Tag Archives: Jeremiah

Better A Day In Your Courts


Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Psalm 84

 Key verses from each of today’s readings:

For the LORD will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

When churches do the Christmas pageant, we seldom include the run to Egypt.  We like the cozy pictures of the baby in the manger visited by shepherds and astrologers from the East.  We forget that those Easterners told Herod about the birth of the new King.  Herod was so determined to keep his position of power that he murdered several members of his own family, so killing a baby was a no-brainer.  Because the astrologers failed to tell him where the child was, Herod ordered all males two and under executed, believing the future King would be among them.

We cheer that God was able to save Jesus, but are sickened at the loss of so many lives.  If we stop to ask why God didn’t intervene and save all the boys, we miss the point.  The Messiah, Jesus, was the only way for those boys to be saved, and all the rest of us for that matter.

Our lives and deaths in this world will occur with or without God.  Being an adopted child of God gives us no special protection in this world.  It does protect us from death.  Not from dying, from death.  When these bodies surrender to all the bacteria, viruses, insects, animals, fellow humans, and aging, we get new bodies that will never be under attack or wear out.  We will be gathered in as the remnant to spend all of time praising God and living the lives God made us for.

A few verses ahead of the Jeremiah text is:

I have loved you with an everlasting love.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

A Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Luke 1:68-79
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

I stand on the edge of time.  It lies before me as a scroll.  I see Creation and the end of Creation.  Through it all I see the hand of God the Creator.  Nothing happens that He does not attend.

The lives of humans seem to attract the most attention from God.  Their rebellion and petty struggles to become little gods occupies much of His interests.  Another god, if there were such a being, would have done away with the defective ones, but God Yahweh tolerates their machinations.

Here, look at the Chosen People near their captivity into slavery for disobedience.  God has His servant Jeremiah deliver a double message: you will become slaves, but return trusting in God.  Still later, you will receive a King greater than David.

I ask you, what self-respecting man or woman would think of such a thing?  Had humans been in God’s place, they would never have put up with such disrespect and they certainly would not have put in place a perfect plan for all those rebels to sit with them at the Great Banquet.

And here, the messenger of God telling an average priest that his son will be the one to announce to the world that the King, the Righteous Branch, the Rising Son, is coming.  Humans would have written it in the sky, on the sides of mountains, had millions of angels shouting it to all corners of the earth.  God tells one priest and then strikes him silent until the birth.

Look at one more.  The Righteous Branch hanging between two thieves, unjustly accused, in his dying breaths—forgives a man’s sins.  I see it and even I have trouble believing it.

But I have seen the last page and know how the story ends.  As Paul said, For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


The Roman torches burned angrily to keep the darkness from completely overcome them.  Mary continued stared at her son as his life’s blood drip-dripped to the ground.  A slight smile filled her eyes when she heard him forgive the Romans.

The words of Jeremiah about raising a righteous Branch of David who would reign with justice and righteousness echoed in her thoughts.  Her son, her Yeshua never failed to be righteous,  a friend and helper to all.  For that, back stripped of flesh, the cross, nails pounded through him, desperate gasps of breath, agony his companion.

God’s Son promised the thief he would be in heaven today.  Mary remembered the prophecy of her cousin Zechariah that Yeshua would give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  That he would shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the path of peace.  Little did she know then that he would do it as the Great Sin Offering.

She knew without understanding that Yeshua was fulfilling the prophecy in this death.  Her own heart ached from his pain, her own tears poured out for his grief; yet, her son would bring light into the darkness, even now, even with his last drop of blood and his last breath.

God promised to give him the throne of David.  God promised his kingdom would never end.  God’s broken heart was greater than hers and his pride in their son had to be mountains larger.  No understanding, no knowing, only believing.  Someway, God would turn this ugliness into Holiness.

When he spoke his last, when he died, when the earth shook, when the darkness nearly snuffed out the torches, when the others urged her to leave, she refused to look away.  She lived through the pain of his birth; she would not abandon him in his, and her, pain of death.

Turn Your Ears to the Truth

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Dathan could still taste the smoke.  He woke screaming this night and every night, sweating even as he shivered from the cold.  The dream was always the same.  Fires boiling dark, putrid smoke through the streets.  The inhuman screams of his flaming neighbors.  The flash of sunlight as the sword passed through the body of his boy, his Hashub.

That was months ago and in another land.  Now, in Babylon, he really was trying to make a new life, but it was so hard.

Yes, God had to punish his people for their sins.  He could not disagree.  It was justice.  But Hashub who had studied the word of God, even accepting the words of that wild prophet, Jeremiah, why did God take him?

Jeremiah.  Now he was saying Judah and Israel would be reunited and returned to the promised land; that there would be a new way of writing the covenant with God.  No longer would it be enough to memorize the word, they would have to live it out every day.  What did that mean?

