Emptiness. It is unavoidable, even though many of us try our best to. We try to avoid our emptiness by connecting with others, escaping into activities and habits that may be good for us, or may be destructive to us. Yet, when the noise fades, and we are left alone with our own thoughts, we are left with broken dreams, disappointments, hurts, traumas, and overall an emptiness that cannot be quenched by anything in this life. What are we to do then? Turn to Jesus. He promises to quench the thirst that we have, and to fill us up with Himself. And when we are filled by Him, then we are truly full.
I have been in a season of emptiness. In March I ended a relationship with a girl that I really loved, someone I saw myself marrying, and the loss absolutely crushed me. In an attempt to fill the emptiness, the sadness, the loss, I have thrown myself into other things. Destructive things. These have just left me more and more sad, lost, empty. Yet, I have continued in them.
Why do I continue in these things if they perpetuate my sadness and despair?
Good question. Maybe it’s because I’m a glutton for punishment. Maybe it’s because I like being sad and depressed. The most likely answer though is that I believe somewhere inside of me that if I just reach a certain point, I could be happy in my sin. I believe that there is a point I have not reached yet. A place I have not gone to that will actually quench my thirst. And in reality, I would rather not have to face the realities of my life, and so I escape into my sin, hoping that one day, I will find what I’m looking for, if I just keep searching high and low and going further and farther.
Yet, this is not how sinful, destructive, addictive behavior works. Sin is truly an insatiable, unquenchable thing that leads us farther and farther into despair as we continue to chase the carrot that is just is out of our reach, and will always be out of our reach.
A children’s book that I love that I constantly come back to as an adult is If you give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. The story is about a boy who gives a mouse a cookie, which leads to the mouse asking for a glass of milk, and then a napkin, and then the story goes off on a whole myriad of things that the mouse asks for that has nothing to do with the cookie, such as getting a trim, cleaning the house, taking a nap, and taking a bath. In the end, this one act of giving a cookie to this mouse, has lead this young boy to sacrifice much of his time, energy, resources, and still at the end, the mouse comes back unsatisfied and wants another cookie.
This story is not so much a story of an OCD mouse that cannot make up his mind about what he wants, but rather about the condition of the human heart. We are a people that are not content, and it doesn’t take much evidence to convince us of this.
From a child on Christmas morning receiving a new toy, to a newly married couple, to a professional with a new job, we grow old of new things quickly, and we want newer, better, more. The very first humans, Adam and Eve, while living in paradise, in a perfect world, were not content, and they wanted more, and it cost them everything.
Sin likewise costs us everything while promising more. While the boy in the story only lost an afternoon of his time, a couple cookies, and some milk, the consequences of chasing after our sin are much more detrimental to us, both in the short and long term.
Chasing after sinful pleasures will not quench your thirsts and desires in life.
Oh that we would believe this. That the temporary pleasures we get from tasting the forbidden fruit are not worth it. That I would believe this.
If sin doesn’t fill us up, yet leaves us chasing an insatiable desire, driving us to despair and emptiness, where do we find true fulfillment?
He came that we would “live life and live it to the full” (John 10:10).
This is the good news of the gospel. That our insatiable desires, the sinful pleasures that taunt and torture us, don’t have to define us because Jesus has conquered them. We don’t have to let our emptiness control us.
One day we will live fully free from emptiness, disappointment, frustration, sadness, trauma, anger, injustice in a restored Garden of Eden. In Heaven. And right now we can truly live instead of just being alive.
Are you empty today? Me too. I get it. I feel it on such a deep level. Yet, I know, somewhere, deep down inside of me, that I believe that Jesus can heal me. That He can quench my thirst. That He can bring me joy to my innermost parts.
I pray that He would show you and I today not only how destructive, empty, lonely, despairing, and frustrating a life of chasing after sin is, but that also He would show us how good He is. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). He never gives us up on us, and that gives me a glimmer of hope that one day, hopefully soon, I will make the journey home to a Father who has never left me.
Today is my nine year anniversary of surrendering my life to Christ. Today I wanted to take some time to reflect on this journey, and thank the people who have helped me stay the path up to this point.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ,
The last nine years of walking with Christ I have found to be both joyful and painful. Victorious and defeatist. Understandable and utterly confusing. Lonely and comforting. I am thankful though that I have not had to walk through this alone.
I have to admit. I was skeptical of the church at first. Why? Because I had been hurt by so called believers before. They had hurt me and my family. They did not show us grace, but they dragged our names through the mud, and this made me mad. But as I have come to find out as a believer, we are all still very broken people in this world, even those of us who are among the church. I am thankful though that the past nine years, the Lord has restored my faith in His people, and that His people have become my people, and for that I am very thankful.
I am thankful that from the origins of my salvation that I have had others to walk beside me. When I first became a believer, I was saved in the midst of a year long Bible study called Year Team. It was here that I came to understand how vital it was that I be surrounded by other believers in my walk with Christ. I’m thankful for my time with these people, and the friendships and family that I gained from it. I’m thankful that they discipled me in coffee shops, on skate board rides, in cars, in houses, in churches. I’m thankful that I came to feel safe with these people, and I opened up, and they accepted me and loved for who I was and where I was, but challenged me to be different.
