Day 167: Hope in a Broken Flask

Jeremiah 19-20; John 18

Key Verses

Jeremiah 20:11
But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble;
they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.

John 18:12
So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.

Picture the scene… Jeremiah acquires a clay vessel, a flask of some kind, and assembles all of Jerusalem’s civic and religious leaders to meet him at… the dumping ground. It would be like an unpopular preacher asking the mayor to meet him at the dump! And what was Jeremiah’s message? He holds up his flask and breaks it – and says that Jerusalem will be reduced to pieces and thrown away – like the piles of broken vessels that surrounded them. Great message, eh?

Hidden in the message of brokenness is a message of hope. For Israel points forward to Jesus. Yes, Israel would be broken – but only to bring forth repentance and restoration. Jesus is the true Israel. And he was broken for our sakes…

We also read of Jeremiah’s brokenness in Jeremiah 20. He was broken by his circumstances as he was captured and beaten. We read of his sorrow and anguish as he doubts his call and he doubts his God. Jeremiah’s struggle is but a whisper compared to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – as the synoptic gospels say he prayed so fervently that blood dripped from his brow.

In today’s reading, we see the results of those prayers as Jesus stands – strong and sovereign – in the face of arrest. The soldiers can only approach him when He allows it. Even throughout Jesus’ multiple trials, He seems calm and determined. His purpose was to die, His purpose was to be broken.

Just as Jeremiah broke the flask, and Jerusalem was destroyed – so would Jesus be broken and destroyed so that we might be repent and be restored! There is hope in a broken flask. There is hope in Jesus!

Day 166: Clay in the Potter’s hand

Jeremiah 16-18

Key Verses

Jeremiah 17:7-8
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Yesterday, we read of Jeremiah’s complaint to God as the people of Judah sought to ruin his life and his message. God instructed Jeremiah, “If you return, I will restore you” (Jer. 15:19).  Jeremiah had a choice to make…side with God or side with the people? We learn from today’s reading that Jeremiah chose to side with God (Jer. 16:19).

Jeremiah’s proclamation of faith in the midst of turmoil gives him the strength to persevere and continue to obey God’s calling. Listen to his cry of faith…

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved,
for you are my praise.
Behold, they say to me,
“Where is the word of the Lord?
Let it come!”
I have not run away from being your shepherd,
nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
it was before your face.
Be not a terror to me;
you are my refuge in the day of disaster (Jeremiah 17:14-17).

Jeremiah’s life was extremely difficult. Who could stand under such fierce and relentless opposition? On every side, people were seeking to kill him. God was truly his only refuge. And God proved himself faithful to Jeremiah.

Have you noticed the messages of hope sprinkled throughout the warnings of judgment? God promised to restore Israel in Jer. 16:15, and in Chapter 18, God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house. Here God reminded both Judah and Jeremiah that He is the Potter, and He can take a spoiled vessel and rework it to make it whole again. The Potter’s job is not to destroy, but to create. Sometimes, when a vessel is spoiled, the only way to make it whole is to tear it down and rebuild it. This is the picture of Judah. In the short-term, it is a message of destruction, but long-term, it is a message of restoration!

Jeremiah’s personal journey of faith mirrors this restoration story of God’s people. He is the potter. We are the clay – and as we surrender to the Potter’s hand, He reworks our spoiled, sinful hearts and He makes us whole!

Day 165: Two Prayers

Jeremiah 13-15; John 17

Key Verses

Jeremiah 14:20-21
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
and the iniquity of our fathers,
for we have sinned against you.
Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.

John 14:3
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

In today’s reading, Jeremiah continues to faithfully preach God’s words to Judah. He warned them of Babylon’s invasion (chapter 13) and he described the drought that would ensue (chapter 14). Then God, knowing Jeremiah’s compassionate heart, told him not to pray:

The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence” (Jeremiah 14:11-12).

Jeremiah was devastated.

Have you utterly rejected Judah?
Does your soul loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
so that there is no healing for us? (Jeremiah 14:19)

Jeremiah prayed for the people anyway! He repented on behalf of the nation. He asked God to remember His covenant. Just as Moses and Samuel had interceded for the people, Jeremiah asked God to save the people for His name’s sake (Jer. 14:20-21). But God would not relent. His mind was set on judgment. It was the only way to bring true repentance from his people.

