I Come Quickly

~This Is My Last Post Until Wednesday, September 14th~

-The Bible’s Last Chapter

It’s nearly impossible to miss the theme of the very last chapter of the Bible. Three times, in Revelation chapter 22, Jesus speaks of His plan to return:  “Look! I am coming quickly,” He says in v.7, 12, and 20.  It’s unmistakable! Jesus wants the world to know that, even as He fulfilled the prophecies of His 1st coming; so He will fulfill all the promises of His 2nd coming! And, He doesn’t want anyone to miss it! He wants everyone to know that He’s coming back. And, when He does, it will happen quickly. Some have misread Jesus’ words to mean that He said He was returning “soon” when He told John to write down these words; as in chronologically, it would happen soon. And, because it’s been 2000 years since He said this, they say it’s not going to happen! But, Jesus didn’t mean that He would come “soon”; as in chronologically! He uses the word “quickly” which means suddenly!

-His Return Will Be Sudden

When He returns, it will be sudden! There will be no time to prepare because it will happen so quickly! That means you have to be ready! You have to make your preparations before His return, or it will be too late. That’s the intent of Jesus’ words. Make your preparations now to confess your sin & your brokenness! Make your preparations now to ask Jesus to be your Savior from sin! Make your preparations now to be reconciled with God. There’s a sense of urgency! If you think you’ll wait to see if Jesus actually returns, before you give Him your life, it’ll be too late because His coming will be sudden & quick, with no warning other than what we’ve been given in Scripture. When Jesus returns there will be no time to get ready! You have to be ready!

-Are You Prepared For His Return?

Here’s what’s tragic— most people are better prepared for bad weather than they are for Jesus’ return! Right? You need to be prepared! Some of you aren’t prepared! Why? Why would you put yourself in such a vulnerable position? This is the All-Mighty God of creation we’re talking about! Why would you put Him off? Why would you ignore what He’s spoken to you in His Word? When you are truly prepared for Jesus’ return, there’ll be no place you’d rather be than with Him.  The description of the new heavens & the new earth, in Revelation 22:1-5, is a continuation from the previous chapter when an angel shows up & begins to give the Apostle John a tour (Revelation 21:9). He sees a pure river that flowed with the “water of life.”

-Hunger And Thirst

And, God told John, “I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts” (21:6). You may remember that Jesus shared similar words in His Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). If you don’t hunger & thirst after God and His righteousness than heaven won’t suit you & you’re not prepared for Jesus’ return. Your life is still wrapped up in this world:  “…the LUST of the flesh, the LUST of the eyes & the PRIDE in one’s lifestyle…” 1 John 2:16.  If that’s what you live for, you won’t like heaven! But, if you thirst for holiness; if you thirst to be more like Jesus, then you’re prepared for His return! Your thirst will be satisfied by the river flowing from the holy, righteous, pure “…throne of God and of the Lamb…” (22:1,2).  And, the Tree of Life will also be there (v.2). And, what’s on heaven’s menu? Probably not McDonalds! We’ll come back to that next week!

Joy In Our Trials

-Consider It A Great Joy!

In James’ introduction to his epistle, by the same name, the Spirit of God prompts him to write:  “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials” (1:2). Say what? Did he just say that we ought to consider it “joy” whenever we’re facing trials?  Yup, sure did! So, what are some of our natural responses to difficulties and problems? Not very joyful are they? Because of our sinful flesh, our natural response is never going to please God, is it? Our flesh always wants to please our flesh. A spiritual response of “joy” is counter-intuitive for us! It’s NOT natural! It’s God’s work in us!

-An Unavoidable Situation

That phrase, “…whenever you experience various trials…” is interesting.  It literally means that it’s an “unavoidable” situation! It’s not “IF” you will experience trials; but, “WHEN.” In other words, you cannot prevent it! You cannot control the various trials of life. I fear that some of you have gone through life feeling a great sense of guilt. You’ve convinced yourself that the reason you’ve had that crisis in your life is that you’ve done something wrong, and God is getting back at you for it! That He’s out to get you! That’s not the case! That’s not the loving, gracious, merciful God who eagerly forgives our sin when we confess it; and cleanses us for our unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-10). When James uses the word “consider” in that verse, he means for us to make a conscious commitment. We have to make a conscious commitment that whenever trials or tests or troubles come that we’re going to count it “joy” because it means that God is working in us! He’s using us for His purposes!

