truth. That is hogwash folks. We need to get our act together and understand that God demands obedience today and every moment of our lives. When we fail – that is called SIN. And the wages of sin are death – no deviation or other outcome – we spend eternity separated from God. The only way to change that is to come into a saving relationship with Jesus who paid the price in full for my sin and yours. Short of that your future is pretty intact, and it doesn’t look good. Don’t fall prey to those who tell you it won’t happen to you. God’s book is very clear – it not only can, it will. Don’t make the mistake of guessing and being wrong. Eternity is a very long time…..
Jeremiah 4 talks about the pending doom for the city of God’s people. But it starts with a promise: “If you want to come back….you must really come back…and not wander”. God is willing to let His people come back, come home, if we only will. But we can’t just return half way and it needs to be complete. Sometimes we sort of come back, we sort of give up sin, at least until it calls us away. I love how verse fourteen says “scrub the evil from your lives so you will be fit for salvation”. We need to clean up our lives – wash out our mouths with soap (ever experienced that?) – and get back in relationship with God. Once we determine the path to come back, there is more direction: “Plow your unplowed fields, but then don’t plant weeds in the soil”. We need to turn over the soil and plant in it, but not just anything, we need to plant good seeds. We need to plant seeds of righteousness and care for them. Then we can avoid the problem they had: “They have no idea who I am”. That is a sad state of affairs – to not know or recognize the God of the universe. Do you?
Jeremiah chapter 3 has some tough words for the people who have really irritated God. The problem: “you keep sinning nonstop…fickle…used anything and anyone”. They have a problem and it is themselves. Sort of what I find when I look in the mirror and evaluate my relationship with God. The problem is me, not God. It is that I let sin into my life – yep – sin is a choice I make. God has the same response to us He had to the people here: “I’m not just hanging back to punish you. I’m committed in love to you”. He never gives up on us. He is always ready to welcome us back. In fact, He says “come back, wandering children”. He is there with open arms. He does require us to “admit” our sin and “repent” of our evil ways. But He is ready to receive us. One of the key issues of that day was “popular religion was a cheap lie”. We need to be careful to remain grounded in the Book, and not chase things that are popular. Only God’s Word has the compass for our lives.
The second half of Jeremiah 2 deals with God’s utter frustration with the people. They have been disloyal and have “shook off all restraints” and said “I will not serve”. That is a bad plan. To tell the God of the universe that He will not receive their service and action is rather suicidal. Why do we get like that? Why do we try and take over the role of being God and dictating how things will be? Self gets in the way. We decide we will climb up and sit on the throne of our life and be in charge. Oh how wrong that attitude is. God responds like this: “I can’t stand to even look at you”. Not exactly the kind of relationship we should seek with the God of creation. How do people respond: “I’m not stained by sin”. My how we deceive ourselves.
We are not only stained, we are going to pay for sin. Eternal separation from God is the penalty if we don’t deal with it. And the only answer for us is a relationship with Jesus who went to the cross to pay the price. So how do we fall into this trap of thinking we can do what we want and do it our way? Jeremiah records the problem: “my people forget me….they never give me a thought”. It comes down to keeping God front and center in our lives. We have to remember. We cannot forget that He created us, this universe we live in, and has absolute control. It is not about you or me. It is about lining up with Him. We can try to fool ourselves into the attitude the people had here: “I’ve done nothing wrong…God doesn’t mind…He hasn’t punished me”. Oh how wrong that is. “Judgment’s on the way” because there is a price to sin. There are no free passes.
Are you ready? Is the sin of your life paid for?
Jeremiah 2 talks about the relationship God had with his people in the first half. I love how it is described: “youthful loyalty…love as newlywed”. Do you remember that love you had for your spouse when you were newlyweds? Googly eyes, can’t do anything wrong, want to be together all the time, love is joyful kinds of stuff. That is how our love with God should be folks. It should consume us. It should be something that drives how we live and relate to Him. I don’t want to compare the love you have for a spouse with the love you have for God, but it should certainly not be any less – how we love God. After all, He loved us first and He certainly loves us most.