Then Jeremiah’s life went from bad to worse. The people of Judah began to treat him as a debtor and his life was in danger (Jer. 15:10). Jeremiah cried out to God, accusing Him of abandoning him just as He had abandoned Judah. But God would not be accused of wrongdoing! He condescended to Jeremiah and assured him…

I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
declares the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless (Jeremiah 16:20-21).

God would not cast off His faithful. We learn from Jesus’ high priestly prayer that God is passionate about the lives of his disciples. He keeps them, He guards them, He sanctifies them, and most of all He loves them.

As we read Jesus’ prayer in John 17 – we can have confidence that, unlike Jeremiah’s prayer for Judah, God listened to Jesus’ prayer for us. We are his children, and He keeps us, He sanctifies us, and most of all, He loves us!

Day 112: The Ways of the Kingdom

1 Samuel 27-29; Luke 18:1-17

Key Verses

1 Samuel 28:17
The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.

Luke 18:16-17
But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

David aligning with the Philistines… Saul seeking out a medium… The spirit of Samuel predicting Saul’s death… and David escaping the dilemma of fighting against his countrymen.

It’s all very exciting. And filled with irony and poor decisions from both David and Saul.

I believe David has lost hope to be king. Why else would he prepare to go to battle with the Philistines against Israel? If David had entered the battle on either side, the result would have been disastrous. But God, in his sovereignty, used the Philistine lords to prevent David from entering the battle. God has used all of David’s hardship to prepare him for the throne. He is a seasoned warrior in a humble position. He is ready.

Jesus’ teachings in the beginning of Luke are some of my favorites. The parable of the persistent widow encourages me to persevere in prayer. The parable of the Pharisee and tax collector reminds me of God’s disdain for self-righteousness and love for the sinner. And Jesus’ care for the children shows me that God values the small and insignificant of this world.

It all reminds me of a scene from The Hobbit. I think Gandalf’s words epitomize the way of God’s Kingdom!

Galadriel: Why the halfling?
Gandalf: I do not know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I’ve found that is the smaller things – the everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid. But he gives me courage.

Day 98: The State of God’s Family

Judges 19-21; Luke 11:1-28

Key Verses

Luke 11:2-4
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

What does God’s family look like in these last chapters of Judges? Rape, murder, callous indifference and finally, civil war.

The writer of Judges ends his book with the declaration: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

God would give the people a king – but the true King would not come until the time was ready for God’s Kingdom to be established on earth. Jesus comes and with Him comes the Kingdom!

What does God’s family look like today? Unfortunately, we don’t look very different than the people of the Judges. The church is called to show the world a glimpse of God’s Kingdom ways. May we strive to be a light in this dark world – as we humbly proclaim our desperate need of forgiveness and that we are rescued only by God’s saving grace!

Day 328: The effectiveness of prayer

Psalms 108-110; James 4
(Psalm 107 was read on Day 271)

I’m going to depart from my usual big picture approach and share a personal story which highlights only one verse from today’s reading… And that one verse is not from Psalm 110 (one of the most amazing Messianic Psalms – one in which Jesus, himself, uses to prove his divinity). Rather, I’ve chosen a verse buried in the plethora of wisdom sayings in James. So here goes…

I and my three children were involved in a horrific vehicular accident in which my middle daughter was critically injured. She was life-flighted from the scene. Upon arriving at the hospital, they immediately performed a CT scan of her body. The CT scan showed massive bleeding and swelling in her brain. Her eyes were fixed and dilated.

The neurosurgeon on call performed an emergency craniectomy in which he removed a portion of her skull and inserted an intraventricular drain – both of which were done to relieve the pressure in her brain. Once the pressure began to decrease, my daughter’s eyes became responsive to light.

She survived the surgery, barely. The surgeon informed my husband that she might not make it through the night.

That night, as my husband was lying beside her hospital bed, he awoke to see a friend, standing and praying over our daughter. It was 2am and dark in the ICU room – but there he stood, praying.

He wasn’t alone. Countless others prayed for our little girl. The church held special prayer meetings for her. They called the congregation to fast. People in our community, school and neighborhood prayed and prayed and prayed.

