The Fountain and the Broken Cisterns

Well, it’s been over a year, so I suppose I should write something to keep up the pretense that I blog. (Actually, I have a pretty faithful weekly blog in Portuguese, but don’t have the time to translate it for my two or three English readers. Sorry, Mom. Oh wait, Mom can read the Portuguese blog. Sorry, other reader.)

Jeremiah 2:1-13 is a haunting passage. It is well worth reading and understanding the stunning things God says to Israel (and to us through His message to them). For this post, I just want to focus on the last verse and make a possibly strange, but perfectly valid application.

For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

Without going into all the details, the verse above makes something very clear: God has a complaint against His people, and brings two accusations against them:

  1. They had abandoned Him.
  2. They were worshipping other gods (see vv. 9-12).

But instead of expressing Himself as I just did, He put it to them in a water metaphor. And what a metaphor!

He was telling Israel He is a fountain of living water, i.e., an unending source of a substance humans desperately need. Water is not optional for us; we need it like we need air and food. It is so fundamental that science says we are what, 60% water? Even so, the metaphor isn’t meant to point to a physical reality, but a spiritual one. Humans desperately need God. He is the essential spiritual substance we cannot exist without! And His accusation against Israel was that they—His own chosen people!—had abandoned Him, this fountain of essential, irreplaceable sustenance! 

But they didn’t stop there.

In abandoning God, they did the unimaginable: they turned to other gods. He challenges them to search out the pagan world around them (whose gods they undoubtedly were choosing to follow) to see if there was any other nation swapping gods. Not even among the heathen was there this level of disloyalty. But Israel was doing just that.

Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. (v.11)

The water analogy summons the image of people turning their back on a gushing, bubbling fountain of crystalline, refreshing, nourishing water and setting about the back-breaking work of digging out their own cisterns. The problem is that the cisterns are broken, so they don’t hold water. It drains out, leaving nothing but brackish, muddy residue as it seeps through the cracks.

The image is so rich! God is the Fountain—the Source of spiritual nourishment that gushes freely to His people. But, rejecting Him, they turn and must toil (hew, or carve out) and make their own spirituality, only to find that their efforts are pointless, and can’t sustain them. They didn’t just abandon God, but they turned to gods that had no sustenance to offer.

It is very easy to read this and say, “Silly Israelites! Don’t they get it? How foolish!” (And that’s putting it nicely.)

My question is: how are Christians any different?

We witness daily evidence of this happening in a seemingly innocuous place: our Facebook newsfeed. I’ve been known to make weird connections between things that don’t seem to have any correlation, but as I looked at my Facebook newsfeed today, my mind immediately went to this Jeremiah passage.

Facebook has gone through all kinds of trends over the years—remember the buttons? the quizzes? the clickbait? the videos?—but one trend that is deeply saddening is the number of Christians posting memes that simply don’t have biblical messages. Oh, they’re inspirational, pithy, sometimes funny, sure, but they don’t reflect biblical truth.

It doesn’t follow automatically that people who post these things are abandoning God; but their posts demonstrate that they are not measuring the truth claims or presuppositions of what they post against the Truth of God’s Word. And by abandoning God’s Word as a fountain of God’s Truth, they are, in essence, drinking from broken intellectual cisterns made by human minds. Cisterns that just don’t hold water.

I am going to be ambitious for one who hasn’t written in over a year. I am going to commit to writing a series of blog posts on the same subject. Actually, I have a friend to thank for this idea; my original post was well over 2000 words, and he suggested I break it up. If we know anything about today’s culture, it is that we have the attention span of a goldfish (sorry, goldfish). We even sum it up with the expression “tl;dr” (“too long; didn’t read” for those of you who were about to Google it).

So in order to not go too long, this post will serve as introduction. I will refer to it in the upcoming posts, as I apply the teaching of Jeremiah 2 to the kinds of things Christians are posting on their timelines.

And, hopefully to pique your curiosity, here are three areas I have already considered, and will  be posting in installments shortly.

  • Content that expresses vengeance and malice toward those who hurt us.
  • Content that expresses loneliness, sadness, disappointment, etc. without hope.
  • Content  that defends sinful actions and attitudes through “new” interpretations of Scripture.