Things begin to drift apart (have you ever heard that one before) and the people begin to lose that passionate love for the Father. They even lose sight of His presence in their lives. Why does drifting occur? Ever been in a boat? It is rare that a boat doesn’t drift some – unless you anchor it or work at it by rowing to keep it from happening. That is why drifting occurs – we don’t work at preventing it. We assume that saying I love you a few times up front should cover us for the unforeseeable future. Certainly most of us guys think like that. “I told you once and if it changes I will let you know” is not the right approach to living a life of love. But we treat God like that. We allow our relationship to drift apart because we don’t practice consistent spiritual disciplines like a daily quiet time, prayer, bible reading etc.
Then we get to the point the people are in this chapter – focused on something that looks like a god but has no power. We chase “empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes”. How true that is. We start looking around when we lose the focus on staying in love with God. Happens the same way in marriage. We have to choose to stay committed to loving every day, moment by moment. We don’t drift, we choose to allow the love we have to become less important than our own selfish desires. Scripture tells us that the people here that Jeremiah is talking to have “traded God’s glory” for empty and silly dreams and schemes. Don’t let that happen to you. In your walk with God, or you spouse. Love takes work! Get out there and get to work!
Today we move on to Jeremiah and this book starts with a bang. Jeremiah is chosen by God to be a messenger of truth. God makes it clear: “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you”. Was Jeremiah special? Absolutely – created in God’s image for a specific purpose. But wait, so were you and I. God shaped us in the womb. He knew all about us. Before we saw the light of day, He had plans for us that are unique and important in His world. We are God’s creation and have a job to do for Him. We are not on this planet to take up space and breathe the air around us. We have a purpose.
I love how God empowers Jeremiah in his fear. Jeremiah says “I’m only a boy” and God say “so”. Catch the power God has for Jeremiah: “I’ll tell you where to go…..I’ll tell you what to say…..I’ll be right there….I’ve given you a job to do”. God is not sending Jeremiah out on his own to figure it out. God has a plan, and He will enable Jeremiah’s success. The only catch – Jeremiah has to listen and obey. God gives a couple visions of what is to come with a “walking stick” and a “boiling pot”. He has some pretty intense work lined up for Jeremiah.
But at the end of the day, it boils down to these instructions from God: “Stand up and say your piece. Say exactly what I tell you to say”. It all comes down to obedience. Funny how that seems to be the defining moment for most things from God. We have to listen and act based on what He tells us. But it is in the taking action that we align with the Father and get His work done. The cincher: “I’ll back you up every inch of the way”. What a promise from God. He spoke it to Jeremiah but it holds true for us today. If we walk in obedience to the Father, we cannot fail. If we speak His truth and spread His love, we will achieve His will. We need to recognize we are created by Him for a purpose, find that and then live it. Life matters – we need to get after it.
Ezekiel 48 is the last chapter in this long book. In this section the land is assigned. The twelve tribes are given their inheritance or place to live. The Temple and holy sections are described. There is land set aside for farming – which is near and dear to my heart. “It will supply food for the city”. There is land set aside all the way around the temple – “a strip of pasture” which would be called green space today. God has a plan – very detailed and exact – that meets the needs of the tribes. He gives “the choice part of the land” to the priests and the Temple. It isn’t what is left. It isn’t what no one else wants. It is right in the middle, best of the available, dedicated and large. You heard that yesterday – 7 miles by 6 miles. That is broken down in more detail in this chapter, but God doesn’t set aside the left overs for Himself or those who serve Him. They have more than enough of the best. Is God into excess? I think not. Nor is He into the crumbs. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He owns all the money in the universe. He is the Great I AM. And it is normal to assume that when He deals out the land for the city of His people – He gets first dibs. Not out of selfishness, but out of position. We sometimes lose that perspective. Tithing is to come out of the first fruits of our labor, not what is left, if any. For many of us that is how we give. We live life and then if there happens to be anything left, we might give some to God and our church.
Bad answer. God desires and deserves better from us. The best decision I ever made for being a giver and tither was to set up automatic giving to my church of my tithe. It comes out of my account automatically each month and requires no interaction or decision on my part. Some may say that is a poor way to give – no personal interaction with the money. But God put on my heart the need to do that and to interact with Him on the offering part of my giving. The tithe should be automatic – we need to give God 10% because scripture teaches us to do that. No questions – no decision required – just obedience. What we give beyond that is where I think God will lead. That is where I need to be in communication with Him for direction and action. Does God get the best of what He gives to you? Or is it just the crumbs, if any exist. Change this area of your life and watch what happens. It is when we learn to give that we experience fullness of our relationship with Him and those around us.