She made it through that first night. Then the doctor informed us that things would get worse before they got better. So many came to see her in the ICU – and each one prayed for her life.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16, NIV).

By God’s grace, our little girl survived. Did the prayers of God’s people affect the outcome? According to James, yes, because prayer is effective. Will God always answer our prayers so quickly and affirmatively as he did for my daughter? No.

Prayer is a mystery. It’s hard to reconcile the effectiveness of prayer and God’s sovereignty. Personally, I get frustrated when my prayers seem to be ineffective as I watch marriages dissolve, children abandon the faith and loved ones die. But regardless of my limited understanding, while Jesus was on earth, He commanded us to pray. And he not only commanded us to do it, he also stressed the importance of persevering in it.

My daughter survived, but she lives with a severe traumatic brain injury. I feel like I ask God over and over again to help my daughter recover. Will God answer all of my prayers this side of heaven? No, probably not. But Jesus told us to pray, so we pray.

I think He knew that in the face of seemingly unanswered prayer, we would need that extra encouragement to persevere. I believe perseverance is key. So regardless of how I feel about the effectiveness of my prayers, I ask God to help me persevere in prayer. Because somehow – in the spiritual realm – in a way that I can’t comprehend… prayer works.

Day 321: Hall of Faith

Psalms 84, 86-87; Hebrews 11
(Psalm 85 was read on Day 227)

Faith. Without it, it is impossible to please God.

The author of Hebrews has laid out his case for the Supremacy of Christ. He has exhorted them to not drift away from Christianity back to the familiar ways of Judaism – but rather to strive to keep the faith.

Now he gives an entire chapter full of examples of faith from the Old Testament. These are people who persevered to claim their reward. Think of the encouragement this would bring to these young Jewish converts…

First, they would see that God’s grace pre-dated Abraham, and reached all the way back to Abel! This would remind them that their new faith in Christ was the exact same faith which was credited to Noah and Abraham as righteousness!

They would also be encouraged that imperfect men such as Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Japheth were included as men of faith. Perfection is not a requirement. It is faith in God which justifies the sinner.

Ultimately, they would be challenged to pattern their lives after these Old Testament heroes – men and women who suffered greatly because they believed a God they could not see and died before God’s promises were fulfilled. Yet they continued to trust in the goodness of God…

Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me (Psalm 86:3-7).

Faith is not just some shot in the dark, wishful thinking. A true, saving faith is a sure anchor for the soul based on the truth of God’s word. It is the belief that the unseen is more real than the seen.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

What do we hope for? A city on a hill, the New Jerusalem, filled with the glory of the Lord. We look forward to the day when every tear will be wiped away and the dim reflection of His presence in this world will be seen clearly in all His glory. We hope for Jesus and the wedding feast of the lamb and an eternity in perfect relationship with the Savior and with fellow man. These aren’t just wistful dreams – these are truths that we should be willing to die for!!!

Where is your faith? Do you place your hope in your own fleeting material wealth or aspirations of success? Is your hope in your spouse or in your children? Or is your hope in the unseen, yet eternal God who is trustworthy and true? Don’t sacrifice eternity for a lesser, instant pleasure.

Strive to enter His rest; persevere in your faith, and be one who overcomes to the end!

Day 320: Judgment as Motivator

Psalms 81-83; Hebrews 10:26-39
(Psalm 78 was read on Day 270 and Psalms 79 & 80 on Day 227)

Once again, the author of Hebrews warns the young Christian congregation to “hold fast” and not throw away their confidence… All of his previous warnings… “Don’t drift away,” “Strive to enter his rest,” “do not be sluggish,” culminate is this final exhortation to persevere.

The author paints a dramatic picture of the judgment awaiting those who deliberately disregard God’s commands. But he reassures the Hebrews that they are  “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39).

Judgment is a bad word in our culture, but fear of judgment is a healthy motivator to repent and seek forgiveness from God!