I’m also thankful for my actual family. For the restoration I have experienced with them and through them. I am thankful that they forgave me after all the awful things I did. I’m thankful for their love, compassion, support, and listening that they did. I’m thankful that they stuck with me, even through the ups and downs. I am thankful for the many hours of conversations that we’ve had, for the laughs we have enjoyed, and the tears we have cried. The victories that we have shared. And the defeats that we have endured.
I’m thankful for the many churches I’ve been apart of. City church in Charleston, Taylor’s FBC, North Asheville Baptist, Table Community, and Summit Upstate. Each one of these churches has allowed me to grow both in Christ likeness and spiritual gifted Ness. The many small groups I have been apart of have challenged me to think well about the gospel, to be outward focused, to be humble, to participate in the work of Christ through the using of my spiritual gifts, how to listen, how to be held accountable and so much more. I’m thankful for all the pastors, teachers, small group leaders, elders, and lay people that have poured themselves into my life.
I’m thankful for the students and faculty at North Greenville. God used this place to shape me so much. He allowed me to be under some amazing professors there that truly helped mold me and shape me into the man I am today. I learned how to write and communicate in a concise and efficient manner here. I learned how to work hard, and to give more than even I thought I had to give. I learned how to confess sin and to disciple others here. I learned so much, and grew so much during my time here, and for that I am thankful.
Even though she is a recent addition to this list, I am thankful for my girlfriend Hillary. She points me to Christ everyday. She is full of joy and humility. She is confident in who she is in Christ. She listens well to me. She shares in my victories as well as my frustrations. She challenges me, and helps me think well about the gospel and about life in relation to the gospel. I am so so so very thankful for her in the short time that she has been in my life.
I’m thankful for my Christian Counselors, Sherrie, Debra, and Hunt. I am thankful for the many hours y’all have poured into my life, both in counseling, and outside of it. Y’all have listened to my greatest fears, have heard my darkest secrets and struggles, and know more about me than anyone probably does. I am so thankful that y’all helped me get to the bottom and core roots of my sins and struggles. I am thankful that y’all never pushed me away, but loved me, even when I could not love myself. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Thankful for my friends. Thankful for all the laughs, conversations, shenanigans we have partaken in. Thanks for having my back. For being a shoulder to cry on. For being a person to open up to. Thanks for helping me refocus. Thanks for helping me to worry less. Thanks for listening and bearing with me in all things.
I’m thankful for those who planted the seeds of the gospel even before they took root. The Sunday School Teachers, Coaches, youth pastors and friends. I am thankful for those who prayed for me. For those who came up underneath my family when they no longer had the strength to pray for me. I am thankful for those who did not give up on me!
I tried to do my best to include everyone I could in this, but I am sure I have left some of you out. For those I cannot remember at the moment, thank you. Thank you for the conversations, the prayers, the words of encouragements, and the moments.
The overwhelming image that comes to my mind today in regards to my walk with Christ (nine years later) is that of a marriage union. When one enters into marriage with another, they are not only themselves uniting, but they are uniting with each others family and friends. So it is with Christ.
When we enter into a relationship with God the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ and His atonement and forgiveness of our sins, receiving the implanted Holy Spirit now as our guide and counselor, we not only are united with the Holy Trinity, but also we are united with the family of God. We are invited into fellowship with those who have been implanted with the same Holy Spirit.
Even though we come from many different backgrounds, we learn that our greatest unifier is Christ, and we learn to function within our differences. We learn to bear with one another, mourn with another, rejoice with one another, and hope with one another.
I am thankful that Christ saved me, and that through that salvation, nine years ago, that I got to enter into this wonderfully diverse and eclectic family of believers whose reach spreads all around the world and whose connection goes deeper than just this temporal life. It is an eternal one.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope that y’all had a great Christmas and New Years, and are ready for another year. 2020 was a tough year world wide, but I feel like I had a decent year in spite of everything. I was able to get a vacation in to Hawaii before the world shut down. I was able to continue working with no lay off because my job is work from home. I met a lady friend who I have been dating a little bit over a month now. I have been in close contact twice with someone who tested positive for Covid, but I tested negative both times! And on the last day of 2020, I interviewed for a new job, was offered the job ten minutes after I interviewed, and today I officially put in my two weeks at my current company and accepted this new job. So all in all, 2020 was a lot less rough on me, and I’m thankful for that.
As we move into 2021, my girlfriend Hillary encouraged me to pick a word for the year. This is something that she does, and I liked the idea and decided to choose one myself. My word of the year is leap. Leap is a word that symbolizes both trust and risk.
When I hear the word leap, I think of the kid who is standing on the diving board, ready to jump into the arms of their father. There is this nervous anticipation in the pit of his stomach. Attempting to do something he has never done before. He is taking a chance. A risk. Yet, he does not do this alone. He is jumping into the water, but with the expectation that his father is there to catch him.
Leap symbolizes an action. It is an action of trust. An action of hope. An action of belief. An action of faith. Leaping is difficult because it requires one to take a risk. For the kid to conquer his fear of drowning, he must leave the comfort of the diving board. He must leave the comfort of control. He must venture out into the unknown, with both the fear of failure, and thrill of newness equally present. He does not know what will happen, but he expects that his father will be there to catch them.
