Restoration of the broken

Jeremiah was a prophet God sent to bring judgment on the southern kingdom of Judah for their sins: disobedience to God’s commands, idolatry, injustice and unrighteousness towards the poor and the needy of the land. They were to be exiled to Babylon as punishment for their sins. Yet God spoke words of comfort to them. He promised in Jeremiah 30 that he would eventually restore them and bring them back to their land.

Jeremiah 30

18 “Thus says the Lord,
‘Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob
And have compassion on his dwelling places;
And the city will be rebuilt on its ruin,
And the palace will stand on its rightful place.
19 ‘From them will proceed thanksgiving
And the voice of those who celebrate;
And I will multiply them and they will not be diminished;
I will also honor them and they will not be insignificant.
20 ‘Their children also will be as formerly,
And their congregation shall be established before Me;
And I will punish all their oppressors.
21 ‘Their leader shall be one of them,
And their ruler shall come forth from their midst;
And I will bring him near and he shall approach Me;
For who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?’ declares the Lord.
22 ‘You shall be My people,
And I will be your God.’”

The essence of restoration and healing for these sinful people is to be called God’s people. and for God to declare that He will be their God. It is about restoration of a broken relationship.  The basis of this restoration is God’s compassion (30:18a). How is this restoration going to be? More than just the physical rebuilding of the city and the palace (v. 18b), it is a restoration of the heart – from mourning to rejoicing (30:19a, 31:4); restoration of significance because God honours them (v.19b). From the least to the great (children, congregation and the leader), they will all come before God to be in his presence (v.20-21). God will punish their enemies (20b). This is the restored status of being God’s people: for God to acknowledge them as His people and for God to proclaim himself as their God.

Jeremiah 31

1 “At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.”

Again, this relationship of God and his people is emphasised and further described.

2 Thus says the Lord,
“The people who survived the sword
Found grace in the wilderness—
Israel, when it went to find its rest.”
3 The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

God is love. Although he punishes people for their disobedience, his love is an everlasting love. This love is permanent and for always. The eternal love of God compels him to be kind – to forgive and restore and draw people back to him. (31:3).

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4 “Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt,
O virgin of Israel!
Again you will take up your tambourines,
5 “Again you will plant vineyards On the hills of Samaria; The planters will plant
And will enjoy them.
6 “For there will be a day when watchmen
On the hills of Ephraim call out,
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
To the Lord our God.’”

27 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast. 28 As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord.

God’s promise of restoration is in the metaphor of planting and sowing. In the place of destruction and desolation, God said he will sow with seed of man and beast (v.27). More than act of sowing, God ‘watches’ over them to build and to plant. He watches over them in good times and bad – whether to pluck up, break down, overthrow, destroy and bring disaster (v. 28).

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

The old covenant was written on tablets of stones -on Mount Sinai where God called them to obey his commandments and promised them blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience. The people broke the old covenant with their rebellion and idolatry. The new covenant is written on their heart. God said: I will put my law within them and on their heart, I will write it  (v. 33). Again it is repeated – I will be their God and they shall be my people.

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At the heart of the new covenant, is the covenant of the heart – a renewed and restored relationship of God and His people.

What kind of covenant is this new one?

  1. This new covenant has no need to be taught. It will not be through words of man. God’s people will not teach each other God’s law. There is no need for them to tell each other what God wants to do.
  2. Why? Because they will ‘know’ God – from the least to the greatest – from the children to the leader, from the least learned to the wisest scholar, they will all know God.
  3. How? Because God will forgive their iniquity and their sin he will remember no more.

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Sin is the barrier which keeps the people from knowing God. When God forgives, he gives a new heart – a heart where his law is written. This new heart enables us to know God. God himself sets up the new covenant for people to know him. He loves us with an everlasting love and he draws us near with lovingkindness. He calls for us to be his people and he promised to be our God.

Although God punishes sinners, God relents and forgives us when we turn to him. He himself restores and heals. He gives a new heart for us to know him. Turn to him and receive this new covenant of everlasting lovingkindness. Listen to his call, my friend.

Prosperity plans: before and after…

 

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Many Christians like to quote and claim the promises of Jeremiah 29:11-13. These verses bring assurance of prosperity and a bright future. They are words of hope and security. God said: Come tell me and I will answer. Come find me and I will be found. It greatly encourages us that if we pray with all our heart – believing that no harm is coming to us but only prosperity, it will be so.

But we need to know the context of these verses. To whom were they spoken? What were the circumstances of the people to which this message was given? Context is important in reading Bible verses because background knowledge helps us to apply correctly God’s words to our present day circumstances. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us to read attentively and reflect carefully what is the truth.

Jeremiah 29
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

(God is speaking to the exiles of Judah (the southern kingdom) whose capital was Jerusalem. These were the people brought into captivity by their enemy to Babylon. They were living in a foreign land under the rule of the Babylonian king.)