We spend plenty of time talking about God’s love, and rightly so, for it is the magnitude of God’s love which compels us to obey. But we have to remember that God’s wrath is just as awesome and wonderful as His love. Old Testament prophecy and the book of Revelation both vividly describe the horror of God’s judgment. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

The writer of Hebrews has consistently used the fear of God’s judgment to persuade these young Christians to endure in their faith despite persecution and suffering. The more we learn of God’s impending judgment, the more thankful we become to be saved from it! And as we become confident in God’s saving power, we can boldly approach his throne to pray for justice in our world! We can pray for God to…

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked(Psalm 82:3-4).

Fear of God’s judgment also motivates us to speak and act out the truths of the gospel before an unbelieving world. When Christ comes again, he comes to judge the earth, and He delays his return so that the full number may be saved.

Therefore, Christ’s return is both a comfort and a motivator… His imminent return brings comfort to the suffering church, for when he comes, justice will Reign! But his return should also motivate us to proclaim the gospel and pray for the salvation of unbelievers in our midst – so that they will be saved from the wrath of God.

Judgment is not a popular idea – but it is still true. And we must not sweep this truth under the rug, but use it to motivate us to not drift away from God’s goodness and to reach out in love to a dying world. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!!

Day 314: The way of prayer

Psalms 53, 55 & 58; Hebrews 5:1-10
(Psalm 54 was read on Day 109 and Psalms 56 & 57 were read on Day 107)

Yesterday, the author of Hebrews introduced the concept of Jesus being our High Priest. Today, he continues his exposition by declaring that Jesus is a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Do you remember Melchizedek from Genesis? Don’t worry, we’ll talk all about him in a few days when we read Hebrews 7 & 8, but for now, let’s look at the idea of prayer…

Have you noticed that most of the Psalms are prayers?

Psalm 55 is an example of an individual’s prayer – it is both a prayer of lament and a call to faith.

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint (Psalm 55:1-2).

Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved (Psalm 55:22).

Psalm 58 records the prayer of a congregation – begging God to exercise justice against evil tyrants.

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
Let them vanish like water that runs away;
when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted (Psalm 58:6-7).

These aren’t dry, lifeless prayers – these are desperate cries for justice and mercy! And this is how Jesus prayed as well!

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence (Hebrews 5:7).

When we come before the throne of God, we do not come to a throne of judgment and wrath – but rather to the welcoming arms of our heavenly Father. As we approach his throne humbly and with reverence, we can pour out our hearts…our grief, our dreams, our anguish, our joys. We can ask for healing, provision, salvation and forgiveness. For we have a great High Priest who deals gently with us (Heb. 5:2)!

Day 305: The benefit of Scripture

Psalms 25-272 Timothy 3

How many times have you heard this verse?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).

This verse is used often to confirm that the Bible is God’s word, and validates the divine revelation of all of Scripture, including the Old Testament. But the context for this verse makes it even more powerful.

Remember, Paul is writing his final words to Timothy. These are his final thoughts, his last instructions. In this chapter, he warns Timothy that there will be false teachers in the “last days,” and that he is to continue in what he has learned. In other words, he is to study God’s word… so that he is so familiar with the truth that he will not be lured away from God by a counterfeit gospel.

In my early days as a Christian, I would look to Scripture to help guide me in life’s major decisions. What should my college major be? Should I go to graduate school? Should I take this job? When will I get married? And as I searched the Scriptures for “God’s will” in these decisions, I would come away frustrated. Scripture didn’t give me any direct answers. Nevertheless, I prayed the words of Psalm 25 & 27 often.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long (Psalm 25:4-5).

Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path (Psalm 27:11).

I found myself coming back to these Psalms over and over again, praying for direction. And as time passed, other parts of these Psalms began to be more meaningful to me…

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8).

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust (Psalm 25:1).

I never heard directly from God on what job I should take or what my college degree should be, but I learned something more precious. As I spent consistent time in His word, praying His word and meditating on His word, God changed me. I became more concerned about seeking Him than seeking answers. And as I sought to stay faithful in the small daily decisions, the major decisions seemed to fall into place – in ways that were obviously from God.

Later in life, when tragedy struck, the years of studying God’s word prepared me to face hardship with a deep assurance of God’s goodness and care.

The world offers a cornucopia of distractions to entice us away from the consistent study of God’s word. But in the pages of the Bible, we find God. What could be more enticing than that?

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14).