One night, I had a dream.  I dreamed that men broke into the bedroom where I grew up and confronted me about my faith.  They proclaimed that if I didn’t denounce Jesus, I would be tortured and eventually killed.  They began with nails and progressed from there.  Yet I never gave in.  However, as the final act came, I began to doubt, and… then I woke.  And I have never known what my final decision would be.

In my career, I’ve had seasons that felt like torture and had to choose whether to continue to minister or to give up.  During these times, I have remained (though once by the skin of my teeth), and what has allowed this was my call.  I have clung to the fact that God called me to this ministry and has not yet called me away.

I agree that everyone is called to minister, but there is something special about the call to professional pastoral ministry.  And while there are good arguments to be made that “professional pastoral ministry” is not a God-given ministry at all, I believe that He uses the clay He has, and so calls us to that ministry.  I’ve met many ministers who cannot identify a call, and I would say they are probably not called.  This is not a judgement about their ministry, but when the hard times come, I wonder to what they will cling?

Jeremiah was in prison, under house arrest, and even thrown in an empty well to die, yet when asked to share the Word of God, he never wavered.  Doom and gloom though it was, it was God’s message and he could give no other.  I would beg good money that what kept him honest and going was his call.  I cannot imagine following God through the pain through which He calls us without it.

One night, I had a dream.  I dreamed that men broke into the bedroom where I grew up and confronted me about my faith.  They proclaimed that if I didn’t denounce Jesus, I would be tortured and eventually killed.  They began with nails and progressed from there.  Yet I never gave in.  However, as the final act came, I began to doubt, and… then I woke.  And I have never known what my final decision would be.

In my career, I’ve had seasons that felt like torture and had to choose whether to continue to minister or to give up.  During these times, I have remained (though once by the skin of my teeth), and what has allowed this was my call.  I have clung to the fact that God called me to this ministry and has not yet called me away.

I agree that everyone is called to minister, but there is something special about the call to professional pastoral ministry.  And while there are good arguments to be made that “professional pastoral ministry” is not a God-given ministry at all, I believe that He uses the clay He has, and so calls us to that ministry.  I’ve met many ministers who cannot identify a call, and I would say they are probably not called.  This is not a judgement about their ministry, but when the hard times come, I wonder to what they will cling?

Jeremiah was in prison, under house arrest, and even thrown in an empty well to die, yet when asked to share the Word of God, he never wavered.  Doom and gloom though it was, it was God’s message and he could give no other.  I would beg good money that what kept him honest and going was his call.  I cannot imagine following God through the pain through which He calls us without it.

To whom do you listen?  I don’t mean your choice in music or podcast.  By “listen”, I mean it like we use it for our kids when we say, “listen to me!”  Whom do you obey?

I wonder how frustrating it is for God when we listen to others but not to Him.  When we listen to “popular opinion” or “famous personality” or “voice of authority” but don’t listen to God, it must be mystifying to Him.  He created these people, He sees how they developed, and He has the words of life.  Not only does He see how bad the advice we receive is, but He also knows the pain following it will cause.  Not only does He know that His words are true, but He knows the blessings that following them will bring.

Jeremiah becomes the bearer of this very news to the Rekabites.  They have developed a family culture around the command their ancestor received and passed on to not drink any wine.  This is not a bad thing to do; in fact it’s probably a very good thing to do and follow.  That’s not the point this time.  The problem is not that they are following bad people or doing bad things.  The problem is that they are NOT following God.  Their ability to obey their ancestor’s command shows that they can obey.  Their unwillingness to obey God’s command shows that it is not inability but disobedience.

How are you at following orders?  And whose orders do you follow?  Are you successful on a diet, or a gluten free lifestyle?  Are you working out regularly, or current on your Fantasy Football team?  The next question is how is your bible reading going, or your prayer life, or your attendance at church events?  If you can manage to watch every football game of your favorite team, then you can go to church every week.  If you can stick to a diet then you can stick to your bible reading.  If you can visit your family regularly, then you can care for the poor on a regular basis.

If you can follow the path of others, then what’s keeping you from following the path of God?

