24 April 2020

Delight


In our trying experiences with this horrible coronavirus lately, many of us have been doing a lot of praying!  We’ve been interceding for the sick, our beloved friends in healthcare and our first-responders who are serving on the front lines and government officials as they lead.  In the height of this pandemic, we may wonder... “When will things end?  What will it look like in the future?  When will my happiness return?” 

In my journey with Jeremiah this week, I noticed his struggle, interceding on behalf of his sick nation – not with physical illness but the spiritual decay of sin.  The people of Israel and Judah continued to willfully dishonor God in their thoughts and deeds.  And, they did not appreciate Jeremiah’s constant pleading for them to turn from wickedness and embrace the Lord! 

In chapter 15, Jeremiah was on their hit list, and he called out to God for protection.  The Lord answered Jeremiah in vs. 11 – “All will be well with you, Jeremiah.”  (NLT)  He would deliver His prophet because the people were headed for exile.  In those simple words, Jeremiah understood something, and as I read the words he prayed, I came away renewed in two ways.   

First, in the middle of asking for deliverance, vs. 16, he said: “Your words are what sustain me.  They bring me great joy and are my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.”   I love how Jeremiah hung on the Word of God, realizing how much God’s Word nurtured his soul!  The voice of God kept Him going – not just being confident God would do what He said, but in moment-by-moment joy!  Was his situation rough?  You bet!  I think today is difficult... but I can’t imagine the lonely trials he endured in a nation filled with sinful apostasy where everyone seemingly was out to get him!

Are we delighting in the Word today? ... In His voice that speaks through the pages of Scripture, illuminated by the Spirit?  Let that sustain you as you live for Him!

Second, God also called Jeremiah to be the bearer of His name – to represent Him to the people.  In fact, in the Hebrew, the name Almighty means God of Hosts, of Heaven’s Armies!  God called him to reflect the power of God in the middle of his circumstances!

But Jeremiah complained.  He kept asking why, vs. 18.  “Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook...like a spring that has gone dry.”  “Why, Lord, why?!”  I know I am tempted to do the same.  God then replied, vs. 19 – “If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak words that are worthy, you will be my spokesman.  You are to influence them; do not let them influence you!”   Oh, how often I continue complaining when all I need to do is trust in God’s word to me!  He will provide for my needs!  “I will never leave you, nor forsake you!”  (Hebrews 13:5) 

Family, God says those of us called to Christ are bearers of His image – “conformed to the likeness of his Son,” Romans 8:29 – to speak worthy words...so that others are influenced for Christ!  In my time with the Lord, my prayer has been this: “Lord, how can I be the bearer of Light this week, so others see You in me?”  

Will that be your prayer, too?  Will you be an influencer for Christ, not complaining about life, as we can do when faced with difficulty?  Allow His Word to sustain you so you delight in bearing His name!

16 April 2020

Binge-watching!


During this pandemic, I have now understood the temptation and the reality of binge-watching shows on TV.  Do you have a favorite platform – Netflix, the new Disney+ or perhaps Amazon Prime?  On any streaming service, I’m a sucker for documentaries and westerns! 

By way of confession, I’ve been watching the 1989 TV series, “The Young Riders” – it’s a lot of fun!  But if I’m not careful, one or two episodes can turn into 5 or 6...and my backside makes a firm impression into my couch!  Laziness can easily kick in. 

Funny how something so seemingly innocuous as watching a western came to my mind as I continued my Journey with Jeremiah this week!  God gave the prophet a pretty strange illustration, and although I’ve read this book many times, I must admit, I never remembered this obscure incident!  Take a look:

        This is what the LORD said to me: "Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water." 2  So I bought a belt, as the LORD directed, and put it around my waist. 3  Then the word of the LORD came to me a second time:
        4  "Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks." 5  So I went and hid it at Perath, as the LORD told me.
        6  Many days later the LORD said to me, "Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there." 7  So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless. (Jeremiah 13:1-7 NIV)

I stopped here and wondered out loud, “Why, Lord, would You give such a strange assignment to Jeremiah?  You take a perfectly good belt and destroy it!  What’s the point?”  Keep reading:

        8  Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9  "This is what the LORD says: 'In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10  These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt--completely useless!
        11  For as a belt is bound around a man's waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,' declares the LORD, 'to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.'  (Jeremiah 13:8-11 NIV)  I marveled at this illustration’s many facets!