I believe this is what the Lord is calling me to this year. To leap. To step out. To try new things. To go beyond my comfort zone. To not hole myself up, but to take a trusting chance, a dare that the thing beyond my fears, and frustrations, is greater than the frustrations and fear themselves. The Lord wants me to let go of my crutches that I have held onto for so long, and he wants me to leap. To know that I can take chances, and risks, because I can trust Him, because He is good. That even when I fail in my leaping, that I would know that my world won’t crumble, because my foundation and my trust in Him is solid, and He’s got me.
For so long, I have been so scared to leap. So scared to let go of my safety nets because what if I risked and it didn’t work out. I had many stipulations for the when, why’s, how, what’s of each situation before I leaped and took a chance. This year I want things to be different. I don’t want to live in fear, and I don’t want to pigeon hole myself to things that I know I can do. I want to step out onto the edges of life, and I want to experience new things. I want to have joy again in my life. I want to have adventure again. I want to be at peace.
So what does this look like practically? Well, it looks like joining an exercise group. It means learning to grill and cook some things. Eating healthier, saving money. Doing the hard things. It means continuing to see where my relationship with Hillary goes. It means doing things outside the box this year to find healing and wholeness. It means doing things I don’t want to do. Things that scare me, like going to the doctor and to the dentist. Those are just a few areas of how I want to leap this year.
I have already begun putting my word into action early on. My first opportunity of 2021 to leap came in the form of a new staffing job opportunity. I am excited, but nervous at the same time, since this is my first new job in the last three years, and I am moving into an entirely new field of work. I know though that this is the right opportunity for me, and that I have the skills to do this job well.
So here we go 2021. I’m ready to take some risks and chances. I’m ready to dare again, trusting that the Lord has me in whatever I endeavor to do.
We are a people that don’t understand grace. That the good things in our life, our accomplishments, down to the very air that we breathe are not things that we have earned, but things that without the grace of God, would not be existent.
Our families, our jobs, our health and wellness, and our very lives are good gifts and blessings that have been given to us from the Father above. And as gifts, they can be given and received, but they can also be withheld and taken from us at a moments notice. Job, after the plundering of his livestock, and death of his family proclaims “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Job in a way that many of us can’t fathom, had much and lost much. Yet, in his loss, he was able to see clearly in a way that many of us fail to see. That what he had, all of it, even that which he had seemingly earned such as his wealth, and livestock, and land, he viewed as a unmerited, undeserved gift of God’s grace to him.
We many times do not react the same way. When our graces are taken, and gifts that we feel that we deserve are withheld, we stomp our feet in anger and frustration. We throw a fit, like an insolent child who has his very favorite toy or game taken away from him. “It’s mine!” We shout. Yet, it is not. Grace is not ours. We do not own grace, yet we act as if we do.
Last night, the Lord gave me a very clear picture of what grace is like. I was enjoying an evening, watching some TV, when a friend of mine texted about my Disney plus account. He said that he had been logged out, and needed a code to get back in. At the moment, I was not able to retrieve the code, and I apologized, but his response was one of whining and complaining.
But why should he whine and complain? He had not earned the Disney plus account. He did not pay for its subscription. I was the owner, yet, I allowed Him to experience the fullness of movies and TV shows and Mandalorian goodness out of the kindness of my heart. Yet, when that very thing that he had come to enjoy was taken from him, his response was not understanding, but one of bitterness and frustration.
And then it hit me. This is exactly how we treat God when he withholds our graces and our gifts. We act as though these graces and gifts were ours to begin with. But they were not. As Job pointed out earlier, we came into this world with nothing, and we will leave with nothing. Everything in between is fully the goodness and grace of God in our life. And this grace is not based on our merit, our works, our effort. It is fully based on the love and wisdom of God. He does not give us what we deserve because what we deserve is far less pleasant. We have earned death. Yet, through Christ, He has freely given us life.
When we live as though our lives, our graces, and our gifts, and blessings in our lives are not ours, then we can live open handed lives. When the 2020’s come around, and our health and wellness are put in danger, and our securities are questioned, instead of shaking our fists at God in anger, we can instead recognize the unmerited, undeserved graces that we have received to this point, be thankful for what we have received, and even in the midst of the hardships, though not understanding, we can trust God that He is still working all things for our good.
As I write this post, it is 2:00 am. I really was not wanting to get up and write, but I could just sense the Holy Spirit tugging on my heart and mind to get up and write, so here I am. The thoughts this morning that are on my heart and mind are about hope. What our hope is in. Where we put our hope, and how that affects how we respond to life. How that either makes us fearful, angry, frustrated, joyful, or peaceful.
The topic of hope is pertinent for in just a week’s time the 2020 Presidential election will be upon us. For some of us this brings about excitement. Excitement that there is a new candidate to replace the current. Excitement that injustices can be addressed, that new ideas can be put in place, and that long time wrongs can be made right.
Others of us are fearful. Fearing the change in the status quo, fearing the possibility of changes to our rights, freedoms, and finances and fearing the party itself that may put itself squarely in power in Washington. I can understand both sides, the fear and the excitement, because I’ve heard them both loud and clear from my friends and family over the past few months and I myself feel these same emotions.
