To Kill a Prophet

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 11.18-19
18 Because the Lord revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. 19 I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree and its fruit;
    let us cut him off from the land of the living,
    that his name be remembered no more.”

Reflection: To Kill a Prophet
By Erin Newton

There is a risk when you confront bad behavior or rebuke fellow believers. Sin has a way of infecting our hearts so that, as with Frodo or Bilbo Baggins, anyone suggesting we take off the evil ring is met with a darkened, menacing face screaming that friends are out to get us. Jeremiah’s neighbors sought to kill him because he told the people they carried evil around their necks.

What exactly is Jeremiah preaching that causes people to be so upset? There is no new law or new method of worshiping God. He calls them to devote themselves to God alone and to love their neighbors as themselves. This would mean being more benevolent, more gracious, less self-centered, less like the world around them, and more mindful of the covenant to which they were bound.

The language Jeremiah uses to describe the treachery against him is much like Isaiah’s depiction of the suffering servant. Like a gentle lamb, the suffering servant would go quietly to his death. Christ is that servant. Just like Jeremiah, Christ is persecuted for calling the people to live rightly. Some who hear these rebukes clutch at their sins and are poisoned by pride.

When we sit in the pews each Sunday, listen to podcasts about Christian living, or talk with our friends about the current state of Christianity, we will be faced with a call to examine our hearts. We may feel the sting of conviction and the pangs of guilt as the Spirit moves in our souls. When our hearts are darkened to counsel, we may instinctively want to bow up against such preaching. Like Peter in the garden, we might want to pull out a sword and cut the first person in our reach.

Whether we are calling our friends back to truth or hearing the rebuke of a preacher, let us be encouraged by the gentle lamb who walked this way before us.

If in the place of Jeremiah’s friends, angered and resistant to the words of truth, take time with the Spirit to listen. Let the Lord soften our hearts so that we can be shaped to his will. Put away the proverbial swords: the vengeful posts or the angry conversations.

Christ, the gentle lamb, was slaughtered by those who could not stand being corrected. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to want to kill the prophets. (Matthew 23.29-37)

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: But I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To anyone who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek as well; to anyone who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for property back from someone who takes it. Treat others as you would like people to treat you. — Luke 6.27-31

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 11(Listen -4:09)
Galatians 2(Listen – 3:44)

Read more

Read more about Decorating the Tombs of the Prophets
“Your fathers,” Jesus says, “would not have minded the prophets either, if the prophets were dead.

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
Tell us about 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.

#ReadersChoice #ReadTheBible

Idolatry as Parody

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 10.11-14
11 “Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’ ” 
12 But God made the earth by his power; 
he founded the world by his wisdom 
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. 
13 When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; 
he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. 
He sends lightning with the rain 
and brings out the wind from his storehouses. 
14 Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; 
every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. 
The images he makes are a fraud; 
they have no breath in them. 

Reflection: Idolatry as Parody
By John Tillman

Jeremiah encouraged idolaters to look again at God compared to their idols.

God made the world:
God’s spirit hovered over chaotic nothingness and, by his words, the earth came to be. By his power the mountains were lifted. By his wisdom heavenly bodies took their places. By his understanding the hidden realities of DNA strands, quantum particles, and things science has yet to discover were created. God calls us to serve him, but it is actually he who serves us.

Humans make idols:
Our spirits, disconnected from God, sink in chaos and we are desperate to ground ourselves in something tangible. In our weakness we cast about for symbols of strength (that will yield to our whims). In foolishness we mold realities that center on our needs. In ignorance we claim perfect knowledge and understanding, cutting out of our lives anything that contradicts us. We make our idols to serve us, but we end up serving them. 

We become like our idols: fraudulent, shameful, unable to think, and unable to respond. Our hearts harden and our ears tune out and our eyes glaze over.

We think of idol-making as primitive and foolish. The Bible dumps scorn on the practice. It describes how foolish it is to make idols from worldly things when the world and everything in it was made by God. Idolaters worship the derivative rather than the original—the parody rather than the artist.

But are we that different from Jeremiah’s idolatrous audience?

