I wish I could sketch Jeremiah’s word pictures. With strong imagery, he describes the marriage relationship between God and Israel. He betrothed her in Egypt, married her at Sinai, and gave her fruitful land as a wedding gift. But Israel spurned her Lover’s gift as well as her Lover.
God is appalled, horrified sad, and rightly angry. He’s never seen anything like it. “Has a nation ever changed its gods (even though they are not gods),” He said. They have committed two evils: 1) “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,” and 2) “They have hewn for themselves broken cisterns that can’t hold water.” What an amazing visual! He gave them something more special than the warm springs at Yankari Game Reserve, and they are playing in empty rain barrels with holes in them.
And then Jeremiah uses more visuals:
I broke your bond and yoke to free you, but you shattered and snapped the bonds with Me.
I planted you, a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. But you turned into degenerate shoots of wild vine.
You wash yourself with much soap, yet your guilt and iniquity are still on you. You’re spotted, dirty and stained.
You’re like a female camel or donkey in heat! (Lots of lovers).
The images go on and on. It strikes me that God experienced pain, rejection, and abandonment long before Jesus experienced it on earth.
Jeremiah is preaching to God’s lover who forsook Him. This is Israel’s story. What is mine?
I have a long list of worries I need to shed NOW! The word responsibility is a balloon banner over my head with strings attached to each of my concerns. With hands cramping from their tight grip, occasionally one string escapes my grasp, and I scramble to grab it without letting go of the others. If I let them all go, does this mean I’m not a responsible person?
But near burnout, I wish I could let them all go. I want to be a kid again where I’m free to explore, and my meals miraculously appear on the table, and play is my most serious activity.
Suddenly the wind catches the balloons, and up, up, up, into the air I go. But now I’m in trouble if let go. My muscles are burning. I want off this ride!
“Look up,” says Jesus. I see He’s holding the responsibility banner, and I’m on a puppet stage. He’s responsible for the “responsible.” That takes the pressure off decision-making, but I’m still not satisfied. He created me with free will, and I don’t want to be a puppet. I don’t want His job as director of the play, nor can I be in the audience. What am I supposed to do?
“Let go of the strings,” He says. Willing to surrender at last, I unclench my fists and drop my arms. I do not fall. I do not collapse. I let go of worry and make life-giving choices.
What does one do with all the stories of horror and sadness in the news? It it’s not war, it’s an Asian tsunami, a Florida hurricane, or tornadoes in Indiana on the heels of earthquakes in Pakistan. Murder, rape, and evil. The needs are overwhelming. And then there are the spiritual needs of a lost world. How do I balance getting information and processing it without emotional overload or feeling blasé? If it’s someone else’s problem, I shrug and say, “That’s interesting, but glad it doesn’t affect me.” But if it’s MY child that dies in the disaster, it’s suddenly too close to home.
I wonder what makes people rush to help. Some feel called and become trained to respond to disasters. Is there something wrong with me that I don’t feel the tug to “do something, anything” or is it merely an absence of triggers? I don’t want to be jerked around by emotionalism or false guilt that weighs on me like a shroud. My resources are limited. It’s impossible to give to every cause—and there are so many good ones!
I’m standing at the edge of a pit watching Stephen being stoned. I cannot prevent his demise. If I try to rush to his aid, I’ll perish as well—the mob is too large for one person to control. What I can do is search for the one or two people who are hesitant, who don’t really want to be there. Who can I persuade to walk away and listen to God? I cannot respond to all the disasters and needs in the world, but I can minister to the few on my path.
On a side note, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: when people offer aid for a disaster, those who have not been treated in like kind are sometimes jealous. For example, after 9-11, victims from another terrorist bombing lamented that America didn’t send dollars to generously help THEM. When Hurricane Katrina struck Mississippi, and people in my city reached out to help the displaced citizens, locals who needed the same kind of care and concern felt ignored. What makes us respond to a disaster with an outpouring of generosity, but we don’t reach out to meet the routine needs of our community?
My mother had great compassion for sick people. It made her a good nurse. One day we witnessed a motorcycle accident in front of us. Watching my mother’s concern and compassion mixed itself in my heart with worry—like an emotional bow string triangulated between the boy, my mother, and me.
Am I willing for the music to stop? For the vibration in my soul to cease? Will I become emotionless, calloused, if I give up the strings?
“No, the song will only become sweeter,” says Jesus. And so, I unloose the worry string, tie a balloon on the end, and release it skyward. My focus now shifts to meeting others’ needs instead of mine.
