Life Priorities

Text: Luke 20:19-26

The last thing that I’d want to do is wade into a political mine field, but the text before me today contains the famous reply of Jesus, “Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, and to God, what is God’s.” It is a reply that asks us at a fundamental level to examine priorities. It seems that Sarah Palin – to the great consternation and bafflement of careerist politicians and commentators – was thinking about priorities recently. Of all places it seems the NY Times runs a article that gets the Alaska governor. (HT Rod Dreher who adds some good comments about advising his kids vocational choices)

Most of us kinda stumble through life with a rough prioritization of things being whatever screams the loudest at the moment. Living in a house with three children six and under, that often means a literal scream. We also hear from the mental health community all the time about a healthy balanced life. Often that means placing ourselves first and everything else gets attention only as it impacts our healthy balance. Pastors are commonly told to not lose the self or the family in the course of being a Pastor. All of those sources usually boil down to some flow-chart list like: 1. God, 2. Self, 3. Family and 4. Church – like we can stop in the middle of life and neatly sort out what falls into each of those buckets. That is what modernity is good at doing, fragmenting and segmenting life.

But that is not what Jesus consistently says. Give to God the things that are God’s. Not that Ceasar doesn’t get his due, but even Caesar gets put under an authority. Or Jesus says things like “seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added…Matt 6:33). The consistant witness seems to be get the first thing first and leave the rest to God. God adds things to us. Modernity wants to subtract and fragment. Aim for the kingdom, and God wants to add. That is a fundamentally different view. Act in everything with the Kingdom in mind. Yes we will mess us. Yes we will be selfish and delude ourselves about our choices. We are fallen creatures. But it doesn’t say find the kingdom first, it says seek. God will do the rest. Getting that first priority right means a lot more than any of the others. It also means don’t lose sight of the person who is doing all the rest – God. It also doesn’t say anything about how we may like or dislike what God chooses to add. Jeremiah complains about just that (Jeremiah 20:7) when he says the Lord decieved him. The addition of all these things should not be confused with simple material prosperity.

Exile and Prosperity

Text: Jeremiah 29:1-14

Jeremiah prophesied for forty years or so – the judgement is coming, a day of the Lord is at hand. But there were a large number of prophets in the land. The larger bunch of them with that title shouted peace! prosperity! And they had the better share of the argument for most of that time. Jeremiah even lashes out at the Lord Jeremiah 20:7 – “O LORD, you have deceived me…I have become a laughingstock all the day.” It would be hard to fault Jeremiah for sending a “Ha, I told you so” letter. That is not what he sends. He tells the exiles to make a life in their new land – build, marry and grow larger. Pray for the welfare of Babylon because its welfare is yours. He does get in his digs, but not in a snotty way. He just tells the exiles to not be decieved by the “prophets” among them – they are not from the Lord. And He leaves them with a promise from God – “In 70 years I will bring you back. I have plans for you.”

Do we find ourselves in exile in a strange land? Has everythign that we have known seemingly been pulled out from under us? God’s answer is not opposition or withdrawl or nostalgia. God says stay engaged and pray. He has plans for his people. God always has plans for His people. That promise given was to those exiles specifically, but it does take on broader views. “I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have driven you.” Those Israelites were in Babylon. The church is spread throughout all nations. God has a plan for His people.

Shepherded by the Wind

Text: Jeremiah 22:13-23

The Spirit of God is often pictured as the Wind. We do not see the wind itself, but we see its effects. The frightening thing about that what happens when we lose the ability to recognize the true prophetic Word from the wind itself? Martin Luther worried about such a happening. He would talk about it in his Freedom of a Christian saying, “there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of hearing the Word…” Jeremiah has been speaking the Word to the Kings of Judah right before the fall of Jerusalem. God cries out, “I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen.'” The result is that the wind will shepherd all your shepherds. To Jeremiah, the Word of God is self authenticating. You know it when you hear it. Your only reaction is to repent and follow, or to deny it. As horrible as the call to repentance might be, being left without the Word is more horrible. It is not that you cease to have Spiritual things, but that you are shepherded by the wind. And that wind blows here and there, knocking things down and eroding the buildings. If we deny the Word, we reap the wind. The world is full of prophets saying ‘here it is’, or in Jeremiah’s vein, ‘Peace, Peace.’ And people without the sure Word get blown from this one to that one, but they never find it or receive peace. That is only found in the Sure Word of Jesus Christ. In Christ we find our rest from being shepherded by the Wind.

