Never Too Far

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 18.12
12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’”

Reflection: Never Too Far
By Erin Newton

The fate of Israel is like watching a train wreck. 

God calls out to the people through Jeremiah trying to warn them of the coming disaster. It is like the warning signs you see when driving the wrong direction down the road. You bypass the signs telling you not to turn, past the signs that tell you not to enter, and eventually, you’re facing oncoming traffic. But you’ve committed to getting on the highway, so you keep barreling down the road to impending doom.

Is there any time when someone is too deep in sin to repent? Has there been a time in your life where sin had escalated so much so that you gave up trying to change your ways? 

As we saw earlier this week, stubbornness is the hardening of the heart. It is the resolute defiance against change despite consequences or rebukes. There can be a false narrative that we tell ourselves that there is a limit to the grace of God. “I’m too far gone”, we think. Out of shame of possibly sinning “too much” or “too severely,” we assume we cannot return to God. 

On the other hand, perhaps some wish to be out of reach of God. There is no shame for one’s sin in this scenario, only the lust to continue. 

In either case, the truth is that all our sins are seen by God. The psalmist ponders this question, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (Psalm 139.7-8) There is nothing that is hidden, nothing out of reach.

As Betsy Ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” The limitlessness of God’s love nullifies the sentiment, “It’s no use.” We cannot let our shame limit the forgiving nature of our God. We must not coddle our sins and limit our free will to change. 

Because our mortal bodies are bound to continue in the realm of time and space, we know that we must continue on each day. For those who have given up on God and themselves, the choice is inevitable disaster. For those who choose to listen to God’s call to return, it is a promise of abundant life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Let me seek the Lord while he may still be found. I will call upon his name while he is near. 

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings

Jeremiah 18(Listen -3:40)
1 Thessalonians 3(Listen – 1:44)

Read more

Read more about Worth Doing Poorly
No matter how far short we fall, anyone can turn in repentance and take steps with Jesus that make a difference.

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
What posts from the past 12 months helped you? Even if all you have to say is, “It blessed me,” share it with us and we’ll share it with others.

Don’t Hope in Humans

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 17:5-6
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

Reflection: Don’t Hope in Humans
By Erin Newton

As we read the Old Testament, we often scoff at idolatry. Hmph, how primitive, we think. Most of our world sees God as one of many religious, divine beings but considers all such powers as ultimately nonexistent. By default, trust shifts from the divine to the created order. We are a culture that not only trusts in humanity but takes pride in doing so.

Jeremiah lives among a culture that rarely sees any dichotomy between the natural and supernatural yet speaks of this erroneous way of living that we encounter all the time. The prophet chides the people for trusting in humanity as if nothing could be more foolish. As fools today, our world chides at those who trust in God as if it were all a figment of our imaginations.

Trusting in another human being includes not only trusting another person for security, power, value, identity, and love but also drawing strength from ourselves. The prophet rebukes the mantra to pull oneself up by the bootstraps. He rebukes the idea that a mere mortal could be called upon to fix all of one’s problems. The future of those who trust in humanity will be like those who wander the desert always looking to settle but never finding rest.

We hear politicians speak about promises of a brighter and better future if only we will pick them to lead us. We are confronted with the failures of our religious organizations and are told that if we follow “so-and-so” then everything will be made right. Sometimes we hope that if we can be loved by this one person, then our souls will be filled and our identities complete.

It is a lonely, confusing, and hurting world that we live in. We want something to cling to in times like this. Unsurprisingly, people will present themselves as our knights in shining armor. As we look for hope and answers, let us be careful. We can find help in another person, but hope remains in Christ alone. We cannot call another person our savior or speak about someone as a cure-all for our world.

The only person worthy of our trust is Christ. We can draw strength from our Lord who put on flesh but was fully divine. He is our anchor. God may choose to use men and women to bring peace or prosperity, but wholehearted trust can only be in God. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. — Psalm 95.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 17 (Listen -4:50)
1 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:53)

Read more about No Princes
How many believers veil their trust in men as trust in God? This can cause problems in two ways.

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
We need to know your favorite posts from the past 12 months. Even if all you have to say is, “It blessed me,” share it with us and we’ll share it with others.