Dathan crawled from his pallet and stood looking at the stars, his teeth tapping the rhythm of his chill.  Even in this strange land God’s stars looked the same.  He must truly be eternal.



The message of God through Jeremiah is that God has redesigned the marriage contract, even though His bride broke the vows.  It is not a new contract, but one on the pattern of Hosea and his marriage to Gomer.  God is husband to an adulterous people, yet He chooses to remain true to His commitment.

For our part, the new contract calls for us to internalize the Word of God.  We can no longer do whatever we want through the week, then sing praises to God for one day.  This marriage must be a full time commitment.

In the days of the old covenant, a man put in his 40 hours at work, putting up with a nagging boss and surly coworkers so that he could go home to a nagging wife and surly kids.  He looked for any excuse to get out of the house.

Now, a man treats everyone as though they are angels of God.

The reading from Psalms 119 stresses the importance knowing the Word of God.  But we must do more than just study.  With the psalmist, we must say, I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.  Now it is personal.  God teaches me the right path.  How can I turn from that teaching?

Paul gives Timothy and us a deeper understanding of instilling the Word into our lives.  Timothy had an advantage of being taught the scriptures from childhood, but that was not enough.  Without faith the scriptures are dead.  Unless we use the knowledge every day, it will die within us.  The Word is a living entity.  Like a plant seed, it has to have a medium for growth plus daily nourishment.  If we allow the Word to grow within us, the Word will take over and control our lives.

Modern Americans have been exposed to thousands of stories of alien life forms imbedding themselves into human bodies and controlling their activities, always for evil.  Sometimes, the alien is portrayed as the devil and mere humans have no way of preventing his takeover.  That is not what Paul is talking about.

God created angels to do the work and humans to be His companions.  To be true companions, He gave us the same abilities He has to think, create, comprehend, and decide; especially to decide what is right.  By the way, the devil cannot take over a person without permission, nor can God.  God made us with our own defense system from outside attack.

Knowing what is right in this world is difficult.  It’s a bit like hitting a moving target while riding in a moving target; or like some video games when the bad ones come from all directions and the highest score is hidden among them.

Oddly, life is like that video game.  Playing the game for the first time nearly always results in being ‘killed’ early one, but the player figures out what went wrong and does it right the next time.  We have the same chance to study the Word and apply it correctly the next time.  Unlike a video game, we can never learn enough to make it to heaven on our own skills.  If we could, God would not have needed to give us the Word.

At first glance, the reading in Luke might not seem to fit with the theme of the other three.  Let’s take a closer look.  These verses are part of a larger encounter which begins with another question from the Pharisees (17:20).  ‘When will the kingdom of God come?’  Jesus short answer is: ‘The kingdom is within you.’  The translation of the Greek may also read, ‘The kingdom is among you.’

Either way, Jesus identifies himself with the Kingdom.  When we take all his teachings together, The Kingdom is here and there, now and later, on earth and in heaven.  If we accept the Word and let it guide us, we are walking in the Kingdom already.

Jesus then moves to the parable of the Judge and the Widow to illustrate the importance of daily contact with God.  We generally think of prayer as giving God a list of the things we want, thinking that surely one or two will be granted.  What we should want is to listen to God.

In Jesus day, the Temple collected money for the widows and orphans.  Anyone who qualified could apply and receive assistance.  But like most governmental operations, they had a long list of rules about who qualified and how to select those people and how much money they should get.

This story is about a widow who was not being treated fairly.  Understand that a woman living alone in ancient Jewish society simply had no way to make money honestly.  Generally, a widow would move in with family who would care for her, but that was not always possible.

This woman needed help and she would not be ignored.  The judge tried to, but finally had to give in and grant the woman’s petition.  Pray without ceasing.

But let’s look at the story from another angle.  This reading is completely within the teachings of Jesus, so I’m not bending it too much.

The woman is God and the judge is you and me.  God bombards us with petitions to do justice, but we try to ignore His words.  Like the judge, we have greater things on our minds than the piddling justice thing.  What the woman/God wants is for the judge/us to listen and obey.

It might surprise you to learn how often the Old Testament speaks of caring for the widows and orphans, or more often, not caring for them.  Justice is not hunting evil doers.  It is caring for the people we meet every day, watching for the little ways we can make their lives easier, always ready to give food, clothing, shelter, money, a warm smile, a hug.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Praise God No Matter What

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Jacob was about as low as a man can get and still be alive.  He had done the same thing almost every day for four months.  Morning again, campfire started, stinking tents belching lice ridden soldiers by the thousands; the same ugly faces, the same complaints, the same smells, the same Union Army.

With a small business, a wife and two children, he had taken little interest in the Southern Rebellion.  Drafted in Brooklyn City, trained and sent to southern Maryland to guard against an invasion, he was sick of it.  Every day he vowed to stop eating the weevil infested hardtack, but hunger always won out.  Every day he gagged on the half rotten pork and beef.  Every day he spent more time at the latrine than any human should.