A 2023 Update. I glanced at the news of the recent earthquake in Turkey, said a quick prayer for the victims and rescuers, and moved on to the ministry in front of me, focusing on what I could do, rather than on what I couldn’t.
Once there was a Pharisee who happened upon a man lying on the Jericho Road—all beaten up, with gushing wounds and ragged clothes. And the Pharisee paused and argued with himself, but God won out. The Pharisee took off his own cloak and gently covered the man. He gave him sips of water and then with the rest washed the dirt from the wounds. And while Jesus stitched up the gaping holes, the Pharisee held the instruments. Jesus lifted the man onto a donkey, because the Pharisee was not strong enough to do so. And the Pharisee accompanied them to the inn where he stayed to assist Jesus. And when the beaten man became well, he confessed he was a wealthy prince, and he rewarded the Pharisee handsomely. And the Pharisee was glad that he’d listened to the voice of God instead of her (I mean his) own self-righteousness.
A 2023 Update. I confess I am a recovering Pharisee. I’m not there yet, but I’m further down the road in my journey toward grace.
I’ve been working through how to recognize the difference between God’s standard and men’s standard of conduct. For example, I came out of a system that taught it was a sin for a woman to wear pants, and though I threw that false belief out years ago, I wonder about wearing skimpy clothing. A judgmental attitude (which I’m prone to have) is a self-righteous attitude about how others conduct themselves—usually because I don’t do it myself. And often the item or “sin” in question reflects a tradition of man rather than breaking a direct command of Scripture. Discernment, on the other hand, involves understanding the intent of a command in Scripture and applying it to myself.
One’s choice of dress falls on a continuum: from a Middle Eastern burka all the way to public nudity. What’s modest for one culture may be immoral for another.* I’m sure my upbringing in an African village impacts my confusion. Does God’s Word dictate standards of dress, or does God look only on the heart? (I can dress like a Puritan and not have a pure heart.) The other end of the continuum is harder for me to gauge. At what point does my dress choice cross into sin? Can the discussion focus on the amount of material, or should the focus be 100% on the heart?
Or what about my media viewing choices? Is there a point at which what I watch becomes sin? Or is it all about the condition of the heart? I cannot judge another’s motives, but personally, I’d prefer wholesome rather than on-the-edge. Better to hug the mountain side than the cliff side in these gray areas.
*Funny story from Stormy Omartian’s book The Power of the Praying Woman. Seems an offended missionary decided he should supply the topless natives with t-shirts. The next day the ladies showed up at church proudly wearing their new garb—with holes cut out for their breasts (so they could nurse of course). Made perfect sense to me!
2023 Update. I must have worked through these questions sufficiently as I have no emotion today when the subject comes up. I know now that I am not responsible for anyone’s heart but my own, and I can trust God to convict me when needed and guide me into all truth.
The Bible instructs us to keep our vows; however, some vows are unhealthy and must be broken “I’ll never do that again!” or “I’ll build a wall to protect my heart” can be detrimental to our healing journey.
When I was in junior high, my ambition was to become a missionary nurse—just like my mom. But one day, one of my teachers whom I highly respected asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I told him, he replied, “Well, you should consider becoming a doctor instead. You have good enough grades.”
To please my teacher, for the next six years I informed everyone I was going to become a missionary doctor, and I began to look into med schools. Very quickly, I realized I really had no passion or even the slightest interest in studying the medical field. And so I floundered, trying to figure out who I was. Consequently, I made a vow never to become a counselor. I did not want to be responsible for guiding someone incorrectly in their life choices. How ironic that I am now pursuing a Master’s in Pastoral Counseling!
Today I read:
Personally I am satisfied about you, my brethren, that you yourselves are rich in goodness, amply filled with all [spiritual] knowledge and competent to admonish andcounsel andinstruct one another also. (Romans 15:14 Amp, Emphasis added):
Note the order:
First comes goodness
Then comes knowledge
And finally comes the act of counseling.
Character precedes knowledge. Practice comes before proficiency. I have no business counseling others if I don’t begin with character; and without training, counseling others can be dangerous. In Job 38:2 God asks, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” I wonder if I’ll make a good counselor?
A 2023 Update. Technically, I kept my vow since I became in inner healing prayer minister instead of a counselor. However, breaking that vow would have been acceptable as it was made from a place of emotion and wrong motives. Better not to make an unhealthy vow or promise than to have to break it later.