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

(To build houses, plant and eat from them imply staying a long time. This is not a temporary exile. They are told to marry and multiply – even from one generation to the next. To stay in a place beyond a generation means to take root in that place. Make it your home.)

7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

(Since they are to call it their home, they need to seek the peace and prosperity of the place – the foreign land where they are exiled. Since it is now your home, pray for its peace and you too will enjoy peace. Pray for its success and you too will be successful.)

8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

(Do not be deceived by lies of the prophets who said there’s peace – staying in your own land.)

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.

(God was very specific. He even told them of a time frame. 70 years. After 70 years, God will bring them back home. Indeed God’s promises came true. Read more about the 70 years of exile from https://www.gotquestions.org/Babylonian-captivity-exile.html)

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

(And God also spoke to those who remained in their homeland – those who did not go into exile.)

15 You may say, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,” 16 but this is what the Lord says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your fellow citizens who did not go with you into exile— 17 yes, this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. 19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the Lord.

Is it not ironical that people in exile were promised prosperity and security while those who stayed behind were doomed to die by the sword, famine and plague. The exiles would enjoy peace and prosperity in enemy territory while those who ran from their enemy would be object of horror/scorn and reproach among nations where they ran to.)

Bottom line: God’s ways are not man’s ways. God’s thoughts are neither man’s. Our idea of peace and prosperity is quite different from God’s. God’s plan – not to harm, to give hope and a good future is not dependent upon circumstances of our lives. God’s plan is about his character – he knows what he’s doing. God’s promise is not about what we will do – it is about what he will do. His desire is for us to draw near to him – to call on him and seek him with all our heart. To seek him with our heart is to obey his call no matter the circumstances of our lives – even in exile – away from our comfort zone, even when all around us seem far from peaceful. His promise is that he will be near to us, he assures us that he will answer to our call. Answers might not be according to what we imagine the best to be – because God’s best is far far beyond the reach of our best.

God says ‘I know the plans I have for you.’  God knows – he wants us to call on him to reveal those plans to us… plans to draw us near to him – to seek him and love him with all our heart.

A house that lasts…

What is your dream house? When I was small, i so enjoyed going through the houses in Forbes park whenever we visited my si-peh 四伯父 (my dad’s elder brother- my 4th uncle). Houses with nice doors/windows/gardens etc.. Looking at houses inside and out has always been a fun thing for me to do. It didn’t matter that we didn’t live in a big house. In fact at one point in our life, we had a tiny apartment we called home. And I was happy in that place.

In 2 Samuel chapter 7, David was getting settled in his house of cedar.

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” 2 Sam 7:1-2

Cedar is a good popular tree growing in Lebanon – quite sturdy for building houses coz it does not decay or subject to worms. (ref. http://biblehub.com/topical/c/cedar.htm)

What touched me is that David remembered God when he was nicely and securely living at rest in his beautiful palace. He remembered that the ark of God (the symbol of God’s presence with Israel) was still in the tabernacle. So David wanted to build a house for God. He really loved God.

So what did God say? God said: I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. (v.6) In all the years that I moved with you, have I ever asked your leaders to build me a house?

God instead reminded David of all the things He had done in the past and the things he will do for David. vv.8-10 Most important of which is: God will build for David a house that will last. God said He will establish David’s house by giving him a descendant to rule as king forever. v.13,16. David was a soldier. He shed much blood. God wanted David’s son, Solomon, a man of peace (a peaceful kingdom that his father setup for him) to build His house.

The house that David offered and that Solomon built was magnificent but it was eventually destroyed. The house that God gave to David is one that endures forever. From the house of David came Mary – whom God appointed to bear His Son, Jesus. Jesus is king forevermore.

Today, we live in houses that decay and depreciate. Our houses get worn down, by pests, by the weather elements, cabinet doors get unhinged, even cornice in our bathroom ceiling fell off, termites eat our doorposts,etc. All sorts of problems come with our earthly houses.

Only the one who dwells with God has an eternal home. As Moses wisely prayed: Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Psalm 90

Where is your dwelling place, my friend? On what do you put your security in this world? God is waiting for you to come home – to know him and find true security in him. Make him your eternal home.

When life is hard…

No pain, no gain… No rain, no growth..

This journal was written August 22, 2016. I want to remember how it was when I was lame and could not walk, when my father was gravely ill and dying, when life was difficult but God so gracious n mercifully faithful ..

Some thoughts kept recurring in my mind for the past few months. So many things have happened: my mom passed, I fell, my dad became ill.. still is…so much pain, so much grief, so many tests.. As I look back, as I am still in the middle of it.. what’s the point of it all?

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A song comes to mind: Little flowers never worry, when the rain begins to fall… If it never never rains, then they’ll never never grow.