Stubborn Hearts are Hard Hearts

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 16.11-12
11 Then you will answer them, ‘Because your ancestors abandoned me—this is the Lord’s declaration—and followed other gods, served them, and bowed in worship to them. Indeed, they abandoned me and did not keep my instruction. 12 You did more evil than your ancestors. Look, each one of you was following the stubbornness of his evil heart, not obeying me.

Reflection: Stubborn Hearts are Hard Hearts
By Erin Newton

What can be worse than the worst? There is a sort of irony in this message. Jeremiah’s ancestors had worshiped idols, bowing to the stone and metal they had created. When it comes to high-handedly sinning against God, idolatry is typically the direst example of such sin. Yet, God declares that Jeremiah’s generation is more wicked. What sin can outdo the waywardness of idolatry? Stubbornness. 

The word used for stubbornness is often translated as “hardness of heart.” It is the type of heart that Ezekiel later calls a heart of stone and compares it with a new heart of flesh. It is a self-reliant heart. It is a heart that cannot be corrected, trained, or rebuked. The stubborn person listens only to himself or herself. The stubborn person is confident of oneself and obstinate toward God. 

God was not pleased with the ancestors who had worshiped idols. They broke the first commandment blatantly and without shame. There is within this text the sense that God has always stood by, ready to bestow mercy and forgiveness despite their wayward hearts. We have seen his graciousness over and over in the Old Testament but the tone changes when the people defiantly refuse to change their ways. 

All sins can be enticing in some way or another. The lure of luxury and ease. The seduction of physical pleasure. The appeal of control and power. Stubbornness chooses the pleasure that sin offers over the willingness to cut off one’s hand or pluck out one’s eye for the sake of Christ. (Matthew 5.29)

Beneath the outward expression of stubbornness is a foundation of pride. When we choose pride over humility, we claim to know what is best for ourselves. Pride calcifies the sensitivity of our souls making them callous to conviction. Pride leaves us unable to admit our faults or seek forgiveness. 

How do we prevent stubbornness from taking hold of our hearts? Humility is the answer. We need humility to trust God to deliver us from evil when we are led into temptation. We need humility to accept that we will always fall short. 

Let us ask God to continuously chip away the callous self-reliant edges of our hearts. Let us trust God for what he has done and what he has promised to do. With a heart of flesh, a heart softened to follow Christ, we can live with open hands ready to follow him. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me. — Psalm 31.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 16(Listen -3:52)
1 Thessalonians 1(Listen – 1:27)

Read more about Choices and Hard Hearts
Hardened hearts happen in stages. Our choices matter. Our hearts are hardened or softened day after day.

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
We need to know your favorite posts from the past 12 months. Even if all you have to say is, “It blessed me,” share it with us and we’ll share it with others.

The Purpose of Godly Shame

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 13.22-27
22 And if you ask yourself, 
“Why has this happened to me?”— 
it is because of your many sins 
that your skirts have been torn off 
and your body mistreated. 
23 Can an Ethiopian change his skin 
or a leopard its spots? 
Neither can you do good 
who are accustomed to doing evil. 
24 “I will scatter you like chaff 
driven by the desert wind. 
25 This is your lot, 
the portion I have decreed for you,” 
declares the Lord, 
“because you have forgotten me 
and trusted in false gods. 
26 I will pull up your skirts over your face 
that your shame may be seen— 
27 your adulteries and lustful neighings, 
your shameless prostitution! 
I have seen your detestable acts 
on the hills and in the fields. 
Woe to you, Jerusalem! 
How long will you be unclean?” 

Reflection: The Purpose of Godly Shame
By John Tillman

Wails pierce the air. “Why is this happening to me?” asks the child with the broken toy.

“Because you broke it,” answers the parent.

The empty-handed child screams. Does the parent love her child? Of course.

God is Jerusalem’s parent. He patiently gave her everything she needed and called her to a high purpose. Instead, they became accustomed to evils and abuses common in other nations and abandoned the ways of the Lord. They had not just broken something inconsequential, like the toy in the example above. They had broken actual human lives and destroyed and corrupted the holiness of God’s Temple and their covenant with him.

God anticipated that when consequences of their actions arrived, the people of Jerusalem would cry like the careless child, “Why has this happened to me?”