Yet, if we are in Christ, though we may feel fear, excitement, or both, our hope remains unchanged. Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the American Government is not our Savior. Jesus Christ is, and within Him lies our constant hope.
As I lay in bed, unable to sleep, a verse came to mind in regards to hope.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Now you may be asking yourself, what does this verse have to do with hope? I’m glad you asked. It took me some examining to make the connection as well.
To summarize what Matthew is saying here is that our heart is drawn to what we esteem as valuable. And that what we esteem as valuable is what we will focus our time, energy, effort, and resources towards. In essence, what we treasure is at the center of our hearts, and our hearts reveal our treasures.
For instance, if a man treasures his family above all, then he will make time for them, spend time with them, protect them, provide for them, and neglect other things to be with them. If a woman’s treasure is her career then she will spend long hours at the office. She will do whatever she can to keep or get ahead in her career. And to be clear, to treasure something, to find value in it, is not a bad thing.
These are just a couple examples of what treasures we can hold within the center of our hearts, and how these treasures can dictate our actions, choices we make to move towards one thing, while neglecting or negating other things. The list of treasures can be quite expansive and subjective.
So we know what treasures are. We know what they do for us. But have we ever asked the why question in regards to treasures?
Why does one person esteem family over finances while another esteems finances over family? Why does someone treasure something?
And this is the connection. Hope. We treasure certain things because our hope is connected to them.
When we treasure something, it’s because we hope in that thing. We treasure security because we believe that it provides us with the hope of control. We treasure family because we believe that it provides us with the hope of love and connection. We treasure finances because we believe that it provides us with the hope of options, freedom, security, and happiness. We treasure alcohol, narcotics, sexual activity because we believe it can give us pleasure, as well as an escape from the pain, even just momentarily, and provide us with a numbing agent. We treasure success because we believe that if we’re successful we can control others perception of us. These are all generalizations, and I understand that, but each one of us, has something that we hope in, and that thing that we hope in is at the very center of everything that we do or say whether we realize it or not.
Are all hopes created equal? No. Do all the things that we hope in deliver on their promises? No. It’s important for us to not only recognize what we esteem, value, and hope in, but it is also equally important to recognize that all hopes outside of Jesus Christ fall short. They do. Why? Because they weren’t created to be our one and only hope. Jesus was meant to be from the beginning, and He came to earth to show us that very thing.
We see this in the Bible over and over again. Jesus encountering people looking for hope in so many different areas, and Jesus intentionally crossed paths with them, to show them that He was the one who they could truly put their hope in. From the Samaritan woman at the well, to the woman caught in adultery, to the blind man, to the man possessed by a legion of demons. He proclaimed that He was the one and only hope that was not an empty well run dry. That He indeed was hope in human form.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).
So I ask you today where is your hope? Is it Jesus, or somewhere else?
Is He your treasure? Is He your hope?
I ask all these questions because I believe that where you put your hope will dictate not only how you vote, but it will also dictate your response to the results of this election. Because it will affect the thing that you treasure in, hope in, either in a positive or negative way.
But if your hope is in Jesus, then your hope, your treasure cannot be moved. It cannot be swayed. By a Presidential Election. By the possible losing of rights and freedoms. It cannot be swayed by policy changes, and raising or lowering of wages. It cannot be taken from you in the loss of your job, the relapse to an addiction. It cannot be swept away by a flood or the quaking of the ground.
“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10).
So get out and vote if you haven’t already, but vote, not out of fear, not listening to the fear mongering going on either side, vote with your hope in mind. Vote with Jesus in mind. Vote knowing that Jesus has you regardless of what physically happens in the world. Vote in confidence knowing that no matter what, your hope is constant, in God, who is constant and unchanging.
Defeat. In life, it’s something we experience. We fall. We make mistakes. And many times we make them over and over again before we even begin to make progress in whatever area of our life that we are trying to gain traction. Defeat is tough, but many times, within defeat, there are the keys to our next victory. In defeat, we can either choose to get better, learn, grow, or we can stay bitter and believe that we just can’t win. Victory is not only something that is earned, it is also something that is learned. We may have to fall many times, before we finally learn how to truly take hold of the victory in life that Christ has already won for us by His death and resurrection.
I am an Atlanta Sports fan, and with that has come many, many gut wrenching moments. We play well in the regular season, and at times in the playoffs, but in the most important moments, we choke. We give up the lead. We collapse. For example, the Falcons losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl after being up 28-3. And then again last night, the Dodgers storming back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7, and eeking out a 4-3 hard fought win to advance to the World Series.
While most will focus on the collapse of the Braves, maybe there should be more focus given to the Dodgers. They’ve endured just as much heart break as the Braves. The past four postseasons, the Dodgers have lost two World Series. They’ve lost in the NLCS. And they’ve lost in the NLDS. The Braves, just won their first postseason series in the past 11 tries, and they even made it to the NLCS for the first time since 2001. Those are big accomplishments. The Braves are just experiencing what it’s like to win big games. The Dodgers have been there and done that.