Don’t we make idols of the things culture tells us are important? Careers? Sexual expression? Perfect spouses? Perfect bodies? Perfect families? Power? Influence? Politics? Don’t we pay and sacrifice, expecting these things to protect us, guide us, lead us, teach us?

Our idols make us senseless. God will give sight and hearing to the blind and the deaf.
Our idols make us ignorant. God will give wisdom to those who seek it.
Our idols shame us. God will lift up the humble.
Our idols defraud us. God will have mercy on us.

We need to, with regularity, search through the temples of our hearts for idols that slip in with our culture. No one is immune. No one has arrived. Bring out your idols and compare them to God. Then let him replace them with himself.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. — Psalm 89.3-4

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 10(Listen -3:51)
Galatians 1(Listen – 3:05)

Read more about Cherishing Chaff
What chaff do we cherish or poison do we prize? A building? A politician? A charismatic leader? An institution?

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

Praying for Rain

Scripture Focus: James 5.17-20
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

1 Kings 18.42b-45a
42 …Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 
43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. 
“There is nothing there,” he said. 
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” 
44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” 
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” 
45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling…

Reflection: Praying for Rain
By John Tillman

Early last week, our area got rain after 67 long, hot days. Social media feeds overflowed with pictures and videos of people outside, standing in the rain, playing in their driveways, yards, and streets. The joy was tangible.

Relief from a hotter than normal summer was only one part of it. Practical concerns about water levels were not front of mind. The joy came from a recognition that rain is a blessing.

James connected the story of Elijah praying for rain to bringing back to the faith those who wandered from the truth.

Prior to praying for rain to fall, Elijah had prayed for fire. He was confronting Israel for wandering and wavering between two opinions—worshiping Baal or Yahweh. He challenged them to return to God and when they did, rain returned to the land after a long drought.

James also connected rain to blessings of growth—of crops coming up from the earth. Crops and harvest are gospel language. Metaphors of seed and planting and growth sprang up frequently in Jesus’ teaching. After speaking to the Samaritan woman and describing himself as bringing living water, Jesus told the disciples the fields were ripe for harvest. (John 4.35-39) Not just one woman, but an entire town turned to God.

Before the resurrection, James was among those brothers of Jesus who rejected him, (John 7.5) were offended by him (Mark 6.3), and thought him to be insane. (Mark 3.21) Jesus, after his resurrection, poured out the rain of living water which grew faith even in the hardened heart of his brother, James.

Many of us know of and pray for those who have rejected Jesus or wandered from the truth. We know offended and doubtful people like James. We know questioning people like the woman at the well. Our family members and friends need to feel the blessed rain of God’s grace, and we do too. For in the rain, Elijah was also rejuvenated. (1 Kings 18.46) And as James would testify, even the obstinate can be won over through the winsome winds of the Holy Spirit.

Elijah and James encourage us to keep planting seeds of truth in a drought and pray for rain.  Watch for clouds, even small ones, that show that God’s Spirit is moving and working. (1 Kings 18.43-44) When the rains come, they will be a refreshment for your spirit, even as they bring life to the seeds of the gospel you plant in faith now.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture; we will give you thanks forever and show forth your praise from age to age. — Psalm 79.13

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 9(Listen -4:38)
James 5(Listen – 3:01)

Read more about The Blandness of Hell
In Heaven, we are drawn closer to God…Hell is a place of self-exile…When Sartre said “Hell is other people,” he was too broad. Hell is our self alone.

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.

Law of Freedom

Scripture Focus: James 2.8, 12
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 1.25
25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Reflection: Law of Freedom
By John Tillman

We have positive and negative associations with the concept of “law.” Law brings judgment. But law provides justice. Law brings guilt. But law provides accountability. Law brings punishment. But law provides peace. Law brings retribution. But law provides restitution.

When first-century Jews spoke of “the Law,” they were not referring to the law of the land. Jews believed the laws of Rome and other city or regional governments they lived under were corrupt—even sinful. They lived their lives within and under these governments, however, they followed and appealed to a higher moral code from the scriptures. 

What we call the “Old Testament” is composed of “The Law,” “The Prophets,” and “The Writings,” which correspond to the Pentateuch, the prophets, and the wisdom books such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. However, “The Law,” often referred to the entire collection. The Law was more than a civil code. “The Law” implied the wisdom of God expressed through scripture.

