Wilderness Worship

“Wilderness is still the place of worship.” 

– Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow

Everything Jeremiah knows and loves is gone. The enemy has come into his city—God’s city–to steal, kill, and destroy. To him, the world is ending.

He mourns the destruction of his nation in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. There, he uses horrific word-pictures to articulate what he sees and to express what he feels. We, particularly North Americans, aren’t used to these graphic laments. They are shocking—God is like a bear lying in wait. Upsetting—God points his arrows at his own people. Even gross—mothers resort to boiling and eating their own children because of famine.

These images are supposed to shock us, upset us, and even gross us out. Jeremiah uses exaggerative words to try to do some justice to this Babylonian invasion. He wants us to feel it. And we do.

By the end of Lamentations, you get the sense everything is wiped out. Absolutely obliterated. Make no mistake, there is carnage and corpses all around. Jeremiah is surrounded. But it’s a desolate kind of surrounded. There’s no refuge. No place to hide. You can see for miles. It’s devoid of life. The great City, now like the wilderness that lies to its east.

Jeremiah’s life has become a wilderness. And his life represents Judah’s very existence. He’s alone and hopeless. So is the nation. But in the middle of his tear-stained poetry, he sings of hope for him and the nation. He turns his attention to the only Refuge left:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

It’s easy for us, when we feel like everything in our life, or even one treasured thing, has been wiped out to flatly say, “Okay. Everything will be fine. God’s got this. He’ll come through.” Of course he will. But what kind of “come through” do you have in mind?

The hope for Jeremiah—and you and me—is God himself, who is our “portion.” It’s this word—portion—which changes everything. It’s like Jeremiah is saying, “The only thing that will get me through the wilderness is Yahweh himself. Nothing else will do. He’s all I got left.”

I find it’s that way for me. What about you? It’s in the wilderness where God exposes our false hopes—whatever they may be. We had been in a vanity fair of material possessions, ministry success, political ideology, a soul mate, organizational influence, family status, social reputation, financial security. At one time shiny and full of promises, now, they’re crushed, rusted over, and wiped out. We’re alone.

At first, it’s grim. The world—our world—is ending. So we kick and scream. God, why? Just like Jeremiah and the other prophets.

But then we weep not mainly because of the carnage around us bad as it is, but because we begin to see our own sin. We desire the fair. There, it’s easier to hide our true selves. There, it’s easier to hide from our true selves. We desire the fair more than we’d like to believe.

But God won’t let his children stay there long. Eventually, he leads us into the wilderness—as he did his own Son. There he reveals there is no hiding place but him. Even more, he reveals that he is our prize, our treasure, our inheritance. He takes us into the wilderness not to exhaust us. Though does it feel exhausting. Rather, it’s to refresh us with himself. Indeed, he must be our refreshment, because he is the only thing, the only One, wholly capable of doing so.


Twenty-three years, then hard hearts

I’ve been reading through Jeremiah lately and in chapter 25, something Jeremiah said to the people of Judah convicted me.  Here’s what he wrote:

For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the LORD persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. Dot not go after other gods to serve and worship them” (25:3-6a).

So often I am disappointed if someone does “get” the gospel immediately.  Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend and we discussed what it means for a church to be “successful.”  For Jeremiah, it meant faithfully preaching God’s word, even if people didn’t listen.  It mean being patient because transformation is a process, and sometimes God takes his time with grace. And even after 23 years, Jeremiah didn’t give up his warnings and pleadings to turn back to God.  He faithfully kept speaking as God called him to.

O Lord, keep me faithful to your word, and help me teach it lovingly and truthfully.  Keep me from complaining when someone doesn’t listen, and help me remember where I was before you saved me.


Good Things Need to Stay as Good Things

Jeremiah 2:13 says, “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Broken cisterns do not have to be things like the praise of man, sexual lust, hunger for power, greed for money, or other vices.  Broken cisterns can be good things.  In fact, most often, broken cisterns are good things.

Here’s the biblical logic.  In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul says, “But we have this treasure [of Christ in the gospel] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  Paul calls people jars of clay.  In other words, we are fragile beings that crack and leak spiritual water.  We were not meant to be self-sustaining.  We need divine grace.  We are finite.  In other words, people are broken cisterns.

And in Proverbs 18:22, Solomon writes, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.”  So this woman (a broken cistern!) is a good thing for her husband.  And we know that people aren’t the only broken cisterns in the world.  Working, knowledge, scheduling, planning, exercising, eating, sleep, recreation, travel, education, technology, making money, and so many others are very good things.  Nevertheless, these are broken cisterns as well because they are all finite, incomplete, and earthly things.

When these good things, whether a wife or eating or planning a schedule, become ultimate things, we have started to put all our hope and faith in them and not God.  In other words, good things become god things.  But God is the only ultimate thing.  Everything that he gives is a good thing.  O, how I long to regard him as ultimate and leave everything else in its rightful, lowly, good place.


Let the Coastlands Rejoice!

Part 4 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

As we have seen thus far, God’s mission for the world is to make a people for himself.  This is the great theme from the time of Abraham to the time Israel entered Canaan and then on through David and Solomon. This next chapter of this story doesn’t focus on a particular person.  Rather you will be able to see that our focus is moving from the promise and hope of a global gospel, to the call of all nations to rejoice and find their salvation in the LORD, the only God.

In Psalm 72:10-11, Solomon writes, “May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!  May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him.”  This is the same Solomon who built the temple.  Remember what Solomon prayed then?  He asked that God work for his people so that all the peoples would know that the LORD is God.  At the temple dedication he made the request to God — now he gives the call to repentance.

Psalm 97:1 says much of the same.  “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”  We might assume that this psalm was written by Moses because it has many echoes of Exodus.  So the same Moses who received the Jewish law on Mt. Sinai is proclaiming that salvation has come and is coming to all the nations.  Similarly, Psalm 67:4 says, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!”  Salvation is not only for Jews.  It’s for all peoples everywhere.

Isaiah and Jeremiah also share this vision of the world-wide worship of Yahweh.  Isaiah writes, “Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD; in the coastlands of the sea, give glory to the name of the LORD, the God of Israel” (24:15) and “Let them give glory to the LORD, and declare his praise in the coastlands” (42;12).

Jeremiah is God’s prophet to his people Israel.  Yet he also declares, “hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock'” (31:10).  Later in that chapter, Jeremiah prophesies about the new covenant that will be for the house of Israel and Judah (vv. 31-34).  This comes, not to physical Israel, but to everyone who is the offspring of Abraham (Rom. 9:4-7; Gal. 3:28-29).

The God of Israel is primed and ready to move from being the God of a specific people group to the God of all people groups.  After all, this was his goal from the get-go.