Maybe today was the day he would slip away like a few others had.  Maybe he would be able to evade the deserter squad and live to see his wife again.  Maybe today.

There was Herman.  Singing.  How could he do that?  Every morning singing hymns like maybe God was actually listening to him.  Jacob’s family had never done with church, but here he was learning church hymns because he couldn’t avoid it.

“Hey, Herman.  Why you always singin’?  We in the deepest hole in Hell.  Ain’t nonethin’ to be happy about.”

“You right about one thing.  I ever visit Hell, I spect it be a mite nicer’n this.  But you wrong about happy.  Happy is having God beside me and He is always beside me so I always happy.”

“I’d be happy to have clean clothes and decent grub.  Nice slice of fresh butchered pork might make me sing a hymn.”

“I’d be happy with that too.  Nothin’ wrong with good grub.  But I ain’t starvin’, so I thank God for the hard tack.  At least we can throw it at the Rebs and knock ‘em out.”



Jeremiah’s words must have jangled the already frayed nerves of the Hebrews.  They had gone through the long siege of Jerusalem and the long march into captivity.  Now they were being told they were to become model citizens of the very country that attacked them.

As always, God delivers a message to the people who first hear the words and he delivers a message to us as well.  God makes his Words timeless.

To the Hebrews, He says, ‘You are being punished.  Settle in for the long haul.  Learn to do what is right.  Think about your mistakes.  I have said that you will return to the Promised Land, but for now you must make the best of the bad times.’

Let’s be clear, God did not say to become Babylonians.  When we read these words in the context of the whole Bible, He said, ‘Become good Hebrews.’

For Americans today, the message is the same.  We live in a foreign land.  Our true home is the Promised Land, that New Jerusalem John pictured so dramatically in Revelation.  To be good Americans is not the same as being Americans.  We can never be Americans when America is wrong.  We must always be citizens of Heaven first and citizens of America second.

But doing that is not always so easy.  There is currently strong debate over national health care and Christians on both sides (or the two main positions) have reasonable arguments based on the Bible.  I’m not going to take a position here except to stress how important it is that we consider all that God has said.  In addition, it does not matter to a citizen of Heaven what happens.  We will live a life of joy with or without health care.

Verse 11 of the Psalm reading: You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.  And yet, we praise God.  No matter what happens.  Bankruptcy, infidelity, divorce, children gone wild, disease, hunger, God is with us and wants a better life for us and will give us that life in the New Jerusalem.  Now, the evil one is at work in our lives, but we praise God for what is to come.

Paul said this is my Gospel for which I am suffering.  Paul was a citizen of Rome and was often beaten and imprisoned illegally.  Romans were treated differently than others under the law.  Yet, he only used that status when it would bring praise to God.  He suffered so that others could see how devoted he was to God.  He claimed Roman citizenship when that would praise God.

Paul had been on his way to a safe, wealthy, pleasant life.  His family had enough money to send him to study under the most famous rabbi in history.  He, at a very young age, had an important position in the Temple hierarchy.  None of that was important to him after he meet Jesus.  He gave up the easy life so he could suffer for God.

When Jesus met ten lepers, interesting things happened.  They called to him, calling him Master, the only time that was done in Luke.  Jesus did not approach or touch them.  He simply told them to go to the priests.  Nothing was said about healing or faith.  Jesus walked on with the crowd of disciples, perhaps 200 people.

Since they were at the border between Galilee and Samaria, the ten men were probably from both regions.  Being unclean, they had nothing to fear from each other.  The Samaritans had to walk at least 30 miles to Mt. Gerizim to have the priests give them the ritual cleansing and the Galileans had to walk some 50 miles to Jerusalem for the same.

Samaritans had a temple at Gerizim where they offered sacrifices to Yahweh.  They accepted only the Torah, the first five books, as scripture and rejected all other writings and oral teachings.  That is why Jews in both Galilee and Judea looked on them with such scorn.

The Samaritan who returned to praise God and thank Jesus almost surely did so within minutes or hours.  He could not have made the two day walk, done the week of ritual, and walked back in much less than two weeks.  The story suggests immediacy.

The Samaritan is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, possibly even touching his feet, but he is still unclean because he did not go to the temple.  For Jesus, that’s not a problem.  He wonders out loud why the other nine aren’t there.  Jesus spent his life on earth in constant contact with the unclean of the world.  All he said to the man was your faith has made you well.  Yet, all ten men were healed.  It would seem that they all had faith in Jesus, but only one came to thank both God and his Son.

I assume the other nine made their way to one or the other temple for the rituals and were able to rejoin society and their families.  I like to think they praised God at some point.  That is what this lesson is about.