Books Christians Should Read: The Definitive List

Inspired by the “20 [or 25 or 30] books every Christian should read” lists that I’ve seen popping up recently, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and present a definitive list. A lot the books in this kind of list are good recommendations. Some, not so much. But I feel that I can say with certainty that my recommendations below are, without any doubt, the best books for disciples of Jesus Christ to read, and they are, in fact, indispensable for any Christian. There are 66 in all:

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Ruth
  9. 1 Samuel
  10. 2 Samuel
  11. 1 Kings
  12. 2 Kings
  13. 1 Chronicles
  14. 2 Chronicles
  15. Ezra
  16. Nehemiah
  17. Esther
  18. Job
  19. Psalms
  20. Proverbs
  21. Ecclesiastes
  22. Song of Solomon
  23. Isaiah
  24. Jeremiah
  25. Lamentations
  26. Ezekiel
  27. Daniel
  28. Hosea
  29. Joel
  30. Amos
  31. Obadiah
  32. Jonah
  33. Micah
  34. Nahum
  35. Habakkuk
  36. Zephaniah
  37. Haggai
  38. Zechariah
  39. Malachi
  40. Matthew
  41. Mark
  42. Luke
  43. John
  44. Acts
  45. Romans
  46. 1 Corinthians
  47. 2 Corinthians
  48. Galatians
  49. Ephesians
  50. Philippians
  51. Colossians
  52. 1 Thessalonians
  53. 2 Thessalonians
  54. 1 Timothy
  55. 2 Timothy
  56. Titus
  57. Philemon
  58. Hebrews
  59. James
  60. 1 Peter
  61. 2 Peter
  62. 1 John
  63. 2 John
  64. 3 John
  65. Jude
  66. Revelation

Now it might seem trivial to write a list like this, but I did so for two reasons:

1) I know, from experience, that many—if not a majority of—Christians have never read all these books. And among those who have, it was only a cursory reading, to say that they had read them.

2) I know, from the Word, that only these books come with this kind of guarantee: ““All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

Now, there are thousands of good books out there for Christians to read beyond the ones in the Bible.  Like the creators of these lists, I certainly have my opinion about which ones would be profitable for Christians to read. But it’s best to start here.

Redefining “Death with Dignity”

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old newlywed diagnosed with terminal cancer who has chosen to end her own life with lethal drugs two days after her husband’s birthday, on November 1. Her story is giving new traction to those who are in favor of the right to die, or, as she puts it in her video the right to “die with dignity.”

Without getting into all the hot-button issues surrounding the legality of ending one’s own life, I wanted to comment on one statement made at the very end of her video. It is a single line of text, saying,

“At present, only 5 U.S. states allow terminally ill patients the right to die with dignity.”

This is simply not true.

A true statement would be “at present, only 5 U.S. states allow terminally ill patients the right to end their own lives through ingesting legally-prescribed lethal drugs.”

In order for you to accept the video’s statement, you have to first accept their basic definition of “death with dignity.” They are equating “the right to end their own lives through ingesting legally-prescribed lethal drugs” with “the right to die with dignity.”

Do you understand the difference? Let me break it down like this:

When Brittany Maynard and other right to die proponents say only 5 states allow the “right to die with dignity,” they are making at least two assumptions:

  • that death involving suffering is a death without dignity
  • that choosing to take one’s own life, thus avoiding the suffering, is death with dignity

If we accept these assumptions, we can accept the fact that a 29-year-old newlywed can end her life and call that dignified; and we can accept that it is wrong that 45 U.S. states are withholding the “right to die with dignity” from their terminally ill patients.

Personally, I don’t accept her assumptions. Why? Because:

It simply isn’t true that dying a slow, painful death lacks dignity.

Oh sure, the suffering one goes through in the final stages of a disease like cancer aren’t pretty: the patient must suffer not only the physical pain and bodily weakness, but a huge invasion of personal privacy as they become too weak to handle even the most basic forms of personal hygiene. A slow death is eerily reminiscent of a reversal of the birth process. I have watched as a once active, independent mother of three declined in health, becoming more childlike and dependent with each passing day. As the cancer ate away at her body, she lost more and more mobility—at first the ability to leave her home for short outings, then the ability to even leave her bed, and the eventual decline to barely moving at all. Like a newborn, she was left solely dependent on the care of others as she retreated further and further into the darkened “womb” of her bedroom, where she finally passed. Did she lose personal privacy along the way? Certainly. Did she suffer incredible pain? Most definitely. Did she lose her dignity? I can’t say this emphatically enough: NEVER.

In fact, as each step took her farther from viable treatment options and more certainly to death, she grew more confident in her belief that her death—that horrible, painful death—had meaning and purpose. And most certainly, dignity.

She didn’t have to move to another state to end her life to achieve death with dignity. The state of Missouri couldn’t allow or deny her the right to die with dignity. The ability to die with dignity transcends legislature. Dying through suffering sometimes demonstrates more dignity than a quick and painless death, because suffering serves as the crucible from which the refined gold of one’s character pours forth, free from the dross of the mundane.