The Law, repentance and hypocrisy – and a quick note

Last week I know I was hoping to get back to writing these more regularly as we got into Jeremiah and Romans. My wife is roughly 8 months pregnant and is starting to run out of steam much quicker. Short answer is that the family has been taking more time of necessity. I need to get better at time management or just write faster.

Text: Jeremiah 7:1-15

For me Jeremiah has always been a scary book. One that cut to the quick in multiple ways. Maybe it is just that Jeremiah speaks to my fears more than the others.

There are fundamentally two types of religion. There is the religion of a law. That law could be the 10 commandments. It could also be the law of nature, the words of Mohammed, the path of the eastern religions, or any other system known by man. The other religion is a personal relationship with the living God.

Under that law, if you do x, it doesn’t matter how you do x, just that you do it. It all ends in some form of incantation – religion as magic. That is what Jeremiah levels at the people of Judah. They have turned their relationship with the God who gave them the land into incantations. Bobbing and chanting – “This is the house of the LORD.” Standing in that house, asking for forgiveness and yelling “We are delivered!” and then going back out and doing all the same things as if nothing changed. Under the law you can do those things, because it is all just a game. Say the right words, do x, and everything is better.

If you have that personal relationship, doing those things is a betrayal of the other person. Asking for forgiveness is not some incantation. It comes with costs for both people. God wants that relationship. He calls you to that relationship. As Jeremiah has God saying – “I called you persistently…” And here is the kicker. Even in the old testament, that land of the law, the law can’t save. Judah was doing the law. They did the appropriate sacrifices. They were in the temple. The sang the song of deliverance. They just didn’t want that personal relationship – Too tough. When God called, they didn’t answer. They did not live life as if the LORD was really there.

Do we treat prayer, worship and the church as incantations, or do we answer the call to talk with God? Tough question. Are we under the law, or do we have a relationship with the living God?

Context – Arguing from the lesser to the greater

Text: Romans 1:16-25 (also Jeremiah 2:11-13)

Between being sick and what seemed like a random bunch of texts the last couple of weeks in devotion have not been very fruitful. It looks like the daily readings are bringing a couple of heavyweights out for a little while. Jeremiah will be the OT reading and Romans the Epistle all the way until Holy Week. Prayfully this will be more fruitful.

Arguments or apologies for God while good things are by necessity secondary. Nobody has ever come to belief because of the perfect argument. Faith itself is a miracle. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God. Think Luther’s explanation to the 3rd article of the Creed. What they are good for is a calling back to faith. They speak to Spirit within us. Our baptisms are not in vain.

Aquinas classically outlined five arguments. These arguments have been restated and retold and refuted over and over. Of the five the one that always made the most sense to me is the argument from degree. Stated simply – we make judgements every day on the qualities of objects. That woman is evil/good. That sermon was heretical/truthful. That woman is ugly/beautiful. Those judgements assume a standard of perfection; There is standard of good/true/beautiful. Therefore there must be an ultimate good/true/beautiful. We call that ultimate God.

That is what Paul says. Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature, his power and diety, has been clearly perceived. We should, by just looking around us, understand that there is something greater. To deny that is to make our thinking futile. To deny that is to exchange the creator (the highest) for the created (things of lesser quality). In a way, God Himself makes that argument through Jeremiah. Even though they are false, does a nation change its gods? – rhetorical question with assumed answer of no. But Israel has given up the God who saves, who made them a people and brought them out of slavery, for things that do not profit. They have given up the living water for broken cisterns that can’t even hold water.

The first call of Jesus is to repent. Turn from the broken cisterns and futile thinking toward the one. The one incarnated for us and revealed for us on the cross.