A few years ago, I had a friend who struggled to care for her two adopted girls when she injured her leg. Another friend remarked, “Well, she asked for it.” (i.e. she had no business adopting children if she couldn’t afford them.) Yes, my friend had made that choice, but it wasn’t her fault she hurt her leg and needed compassionate help.
But what if I am at fault for the consequence of my choices? A smoker I know is struggling with emphysema. I find it difficult to drum up any sympathy. I may fetch an oxygen tank if he runs out, but I’d still roll my eyes and think he made his own bed and must lie in it.
And then I think of an obese friend who struggles with physical challenges. Do I withhold compassion and mercy when she has a stroke? I may conclude that she asked for it, but I don’t think that’s the right response. Instead, I need God’s love for her.
I can readily see the solution to everyone else’s problem but find it harder to deal with my own. Quit smoking! Lose weight! Turn to Christ! Let go of your anger! Forgive that person who hurt you! But when I look inward at my own shortcomings, I find I can easily make excuses for my own actions and attitudes. I need God’s mercy for my own struggles that keep me bound and powerless to change and quit judging others for losing their battles. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV)
Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you” (Luke17: 17-19 The Message).
Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one thanked Him. The Samaritan had faith; I don’t know if the other nine had it or not. Did Jesus heal certain people out of compassion or because of their faith? He raised the dead—and that’s not because of their faith! In this case, the one leper demonstrated that he “got it.” I suspect God does a lot of things for us that go unacknowledged.
Maybe faith is like a promised Christmas present, an unopened box. Jesus hands it to me and says, “I’ve made you a promise. It’s in the box. But it’s not time to open it yet.” And faith says, “I believe You, Lord. And I will patiently wait till You say it’s time.”
Abraham was given a box. Inside was the promise of a son. But I think he got impatient waiting—or perhaps he thought God had handed him the wrong box, and so he set it aside and opened a different gift under the tree. But even with his mistake, God still handed him the right one and he still got to open it.
I have so many precious promise boxes under my tree I can’t even count them all! What box am I holding that I’m ignoring, substituting, not waiting for, anxious about?
When Jesus handed the one leper his gift, he remembered to write the thank you note. The other nine got their gift, too, but were so excited they forgot where it came from. We must pause, notice, respond in gratitude, and recognize the source of our healing, our salvation.
Prejudice is an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge. (Webster’s Dictionary)
From my 2005 Journal.
I had a dream last night in which a professor told me I had an issue with prejudice. I denied it—but part of me recognizes the truth.
Prejudice has a negative connotation, but prejudice simply means “pre-judging.” We live most of life that way. Before I sit in a chair, I pre-judge that it will hold me up. Why? Because I’ve had prior knowledge and experience with chairs. What happens when we pre-judge people, however? The problem comes when we attribute one characteristic to an entire race, not allowing for individual differences.
What’s the relationship between pre-judging, expectations, and anticipation? When does it become negative, wrong, sinful, unproductive, or damaging? In a court of law, to pre-judge is to declare guilty or not guilty without prior or proper trial. What would be the opposite? No judgment at all? Or . . . judgment after the fact instead of before? How is it possible to avoid pre-judgment of people?
Isn’t prejudice merely a trigger? Reduced to that, it would be easy to detect and feel one’s own prejudice—because there is emotion involved. There are or can be good triggers, can’t there? Or is that suspect too? Pre-judging what Christmas will be like can set you up for disappointment.
A 2022 Perspective: I went through a lengthy period where the Lord worked on my heart about my judgmental attitude. Obviously, I’m not perfect in this area, but looking back, I can see how very far I’ve come.
I’m not sure where or when in my spiritual journey (from the pulpit?) I picked up the notion that we were supposed to strive to do the list of Fruits of the Spirit. “Look over this list,” they’d say. “Which one do you lack? Work at this one today. Be more (“more” is unquantifiable) loving, put on a joyful countenance, exercise patience or self-control.” Shame for failing in any area became a natural by-product of this teaching.
But one day I began to ponder the nature of fruit, and then, thankfully, I heard (from the pulpit?) a correct interpretation of this verse. Spiritual fruit is not a to-do list but rather a by-product, a result of abiding in the Spirit, of being attached to the vine, of mind renewal. I can choose to exhibit the fruits by determination and self-effort, and that is not a bad thing. I can choose not to punch my friend in the face if I’m mad at her. But how much easier and freeing to have these qualities flow out of me naturally, graciously, without effort as a result of inner healing prayer and mind renewal. Even “abiding in the vine” is no longer a grit-my-teeth, work-at-it endeavor. Rather, it is a natural by-product of connecting all parts of my heart to the Lord.