To whom do you listen?  I don’t mean your choice in music or podcast.  By “listen”, I mean it like we use it for our kids when we say, “listen to me!”  Whom do you obey?

I wonder how frustrating it is for God when we listen to others but not to Him.  When we listen to “popular opinion” or “famous personality” or “voice of authority” but don’t listen to God, it must be mystifying to Him.  He created these people, He sees how they developed, and He has the words of life.  Not only does He see how bad the advice we receive is, but He also knows the pain following it will cause.  Not only does He know that His words are true, but He knows the blessings that following them will bring.

Jeremiah becomes the bearer of this very news to the Rekabites.  They have developed a family culture around the command their ancestor received and passed on to not drink any wine.  This is not a bad thing to do; in fact it’s probably a very good thing to do and follow.  That’s not the point this time.  The problem is not that they are following bad people or doing bad things.  The problem is that they are NOT following God.  Their ability to obey their ancestor’s command shows that they can obey.  Their unwillingness to obey God’s command shows that it is not inability but disobedience.

How are you at following orders?  And whose orders do you follow?  Are you successful on a diet, or a gluten free lifestyle?  Are you working out regularly, or current on your Fantasy Football team?  The next question is how is your bible reading going, or your prayer life, or your attendance at church events?  If you can manage to watch every football game of your favorite team, then you can go to church every week.  If you can stick to a diet then you can stick to your bible reading.  If you can visit your family regularly, then you can care for the poor on a regular basis.

If you can follow the path of others, then what’s keeping you from following the path of God?

I can’t wait for Christmas!  And it’s coming soon!  As we enter November, most of our Advent plans are done and set, so maybe I’m ready earlier than most, but regardless, I’m ready.

I wish I could claim it was a deep theological thought I was excited about, but I just love the holiday.  The Advent waiting, the decorating, the carols, the food, the preparations, the fires in the fireplace…  Soon Isaac will begin asking for Christmas videos for his hour of screen time each day instead of Disney, Wiggles, or Veggie Tales.  And I’ll begin playing only Christmas carols on Spotify.

Jeremiah gives us one of those awesome Old Testament prophecies about Jesus that we don’t often use during Advent.  “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”

As we’ve been reading in this book for the last few weeks, Jeremiah has been prophecying that Judah will be taken captive by Babylon.  Because of their disobedience to God, their worship of false gods, and their injustice toward each other, Judah would lose God’s protection and be send by Him into exile in the far-away land of Babylon.  This was the consequence of their sin, and this was Jeremiah’s prophecy.

But God never ends His messages with doom.  He always promises peace and hope.  And so we come to this passage, a message of hope for the future of Israel.  Yes, says the Lord, I am sending you into exile, but eventually I will bring you home and give you a leader from the line of David.  Your punishment for your sin is to face the consequences of ignoring my warnings.  The blessing of hope is that you will be saved by “The Lord our Righteous Savior.”

Now THAT’S a Christmas present!

I can’t wait for Christmas!  And it’s coming soon!  As we enter November, most of our Advent plans are done and set, so maybe I’m ready earlier than most, but regardless, I’m ready.

I wish I could claim it was a deep theological thought I was excited about, but I just love the holiday.  The Advent waiting, the decorating, the carols, the food, the preparations, the fires in the fireplace…  Soon Isaac will begin asking for Christmas videos for his hour of screen time each day instead of Disney, Wiggles, or Veggie Tales.  And I’ll begin playing only Christmas carols on Spotify.

Jeremiah gives us one of those awesome Old Testament prophecies about Jesus that we don’t often use during Advent.  “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”

As we’ve been reading in this book for the last few weeks, Jeremiah has been prophecying that Judah will be taken captive by Babylon.  Because of their disobedience to God, their worship of false gods, and their injustice toward each other, Judah would lose God’s protection and be send by Him into exile in the far-away land of Babylon.  This was the consequence of their sin, and this was Jeremiah’s prophecy.