James, the brother of Jesus, mentions “The Law” many times. It is unlikely that he meant only the sections of the Torah that contained rules and regulations. When he referred to the “Royal Law” he quoted not just Leviticus 19.18, but Jesus from Matthew 5.43. 

James seems to make an analogy between The Law he grew up reading and following and the “law that gives freedom.” Through this law that gives freedom, mercy will triumph over judgment. James describes ways this law frees us and the effects of that freedom.

Freed from sinful personal behavior, our lives should demonstrate that our faith has an effect on our actions. (James 2.14) Freed from greed and selfishness we should act on social concern for our neighbors, caring for the poor and standing against favoritism in all its forms. (James 2.3-4, 15-17) Freed from cultural relativism, we can live according to renewed inner values, loving all without fear, regardless of how the culture or governments respond. (James 2.22, 25-26)

Christian distinctiveness from the world is not merely in exterior behaviors but in our inner being. We may live under governments that are corrupt—even sinful. Our higher moral code is the law of freedom. This law Christians live by sets us free from something but it also sets us free to something. The freedom we have in Christ is that sins can no longer hold us back from what God calls us to do.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; Lord, be my helper. — Psalm 30.11

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 6(Listen -5:10)
James 2(Listen – 3:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 7(Listen -5:18)James 3(Listen – 2:38)
Jeremiah 8(Listen -3:52)James 4(Listen – 2:25)

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
Tell us your favorite post from the past 12 months. We’ll repost it in September.

Read more about Captivity, Exile, and Exodus
While living in political freedom, the people of Israel and Judah became spiritually enslaved.

One Righteous

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 5.1,
1 “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem,
look around and consider,
search through her squares.
If you can find but one person
who deals honestly and seeks the truth,
I will forgive this city.

9 Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this? 

Reflection: One Righteous
By John Tillman

Popular stories often have moments where the plot forces a horrible choice.

A secret agent struggles to stop a missile launch with time running out. Will his best friend bomb the compound, stopping the launch but killing his friend? Will he risk evil continuing in order to spare a loved one?

The tension of these stories holds us rapt. What will the heroes do? Will they still be heroes if they do it? 

Jerusalem is facing a disastrous reckoning for its evil. God points out Jerusalem’s evil to Jeremiah, saying, “Shouldn’t I punish them for this?” (Jeremiah 5.9) Should God allow evil to continue?

In Genesis (Genesis 18.25), Abraham asked God to spare Sodom on behalf of the righteous. Eventually, God agreed that for ten righteous people he would spare the city. This story is reversed. God challenged Jeremiah to find even one righteous person. Jeremiah looked among the poor and uneducated and among the wealthy and wise. He found only rebellion, greed, and abuse. 

Suppose Jeremiah found a righteous person and God relented…the city would remain evil. The wicked would continue to abuse the vulnerable. Would that be righteous?

There were, and are, none righteous. (Romans 3.10) So God sent the righteous one. Jesus is the one righteous person for whom many will be spared. But this is not that simple. Jesus isn’t a holy hostage, or a heavenly human shield preventing God from punishing evil. God goes beyond that. We are not simply “spared” on account of the one righteous one. The gospel is greater than that. It’s not just a rescue. It’s a rebellion. 

In Jeremiah we see the evil city of Jerusalem punished by a greater evil city of Babylon. However, through Jesus, we can redeem and transform the evil cities we live in by the light of the heavenly city we carry within us. Rather than allow the city to be overcome by evil, God, through Jesus, through us, desires to overcome evil with good.

The question is not whether you or I should give an evil city a pass because there is some “good” in it. The question is whether you and I will become the righteousness of God that transforms cities.

May we become righteous ones through Jesus. Let his righteousness fill us from within and clothe us without. By his Spirit pray with your mouth, love with your heart, and work with your hands to establish righteousness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. — Psalm 52.8

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 5 (Listen -5:04)
James 1 (Listen – 3:26)

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
Tell us your favorite post from the past 12 months. We’ll repost it in September.

Read more about Jesus, Our Blessed One
We are…partaking of his righteousness.
It is he who makes us prosper, and spreads the seed of his gospel over the earth.