Saturday, January 14, 2006

Thinking about: Jeremiah 9:23-24 (part 1)

I want to share something very personal: I like to be taken seriously. I like to be heard. I can’t stand to be interrupted and I get absolutely furious when I am talking with someone and they walk off. I’ve experimented with and examined many things that have come into my head about my reaction to people, or even sought to understand why they may do this—at times I still wrestle with how I respond when this happens. I try to understand. I recognize there are times when I am talking with someone and I notice another person I need to communicate with across the room. I’ve trained myself to think: can it wait? If the matter is urgent, I tell the person I am speaking with my need to stop momentarily and take care of other business—but I also come right back.

Please know that if we are carrying on a conversation, and you suddenly walk away without explanation, I may just keep right on talking. You can chase bubbles for all I care because I am probably torqued, knowing there is value elsewhere. I would like to know that what I have to say matters. Perhaps some would view this as selfish. If so, pray for discernment, show me scripture and disciple me unto the way I should go. Otherwise, I will pray for you—later.

I would not make a good prophet because I like to be taken seriously. I like to be heard. I like to see people respond favorably.

Jeremiah is called to prophesy by God, but knowing what that office entailed objected, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child” (Jer. 1:6). God answered, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jer. 1:7) and Jeremiah is given signs and strength as assurance (Chapter 1).

Jeremiah was given his first sermon by the Lord and it was to be delivered to Jerusalem and Israel. Jeremiah was to tell them they should look to their idols for help; in other words, they should not have forgotten God (Chapter 2). Since the people continue on with God-forgetting, God withholds His blessings from the land. They are told to confess sin and worship God in a new way at His throne (Chapter 3).

Jeremiah calls for return and that the repentant receive a blessing with a new beginning; however, everyone should be braced for great destruction because God’s wrath is not yet turned. As part of the preaching, the people are told what they will choose—they will instead be fearful and mock, but God still demands repentance. God knows what they will do and because of this, Jeremiah is in anguish for the people (Chapter 4). They refuse to repent, so terror will come upon them for their sin. As long as they deal in treachery, God will see they are ruined; however, despite the continued call to repent and fear God, the people continue in their ways (Chapter 5).

Jeremiah makes it perfectly clear that Zion will be cut off and people should prepare for the attacks to come both day and night as the result of their wickedness and the wrath of God that burns against Jerusalem. There is no more peace because God is ignored (Chapter 6). The people are warned to no longer trust in deceptions, and that following false gods should cease. They must stop spiting the true and living God. Sadly, the people refuse to listen and obey—they haven’t done so since they were delivered from Egypt. After the battles are over, no one will be left to rejoice (Chapter 7). People would rather die than live in the ruins. They will question their actions and will not see how they follow lies—nothing will be left. People will try to avoid God and scratch their heads wondering how all this could happen (Chapter 8).

Jeremiah cries out for the people to listen, but they choose the lie over the truth. Since God will judge them by devastating the cities of Judah, Jeremiah encourages them to hurry up and be ready to mourn and because they will know what God has done. (Chapter 9).

Here in this context we find these words: “Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.”[i]

We can see the situation in which Jeremiah was privileged to work—the ideal hostile environment. “When he began to preach, the false prophets preached against him. Naturally the people followed the false prophets, for they said what the people wanted to hear. Jeremiah was contradicted and ridiculed at every turn. At one point priests and nobles formed a conspiracy to kill Jeremiah. When this failed they continued to work against him, and eventually captured him, putting him in the stocks. Everyone who walked by could spit and throw things at him. God’s prophet was reduced to utter public humiliation.”[ii]

When I look at the words of 9:23-24, I see what Jeremiah is saying to those around him; but, like a move in 3-Dimensional Chess, I also see Jeremiah preaching to himself. The application to his audience is obvious and consistent: turn to God and know nothing but Him. The application to himself is also obvious: He has been pleading with them to listen. I can well imagine what Jeremiah was feeling, talking, preaching, shouting and being unheard. Talking and being ignored. Conversing and being walked off. One feels almost invisible and speaking at a whisper. Depression and questions that once came creeping in now just wash over like a flood unchecked.
In ministry, the context in which we move is hostile—this should go without saying. Jesus prepared His disciples for ministry with, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”[iii]

These words of Jeremiah are like the stripping locust. Nothing remains. These words lay bare the truth of reality along God’s perspective. In other words (and those being the words of Calvin), we will not know ourselves until we know God first.[iv]

God’s words are profound and basic: “Do not glory, but glory”; or, “Do not boast, but boast.”

DO NOT GLORY or BOAST IN WISDOM. Do you have wisdom? What is wisdom? Wisdom has been described as accumulated learning with practical applications; an ability to discern; skill in administration (in a general sense)—maybe “Horse sense”.

What is wisdom use for? Applying knowledge; Determining a course of action; navigating life without reefing; getting ahead as quickly and cheaply as possible (success).

The problem lies in the fact that we are just not that omnipotent. We don’t have it. One may ask, “do you mean to say that it is possible for one to lack wisdom?” I think so. James 1:5 says one may not only lack wisdom, but should ask for it. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Solomon asked for it (though he had no NT at the time): “Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:6-9)

Jeremiah is stating that man’s wisdom fails miserably. It has been said that man begins cutting his wisdom teeth by biting off more than he can chew. When man tries to help himself, he gets into further trouble. Man can’t think himself out of a wet paper sack. Try it if you don’t believe me.

We have a wonderful example in Jeremiah of how the Word of God stands up in conflict against the wisdom of the world—the difficulty is that a man got to preach it. Remember, our Lord Jesus taught no fishermen the eloquence of oration; rather He silenced the orators with unlearned men.