2nd song: Trust His heart
God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. When you don’t understand, when you can’t trace His hands, trust His heart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWk8DRwDYDc

Sufferings and challenges of life either draw people to God or turn them away from God. We, as children of God are not exempted from harsh realities of life: sickness, heartaches, evils of this world, and finally, death. What makes Christians different from the rest of the world is how they respond to sufferings and trials in life.

We are made aware of our dependence on God. We realise we are helpless needy souls who rely on God’s grace and mercy day by day, moment by moment. We seek comfort that we are not on this journey alone.

Through these past months, I experience steadfast love and mercies of God, they are new every morning. I am reminded that God’s ways are higher than my ways, His thoughts not mine. I learn that God does make a way when there seems to be no way. I confess that I’m such a fool to be anxious about petty things that God had to turn my focus from them to Him. I worry about domestic helpers. My cook got sick and went home. God provided a new one even before the old one left. I worry about food to put on the table. God taught me: Give us this ‘day’ our daily bread. I review and learn new dishes with the new helper one day at a time (on youtube). My sister and I pray for God’s mercy on my father. Many times I plead: Lord, take papa home to eternal rest or to his earthly home. After almost a month now, my father is still in the hospital. Marian and I wept on the phone. I cried alone, wept with friends.

What got us through.. what holds us together? Prayers… sufferings/trials get us on our knees. I know our family has many prayer warriors accompanying us in our difficult times. I learned and am learning how to pray like Jesus: Lord, have mercy.. Thy will be done. These two seem paradoxical… Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane sought God’s will even as He prayed for God to take the cup of suffering away from him. In prayer, God’s children get to experience together the amazing grace and mercy of God. Even as I pray with my friends in their need, I get to witness how God listens and answers to the calls of those who love him and are called for His purpose: to bring glory and honour to God – so that the world will know what an amazing God we have.

What are you proud of…

What is the world’s standard of success? Money? Fame? Wisdom? Strength? Influence? What are the things people boast about? Parents are proud of their children – their academic achievements and their careers. Athletes take pride in their medals and trophies. Popularity, fame and fortune are the pride of movie stars and celebrities. These measures of success can be deceiving. They often offer a false sense of security.

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah, the prophet, was called by God to speak words of judgement to the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah was caught between the wrath of God and the sins of his people. In Jeremiah 9, he said:

1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
2 Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

3 “They make ready their tongue
like a bow, to shoot lies;
it is not by truth
that they triumph in the land.
They go from one sin to another;
they do not acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.
4 “Beware of your friends;
do not trust anyone in your clan.
For every one of them is a deceiver,
and every friend a slanderer.
5 Friend deceives friend,
and no one speaks the truth.
They have taught their tongues to lie;
they weary themselves with sinning.
6 You live in the midst of deception;
in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.

God condemned the people for their lies. They deceive themselves and they lie to one another. Their sins lie in their self-deceiving sufficiency – they ignore God (v. 3). God warned Jeremiah in v. 4 to beware of friends and family because even people close to him are liars and traitors.  Again refusal to acknowledge God is the sin that God condemns.

7 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says:

“See, I will refine and test them,
for what else can I do
because of the sin of my people?
8 Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
it speaks deceitfully.
With their mouths they all speak cordially to their neighbors,
but in their hearts they set traps for them.
9 Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

10 I will weep and wail for the mountains
and take up a lament concerning the wilderness grasslands.
They are desolate and untraveled,
and the lowing of cattle is not heard.
The birds have all fled
and the animals are gone.

11 “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
a haunt of jackals;
and I will lay waste the towns of Judah
so no one can live there.”

12 Who is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the Lord and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?

13 The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. 14 Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Baals, as their ancestors taught them.” 15 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. 16 I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.”

God’s punishment for his disobedient people is to banish them into exile – to be conquered by enemies leaving their land in devastation and desolation.

 

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God calls to all the wise, the strong and the rich not to be deceived – not to find security in the things of this world – wisdom, health and wealth. These things do not last. The people in Jeremiah’s time, fooled themselves into a false sense of security. They thought they are wise, they are strong and safe. They said Peace, peace when there is no peace (Jer. 8:10).

Instead of boasting of wisdom, strength and wealth, what are they to boast about?  God said: If you want to brag, then brag that you know me. Be proud that you are wise enough to know who I am. What kind of God am i? I am the Lord, the one who is kind, just and righteous. I am an advocate of the poor, the needy and the oppressed. I am concerned that kindness, justice and righteousness be executed among my people.  These things I delight – these 3: kindness, justice and righteousness – these are important to me. Be proud that you know me and be proud that you are ‘kind’ like me, ‘just and fair’ like me. Delight = take pleasure in doing right on earth. Delight in what the Lord delights. This is what you should boast about. Be proud that you are in a relationship with the Lord of kindness, justice and righteousness.

25 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh— 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”

What is circumcision? Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines circumcision as:

Removal of the foreskin or prepuce of the male genital organ, whether for religious reasons or as a purely hygienic measure. Circumcision was practiced in the ancient Near East by the western Semites, including the Ammonites, Moabites, Hebrews, and Edomites. The procedure was rejected by the east Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia, the Canaanites, and the Shechemites.

The Old Testament. The special meaning of circumcision for the people of Israel is found in Genesis 17 and occurs within the context of God’s renewed covenant promise to Abraham, following the initial contractual relationship (Gen. 15). On the second occasion, God again promised lands and offspring to the still childless patriarch, and gave him the sign of circumcision, which was to be imposed upon Abraham and his descendants as a token of covenant membership ( Gen 17:10 ). For the Israelites circumcision was a religious rite and was intended to mark the beginning of covenant solidarity for Abraham’s descendants rather than describing the historical origins of the procedure.

Circumcision of the heart is more important to God than outward circumcision of the flesh. It is more than ritual and external compliance of the law. It is not about the form but the essence. To be uncircumcised at heart is to be unkind, unjust and wrong.

Success by the world standard does not last. To be kind and compassionate to the poor – this has eternal value in the eyes of God. To defend the rights of the oppressed, to speak for the voiceless, to help the helpless, to defend the defenceless, these are close to the heart of God. To be circumcised in the heart is to take delight – to take pleasure, to boast and be proud of knowing God. To know God is to know the person he is. Know that He is the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth for in these (kindness, justice, and righteousness), He takes delight.

What are you proud of, my friend?

Boundaries or Barriers

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These bars seem constricting. They keep people from lugging big bags onto escalators. They are wide enough for carry-ons to go thru. These are safety measures so travellers don’t get hurt when huge heavy luggages fall off narrow steps on escalators.

In life, many seemingly inconvenient boundaries are God’s hedges on His children. We need to be trusting that his ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts..but so much more.

He gives us enough space to get us through with what we need along the way. Let us not carry too much but travel light.

Jesus said my yoke is easy n my burden is light. Are u travelling light, my friend?

Jeremiah’s Dilemma

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. What a dauntingly great task he had in the darkest times of his people’s history.

Words of grief:
Jeremiah 4
19 Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
My heart pounds within me,
I cannot keep silent.
For I have heard the sound of the trumpet;
I have heard the battle cry.
20 Disaster follows disaster;
the whole land lies in ruins.
In an instant my tents are destroyed,
my shelter in a moment.
21 How long must I see the battle standard
and hear the sound of the trumpet?

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These words in quotations are God’s verdict on Judah… God’s judgment of their guilt. They are guilty of forsaking God – intent on doing bad because they do not know God.

And Jeremiah continues with what he sees: sceneries of desolation and devastation – because of God’s judgment on the people.

23 I looked at the earth,
and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
and their light was gone.
24 I looked at the mountains,
and they were quaking;
all the hills were swaying.
25 I looked, and there were no people;
every bird in the sky had flown away.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
all its towns lay in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined,
though I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore the earth will mourn
and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
I have decided and will not turn back.”

29 At the sound of horsemen and archers
every town takes to flight.
Some go into the thickets;
some climb up among the rocks.
All the towns are deserted;
no one lives in them.
30 What are you doing, you devastated one?
Why dress yourself in scarlet
and put on jewels of gold?
Why highlight your eyes with makeup?
You adorn yourself in vain.
Your lovers despise you;
they want to kill you.

31 I hear a cry as of a woman in labor,
a groan as of one bearing her first child—
the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath,
stretching out her hands and saying,
“Alas! I am fainting;
my life is given over to murderers.”

How it grieved Jeremiah to visualise scenes of his suffering people – like a woman in labor – groaning in pain and gasping for breath about to faint from the oppression of being conquered and taken into captivity in a foreign land.

To heed God’s call to be a prophet is indeed a challenging one. Jeremiah was sent to speak to a people who would not listen. How does one keep doing something where there seems to be no improvement or change?

10 To whom can I speak and give warning?
Who will listen to me?
Their ears are closed
so they cannot hear.
The word of the Lord is offensive to them;
they find no pleasure in it.
11 But I am full of the wrath of the Lord,
and I cannot hold it in.

BUT … Jeremiah is compelled to speak out because when God calls, He fills Jeremiah up. How is it like to be full of the wrath of the Lord that it becomes uncontrollable? Wrath of God overflowing from inside out!

On one hand, Jeremiah speaks for God to the people about His wrath. On the other, he grieves at the sight of devastation, desolation of the land and people he loves. What a dilemma! No wonder he was known as the weeping prophet!

Here’s a link of lessons we can learn from Jeremiah…
https://www.gotquestions.org/life-Jeremiah.html