First, I see just how longsuffering God is with His people.  Time after time, God gives warnings and exhortations to return to Him: “I love you and want you to be close to Me!” 

I’m reminded of the encouragement we find in 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (NIV, emphasis mine) 

God excels at giving us time to come to Him so we can be with Him and enjoy His company!  How might you thank Him for His longsuffering with you today – all so you can spend time with Him?  And that leads to the second purpose. 

God wants to remind us that we are so susceptible to pride – at its core, the attitude of “I know better than You do, Lord.”  Oh, and how left unchecked, this will rot us away from the inside out! 

All it takes is time... stewing in the attitude of self-centeredness, and yes, even my laziness.  Are there areas of your life filled with pride that you might confess to Him and change right now?

That’s when my western came to mind, and I was convicted.  “Of course I need another few hours sitting here in mindless entertainment! I deserve it!”  Now, I’m not bashing your Netflix binge. 

But for me, I realized I can easily miss time with the Lord.  He wants to love and equip me to be His instrument for good in challenging world!  Ah, and that’s the final insight.  The belt represents His people – Israel, Judah, and now us!

Our purpose is to cling to Him!  Oh, how I love God’s design for us – to be that close, that intimate, that we are wrapped around Him!  We are to be His people who give glory to Him – to show Him off and how good He is – so others will praise Him!  I have purpose and meaning in life... God desires me!  Take confidence in that today as you lean into Him.

Lord, I want to listen to You calling me today!  I want to set aside my heart of pride and spend some time hearing Your voice in Your Word.  Remind me when I get lazy or complacent to draw deep from You, the Source of Life!  And help me cling to You anew today, in Jesus’ precious name, amen!

09 April 2020

Vengeance Is Mine?


My Bible journeys with the prophet Jeremiah continue to reveal some critical truths I need for this season of life.  You may wonder, "Mike, why Jeremiah of all books?  Isn't that a little depressing for when we're cooped up at home these days?"  I hear you...but I am ever-so-glad that I'm on this path, and I'm learning some insights for my life that might apply in yours, as well.


A bit of background: Jeremiah was into the priestly line of Aaron in the little town of Anathoth, a few miles north of Jerusalem, where he served God faithfully. Later, God called Jeremiah to give His people a message. “Return your hearts to Me – repent of your wickedness – for judgment is coming!” 

Sadly, the people of Israel and Judah didn’t listen and continued on in rebellion, worshiping idols and following their own evil desires.   As you can imagine, when this humble prophet came to deliver God’s warning, the people didn’t like it! 

It’s not fun when someone points out the sin in your life, and I tend to get a bit defensive! But instead of defensiveness, the people went even further. In Jeremiah 11:18-23 NLT, we read this:  

“Then the LORD told me about the plots my enemies were making against me. I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I had no idea that they were planning to kill me! “Let’s destroy this man and all his words,” they said. “Let’s cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever.”  O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, you make righteous judgments, and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets. Let me see your vengeance against them, for I have committed my cause to you. This is what the LORD says about the men of Anathoth who wanted me dead. They had said, “We will kill you if you do not stop prophesying in the LORD’s name.”  So this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says about them: “I will punish them! Their young men will die in battle, and their boys and girls will starve to death.  Not one of these plotters from Anathoth will survive, for I will bring disaster upon them when their time of punishment comes.”   

People in Jeremiah’s own hometown plotted to kill him, to silence the messenger, as if that would silence God! But I notice several truths I can apply to my life here...   