And now the Dodgers get a third crack at the World Series for the third time in five years. Whether they win it or not, we’ll find out soon. But they have experienced the heart break of defeat. You have to think that all that experience losing has got to count for something in this season’s World Series. But we will see.
Anyways, what does the Braves collapsing, and the Dodgers winning have to do with anything? Well, I’m glad you asked. In life, just like in sports, there is victory and defeat. We all wish that our current circumstances and hardships would just go away in an instant. We pray for instant healing and instant victory, but many times that is not how it works. In life, just like in sports, we have to many times fall before we learn how to stand. At first, just like a newborn, we crawl, because we don’t have the strength to stand. And then we begin to get the strength to stand. But with that strength, comes the risk that we take to stand, even though we may fall. And then when we stand we may totter and wobble about and then fall again, but then we have to get back up. The more though that we totter and wobble along, eventually we will gain the balance to truly walk. And then after learning how to walk, and gaining the confidence to walk, then we begin to jog, and then from jogging to running, and then from running to sprinting.
While victory is a point A to point B destination, the route is never that simple. Victory is a process. Defeat is inevitable, yet it’s how we respond to those defeats, that will determine if we stay bitter in our falling, or if we get better. If we decide to stay bitter, and continue the narrative that we just can’t get over the hump, then we will stay in our anger, frustrations, depressions, and disappointments and never achieve the plans that God has for us. Instead though if we choose to feel the pain of the falls, learn from our mistakes and sins, and grow, we can get better. We can learn how to claim the victory that has already been won for us in Jesus.
How will you respond to your defeats?
Will you stay in your bitterness? Unbelief? Sin?
Or will you look closely, examine, pray, learn, grow, and begin to get better?
Will you learn to crawl? And risk it all to stand? To walk? To jog? To run? To sprint?
The choice is yours.
“For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity” (Proverbs 24:16).
Right now, I’m still in the process of learning how to stand holistically in Christ. I’m still kind of tottering and wobbling about, but I know each and every day that I’m learning from my past defeats, and failures. I’m learning how to stand firm in Christ, and that in Him is where my hope, joy, peace, and strength is found. I’m learning to let others in. I’m learning how to be held accountable. I’m learning how to endure. And I’m growing.
Each day, I take a step, trusting that God has got me, trusting that He is teaching me how endure the pain, to lean on Him, to not try to do it on my own. Each day, I become more balanced, I gain more strength, and I am beginning to walk with just a little less wobble, and more clarity, and more strength. And you can too.
It is easy in life when we fall down, to not get back up. Maybe we have fallen once or hundreds of times, but each time we fall, it costs us something. Maybe it’s the falling to an addiction in the recovery process. Maybe it’s the failing in a job, or a personal disappointment. The struggles we face in a marriage, or a broken relationship with a family member, and it’s easy to get discouraged. To accept defeat. To see the mountain ahead of us and to throw in the towel. To say to ourselves, to others, and to God, “I have tried to climb this mountain before. I have tried to change. But I just cannot.” I’m thankful though that God, in His ever present love towards us, knows the end of the story. He is bringing us back to the places where we have been pushed out of, and the victory He promised is coming.
Imagine you are the nation of Israel is 598 BCE, and you are invaded by Babylon. Your city is destroyed. Your temple is destroyed. Your officials are taken captive, and maybe you or your family are taken captive, or at best escaped, but dispersed into Egypt and the surrounding areas (http://otl.unitingchurch.org.au/index.php?page=jeremiah-31-27-34).
What would you be feeling?
Anger? Confusion? Sadness? Loneliness?
I would have so many questions for the Lord.
“God, I thought we were your chosen people, and now we’re gonna spend 70 years in exile and captivity? I don’t get it. I thought you were for us, and not against us.”
Imagine now for the next 70 years you are prisoners of Babylon, or that you have been dispersed, and you are living apart from your family, or loved ones. Living in a place that you have never known. With people you have never known. Displaced. Dispersed.
How would you be feeling?
I can imagine that it would have been extremely, extremely difficult. To go from life as normal, in a place that you have lived most of your life, to all of sudden being uprooted and living in a foreign land. I can imagine there was a lot of frustration and sadness. A lot of fear. But most importantly, I would feel as though God had forgotten me and my loved ones.
Just a few chapters earlier we have the famous Jeremiah 29:10-11 verses where Jeremiah says “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Now I cannot even imagine being in captivity or in dispersion for 70 years, but I do know that I’m forgetful. And impatient. And easily frustrated and angered. I’m sure for some period of time, the Israelites remembered the promise, even though it came on the end of a statement of suffering, but I’m sure they forgot. Or gave up. Or became indifferent to this promise. And eventually settled for the fact that this was their life now. Their life in captivity. Their life in dispersion. Their unordinary life became ordinary. Their shackles became the norm. Their loss of freedom became just another day.
Like many of us that is the case. I know that has been the case for me. We have become comfortable in our misery. It is not worth it in our minds to recover, to heal, to get the help we need. We live in defeat, because we truly do not trust God at His Word that their is victory for us out there, because either we have tried and tried and tried and failed over and over again, or because the victory has not come in our timing. So we concede to the mundane jobs, the normal schedules, the same sins, and we live comfortable lives that our ultimately full of misery.