-God Puts You On Display!

If this becomes a struggle for you, let me offer you some Scripture to put to memory! When you memorize Scripture, you give God’s Holy Spirit the tools He uses to strengthen your faith and correct your walk with God! The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Church of Corinth:  “But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).  God uses the tests & trials in your life to put you on display! “Here’s Jesus in the flesh,” He tells the unbelieving world. He’s announcing to everyone around you! He wants to show the world, by your response to the testing, that Jesus is more valuable to you than a perfect life without struggles; that you still pursue Him despite your trials! 

-Spiritual Maturity!

James is teaching his readers to let God use the testing to produce spiritual maturity in their life. It’s “…the testing of your faith…” he says in v.3 that produces “endurance.” One of our former members, who’s moved away, runs marathons. A marathon is 26.2 miles. He didn’t just start running marathons one day. In fact, if you ask him how far he could run when he started, he’d tell you he wasn’t able to get past the 1-mile mark. But, he kept running, stretching it out to 5 miles; then 10, 15, and 20. Until he could endure 26.2 miles. That’s what the testing of our faith produces is endurance, James says. When you’re a new believer you get tripped up easily over every little test in life. But, God uses it to build spiritual endurance in us! That’s why we consider it joy! We don’t consider it joy because we enjoy the trials. Rather, we face the trials with a joyful heart because we know that God is using those things to produce spiritual endurance in us. It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

The Testing Of Your Faith

-A Terrible Secret!

The daughter of missionaries, to the Congo Republic, told the story of her participation in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st missionaries coming to that part of Africa. It was a huge celebration to commemorate the lasting impact of the work of those original missionaries. Special speakers were invited. There was lots of special worship music, festive meals, and many other planned activities.  At one point, she said that an aged native came forward & introduced himself as the last person alive who was privy to a terrible secret.

-They Tested Their Sincerity!

The old man confessed that 100 years earlier, his ancestors didn’t know whether to believe the message those 1st missionaries brought. So, to test the sincerity of the missionaries, they devised a plan. Slowly, secretly, and systematically they began poisoning the missionaries. Then, they watched intently as mothers said goodbye to children; husbands said goodbye to their wives, and friends said goodbye to one another. The old man explained that it was only as they saw how the missionaries died, that the truth of their message was confirmed. As a result, many came to believe & embrace the gospel message!

-A Faith That Remained Firm!

They observed a faith that remained as firm in death, as it was in life. It’s in James, chapter 1, where the writer— James; Jesus 1/2 brother— began his epistle like this:  “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad…” Let me tell you why that introduction is significant. He’s writing to Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who have been “dispersed” or scattered in persecution for their faith. James’ purpose, for writing this letter, was to encourage them & offer them a basis & a reason for their suffering! To teach them that their pain was not pointless! That God had a purpose for it!

-On Display In An Unbelieving World!

And, part of His purpose for the pain & the suffering & the setbacks we endure, is to put us on display in an unbelieving world. The genuineness & quality of our faith is most visible & apparent during times of intense pain and testing. In other words, the gospel is seen most plainly & Jesus is seen as most valuable when we continue to pursue Him even during life’s trials & tests. Jesus’ ministry was authenticated, in part, by His response to betrayal, to false testimony & to His unlawful death. And, because He did not condemn them; but, said “Father, forgive them”, we see centurions & soldiers & many of the priests (who approved of His crucifixion) coming to believe in Him!

-Jesus In The Flesh!

There are people all around us who need to see Jesus in the flesh before they’ll believe! Like the 1st believers in the Congo, they need to see our response to pain, suffering & setbacks before they’ll come to faith and believe in the Jesus you say you believe in. James continued from his opening sentence with these words: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) I sense a storm brewing in our land! Don’t you? We might be closing in on a day when it’s against the law to be a Christian! Church, we need to be teaching our children & our grand-children how to live in a culture & environment like the believers of James day lived. I don’t believe we’ve done a very good job of that! We haven’t prepared them! Will you pray for God’s help to do that?

Let’s Be Thankful!

-Thankful Or Critical?

Most of us are pretty consistent in the way that we look at life. Generally speaking, we are either a thankful person; or, a critical person. We’re either positive or negative. We tend to see the glass as either “half-full”; or, “half-empty” as the saying goes. Either way, we’re what we are because we’ve practiced it. We are creatures of habit. If you’re critical it’s because you’ve practiced being critical. If you’re thankful it’s because you’ve developed a habit of being thankful. You are NOT the way you are because of your circumstances! You ARE the way you are because of your reaction to your circumstances.

-Do Your Circumstances Rule You?

We’ve all known people who whine about everything; and others, with far worse life circumstances, who are thankful & a blessing to be around. If you’re a critical person it’s because you’ve permitted the circumstances to rule over you; you’ve narrowed your focus so that all you see is the negative & the painful in life. It’s kind of like getting too zoomed in on Google maps! Have you ever done that? You’re looking at the map, but you can’t get your bearings because you’ve over-focused or you’ve over-analyzed it. If you’ll just zoom out a little bit, and, get a bigger picture, then you can see! You just needed a broader perspective.

-A Broader Perspective Of Life!

If you tend to be overly critical, you need to zoom out & get a broader perspective of life by intentionally paying attention to God’s provisions, even in the tough circumstances. Thank Him for His faithfulness! Look at your circumstances in the big picture context of all His blessings. But, it has to be intentional! Forming that habit of thankfulness may require that you pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help you; to remind you to see the big picture in life; to zoom out from all the annoyances in life. Thankful people pay attention to God’s blessings; and, they pay attention because they are thankful people!

-Viewing Our Life Through The Cross!

Our greatest need, as people, is forgiveness for our sin against a Holy God! The Apostle John describes the way that Jesus provided forgiveness through His substitutionary atonement for sin on the cross: “Therefore they took Jesus away. Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle” (John 19:16-18). When we view our lives through the cross, we can’t help but become more thankful! Jesus’ disciples were repulsed when He first began talking with His disciples about His impending death on a cross! The cross was perhaps the cruelest instrument of torture and death that the world has ever known. And, that was their focus! They were too zoomed in on the pain and the suffering of the cross!

-Seeing The Cross Differently!

They needed to zoom out & get a broader focus of the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly gave up His life to give new meaning to the cross. The cross became the place where God’s love intersected with His justice. It symbolizes the atonement that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He became God’s substitutionary atonement for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus, who had no sin, became sin! He was the substitute for us, so that we could become righteous before God. Oh, let us learn to always be thankful for Christ’s atonement! The atonement is the reason we can be thankful for the cross. To atone means to appease. Jesus endured the full wrath of God, against sin, to appease God’s righteousness; so that God could be just & righteous to save us! The sin debt has been paid!

We Observed His Glory!

-That “Ah-Hah”” Moment!

One of my favorite movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller, “The Sixth Sense” because it got me! If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t watched it yet; but, the story is about a troubled boy who believes he sees & speaks with dead people; and, an equally troubled child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, who tries to help the boy even as he struggles to save his dying marriage. The movie takes several twists & turns; but, the biggest twist takes place at the very end when the truth is revealed to the child psychologist; and, you realize that the whole movie was not at all what it seemed. With that one vital piece of information, every scene, in the movie, is altered! It blew me away! It was that “ah-ha” moment!

-One Vital Piece Of Information!

In so many ways, that illustrates, to me, the way the majority of people, on this planet, live their lives— with one vital piece of information missing! And, that is that the most unique person to ever walk this planet was Jesus Christ; and, that the purpose for His arrival will alter the way you view everything about your life once the truth has been revealed & believed! It’ll be your “ah-ha” moment! Once you understand the implications of who Jesus is, it’ll change how you interpret & understand every event in your life. You’ll even begin to find meaning & purpose in the failures, the pain; and, the suffering in life.

-A Significant Scripture Text!

Chapter 1, of John’s Gospel, is one of the most significant texts of Scripture in the entire Bible. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, the Apostle John puts the entire world in its proper perspective in the person of Jesus Christ. If you start reading the Bible from the book of Genesis; and, continue reading through the entire Old Testament, you’re left with the feeling that the story is incomplete. You’re left waiting for the arrival of someone who would set the world right; like, a reboot! God’s Old Testament prophets wrote that a Messiah was coming; and, John’s Gospel announces that He’s here—His name is Jesus!

-So That You May Believe!

And, if you’ll flip ahead to chapter 20, of John’s Gospel, he announces his purpose for writing his Gospel:  “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name” (vs.30-31). John wrote his Gospel by divine inspiration to help people believe in Jesus so that they might have eternal life; so, God intended to use John’s Gospel to awaken faith in you! In essence, Jesus concealed the glory of His fame (that He was, in fact, God!) in the form of an earthly frame— He was a man! Jesus was the God-man!

-A Stunning Revelation!

What John says about Jesus is stunning; and, if it wasn’t factual; if it wasn’t verifiable by hundreds & thousands of witnesses, we would think it was the stuff of science fiction! That it was just a great story! But, when John confronts us with the description of Jesus, we cannot remain ambivalent toward Him. We’re forced to make a decision; because He reveals that Jesus was divine! He was deity! He was God incarnate; which means He was made flesh! John opens his Gospel with these words:  “In the beginning was the Word…” (v.1). Right from the start, we understand that this is no ordinary “Word.” It becomes obvious that the Word is a person; and, “…the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as of the One and Only Son from the Father…” (v.14).  And, even though he doesn’t mention Jesus by name until v.17, it’s clear that the “Word” is Jesus! Come back for more next week!

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!

Skeptical Of God’s Love?

-How Does God Answer Skepticism?

The Old Testament book of Malachi opens with an interaction between God and the nation of Israel. “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you ask: ‘How have You loved us?’” (1:2). Israel had become skeptical of God’s love for them! They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. So, how does God answer their skepticism? “‘Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.’” What does that mean? How is that an answer to their question about God’s love for them? Well, let me try and walk you through it.

-God Loves With Free, Sovereign, Unconditional Love!

Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Yes! The answer was yes! Though Israel descended from Jacob, every Israelite knew that Esau was Jacob’s twin brother born to Isaac & Rebecca. They also knew that Esau was the older brother; which meant, according to the customs of the time, that he should have gained all the rights & privileges as the main heir of the father’s blessings. So, what is the point? He answers their skepticism, about His love for them, by reminding them that He could have just as easily chosen Esau instead of Jacob; because they were twins & Esau was, in fact, the older brother! But, God chose Jacob and passed over Esau! Are you tracking with me so far? Because here’s the hard part; God answers their skepticism by telling Israel that He loved them with free, sovereign, unconditional love!

-The Difficult Doctrine Of God’s Election!

It was “free” because God’s love cannot be earned! It was “sovereign” because God is in absolute control of all the world’s affairs! And, it was “unconditional” because Israel didn’t have to perform under certain conditions to receive it! If you’re at all like me, you’ve found the Biblical doctrine of God’s election to be one of the most difficult doctrines to receive. Why? Because it doesn’t seem “fair” does it? We’re all about “fairness”; aren’t we? This is such a hard doctrine that I’ve known many preachers try and explain it away; or, to just avoid it altogether! But, what about “free will” we want to ask! Didn’t Jacob have free will to choose or reject God? Yes! But, didn’t God choose Jacob & reject Esau? Yes! But, doesn’t that seem like a contradiction? Yes! It seems like one! But, it’s not!

-The Difference Between A Contradiction & Tension!

Because we know there are no contradictions in God’s word! There’s a tension here; as there are many tensions in the Scriptures, aren’t there? And, there’s a big difference between a “contradiction” and a “tension.” There can be tension between 2 truths! We can’t avoid preaching the 2 truths just because they create tension! If both are taught in Scripture; then, both must be preached! Does Scripture teach the “free will” of man? Yes, Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; and, Revelation 22:17, among other Scriptures, all convey that anyone desiring to be saved can be saved!

