The Incarnation Of Jesus Christ!

-God Writing Himself Into The Story!

A while back I finished a 4-book series of novels in which the author admitted, in the end, that the main character, in the story, was someone very similar to himself as he was growing up. I can see how that could be tempting to a writer. It would be a way of transferring his thoughts, his feelings; and, his opinions into the story; and, expressing them through a character.  I came across a Bible study by Thomas Lancaster, called the Chronicles of the Messiah, in which he described Jesus’ entry into the world from the viewpoint of a writer. Let me read a portion to you: “An author is writing a novel. He creates the settings, situations, stories, and plotlines, and populates his novel with characters. He likes the characters he created so much that he wants to interact with them but he cannot because the novel is his creation. It’s just a story. The characters in the book cannot hear the author; they cannot see him; they cannot experience him because the author completely transcends the words written on a page. What does the author do? He writes himself into the novel as one of the characters, creating a written story-version of himself with which the characters can interact.” Is that not exactly what God has done? He’s written Himself into His story!

-The Word Dwelt Among Us!

The Word became flesh,” John, the Gospel writer was INSPIRED by God to write, “and, God (the Word) dwelt among us.” From the beginning of creation, God desired to be present with His people. The story begins in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, with God, Himself, walking in the Garden with Adam; and, then Eve, in community with them. And, the story ends in the book of Revelation, chapter 21, with God tabernacling with humanity for all eternity in the new heavens & the new earth. It says, “He (God) will pitch a tent and live among us.”  And, all of God’s interaction with people in between the start of His story; and, the end of the story reveals God’s great desire to be with us! But, never has God’s desire to interact with us been more indisputable than when He set aside His heavenly robes; and, wrapped Himself in flesh to enter the world He created as Jesus Christ!

-The Absolute Uniqueness Of Jesus!

Never has our world seen anyone else like Jesus. No single person has ever impacted our world like Jesus has. And, because of Jesus’ absolute uniqueness, He is worthy of our love, our worship, our loyalty; and, our devotion. In all the stories of humanity, Jesus’ story is the most unique of all!  God has written Himself into the story of human history as Jesus, the 2nd member of the triune Godhead; and, He has severely & forever changed mankind’s trajectory from death & destruction to life & restoration. In pondering Jesus’ uniqueness, what words come to mind when you think of God as the Scriptures reveal Him in Jesus?

-God’s Character!

How would you describe His character? Do you remember when the disciples observed the way that Jesus prayed; and, they asked Him to teach them how to pray? And, He answered them, “When you pray, pray like this…” And, He went on to outline what we have called “The Lord’s Prayer”; though, He never intended that we would mindlessly repeat those words over & over like some kind of chant. He was giving them a pattern or the way to pray— pray LIKE THIS… And, in Luke ch.11, He says to begin by remembering who you’re talking to: “Father, Your name be honored as holy.” That’s how I begin my prayer time each day. I begin by remembering & praising God for who He is. In Scripture, God’s “name” refers to His character! He is love, mercy, grace, kindness, faithful, transcendent, holy, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent! He’s benevolent, immutable, righteous & just! And, that was the character of God incarnate; or, Jesus in the flesh!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Your Idols Exposed!

-Are You Aware Of Your Idols?

For the Prophet Jonah, it doesn’t appear that he was aware of his “idols” until God exposed them! He had been a faithful minister of God’s word to his people; and, to his family! But, when God’s Word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, his idols were exposed— his national pride, his family; and, even his present ministry was more important to him than obedience to God’s will! That’s the definition of an idol! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that— your idol has been exposed!

-What’s Your Idol?

Is your job or your home or your kids or grandkids off limits to God? Are you unwilling to let God take them to a foreign field to share the gospel with a foreign people? In your heart, is God free to use your kids; or, grandkids, as He wills? Or, are you demanding that they stay close to home? Are you willing to let God change your job? Are you willing to let Him move you? What if it was God’s strategy to move some of us to a “lesser” part of town? Oh, we couldn’t do that—it’s not “SAFE”! There’s your idol: SAFETY! Or, perhaps, racism might be the underlying idol! There was some of that going on with Jonah. He saw his people (Israel) as better; or, more deserving than the Ninevites, to whom God wanted to send him!

-Fleeing From The Lord’s Presence!

And, so, it says that Jonah determined to “…flee from the Lord’s presence…” (1:3). And, he found a ship to take him! Listen, Satan will always have a “ship” waiting in the harbor, to take you away in the opposite direction from God’s will! But, for Jonah God used a big fish to intersect with His disobedient prophet; and, get him back on course to Ninevah where he preached God’s word; and, the Ninevites repented; and, turned to God. The 3rd chapter, of Jonah, ends with these words:  “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it” (v.10). 

-Merciful & Compassionate God!

So, Jonah responded to their spiritual revival by shouting praise to God, right? No! In fact, it says, “Jonah was greatly displeased & became furious. He prayed to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful & compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love & One who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” 4:1-3. Really? That just doesn’t seem possible that a prophet, of God, would become furious with God for saving an entire city! Now, there was an underlying reason for Jonah’s anger! He was prejudiced!

-The Sin Of Prejudice!

For God to make us useful, for His kingdom purposes, He has to unmask all of our prejudices also. Jonah had swallowed some bad doctrine! He believed that God was “FOR” Israel; and, He was “AGAINST” everyone else! All the wicked people, of Ninevah, for example; whom, God intended to save by Jonah’s preaching of the gospel. It’s that scandal of grace! Our prideful flesh wants to believe that the gospel is for “good people”…. like us! Like our nation! Jonah was offended that God would extend grace to a wicked people like Assyria! He was prejudiced against them! We need to beware of the danger of national pride, church! I fear that many, in the American church, have been trekking down that slippery slope over the last 40-some years! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation; or, religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group! That’s our calling!

How God Makes Us Useful!

-Looking For The Blessed Life!

Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples! All of us!  When we refuse to be obedient to that calling we find ourselves in the unhappy position that Jonah found himself in when he refused to warn the Ninevites of God’s judgment if they failed to repent! We’re all looking for the blessed life! But it’s not nearly as elusive as we think it is! The blessed life, that we’re all looking for, is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of our lives in God’s work in other people! God would make Jonah useful in His big kingdom plans; and, there’s some real application here for us. He will do what He needs to do to make us useful.

-God Makes Us Uncomfortable!

There are several examples in Jonah’s life story. First, to make us useful, God makes us uncomfortable. If you take a look at a Bible map from around that time, you’ll see Assyria to the north of Israel. And, there’s a city on the Tigris River named Ninevah. It’s the very city that God told Jonah to go preach to. Ninevah was the nation’s capital of Assyria; and, the thought of going to Ninevah made Jonah very uncomfortable. These were dangerous times! Assyria hated Israel; and, they had slowly been occupying their land to the north. In fact, in less than 70 years, from Jonah’s time, Assyria will become such a power in the region that it will overrun the northern kingdom of Israel; and, take most of the people still alive into captivity. And, it’s into that environment that God says to Jonah:  “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their wickedness has confronted Me” (Jonah 1:2).

-An Uncomfortable Comparison!

Let me try & paint a picture for you of how that would look for us. Let’s say it was September 2001; and, some bad guys from Iraq or Iran just took down the twin towers in New York City. Our nation was preparing to go to war! Everyone’s gotten all patriotic, in America; because, another people dared to attack us. And, let’s say that out of nowhere, it seems, God delivers YOU a message:  “Get up! Go to the lands of Iraq & Iran and preach against it.” How would you feel about that? You would feel a lot like Jonah did when God told him to go preach God’s word to Ninevah.

-It’s Easy To Cast Judgment!

God totally rocked Jonah’s world! He had a successful ministry going on at home; and, he was comfortable with that! He was ministering to his people; and, now God was telling him to get up & go to an unfamiliar land occupied by his enemies! It’s easy for the average Christian, in America, to read about Jonah & cast judgment, isn’t it? But, if we take into consideration all that background information, let’s be honest—doing what God told us to do would make us pretty uncomfortable! God makes us useful, first, by putting us in uncomfortable situations. But, He also intends to expose our idols! Until we denounce our idols we’re not useful to Him!

-Denounce All Idols!

Most of us aren’t even aware that we have idols, in our life. And, it appears that Jonah was unaware of his own idols until God shook him up & made him uncomfortable! He was faithful! He poured his heart into his ministry; and, into his family! But, when God’s word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, God exposed his idols! What were his idols? His home, his family; and, his ministry! All great things! All blessings from God! But, when they became more important to him than obedience to God’s will, they became idols! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that, your idol has just been exposed! Are your job, your home, your kids, or your grandkids “off-limits” to God? Are you willing to let God take you; or, them, to a foreign field to serve Him & a foreign people? If you’re unwilling, then, God’s gifts, to you, have become your idols! Confess it & repent!