Never forget to praise God.  If times are bad, thank God it’s not worse.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence


Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

If you get a chance to visit the Eisenhower Library and Museum, you will want to walk through his boyhood home.  It is almost shockingly small, yet David and Ida raised six boys in it (one other died young), all of whom had successful careers.  In addition, the family income would have put them below the poverty line if we had had such a thing then.

How did that happen and why doesn’t it happen more often?

David and Ida were deeply religious and well educated, even reading the Bible in Greek.  They had daily devotions with the whole family, strict discipline, rotating chores at home, and loving, nurturing relationships within the family.  Dwight’s decision to apply for an appointment to the military academies deeply saddened his mother who was opposed to war on principle.  Yet, she accepted him as a person and did not oppose his choice.

We cannot judge the Eisenhowers as God does, but David and Ida do seem to be the kind of people Paul encouraged Timothy to be.  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  The key word is contentment.  That word seems to apply to the Eisenhower parents.  Not that they chose to be poor, but that they accepted it with grace and dignity.  They also made sure their boys had good skills to survive whatever faced them.

Dwight, Little Ike as a youth and just Ike later, served in the army for 25 years before becoming a lieutenant colonel.  Most men would have given up and taken retirement at 20, but Ike accepted the role of teacher, coach, staff member, all the while learning the skills needed for the time he was to be called on for a top position.

Contentment.  We don’t see much of that in America today.

We do see it in Paul, Lazarus, Jeremiah, and the Psalmist.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Before Jeremiah bought his grave site, before he was thrown into prison for delivering an unpopular message, even before he heard the word of the Lord, Jeremiah knew God.  He trusted God and lived according to God’s directions.  Then when God spoke to him, Jeremiah heard Him.  It’s easy to gloss over that, but don’t.  Hearing God requires living close to Him and being willing to hear.

Yes, God spoke to some people like Jacob and Jonah who were not as happy to hear from Him.  Sometimes God had to poke and prod to get his chosen one to move or to speak, but they did hear and did respond.

Don’t get the idea that Jeremiah was Mr. Perfect.  He had some bad days and some grumpy ones too.  Through it all, he never gave up on God.  To give King Zedekiah one more solid message, he bought his own grave site.  He had already told Zedekiah that all the people of the kingdom would be taken into captivity, but he also told him they would return, though not the king.  If you expect to die in Babylon, you don’t buy a grave in Judah.

Jesus found himself walking in Jeremiah’s sandals as he delivered the word of God to the people and to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes.  Just before today’s reading, we see the Pharisees responding to Jesus by “lifting up their noses” at him.  That is the literal translation for a common Middle Eastern expression even today, one showing complete disdain.

Now, he seems to move on to a topic designed to upset the Sadducees in particular.  That may not have been his intent, but it might as well have been.  Sadducees, as far as we know, rejected any notion of life after death.  Since this is the only life, we must make the most of it, so many Sadducees worked hard to accumulate wealth.  That might seem a contradiction when you learn that most priest were Sadducees.  As far as we can tell, their belief system was centered on the Temple sacrifice and worship system.  They apparently believed God could only be reached by the smoke from the holocaustic fires.

Many Pharisees were wealthy also, so both groups would have been upset by the portrayal of the rich man as so cold hearted.  After all, they put coins in the collection trumpets at the Temple.  Besides, God chose me to be rich.  I deserve it.

That attitude is on display as the rich man says, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’  He never speaks to Lazarus, even though he recognizes him, even though he knows his name.

He says, “Father, I am your son.  Send that worthless dog Lazarus to help me.”   He depends on his pedigree to get out of the fire and he still cannot accept Lazarus as his equal.  At least he does not dare chide Abraham for allowing such a nothing person at his banquet.

Abraham responds by accepting the rich man as his son.  In fact, he uses the Greek word teknon, the same word used by the father of the prodigal’s older brother.  It means, ‘my dear son’.  The most interesting point is that Abraham says that Lazarus is comforted.  Nothing was said about being healed or fed.  What Lazarus needed was comfort and the rich man gave him none.  His watch dogs showed compassion on Lazarus by trying to heal his wounds as best they could.  For Jews, dogs were only a tiny step above pigs.

Through it all, Lazarus was content in the knowledge that he was loved by God.  He never said a harsh word against the rich man, not even when he was burning for his lack of compassion.  By accepting the Love of God, he was also able to love.

Being wealthy is not a sin, but it is even more difficult to stay close to God as the bank account increases.  If there is enough ready money, why not buy that new car.  We live in America where God gave us the Interstate system, so we have to have a good set of wheels.  We consume things.  In all that hoopla, it is easy not to hear the voice of God.

Watch for the beggar at your gate.  Oh, the name Lazarus means, the one whom God helps.  My thanks to Kenneth E. Bailey for his observations on this parable.  I recommend all his books.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence