Would you return?

Jeremiah 3:1-5
There’s an interesting point of translation in Jeremiah 3:1.

The entire chapter outlines God’s accusation against Judah and Israel. Both have turned from the Lord to other lovers. At times, many others! That is the driving image described in the chapter. God’s people have played the harlot. Where have you not done these things, God asks.

Some of us are uncomfortable with such imagery. But it expresses the intimacy God desires with humanity. If we’re being honest, that kind of makes us uncomfortable, too. Admittedly, the first time I heard someone suggest God “makes love to our hearts,” I cringed. That wasn’t because it doesn’t match the biblical sense of intimacy. No, I had warped notions of what it means. An unfaithful spouse perfectly characterizes the rebellion of God’s people. It stands to reason, then, that loving, intimate relations can illustrate what God wants with us.

This is all helpful to consider the translation point before us today.

How much did Israel’s and Judah’s unfaithfulness impact God? When you read words like polluted, desolate and wickedness you start to realize how much. So, when an unfaithful spouse wants to return, what is the proper response? More to the point, when God’s unfaithful people want to return, what is God’s response?

In this case, it might surprise you. I have read this passage with my usual Bible translations: NRSV and NKJV. Both seem to offer a slight difference in translation. Jeremiah 3:1 begins God’s indictment against the people. According to the NKJV, the ending of the verse declares, “‘But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to Me,’ says the Lord.” The NRSV says it this way, “‘You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’ says the Lord.”

Was it just me or does one translation read like an invitation while the other an accusation?

On this side of the Jesus experience, we’re quick to acknowledge it as an invitation. After all, God wants to redeem us. We’re just a bit stubborn and God knows that. I remember using the old Motel 6 tagline in a sermon once. Like the motel, God always leaves the light on for us. Praise God.

At the same time, consider the problem God has with Judah and Israel. They did come back, supposedly. That is, they maintained their worship and special offerings. They considered themselves people of God. And yet they have done, as God says, all the evil they could.

It seems as if Jeremiah 3:1 is God challenging the people. We needn’t worry whether God offers us an invitation or not. You can always hear Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” But the Lord’s challenge to them extends to us as well. Have we returned to God? Or are we more like a cheating spouse? Do we profess the blessings of God while seeking the pleasures of the world?

God knows the difference when do and don’t. And true discipleship teaches us to know the difference.

Stay blessed…john

Consider this

Luke 11:33-36
Self-reflection feels like a lost art. Self-motivation seems to have taken its place.

Don’t get me wrong, we all could use encouragement from time to time. There are moments it’s appropriate to self-talk your way to courage and action. Only make sure what you tell yourself comes from a faithful source.

Too much self-motivation is candy to our souls. That makes self-reflection the leafy greens.

You can get buy on candy and, let’s say, processed foods for a while. Sometimes, a good while. Eventually, that diet catches up to your body. It impacts your health.

In Luke 11, Jesus is addressing, in his own words, an “evil generation” (Luke 11:29). What made this generation evil was their unwillingness to see the sign in front of them. Some saw Jesus’ ministry as the work of demons. Others were only impressed by his miracles.

They failed to understand that something greater than Solomon and Jonah was here. They missed the signs of what was happening. An important question we should ask is, Why did they miss it?

Let’s look at how Jesus responds.

He uses the illustration of a lamp. According to Luke, this isn’t the first time Jesus has done this. Back in Luke 8 our Lord reminds us that a light’s function is to shine. Since the light does what it does, Jesus says, “pay attention to how you listen” (Luke 8:18). Sounds strange, I know.

But watch this.

In Luke 11, the lamp still shines so that people can see the light. This time, however, Jesus tells us this: Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light.”

So, we’ve gone from letting the shining light teach us how to listen to now showing us how to see.

But what are we listening for? What does our eye have to do with anything?

Well, let’s get back to our diet. If you get serious about what you put into your body, you’ll go easy on the candy. Likewise, nurturing faithful self-reflection is a wise shift in our understanding of discipleship. The light of Christ shines to teach us more about ourselves. More, perhaps, than we would like. If all you’re looking for is motivation or self-help, you’ll miss the nourishment.

Not to overstate things, but we can get by without self-reflection, but it catches up to us. And, without it, we can miss the work of God happening right in front of us. Jesus says, “Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness.”

Did you catch that?

Consider. That’s reflection language. In this case, reflect on whether the light you have within you is God’s. Don’t kid yourself. That can be a hard conversation to have. It can be easy to fool yourself and others. But if what you’re seeing isn’t right, what shines within you won’t be either.

Thankfully, the light of Christ still shines. You won’t be able to grasp its depth, though, unless you spend time reflecting on what it’s showing you.

Stay blessed…john