An Impossible Situation!

-When There’s No Happy Ending!

The Prophet Daniel, in the Old Testament book named after him, shows us how to live faithfully; even when life doesn’t have a happy ending! His country overrun by the brutal King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon; and, his parents perhaps slain right before his eyes; Daniel, nonetheless, remained faithful! He refused to defile himself by the ungodly culture around him; and, God blessed him for it! The 1st chapter reveals that; after enduring a 3-year period of training intended to indoctrinate him in the ways of the Babylonians, “…no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to serve in the king’s court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them 10 times better than all the diviner-priests and mediums in his entire kingdom” (1:19-20). 

-Bad Dreams & Insomnia!

The 2nd chapter, of Daniel, opens with a bad dreams; and, a case of insomnia for King Nebuchadnezzar. In v.2, he calls together all his diviner-priests, mediums, and sorcerers; and, gives them an impossible situation— he demands not only the meaning of his dream; but, he also demands that they tell him what he dreamed! Not because he forgot; but, because he was testing them; and, when they couldn’t deliver, he sends an assassin to kill them all.  That’s when God shows us, through Daniel, how to respond to an impossible situation.

-With Tact & Discretion!

The text, v.14, says, “Then Daniel responded with tact and discretion…” as he spoke to the COMMANDER of the king’s guard. In v.16 it says, “…Daniel went and asked the king to give him some time, so that he could give the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah about the matter, urging them to ask the God of heaven for mercy concerning this mystery, so Daniel and his friends would not be killed with the rest of Babylon’s wise men.” Notice that he responded to this impossible situation by taking it to his “faith community”; and, then, praying together until God answered.

-God Is Never Surprised!

It says God, “…revealed the mystery to Daniel in a vision at night.” Daniel shows us how to respond to the impossible situations in life. He lived out his faith— that God was Sovereign! That He was in the details! That He is never surprised! That He’s actually choreographing the impossible situations in life, in time; and, in history for His ultimate purpose! God was revealing Himself to King Nebuchadnezzar! Through Daniel’s story, God shows us how to live a “well done, good & faithful servant” kind of life; even, when the future looks bleak and scary! So, Daniel comes into the king’s presence; and, tells him that God had revealed to him, in his dream, things about the future!

-Give God The Glory!

And, I love Daniel’s humility! He takes no credit; but, he gives God the glory:  “…there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has let King Nebuchadnezzar know what will happen in the last days. Your dream and the visions that came into your mind as you lay in bed were these: Your Majesty, while you were in your bed, thoughts came to your mind about what will happen in the future. The revealer of mysteries has let you know what will happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but in order that the interpretation might be made known to the king & that you may understand the thoughts of your mind” (v.28-30). That’s awesome! “I don’t want you to think that I have the dream & interpretation because I’m smarter than everyone else. This is a God thing, King Nebuchadnezzar! The God of heaven crashed your dreams; and, He’s got big plans to share with you!

Well Done Daniel!

-Action Thrillers!

You don’t have to know me very long to know that I love “action” movies like Star Wars; and, Marvel Comics movies; and, Mission Impossible! That kind of stuff! Those are the kind of books I love to read also— thrillers; like Ted Dekker & Joel Rosenberg books! That’s probably why I became such a big fan of the Old Testament book of Daniel after I came to faith in Jesus as a Junior Higher! I remember sitting by the record player (do you all remember those?); and, listening over & over to a recording of the action highlights of the book of Daniel being dramatized! The lion’s den! And, his 3 friends in the fiery furnace! I loved it! I couldn’t imagine a more action-packed story.

-The Back Story To Daniel!

When I went off to Bible college I became fascinated with all the end-time prophecies in the book of Daniel. I remember evangelists preaching in chapel; and, using the book of Daniel to show us where we were on God’s prophetic calendar. As I’ve gone deeper in God’s word; and, matured in my faith, I’ve discovered another storyline that weaves through Daniel’s book that was hardly broached in Sunday School; or, even in Bible college. It’s the back story of the lion’s den & the fiery furnace. It’s the story of Daniel’s faith in God; and, how he lived out his faith in one of the most wicked environments the world has ever known.

-Well Done, Good & Faithful Servant!

Through Daniel’s story, God shows us how to live a, “well done, good & faithful servant” kind of life. Let me explain! In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, we find one of Jesus’ parables recorded, “The Parable Of The Talents.” In the parable, God is represented as a master who gives various talents to his servants; and, to those who use their talents faithfully, he says:  “Well done good & faithful servant.” If you’ve ever read the book of Daniel, you know that, despite of great pain & disappointment in his life, Daniel lived that kind of life—a “Well done good & faithful servant” kind of life! I long to use my life; and, I pray you long to live yours in such a way that you would hear those words someday when you stand before Jesus; and, give an account of your life:  “Well done good & faithful servant!”

-Responding To Everyday Issues!

It is my intent, over the next few posts, to show you how God helped Daniel respond to the everyday issues of life. Right from the start, God shows us how to respond when life isn’t happy! Daniel’s story begins, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God…” (1:1-2). This is the result of God’s judgment. All God’s warnings to Israel, through the prophets, went unheeded; so, the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar to lay siege against Jerusalem! This was God’s Sovereign work— “The Lord handed Jehoiakim…over…”

-A Story Birthed In Pain!

No one would have made a movie out of the start of Daniel’s life. His story is birthed in pain, suffering & separation! Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, was not a very nice man! History records him as one of the most brutal, powerful & ambitious kings the world has ever known! He was arrogant & ruthless! His strategy for assimilating a conquered foe was to remove young royalty, like Daniel, from their homes; usually, killing their parents right before their eyes! Daniel’s world was flipped upside down. He was uprooted from his homeland; and, carried off to a middle eastern country he didn’t know to learn a new culture & a new language. And, Daniel shows us how to live even when life doesn’t have a happy ending. The rest of chapter 1 finds him determined to stay faithful to God. He refused to defile himself by the ungodly culture around him; and, God blessed him for his faithfulness! We’ll dig into that in our next post!

God Keeps His Word!

-A Compassionate & Gracious God!

Over the last couple of posts, we’ve talked about the Prophet Jeremiah; and, the words he wrote in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. What Jeremiah says about God, reminded me of the words of the Psalmist:  “But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” Psalm 86:15. And it was Jesus, the 2nd Member of the Triune Godhead, who manifested all of the Father’s attributes & character, in the flesh, throughout His 33 1/2 years He walked this planet He created! He showed great compassion and mercy!

-Moved With Compassion!

He wept with friends at Lazarus’ grave! He was moved with compassion by all of the suffering around Him; and, He healed many who sought His help! It’s because of Jesus that we can never doubt the Father’s mercy & compassion toward us! And, it was Jeremiah, who observed that God had an endless supply of mercy that He shared with the suffering Jewish people. Jeremiah also observed that we can have hope in our suffering because God is faithful to His Word. “…GREAT is your faithfulness!” Jeremiah exclaimed (Lamentations 3:23). God is great in faithfulness! We can trust His character!

-God Is Who He Says He Is!

We can trust Him to be who He says He is! “Lord, Your word is forever; it is firmly fixed in heaven. Your faithfulness is for all generations; You established the earth, and it stands firm” (Psalm 119:89-90). The Apostle Paul encouraged Titus with, “…the hope of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Titus 1:2). And, remember, we’ve said previously that that word “hope”— in Scripture— means “confident expectation.” It’s not anything like the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that is common in our culture! So, Paul is reminding Titus about the “confident expectation” that we have, “…of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” When God makes a promise He keeps His word! He is faithful to keep His word because of His character— it’s impossible for God to lie!

-God Never Changes!

And, by way of the consistency of His character, we speak about God’s “immutability”; or, the fact that He never changes! He’s the same yesterday, today; and, forever! God will always be who He’s always been! He’s faithful! So, when Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a new place for them; and, that He would come back for them, you can count on Him to deliver! And, the worst day in heaven will still be infinitely better than the best day here! Paul said that “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And, then, Jeremiah offers us another reason for hope:  “I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24). The Lord is our portion!

-The Lord Is Our Portion!

That word, “portion”, is often translated as “inheritance” in Scripture! I would paraphrase Jeremiah’s words like this:  “I may have lost everything because of Babylon’s invasion; but, I’m looking at gaining God, Himself, as an inheritance that’ll make all this pain & suffering a distant memory.” God is the portion or inheritance that Jeremiah longed for! I want to suggest that the modern church has misplaced infatuation with heaven! The real portion; or, the great inheritance we look forward to is NOT a “place”; but, a “Person”! Jeremiah doesn’t say, “…HEAVEN is my portion…” He says, “…The LORD is my portion…” When we leave this world, we get God if we’ve trusted His Son, Jesus, for our salvation! We inherit God! He is the treasure we seek! The book of Revelation says that one day, in that place that Jesus is preparing for us right now, that God, Himself, will pitch a tent and live among us (Revelation 21:3). He is our HOPE!