That’s why Jeremiah 31 is so good. God is coming for His people just like He promised, and He will make all things right. Read with me.
“At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people. ”Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’”For thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:1-14).
I encourage to read to read the rest of the passage because there is so much more good stuff here. Also, there is not enough room to unpack all of what these verses say in this blog, but I do want to point out a few things.
I. “When Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away” (vs 2).
It was when Israel finally got to the place of being tired of being stuck where they were, that they recognized that it was God and God alone who could save them from their life of just surviving to a life of thriving. And the Lord heard their cry, and brought them out. True rest only comes when we seek it from the Lord. True rest only comes when we see God as our one and only option for true rest and peace. The people of Israel got to that place, and the Lord delivered them from their captivity. Are you tired of living in comfortable misery? Are you tired of going to the same well looking for water only to find that it is dry? Jesus says come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest. If you are tired of the norm that is life sucking and debilitating, look to Jesus, the author of true rest. In Him, you will find all that you need.
II. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (vs. 3).
Even in the midst of captivity, God continued to love His people. He had not given up on them, nor forsaken them. The years of captivity and dispersion were meant to once again draw God’s people to Him. In our case, God continues to love us even in the midst of our own self made captivities. When we choose other things over Him, He loves us, even though His heart breaks for us choosing those things which are not Him. Yet, He is faithful, and will continue to be faithful to us. Will you recognize His faithfulness and continuous love towards you even in spite of your own failings and sins? He’s waiting for you to once again return to Him. He has never left.
III. Again (verses 4-5).
God keeps his promise to Israel. I will restore you He says. “Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O Virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourselves with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria.” I love this. God keeps His promises. Even though He promised 70 years of captivity in Babylon, He also promised restoration, good plans, prospering. Israel would return to their land. They would rebuild their city, temple, and their lives, and their joy, and their hope, and their love, would all return. Again says the Lord. I’m not finished with you yet. The Lord says the same to us. I have victory in your future. Victory that you can’t even imagine. Yes, it will be a lot of hard work, but as we see here, God is committed to the rebuilding process of our lives. Will we join Him in this? Will we not see the wreckage in our life as defeat, but an opportunity for God to rebuild us stronger. May we join Him in what He has promised to do in our lives if we will only submit.
IV. “Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here” (vs. 8).
Another example of God keeping his promises. He will go and gather Israel from all the places they have been scattered. From jail cells, to market places, to street corners, to hospitals, and not just the people that we think are worthy of being returned to restoration. The blind, the lame, the pregnant woman who is in labor. People who didn’t have much to offer in the rebuild and God says I’m coming for you. We’re going back home, and we’re going to rebuild. Wherever you are at today, however far away from home you have run, God is saying come home. Whatever you have done, whatever you have lost, whatever you feel like have to offer, God is saying to you and to me, come home. Come rebuild. Come experience victory. You’re never too far gone. You’ll never have done too much to come home to Him. And He is not done with you until you breathe your last. So come home.
V. “For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for Him” (vs. 11).
Israel had no power in and of themselves to rescue or ransom themselves from captivity. The good news? God did. He made it clear to the nations, I’m coming for my people, and there is nothing you can do that can get in my way. Yes, the hands of the nation of the Babylonians were too strong for Israel, we see that in their capture and continued captivity. But Babylon was no match for God. He, like He promised, came and got His people. And He will do the same for us, if we would only ask. I get it. I know that what many of us face is too hard for us. That we don’t have the strength or energy or clarity to overcome what we are currently facing. Good news? God does. He is Omnipotent and nothing, nothing will stand in the way of what He has for us, not even ourselves. Recognize that your power comes from Him, and stay humble. Move forward with the recognition that in the coming days and weeks, things may be hard, but that God is well able to lead and guide you through to the promised land.
VI. “I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (vs. 13).
Not only does God restore the people of Israel to their homes, and to their lives, but he also restores their hearts, minds, and spirits. Their mourning would be turned to joy. Their loneliness and frustrations would be comforted. Their sorrow would be replaced with gladness. And He promises to do the same for us. To make us whole people who are filled with joy, freedom, peace. He promises to meet us in our hurts, disappointments, losses, and frustrations. He will be our comforter. He will lead and guide us not only physically to new places, but to new hearts, that are no longer captive to our feelings, our own desires, and instead, day by day, are being molded more into a heart that looks and acts like His.
VII. “My people will be satisfied by my goodness, declares the Lord” (vs. 14).
Of all the places that the Israelites had turned (idols, earthly leaders, sexual pleasures) all of these things had led them to destruction. The satisfaction that the people of Israel were looking for was found in the goodness of God, and so it is with us. We spend so much of our lives chasing after these things of this world, hoping that one day, it will get to a point where it will finally be enough. Enough sex, money, pleasure, entertainment, a good enough spouse, good enough kids, but God this whole time is saying to us, satisfaction is not found in all these earthly pleasures and treasures but in His very personhood and goodness. I pray that we would stop chasing after that which will not fulfill us, instead turning to the One who by His very nature is the One who can truly give us what we are truly seeking.