Like the Jewish nation God established, we are intended to “image God” to the world. We show the world God’s face and are called “the body of Christ.” Too often our “body of Christ” is weak, ineffective, and corrupted. Too often the face of God we show is wrathful and unforgiving. God will set out, just as he did with Jerusalem, to expose hypocrisy and abuse. When this happens we might cry in shame, “Why is this happening to us?” 

Godly shame recognizes the gulf between our identity and our actions. However, God does not intend to leave us shamed. God is not an abusive parent. When we cry, even from self-inflicted wounds, he cares. The answer to “Why is this happening to us?,” is only partially, “because of your many sins.” (Jeremiah 13.22) The deeper answer is, “So I can restore you and fill you with good things.”

God promises to wipe out Jerusalem like a dish, leaving it upside down and empty. (2 Kings 21.13) The purpose of emptying something of filth is to fill it with something of worth. The purpose of cleansing something is to reuse it.

No matter how corrupt our hearts become, on the other side of confession is restoration and freedom from shame. If we allow him to empty us of pride, he will fill us with honor. If we allow him to empty us of sin, he will fill us with righteousness. If we allow him to empty us of cultural poisons, he will fill us with living water. We can then pour these offerings out to bless all those around us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!
Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile! — Psalm 32.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 13(Listen -4:11)
Galatians 4(Listen – 4:13)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 14(Listen -3:51)Galatians 5(Listen – 4:39)
Jeremiah 15(Listen -3:22)Galatians 6(Listen – 2:18)

Read more about From Shameless to Blameless
Are we shamelessly sinful, defending our sins? Or are we humbly repentant, called blameless ONLY in Christ?

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
What posts from the past 12 months strengthened your faith? Share them with us and we’ll reshare them.

Our Vengeance is Repentance

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 12.1-2; 15-17
1 You are always righteous, Lord,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?
2 You have planted them, and they have taken root;
they grow and bear fruit.
You are always on their lips
but far from their hearts.

15 But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. 16 And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people. 17 But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the Lord.

Reflection: Our Vengeance is Repentance
By John Tillman

The Bible holds many complaints to God. Job, psalmists, Habakkuk, Elijah, Jeremiah, and others come to God with complaints, laments, and questions. One of the most common is: “Why do the wicked prosper?”

God’s response to Jeremiah seems confusing: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 12.5) This metaphor told Jeremiah the problem was worse than Jeremiah knew. “It’s not just a few evil people who’ve gotten rich, Jeremiah. Wait until you hear what the shepherds of my people are doing. Wait until you see the full picture.” (Jeremiah 12.10-11)

The Bible is described as a mirror to see what we look like. (James 1.23-24) Another mirror is the state of our world. Paul’s confession in Romans 7 is ours as well: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7.19-24

Organizations are not immune to Paul’s observation. Don’t we want governments, businesses, and churches to do good? Yet, we are forced to admit continually that “evil is right there with us” (Romans 7.21) Should children starve? Even in the United States, we see it happen. Should people be sexually abused? In secular and religious institutions we see it happen. The evil that we see in the world? It is our face in the mirror—individually and collectively.

The solution to evil isn’t as simple as replacing “bad guys” with “good guys.” Just a few pages ago (Jeremiah 5.1) we learned there aren’t any “good guys.” 

Like Jeremiah, sometimes all we feel that we can do is weep. (Jeremiah 4.19; 8.18, 21-22) If it was up to us, that’s all we could do. But God has more in store. Though we and our nation may suffer as violence and extremism gain more ground, we have hope.

This hope transcends vengeance on our enemies. God promises Jeremiah that even Israel’s enemies, used by God to punish them, will be restored by God if they turn to him. (Jeremiah 12.15-17) ANY people who listen, who learn his ways, will be incorporated into God’s family as brothers and sisters. 

There will certainly be those who refuse God’s mercy and are destroyed in God’s just wrath. However, our ultimate hope and vengeance is the repentance and restoration of our enemies, not their destruction. Let us love our enemies today, embracing this truth.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed be the Lord day by day, the God of our salvation, who bears our burdens.
He is our God, the God of our salvation; God is the Lord, by whom we escape death. — Psalm 68.19-20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 12(Listen -3:06)
Galatians 3(Listen – 4:39)

Read more about The Law that leads to Grace
Christ’s death opened the path of grace through faith to all people. In Christ, God came near…

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
We want to know posts you loved from the past 12 months. Share them with us and we’ll share them with others.