Hope In Suffering!

-We’re Permitted To Grieve!

We opened our Bible to the O.T. book of Lamentations, in our last post; and, discovered that the Prophet Jeremiah & the nation of Israel were in a world of hurt! Jeremiah feels it personally; and, for his people! And, God’s word tells us that there is a place for that. The N.T. book of Romans tells us to, “weep with those who weep.” We’re permitted to grieve! But, we’re also told not to grieve in the same way that unbelievers do; like, those with no hope! Lamenting is appropriate in times of pain & struggle. But, we’re also instructed that the pain & struggle should give way to repentance & hope!

-God’s Faithful Love Offers Hope!

Because of God’s faithful love, there is hope in suffering! “I call this to mind,” Jeremiah writes, “and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:21-24). And, let me remind you that “hope” in Scripture is completely different than the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that the word means in today’s culture. The “hope” in God’s Word is a “confident expectation.”

-A Confident Expectation!

Jeremiah— inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write this— has “hope”; or, a confident expectation despite his suffering and pain; because, of God’s faithful love. He chooses to focus on God’s character rather than the circumstances of his pain & suffering. “I call this to mind,” he says; that, “God’s love is faithful.” He refuses to live under the circumstances! To neither dwell on the past or the current suffering; but, to be forward in his thinking; that, God’s love is faithful! Whatever our current state of life, God’s love is not negated! The ESV translation says, “…the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” The MESSAGE paraphrases it, “God’s loyal love.” God is loyal to us!

-Don’t Doubt God’s Loyalty!

Don’t let the undesirable events in your life give you any cause to doubt God’s loyalty! If you’ve believed in Jesus you’ve been adopted into God’s family. And, while the enemy hopes to crush you under the struggles of life, God is acting like a loving Father & He’s acting on the junk in your life, intending to grow your faith & give you “HOPE”—a “confident expectation” that He will continue to come through for you! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome that “hope” is produced through our suffering:  “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” Romans 5:2-5.

-Rejoice In Afflictions!

God is showing us His faithful love toward us by choreographing the painful struggles into our lives, Paul says; because they are for our good! He uses them to help us grow spiritually; so, rejoice in the “affliction” because it produces “endurance” which produces “character” which produces “hope”—that “confident expectation” in God’s ability to use the struggles to strengthen our faith! So, don’t fight Him! Enduring the struggles will always eventually produce hope if we’re submitted to God’s Spirit because that’s what the Spirit produces in us; and, He uses the painful stuff in life to generate it. But, then, Jeremiah says that there is hope; or, a confident expectation, even in suffering, because God’s mercy never ends (v.22). Some translations say, “…through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not…” This is what Jeremiah called to mind! We need God’s help to call these same truths to mind.

Put Your Hope In God!

-The Uncertainties Of Life!

We live in a world so full of uncertainty that organizations have developed “uncertainty indices” to measure the uncertainty people feel over economic policies & geopolitical risk & government corruption! Seems like, whatever the uncertainty, someone has an index to measure it! We deal with escalated uncertainties, it seems every day. We all go through periods where we live with uncertainty over our jobs; and, therefore, our money. There’s uncertainty in many of our relationships; and, even our faith. About the time we feel good & certain about things, life just happens & throws a wrench in there to mess it all up.

-A Routine Doctor Visit!

All it takes is one routine doctor visit to uncover something unexpected about our health; and, that creates anxiety & uncertainty about what’s next. The one seemingly casual meeting, with your boss, can take you from feeling good about your job to look for a new one! Some of you have been blindsided by a fight or an event with your spouse that left you feeling very uncertain about where your relationship stood! Sometimes individuals feel so helpless & their uncertainty so unbearable that they feel like the only way out is to take their own lives. Our hearts ought to ache for anyone who feels so helpless that suicide is their response. Life is a precious gift from God to be cherished.

-Great Purpose In Life!

Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychotherapist who survived the ghastly holocaust at the Nazi’s Auschwitz concentration camp. Frankl’s wife, mother & brother were all murdered by the Nazi’s; and, he concluded, after observing those who survived & those who did not, that “…when there is a driving passion or a great purpose in life, the physical body is more likely to survive.”  He detected a strange phenomenon in those physically intolerable & life-suffocating concentration camps—survival did not appear to depend on the physical health of the inmates! Often, the young, the healthy & the strong would die while the old, frail & sickly would survive! He said that those who did survive had a common sense of purpose & hope for the future.

-A Book Of Lamentations!

If you’ve spent some time reading the Old Testament prophets, you’ve probably noticed a very short book, of 5 chapters in length, right smack dab between Jeremiah & Ezekiel called Lamentations. As you read it you get a sense of the hopelessness that Jeremiah & the Jewish people felt over their uncertain situation. They were under God’s judgment because of their sin! The nation of Babylon had attacked them, killed many of their people; and, taken the rest into captivity. They’d leveled the walls around the city of Jerusalem; and, burned the temple of God to the ground.

-God, My Portion!

Tradition says that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations from a mountain that overlooked the city; where he wept & cried over the desolation. And, I find it significant that amid Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem; and, their punishment & their suffering, that we find a triumphant word of hope in chapter 3, verses 21-24, “Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.” It’s like Jeremiah suddenly reminds himself about God’s character; and, of God’s promise to Israel to return them to the Promised Land one day in the future. Twice he used the word “hope.” Unlike our finger-crossing kind of hope, this hope is a “confident expectation.” Jeremiah remained strong, with confident expectation, despite the suffering he endured!

What About Pain & Suffering?

-Can People Change?

There’s a scene, from the 2005 movie “16 Blocks”, starring Bruce Willis, where a prisoner that Willis’ character has to escort to trial, at the courthouse, tells him that, “People can change,” whereupon Willis’ character responds, “Days change. Seasons change. Not people.” So, what do you think? Can people change? Is it possible for people to change? Can we lose weight & keep it off? Can we do a better job at the job? Can our spouse ever change some of their ways?

-Hoping Church Will Change You?

I have found, through the years, that people often come to church wanting to change! To get better! To kick some old, bad habit! They’re hopeful that God might help them change! I’ve also watched people get frustrated & impatient when the change isn’t enough; or, it doesn’t happen fast enough! And, they begin to question whether faith, in God, really works! Back a couple of years ago I watched the trailer for a movie titled, “An Interview With God.” It dealt with perhaps the most difficult of all difficult questions:  “Why does God allow pain, suffering & Hurt? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it?” The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to address, in part, that difficult question.

-An Interview With God!

Think of it as a kind of interview with God, as we note what God has to say about pain & suffering! In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive message on the subject; but, hopefully helps us put together a bit of a Biblical theology on pain and suffering. Here’s what Jeremiah’s inspired text has to say about it:  God intends to train us, through life’s painful events, to trust His faithfulness & to look forward to redemption. Now, that’s certainly not the way Satan plans to use suffering! The enemy intends to use painful circumstances, in our lives, to destroy us. But, if you’ll trust God THROUGH the painful events, He’ll use those things to change you & to make you more like Jesus, our suffering Savior!

-No One Was Coming To Help!

At the time Jeremiah wrote down the words of his book, the end was very close for Judah & Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar & the armies of Babylon are at the gates of the city! Jerusalem has been under siege for more than a year & they’re experiencing severe famine. It says that there was no bread to be found anywhere in the city; and, there was no relief in sight! There was no one coming to help them! That’s the background to Jeremiah, chapters 30, 31, and 32. Here’s why this is important to us:  because the response, of the Jewish people, is so similar to our response to pain. Our default response to pain, suffering, and, struggles is to blame shift! And, all too often, we shift blame to God! We curse Him for our difficulties! That’s true, isn’t it?

-In Time You’ll Understand!

Here’s God’s response:  “Why do you cry out about your injury? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins “ Jeremiah 30:15. Get the picture? In a modern translation, God is saying, “Why are you crying? Stop it! I’ve done this to you! But, it’s not what I wanted to do to you! I wanted to bless you! But, you’re guilty of so much sin I can’t even count ‘em all!” The chapter finishes like this: “Look, a storm from the Lord! Wrath has gone out, a churning storm. It will whirl about the heads of the wicked. The Lord’s burning anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come, you will understand it” (30:23-24). So, God intended to unleash His wrath, against sinful Jerusalem, until they, “…come to understand…” that they were the problem, NOT God. Until they’re broken over their sin! We’ll get into this a little deeper next time!