I know that was a lot, but I pray that you were encouraged today. I pray that you will know that God loves you with an everlasting, unfailing love, and that all He wants you to do is to come home. He’s waiting for you, and at the same time, pursuing your heart even as I write these words.
In today’s culture and climate, fear reigns supreme. Fear was already an issue before Covid 19, the rearing of the head of racial injustice, and this divisive political time period, but these things have just exacerbated our fears.
We fear the loss of our jobs in a turbulent job market. We fear the upcoming presidential election and what will happen in the next four years. We fear Covid, and the potential to sicken ourselves and our loved ones. Fear, fear, fear. It’s pervasive, and you see it on every news network, and in the speech of our politicians and leaders.
BUT God is not the author of fear. Even though there is much uncertainty going on in this time of complete chaos in our culture and world, we do not have to fear, for God still sits on His thrown unchanged. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that He has not given us a Spirit of fear.
I’ve recently been attempting to recover from a stronghold in my life. And it’s been tough. I’m worn out, drained, frustrated, and accompanying all that has been a lot of fear. I have gotten to the point where I usually get to, and it feels like the temptations are just breathing down my neck. Like how much longer can I hold on and live in obedience.
This morning I woke up still in this fearful state, and I went to the Lord in prayer, and he brought this verse to mind, and it really helped change my perspective on things.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
What this verse helped me recognize that even though fear is present in our lives naturally when hard things come, that fear does not have to control us. Fear is not from God, nor does he give us a Spirit of fear if we are His. Instead the Spirit that He has given us is a Spirit that is characterized by love, power, and self control.
The Apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:3-4 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
God has not only given us a Spirit that is characterized not by fear, but love, power, and self control, but He has also given us everything that we need to live a godly life. This should be an encouragement to us.
Today, whether you are like me, and facing the uphill battle of overcoming a stronghold, or whether you are dealing with the effects of the global pandemic, or anxiety over the decision of who to cast your vote for, or the pain of racial injustice, I pray that you would look to God, and look to Him as not the author of fear, but the author of peace, reconciliation, joy, love, and self control. That in these moments of fear, that you would look to Him, and see that He has got you, even when it feels like you are just free falling off a 150 foot cliff into a abyss that leads to nowhere.
I pray that you would know that God has a great plan for your life, and even though that life is not devoid of pain and suffering, that on the other side there is joy and freedom and peace, and that He will get you there. Your victory is coming.
So today, don’t let your pervasive fear of whatever you are experiencing in this life dictate how you live your life. Look upward. See the Father sitting on the throne, in control. See Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, who has interceded for us through the cross, and is continually interceding for us on our behalf. See the Holy Spirit giving us the strength to believe, convicting, encouraging, and bringing about change in our innermost parts.
In a world that is filled with pervasive fear, strife, anger, frustration, and division, we don’t have to have fear. We can have power. Love. And self control. And we can live lives that show that we will not be tossed about by every passing wind and storm, for our God is control, and He never changes.
In life, it is very easy to become discontented. The things that we should be thankful for become the things that we gripe and complain about the most. We don’t have to look very far to see this type of unrest in our culture, and within our own lives. Just look at sports fans. They win a championship one year, and if they don’t win one the next, they are disappointed. Same in our careers, our marriages, our lives in general. We are restless. We are unsatisfied. We have an insatiable appetite for more. If we are not moving forwards, our thoughts are that we are moving backwards, or becoming stagnant. What if instead of always striving for more, we were content with what we had, and if what we had, we saw as undeserved and provided by the gracious and good hand of God? This is the thought that the Lord put on my mind this morning.
I have been restless. Unsatisfied. Angry. Frustrated. Sad recently. Why? Because my life at the moment is not what I hoped it would be. I want more, and I have struggled to be content with what I currently have in my life. In my job. In my relationship status. In my overall outlook in life. I have just wanted more. And I have struggled to be content.
This morning as I laid in bed, tossing and turning, I heard the Lord (not audibly) but in my thoughts say to me, “Will you tire of this manna?”
It was an odd, but pointed question from the Lord. The reference to the manna made me think back to the story of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament, and how the Lord provided them with manna, bread from heaven. After days though of this same manna, the Israelites complained, and asked for something else.
Two thoughts came to me from this story. The first was that the manna was a gift and provision that was undeserved. The second thought was that even though the Israelites were being provided for and sustained physically by this manna, they grew tired of it. Instead of being thankful for the undeserved provision of the Lord, they were not content in what they were given.
In the question that the Lord asked me “Will you tire of this manna” what he was really asking me was three things: a) Do you recognize the good undeserved gracious gifts in your life? b) Will you be grateful and content in these good things? c) Or will you stay in this constant state of frustration and unrest because you refuse to recognize and be grateful for what you have?
Specifically what He was asking me was will you be thankful for the job that you struggle to be present for because it provides you with financial income, a place to live, food to eat, and means to live? Will you be thankful for the season of life in which you are single, and will you learn to be content in that? Will you stop coveting and being frustrated with others because they have what you want? Will you ultimately recognize all the things that you are not thrilled with in life, and will you hunt the good, and see the good and gracious golden nuggets that I have placed within each and every thing in your life?