Since I can perfect nothing God has already said, I give you His words through Paul (1 Cor 1:18-26): “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

“Other Christians and ministers, who seem very religious and useful, may push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do it, and if you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.”[v]

DO NOT GLORY or BOAST IN STRENGTH. Are you strong? Do not glory in strength. One translation uses the word “might”. Here is a reference to the ability one has to take care of himself. It implies power, authority, resources, intense capability. Another way to think of this word is “liberty.” But, what if you are not strong, powerful or in a place of influence?

I am sure that there were times when Jeremiah was, like, “You gotta be kidding. This is useless. I can’t change anyone’s mind. Nobody listens—how can I make an impact? What business do I have being a prophet? I can’t lead anyone.” Maybe that’s part of the problem—prophets prophesy. They say what God says. Leadership is not the same as directorship, one who points the way.

Sometimes I hear the example given of shepherding in the Middle East—the shepherd walks before the flock. The flock follows. This not always true. I know of shepherds that walk behind the flock, not leading the way but pointing. Leaders are the prow of the ice-breaker. Prophets are the screw.

The people of Jeremiah’s time could not muster the force needed to rescue themselves. They are small and weak. They may have the weapons, they may have the tools, they may have the skills, but they do not have the strength.

I am a Texan and one thing you need to know about Texans is we are glad to be Texan. I know of some Texans who would say they are glad they are not American—and that’s a lot of pride. One thing that makes Texan pride so strong is one small phrase lifted from a certain event in Texas history. This phrase is the gasoline for the fire of all that Texas stands for: “Remember the Alamo!” This phrase was the battle cry for much of the remainder of Texan fight against the Mexican encroachment—but the cry came at great expense. General Santa Ana caught a number of U.S. Army and Texan militia holed up in the former mission and laid siege to it—every man, woman and child inside died. Men who lost their lives included the famous David Crockett of Tennessee and Jim Bowie and Colonel Travis. They had food, they had weapons, they had tools (legend has it they fired Mexican cannonballs right back into the Mexican troops), they had skills—but they lacked strength.

Some would argue the reason Sam Houston was able to capture Santa Ana was due to the fact that Santa Ana divided the Mexican army and lost his strength. Others would say the Texans won because of the battle cry that echoes down the halls of Texan history: “remember the Alamo!” They ain’t gonna let that happen again.

Let me drive this home: “REMEMBER JERUSALEM! REMEMBER ISRAEL!” Remember that God is the one who is fighting and nothing you can do will stop him. Stop fighting God. Let Him fight for you! A time will come when Jesus returns and He will be followed by a great and mighty army of His saints—and He will again do the fighting and no strength against Him will stand.

Do you want to know what God wants? He does not want to know if you have the strength of a hurricane or Superman. He does not want to know how you are going to contribute into the much-needed changes of this world. He wants weak, little people. People nobody can do anything with. He does not want changed circumstances—He wants people at the end of their rope.
“Others may boast of themselves, of their work, of their successes, of their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you begin it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.”[vi]

DON’T GLORY or BOAST IN RICHES. Are you rich? I’m not. When I went to Africa, I discovered I was. Richness means abundance, impress, high value or quality, significance; having more than enough to satisfy. It seems that someone in Jeremiah’s situation thought they could buy themselves out of ransackery—the reason I say this is because God told Jeremiah to tell them not to boast in riches.

Riches glorify and worship self and this is idolatry. God cannot use a self-exalted god.

What if you are poor? Don’t complain about not being rich. Money is not all bad—don’t get me wrong. It’s the love of money that is the root of all evil. We like to cling to all we have. It’s MINE!
A pastor was talking to a farmer friend, and he asked the farmer, “If you had one hundred horses, would you give me fifty?” The farmer said, “Certainly!” The pastor asked, “If you had one hundred cows, would you give me fifty?” The farmer said, “Yes.” The pastor asked, “If you had two pigs, would you give me one?” The farmer said, “Now cut that out preacher! You know I only have two pigs!”

We like our money. It is pretty. One time my wife was outside a McDonald’s downtown and outside the restaurant a vagrant was loitering near the trashcan, licking dollar bills and pasting them to the side of the bin. We like our money.

We are financial Christians. As one age is characterized by the sword, so we are by our money. In one scene of the movie “Hook”, a grown up Peter Pan must rescue his children—unfortunately, he has forgotten not only how to fly but who he is altogether—he is now a lawyer. When Captain Hook challenges him to draw his weapon for a fight, Peter whips out his checkbook. Money takes a prominent place—we take care of our problems with money. We get our stuff with money. We buy professional friends to listen to us and let us vent so we will feel better with money. Money is the universal provider of everything but happiness!

“Others may be allowed to succeed in making money, or may have a legacy left to them, but it is likely God will keep you poor, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, namely, a helpless dependence upon Him, that He may have the privilege of supplying your needs day by day out of an unseen treasury. The Lord may let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hidden in obscurity, because He wants to produce some choice fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.”[vii]

We need plastic surgery—we need our credit cards cut off.

Money is a good servant, but a poor master.

glitter graphics

[i]New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, Je 9:23. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. All Scriptures quoted are NASB.

[ii]Sproul, R.C. Vol. 1, Before the Face of God : Book One: A Daily Guide for Living from the Book of Romans. Includes indexes. electronic ed. Logos Library System; Before the Face of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries, 2000, c1992.

[iii]NASB, ibid.

[iv] See Ch. 1 of “Institutes.”

[v] G. D. Watson (1845-1924). “Others May: You Cannot.”

[vi] G. D. Watson, ibid.

[vii] G. D. Watson, ibid.

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