But God never ends His messages with doom.  He always promises peace and hope.  And so we come to this passage, a message of hope for the future of Israel.  Yes, says the Lord, I am sending you into exile, but eventually I will bring you home and give you a leader from the line of David.  Your punishment for your sin is to face the consequences of ignoring my warnings.  The blessing of hope is that you will be saved by “The Lord our Righteous Savior.”

Now THAT’S a Christmas present!

We have forgotten the authority of God it seems.  Reading the Old Testament prophets leaves us feeling strange and a bit uneasy, so we too-quickly jump to the gospels, there to find plenty of comfortable scriptures to read.  But God is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow, so how do we deal with an Old Testament God who punishes and redeems, who promises pain and comfort?  We listen.

Throughout the bible, not just the Old Testament, we hear God promise what we may consider a conditional love.  “If you obey my commands, then I will care for you, protect you, guide you.  But if not, then calamity will befall you and I will not protect you from it.”  And this is not just a promise, it is fulfilled again and again.  While we focus on God’s provision while the Israelites wandered there, we tend to ignore that it was He who sent us there in the first place.  We were faithless and deserved it – God is not whimsical in His punishments – but for we who only know a God of grace and mercy, this is a hard lesson.  The Prophets only had to come to their people because they were soon to be conquered by Assyria, and then Babylon.  This too was God’s punishment for His people, His response to their disobedience.

In the New Testament, we hear again and again to heed the warning of the Prophets – do not turn from God as we did at Meribah and God killed thousands.  Maybe what we do with these difficult passages is learn from them, and begin to read the scriptures as a whole, a Book not just of grace and mercy but of consequences and then mercy, of exile and then return, of punishment and then healing.

God’s last word is truly always mercy and grace, but that is by no means His only word for us.  Let’s hear them all.

Our November newsletter is now available.  To download it, click here.

Reading Jeremiah feels like reading today’s newspaper.  The claims of “fake news” among two bickering prophets sounds painfully familiar.  Jeremiah claims that Babylon will be victorious and will conquer Israel.  In fact, he even proclaims that others will come and disagree with him but that they are false prophets, cursed by the Lord.  And sure enough, along comes Hananiah, who prophecies that God will give Judah victory over Babylon.  In fact, with each accusing the other of lies, the only way to tell who was the genuine prophet was to wait and see which spoke the truth.

In fact, that was the normal way to discern the truth of a prophet.  And if a prophet was proven wrong by history, the punishment was usually death.  They took truth far more seriously than we do these days.

Who are the prophets today, proclaiming the truth of God?  That truth is seldom comfortable and those prophets are seldom treated comfortably.  Does God still speak through prophets?  Or is it just through His Word?

If you could design a celebration that focuses on the exact opposite of the Christian faith, what would that look like?  Well, as “the light of the world”, our faith focuses on both light as revealing and light as comforting, so this celebration would have to focus on darkness, secrecy and fear.  As the “giver of abundant life”, we focus on fullness, health, and life, so it would have to celebrate emptiness, unhealth, and death.

So, darkness, secrecy, fear, emptiness, unhealth, death… does this sound like any celebrations in our culture today?  Of course, I’m talking about Halloween, celebrated last night around the country.  What movies are part of Halloween?  Not uplifting, feel-good ones.  What happens at every theme park, TV show, and party that night?  Not brightness or happiness.

Totally apart from the fundamentalist denial of Halloween, the theological reality is that it celebrates everything that goes in the exact opposite direction from who we are as a people of faith.  It’s not just that God said not to celebrate as the world does, it’s that we should have no interest in celebrating it in the first place.  Rather than seeing rules and another “Thou shalt not…”, we should instead consider whether these are things we want to celebrate in the first place.

Wouldn’t we rather celebrate the great Christians of the past?  Wouldn’t we rather celebrate our holy loved ones who have passed on and become part of our “cloud of witnesses”?  Knowing we are not alone, that we have models and hope, and that someday people will remember and celebrate us as those who have joined that wondrous cloud… these are things to celebrate.  Let’s let the church stand up and stand out from the rest of this society, which is the definition of the word, “Holy”.  Let’s celebrate All Saint’s Day instead of Halloween, and at home instead of just at church.