I think the Lord encourages you to do the same today. Here are some helpful questions to digest.
What in your life can you be grateful for?
What good gifts has the Lord provided for you that you struggle to see as a gift?
In what ways today can you recognize the good and gracious hand of the Lord on your life?
Wherever you are at in life, will you be intentional about hunting the good?
I believe that being content in life begins with recognition, and then gratitude. Recognition of what we have been given that is totally undeserved, but graciously provided. And then open and vocal gratitude of those things.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Whether you have much today, or whether you have little, rejoice in what you have. This is where being content begins.
Our world is a mess. Ravaged by the Coronavirus. Divided by inequalities and racism and prejudices. Divided by politics. Earthquakes popping up in South Carolina, and bombs going off in Beirut. It’s out of control. And usually when we feel out of control, our natural human inclination is try to once again gain control of the situation, but as I have found, and maybe you have found to be true too, the more we try to control a situation, the more we feel out of control, and our frustration and despair rises. Our only hope for joy and peace in the midst of turbulent times (as well as good times) is to recognize that we are not in control, but there is one who is, Jesus, and joyfully submitting to Him.
I like to have control over my life, and it’s difficult to give over that control to someone else. It’s hard to trust someone that much, and that deep, that you are willing to give up any and all control over your life, and let someone else lead you. But this is what Jesus asks us to do. To die to ourselves, and live for Him, and His Kingdom. I struggle with this because I want to control my life. I want to control my happiness, and my career, and my direction. But the more and more that I have tried to control my life, the more and more that I have been frustrated and angry because at the end of the day, I see that I have no control over my life really whatsoever.
For example, I can take precautions to not get COVID. I can wash my hands, social distance, and wear a mask, but this does not ultimately determine if I get it or not. I can do all the right things health wise, and still get it. I know people who have. Thankfully I have not. Or on a less serious note, I can go through a drive thru to get food, and I can give them my order, but that does not determine that they will get my order right. At the end of the day, I am in the hands of God, and in my flesh, that is a frustrating, and maddening prospect. That when it truly comes down to it, I control nothing. I make decisions, and have free will, but at the end of the day, God is the one who has the final say in all that happens.
I was at church small group a couple weeks ago, and was just in a place, where I was feeling the frustrations of seeing more and more that I really had no control over my life. That Sunday we had talked about humility, and that humility is the recognition of who we are in light of who God is. On that Wednesday, we read this passage, Psalm 135:1-12, that really produced in my heart joy.
Praise the Lord! Praise the name of the Lord, give praise, O servants of the Lord, who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God! Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant! For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession. For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses. He it waswho struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and of beast; who in your midst, O Egypt, sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants; who struck down many nations and killed mighty kings, Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan, and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel.
As I read this passage, I pictured myself in the story with the psalmist as he is recounting all that the Lord does. And in the psalmist, I didn’t hear in his voice or tone anger or frustration at the fact that it was not him who had control, but God. What I heard and saw was this peace and joy and submission to the recognition of God’s sovereign control over all things, and the Psalmist resting in this. What I heard and sensed was true freedom. An exhaling of breath.
I took the liberty of underlining in this passage what the Psalmist recognized that the Lord controlled:
The Lord chose Jacob for Himself, Israel as His own possession
He makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth
He makes lightning for rain
He brings forth the wind from his storehouses
He struck down the firstborn of Egypt
He sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants
He struck down many nations
He killed mighty kings
He gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel.
Now this is not an exhaustive list of all that God does, because that list would be way, way, longer. But these are ways in which the Psalmist recognizes the sovereign hand of God.
Depending on what side of the coin you are on, this passage can be either frightening or joyful. As Jonathan Edwards pointed out, it is a frightful thing to be a sinner in the hands of a Holy God. On the other hand, if we are a beloved son or daughter of God, then seeing that we don’t have the control that we thought we had, but that it is God who does, should bring us joy and peace. Why? Because ultimately the God who is in control of all things is a good and loving Father, who cares about our well being, and everything that He does, whether it is painful, or stretches us, or is uncomfortable, is ultimately for our good. That is why we, like the Psalmist, can joyfully submit, because we know our good and loving Heavenly Father is holding us, and that He knows best. He sees the full picture.
Now the real question is for you and I is, will we submit?
Will we stop trying to hold onto this perceived notion that we are in control, and instead recognize who we are in light of who God is?
Will we recognize that when we joyfully submit to God, to His plan, His will, it’s ultimately the thing that brings us the joy and peace that we’ve been looking for all along?
I know I still struggle with this. Struggle to let go, and rest in His sovereign control over my life. On a side note, just because I’m saying that God controls all, does not mean that our decisions and choices don’t matter. They do. And we are still responsible. But ultimately God brings to pass all that He sees fit. And all that He sees fit is absolutely perfect and good.
My prayer for myself and for you would be that we would trust God fully and deeply like the Psalmist. That we would recognize that we are not in control. And instead of getting frustrated and angry, or despair at that realization, that we would instead joyfully submit all our anxieties, questions, anger, frustrations, to the Lord, and rest in His all encompassing love and control. He is good. He is loving. That is why we can rest in His presence, and know that He has all of this under control.