It simply isn’t true that taking one’s own life is death with dignity.

There is a huge difference between willingly giving one’s life for someone or some cause and taking one’s own life to escape pain and suffering. It is even possible to say, “I’m doing this so my loved ones won’t have to suffer to see me like that,” but the bottom line is still this: in taking your own life, you are avoiding the problem, and not facing it. In my opinion, there is no dignity in suicide.

Her main argument is that she knows she’s dying, and knows what a horrible death her cancer leads to, so she is exercising her right to choose when to die, on her own terms, with the people she loves, etc. Again, there’s an assumption behind this argument: she knows she’s dying, therefore she can choose the time and way of her death.

But aren’t we all dying?

Not a single person on this planet can realistically expect to live forever. We are all terminal. Oddly enough, it is the terminally ill—those who have received advanced notice that death is near—that have the opportunity to die with dignity, because they know, to a certain degree, how they will die. Facing death, even in its worst forms, gives opportunity to show the true qualities of one’s character (the crucible I mentioned before), and that is where it becomes possible—in any U.S. state—to die with dignity.

Why didn’t I bring God into this discussion?

Don’t worry, I will. My primary point in this post is not religious or spiritual, however; it is linguistic. Naturally, as a believer in Jesus Christ, I have many things I could say about death and dying, particularly regarding the hope we have in Christ for life beyond death. But for this post, I wanted to make a linguistic point: we do not have to accept people’s definitions just because they present them in emotionally charged videos. The fact that Brittany is 29 years old, or a newlywed, or articulate, or full of life, or a world traveler, should not distract us from the issue presented in the video: to convince us to accept her definition of “dignity.” Had Brittany made a video that defended her legal right to take her own life, this would be a completely different post. By including the concept of “dignity,” she, along with the right to die movement, are trying to ascribe dignity to suicide, and at the same time strip the dignity of dying a slow, painful death from those who chose not to end their lives.

Let me end this post with a second video. I met Zac Smith briefly in 1991, and didn’t hear about him again until this video was posted in 2010. As you will see in the video, like Brittany, his story was tragic: he was 33, married for 11 years, father of 3 kids, and diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him later that same year. The big difference is that he chose, through his faith in Jesus Christ, to face death with dignity, not by ending his life, but by living his life with purpose until the very end, and, by way of this video, to encourage others to do so as well. Where Brittany is using her video to help fund more “dignified suicides,” Zac was pointing people to His Savior.

The Story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Creative on Vimeo.

Francis Schaeffer once said:

A culture or an individual with a weak base can stand only when the pressure on it is not too great.

“How Should We Then Live?”

When I watch these videos, I see one person with a weak base, that cannot accept suffering as part of life and death, a person’s whose worldview cannot accept that suffering in death is dignified, and who therefore must end her life before the road becomes too difficult. I don’t know what her base is, per se, but the pressure of a painful death is too great for it to withstand. But Zac had a base that the Bible describes as a solid rock (Matthew 7:24-27); it stood strong, even in the face of death; it held up his wife and his kids through the process.

Zac, unlike Brittany, didn’t have to find refuge in one of the five U.S. states that offer death through legally-prescribed lethal drugs in order to have the right to die with dignity. The ability to die with dignity welled up from within him, from its source in his relationship with Jesus Christ, allowing him to face suffering and death…with great dignity.

Tastes Just Like the Real Thing…


Lately it seems that more and more people are choosing to go beyond vegetarianism into the world of veganism. While I’m sure people have all kinds of reasons for choosing to not eat any animals or animal by-products, to many, it’s more of an ethical philosophy than simply a dietary choice.

This is not a post for or against veganism. This is a reaction to an article I read about how unsuspecting customers were fooled by the texture and flavor of a batch of Beyond Meat’s “fake meat” (plant protein) that had been mislabeled as real meat. Actually, it is even more of a reaction to the fact that a vegan Facebook friend linked the article as a triumph of “fake meats.” As in, “See? We can avoid eating real animals by manufacturing believable animal substitutes.”

Does that not strike you as weird?

I’m going to avoid eating animals on the ethical grounds that their life is worth protecting, but somehow, I’m not going to give up wanting to savor what their flesh tastes like. That’s like keeping a chicken around, just for the sake of licking it occasionally.

“I don’t want to harm you, dear chicken, but I occasionally would like to remember how you taste.”


In my warped mind I can just imagine a British officer crisply walking into a cannibal village and declaring: “By order of her majesty the queen, you shall no longer be cannibals. We have, however, brought you a very believable human meat substitute, so that your disgusting and immoral cannibalistic tastes don’t go unsatiated.”