First, have you ever been na├»ve and fail to see what’s clearly ahead? I think we’ve all been here before! God revealed to a clueless Jeremiah that these men were out to get him. That’s God’s providential hand at work in our lives!  When I trust Him for guidance, He never fails me!   

Second, and this was the big lesson for me... I realize that when someone is out to get me, I tend to want God to “throw the book” at them!  It’s a natural response, and Jeremiah had it, as well. I think to myself, “Vengeance is Yours, Lord... so go get ‘em!” That’s when my heart is revealed, how equally cruel I can be in return.    

Jesus reminds me, “Mike, do not seek evil for evil; do not bear a grudge or resent those who have mistreated you. Do not seek revenge or look for a chance to retaliate.  But forgive... go out of your way to help those who do evil against you. Such an attitude is the only way to ever reach them for the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matt. 5:38-48).   

Finally, I’m encouraged by God’s response to this desire for vengeance, vs. 23: “For I will bring disaster upon them when their time of punishment comes.” His timing is always perfect, not mine! When I get impatient in waiting for something good to come, I can have confidence that, yes, evil will be judged, but that I’m in this for the long haul – I have a life after this one with Jesus where all things will be made new again! That’s what the cross and resurrection remind us of, as well.   

Are you anxious or irritated that God isn’t moving fast enough? (Especially now as we are all told to stay at home!) Are your plans not coming together as you’d hoped? Maybe you have people who are “out to get you!” In all these things, we can have utmost confidence in God’s timing and purpose. Evil will not prevail. Sickness will not prevail. God will! Be encouraged with that today!   

Lord, help us this morning remember that You are Sovereign and in control of everything, even when it looks like chaos out there! Help me to resist the temptation to lash out at others and instead demonstrate your love. And above all, help me to trust in Your timing and that You will renew all things. Guide me today. I love You, Lord...in Jesus’ name, amen!    

03 April 2020

Information Overload?


I woke up this morning with so many questions...probably because I have the all-too-familiar disorder called “information overload.”  If you’re like me, you’ve been bombarded with statistics lately on the worldwide virus out to get us.  And my heart races with the sheer volume.

And all that data, all the commentators, the government decrees, and the self-defined experts in medicine still cannot answer those questions that arise inside my half-awake brain. 

What is this sickness, really?  What does it look like for me if I get it?  What if I get it?  What will happen to the economy?  Will we have jobs left?  What about my family?  What does the future hold?  Will I actually get a pack of TP when we do run out!

Why am I not trusting You, Lord, more?

As soon as that last question came into my head, I realized I already was sick...sick with worry, sick with fear...but not with a persistent sickness, but a periodic one...one that enters my body from time to time when my thoughts are dwelling elsewhere.  I’ve let the flow of information control my mind rather than the fact that God is in control.  

In my periodic sickness, I then turned to these words.  It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 NIV)

Of course!  The Master Physician came for people with my condition, too!  I admit, Lord, I need a doctor right now.  I see that my 20/20 vision has been clouded.  I have missed the most important part of this pandemic: You are still present!  And so I acknowledge the trust I’ve placed in the information and not in You alone.

This Easter season, I’m reminded of another sick man in Scripture – the second criminal crucified next to Jesus.  He realized the sickness of his sin.  He was a sinner in need of the majestic grace found in the Suffering Servant who will always be King.

To the defiant slurs of the other criminal hanging next to them, this sick man realized the truth.  He was being punished justly for his crimes, but Jesus didn’t deserve this same sentence at all.  Turning to Jesus in repentance, he in great openness of heart said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And the greatest promised that Jesus gives to all who are sick and in need of His healing touch: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:40-43 NIV)

Through all the uncertainty of this life, I can clearly see the Lord’s guarantee to sick people like me when we place our trust in Him!  And that truth this morning humbles me and renews me.  How about for you?

Do you think you are beyond reach of His love and grace in this very moment?  That criminal experienced, in his dire sickness, a complete healing!

What stops you from delighting in the promise of Jesus?  This present pandemic?  What would it look like to live in the light of your assured place in paradise right now?  Will you?