-Living With Tension In Scripture?

At the same time, Jesus says, “NO ONE can come to Me unless the Father draws him…”; and, He says, “You did not choose Me, I chose you…” (John 6:44; 15:16). And, 1 John says, “We love Him because He loved us first” (4:19). So, which is it; “free will” or God’s “election”? Yes is the answer! Did Jacob choose God; or, did God choose Jacob? Yes is the answer! Do we have “free will”; or, does God “elect” us into His family? The answer is YES! Somehow God’s sovereignty covers my free will in a way that only God can make it happen! I choose Him because He chose me! I’ve learned to live with the tension; and, I’ve learned to love it! I’m okay with not figuring it out! I’ve memorized Proverbs 25:2 just to remind myself on these occasions:  “It is the glory of God to CONCEAL a matter…” I believe that says it’s to God’s glory that we can’t figure it out! He’s so much bigger than our intellectual abilities! Don’t become skeptical of Him!

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!

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!

Spiritual Brokenness!

-Life’s Painful Events!

God tells us, in His Scriptures, that He will use all of life’s painful events to bring us to the point of spiritual brokenness! Only when we are spiritually broken will He do His spiritual work in us! As long as we’re angry & pride-filled & blaming God for the junk in our life— as Israel did in the Old Testament— we remain unteachable! But, when we humble ourselves; and, look in the mirror of Scripture; and, agree with God that we’re the problem; only, then can He begin to work change in our lives for our good; and, for His glory! 

-Unwilling To Humble Ourselves!

It is because we are generally unwilling to humble ourselves that God choreographs the painful events in life to break us! I remember officiating at a wedding; and, one of the friends, of the bridal party, made a point, after the rehearsal dinner, to pick a theological fight with me; and, tell me how much God had done him wrong! I believe it was the wisdom, of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, that prompted me to keep my mouth shut! It was not the right time to speak! So, I just listened. But, then he hit me up again after the rehearsal dinner; and, I still said very little. But, the next day, the day of the wedding, he hit me up one more time about how God had wronged him. And, this time I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to speak! So, I asked him about all the wrongs he had done to God! How he had sinned against Him & stiff-armed God’s attempts to show Him love, grace & mercy! And, I told him I wasn’t really into entertaining anymore of his criticism about God, until he was willing to humble himself and fess up to what he had done to mess up his relationship with God! And, then, I walked away! After the wedding & the reception, as I was leaving, he came up to me—with some humility—and, said, “Maybe we need to get together and talk a little more about this.” And, I said I’d be happy to!

-God Is Not The Problem!

Until we see our brokenness, we’ll always think that God is the problem! That He’s just not fair! Listen, we don’t deserve anything better than we receive! Like Judah, in the book of Jeremiah, we deserve judgment because of our sin! This isn’t just Judah’s story! This is our story also! This is the way that God works! He deals with Judah the way He deals with everyone! “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked,” Galatians 6:7 says, “for whatever a man sows he will also reap.” I find that when people are mad at God over the events in their lives, that it’s typically because they’re reaping the results of their wild oats that they sowed earlier! Not always! But, often that’s the case! Evil delivers its own results!

The Nail Hole!

Someone said it like this:  “You can pull out the nail from the wall; but, you can’t pull out the nail hole.” God is gracious! And, when you humble yourself before Him He’ll help us live with the “nail hole”; but, He doesn’t remove it! The drunkard, who loses his arm in a horrific accident caused by his drunkenness, will not grow back his arm when he comes to Jesus and accepts Him as his Savior! I will always bear the scars of some of my sinful decisions! And, so will you! But, I’m thankful that God’s Spirit used those things to break me & to humble me so I could get right with Him! Be thankful for the way that God uses life’s painful events to change your heart toward Him! Just open your Bibles to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 31; and, read verses31-40 especially! The Prophet Jeremiah foretells the day when God would make a new covenant with His people; and, by this covenant, He will put His teachings inside them! The Apostle Paul, in his 1st letter to the Corinthian church, tells us that Jesus’ blood sealed that covenant (ch.11)! By His blood, we are changed!