In my mind this is different from wanting a sugar substitute. See, when people don’t eat sugar, they do so because they either can’t, or don’t want, to eat sugar anymore. I haven’t heard of anyone arguing for the ethical treatment of sugar cane or beets. The idea of something tasting just like sugar makes sense: I can’t have the real stuff in my diet, but I’d like to approximate the flavor.

But trying to get something that “tastes like chicken” when you don’t believe eating chicken is right seems…creepy.

This post isn’t about diet, however. I’m actually going to make this spiritual.

At first my plan was to make a spiritual application using this “I don’t want to eat you, I just want to taste you” oddity as a metaphor for Christians who know something is biblically wrong, but have come up with Christian alternatives to approximate the pleasure of the wrong-doing without affecting their conscience.

You know, like people who gave up drinking, but embraced “near beer.” (I’m not going to get into whether or not all drinking is wrong; that is a discussion for another time. Possibly someone else’s blog, too.) Or Christian “cuss words” that go so friggin’ close to the real thing that, heck, you could only tell the dang difference in the spelling. Or—and I kid you not, this is a true story—Christian schools that held “prims” because they didn’t approve of dancing, so they couldn’t hold a prom.

But the more I tried to come up with “fake sins” that imitated wrongdoing without “crossing the line,” the more I realized that Christians have apparently skipped this phase altogether, and they are back to just doing whatever is “right in their own eyes.” Under the slogan “my God is bigger than that,” people are drinking to their heart’s content, cussing openly in Christian blogs, and apparently dancing is okay, too.

Just to be clear: my purpose here is not to discuss the pros and cons of these particular practices. I am using them as illustrations of things that were once thought wrong, but still worthy of imitation, and that now are completely acceptable in some circles. This is not a defense of the so-called rules—”don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew; don’t hang with those that do.” My goal here is not for you to come away thinking “drinking, swearing, and dancing are wrong.” In fact, while I understand why we come up with guidelines for the so-called “gray areas” of Scripture, I believe that undiscerning Christians have so mistaken the practice of the rules for godliness itself that they believe that our actions produce holiness, when clearly Christ’s holiness should be producing our actions.

There is also HUGE discussion for another time about what freedom in Christ actually means. I won’t get into it here, but I will suggest Romans 6 is a great starting point for understanding the scope and nature of our freedom.

So what is the takeaway here?

Let me sum up with these words:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”

(1 John 2:15–16 KJV)

If we are truly dead to sin (Romans 6), and truly new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5), then why on earth would we want things that belong to this spiritually dead, scheduled-for-destruction world we live in (2 Peter 3)? Why would we want things that will pass out of existence along with this world? Why would we want things that are pretty good imitations? “Tastes just like sinnin’!”

A good friend of mine has a great response to any behavior or action that can be defended by the oft-used “what’s wrong with this?” His question is pretty simple:

“What’s right with it?”

No matter how good the imitations get, or how pleasurable the real thing is, God is calling us to leave the wrong spiritual diet behind, and embrace a diet that isn’t an imitation of the old, but is wholly transformed by His Son to something completely new. And the only way to know what that is is to read what He has to say in His Word.

As a rule of thumb, if something falls under the category “this is something I really don’t need to be doing,” we should probably go ahead and forget what it tastes like as well.

Bible Stories for the 21st Century

I figured I would return to blogging with something light. The truth is I have dozens of half-written posts just sitting in my drafts pile, all of them waiting for me to have time to develop them. In the meantime, I’ve been off the air for over a year!

The inspiration for this strip came as we were listening to a dramatized version of the story of Abraham and Isaac. Since Isaac’s name means “laughter” in Hebrew, I imagined what he would have been named if he had been born in our modern era of Twitter and texts.

This was what I came up with.

Isaac - Eloel

Knock, knock…


Nearly every day something strikes me as being “bloggable.” In other words, I want to give my two cents’ worth to the world via my blog, knowing full well that only a very, VERY tiny percentage of the world even knows of my existence, and even a smaller percentage of the Patrick-knowing world actually reads my blog. But it still seems cathartic to have on public record what my opinion is, for all the difference it makes. And as many times as something bloggable presents itself, so do numerous other life things that either are, or appear to be, more important than shouting from a virtual street corner in a neglected neighborhood of a small town bypassed altogether by the information superhighway, and so I end up just telling my wife, or a friend who unwittingly crosses paths with me, or sometimes even a random stranger who happens to be at hand long enough in a public place.

Today’s bloggable thought hit me while I was writing the study guide for our church’s small groups, and I decided to actually blog it. The sermon was about the letter to the church in Laodicea, in Revelation 3. We were studying how this church’s self-sufficiency had led them to believe they were rich, and well-clothed, and needing nothing, when Christ’s assessment of the church was that they were poor, naked, and blind. By way of personal application, I was asking for discussion about how we might have blind spots in our lives, where we seem to be doing great, but in fact, are destitute, and needy, and weak spiritually. And then I asked this question: What percentage of your life is truly dependent on Jesus Christ? And, taking it a step further: If Jesus were to completely disappear from your life, how much of it would continue working as it always had? (The implication, of course, that if we can remove Him from our lives without effect, we truly don’t depend on Him for much.)

It’s a sobering thought. People survive this life without Jesus Christ all the time. They are all around us. They sleep, they wake up, they work, they have families, they play, they eat, and they sleep again, all without any contact with Him, and do so with varying degrees of success (by earthly standards). Some of them with way more financial success and better organization and more productivity and, sadly, greater benefit to mankind (again, by earthly standards) than many Christians. And it stands to reason that if we can do the same, we really aren’t dependent on Him, we just say we are. Any part of my life that could continue “all systems green” without His presence, influence, control, and/or guidance is simply me, on human autopilot, pretending to be led by Him.

When Jesus told the Laodicean church that He was at the door, knocking, He wasn’t making a salvation altar call; He was speaking to a group of believers. I picture it like the tail end of the Flintstones closing credits, where Fred is inadvertently placed outside of the house and locked out, and is left shouting “Wilma!” at the top of his lungs. Here’s this church, doing great financially and materially, and as it continues its daily routine, it simply locks Jesus outside, and continues about its affairs without noticing that He’s missing from there midst! And no, he’s not a bellowing caveman, but sadly, there He is, outside the door to His church, trying to get invited back in.

So what about you? Have you seen Jesus lately? Or is life going on happily “in His name,” while He is nowhere to be found?

It’s very convicting.

Well, I gotta run, I think I heard someone knocking at the door.

Jesus’ Last Words

It started out as joke. I was offered the last three weeks in June to preach a series before my upcoming trip the States. My mind being what it is, I immediately thought of Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture,” and thought up the ominous-sounding title: “The Last Series.” It would most likely have a small subtitle “until the next one” or “in June.” As it turns out, no one around here knows who Randy Pausch is, so I changed tacks and came up with the title “The Last Words,” with the tagline, “What would you say if you knew they would be your last words?”

I thought it sounded catchy, but naturally they couldn’t be my last words. I’m a stickler for expository preaching. This led me to think about several people whose last words are recorded for us in Scripture. Not surprisingly, I picked Moses (whose last words are the basically the whole book of Deuteronomy), Paul (whose last words aren’t necessarily recorded, but 2 Timothy gets pretty close), and of course, Jesus.

I won’t go into all the details of each message because I want to get to a point (and I’m sure you want me to do so as well).

There are a number of ways to approach the last words of Jesus Christ. One can take it literally: the last thing He said on the cross (there is no lack of “The Seven Sayings of Jesus” material out there). The idea can be broadened a bit, and focus on His final words to the disciples before His crucifixion. But as I considered how I was going to handle it, it hit me:

Jesus will never speak His last words.

When speaking of Jesus’ “last words,” we always have to qualify a context. His last words to His disciples. His last words on the cross. Death has a way of rendering men speechless, but Jesus has a way of rendering death powerless. He rose again. So we must resort to more qualifying: His last words before His ascension. His words to Paul at his conversion. His words to John in Revelation. Surely, way at the end, in chapter 22, where He says He is coming quickly—those are his last words! Well, possibly the last ones recorded, but still not His last, because I imagine we will be doing most of the listening in eternity.

The Bible speaks of two different words as eternal: God’s Word, as in, the Scriptures (Is. 40:8; the same of Jesus’ words in Mt 24:35), and Jesus Himself, the incarnate Word (John 1:1; 14). Over the course of human history, God has revealed the written word to mankind, with the goal of pointing to the incarnate Word. It is God’s revelation, pointing to God revealed—God with us. Jesus is God’s ultimate and final word (Hb 1:1-2). Everything we need to know about His final Word is found in His written word. And neither will ever pass away.

I have already spoken on Moses and Paul at church, so I’m looking forward to the final Sunday in the series, as I speak of Jesus’ “last words.” It is encouraging to think that Jesus will never speak His last words; and yet humbling to think that He will always have the last word.

I can only hope that my last words—when the time comes for me to say them—will ring with a passion for God’s written Word as they point to God’s ultimate and final Word, Jesus Christ.