Freed From Exile

 See, I will bring them from the land of the north
    and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
    expectant mothers and women in labor;
    a great throng will return.
 They will come with weeping;
    they will pray as I bring them back. (Jeremiah 31:8-9a)

These verses were originally written to the Jewish people who had been taken into exile. These ancient Jews were promised they would return to their homeland, and they did. But it was only a temporary relief. For they would be scattered again.

The text applies to Christians too, because the Hebrew Bible has many sneak previews of Christ and Christianity. Before we believed, we too were in exile…we were not living in the spiritual homeland God intended for us. We needed rescue by Jesus, the King of the Jews, because we were enemies of God and separated from God.

Many of the returnees in the Jeremiah verses above had serious physical challenges. It seems easier for them in their weakness to see their need for God. Yet, without Jesus Christ, even the most fit people are, in a real sense, “blind and lame.” They may think they are strong and self-sufficient, telling God “I don’t need help, thanks.”

I do have a warning for you today: You might not be as powerful and self-sufficient as you think you are. Consider what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel. He had been warned by a prophecy against being self-sufficient — but his failure to respond brought consequences:

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:29-30)

Because of that arrogance, he lost his sanity and “was driven from men and did eat grass as ox” (Daniel 4:33) [i]

Finally, though, because of God’s mercy, Nebuchadnezzar was able to recover, leading to a huge change of heart:

 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:37)

Do you feel rich and powerful? God requests you to acknowledge dependency on him. And lest you think I am claiming that I have it all together, I haven’t arrived. I know I always need a daily renewal of my own heart. So this post is for all of us.

Would you rather enjoy life to the fullest as you admit that God really is the King … or live on your own and go through what Nebuchadnezzar went through, wasting your time as if you were eating grass?

[i]Today this is a known psychological disorder.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boanthropy

Predict the Sunrise?

It’s unclear whether certain events in the Bible happened through miraculous intervention or by natural causes.   

I am not talking today about clear-cut miracles like Jesus turning water into wine. Rather, I’m talking about when people who do believe in miracles have a difference of opinion about whether a particular event in the Bible had natural or supernatural causes. Let’s look at one of these.

Today’s episode happened just before a key battle between the Israelites, led by David, and the Philistines. David received his marching orders from God:

 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army (2 Samuel 5:24)

There are two possible explanations for the sound of marching described here.

  1. God made a marching sound supernaturally to scare the daylights out of the Philistines.
  2. The rustling noise in the trees came from a normal gale wind which just happened to be at the right time and was noisy enough to provide a cover for the Israelites to stealthily advance on their enemies.

I used to think that there was an enormous difference between the two choices. But now I don’t think whether it’s #1 or #2 makes any difference. Why?

 Obviously, #1 describes a clear cut supernatural miracle. But now let’s look more closely at #2.

If a strong gale hit just when Israel’s enemies were ready to attack, was that a coincidence?  No, it was God who synchronized and directed the weather patterns so that that a gale would show up at the exact needed time.

There are no coincidences with God. Indeed, since God synchronizes all events, there’s not even such a thing as a random occurrence.  

We think we see unchanging laws of nature. But it is stunning to realize that these “laws” are only “laws” because Christ directly sustains them:

 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.    (Colossians 1:17)

So sometimes God is actively using his usual laws of nature to achieve his purposes, and at other times he overrides them to accomplish his will. Thus I see no difference between “natural” or “supernatural”: Either way, it’s still directed by God.    

Some folks think God set the universe to run like a timepiece and took his hands off. But what may appear to be a timepiece is sustained moment to moment by God!

Try this thought experiment: What if the time the sun will rise tomorrow were as unpredictable as exactly what the weather will be tomorrow?  Is the predictability of sunrises a “law of nature” that will never ever change — or is it what God has nicely set up and actively sustains for the time being? He did promise:

 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

For now, it suits God’s purposes of grace and mercy to keep the seasons consistent, allowing us to plan, to have agriculture, and to not face total famine and chaos. But it’s an error to assume that it will always be so.

Those who deny that God can sovereignly overrule his natural laws at his good pleasure are in for a big shock. We aren’t told all the details, but I take seriously that the Bible says that various laws of physics/astrophysics/astronomy will undergo major changes.

The earth will not endure as is forever.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1).

We will get a revamped earth with new laws. We can only guess at exactly how these will work but something will never change: we will always have a good omnipotent loving God who is always working to achieve his purposes. Now and forever. He invites us to join in this now and forever adventure by believing in his son Jesus!

“They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from god.” Elwood Blues

Today’s title is a quote from Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers. The mission from God for Jake and Elwood was to save the Catholic orphanage where they were raised from foreclosure.

Luke 4:40-43 shows how Jesus was focused on his mission. The folks in Capernaum were begging him to stay in their town because of all the healing that he was doing. They were amazed to see how he was curing people with high fevers and sickness.  Their attitude was “Please stick around. We can’t get enough of this! Don’t leave!”  But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent. (Luke 4:43)

Though the townspeople in Capernaum pleaded, Jesus could not let himself be distracted from his own mission of spreading the good news to all the towns in the area.

Sometimes we need to clarify just what our mission is….and stick to it.

The organizing expert Marie Kondo asks, “Does it bring you joy?” She’s talking about whether to keep or discard material things, but joy can be a key in our own mission. We believe in the Holy Spirit and we know that one of his fruits is joy. So we find out which activities are bringing us joy, and especially those which bring others joy, as a way of seeing whether they fit into our mission from God.

Here’s two tests of whether it’s the Holy Spirit talking. If you’re feeling led by guilt into doing something, accompanied by a definite lack of joy, it’s probably not the Holy Spirit!  But when what you’re going to do fills you with joy, even when you know it won’t necessarily be easy, there is a good chance that it is the Holy Spirit.

When we are pursuing our mission from God and seeking what God is sending us to do, we have the privilege of walking in God’s favor:  

 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.
(Psalm 90:17)

Then, today’s opening quote activates in our lives:
“They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God.”  

Let’s NOT go to the replay

I looked out my window at the snowy hillside on a bright windy early March day during the isolation of the COVID pandemic. Starting to read Psalm 90, I found this amazing request:

Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us,
for as many years as we have seen adversity.
(Psalm 90:15 CSB)  

When we remember our own times of affliction and trouble, how do we react? Do our memories cause anxiety, annoyance and grief as they repeat endlessly?

Today’s opening verse reminds us that affliction is only temporary. Indeed, if I keep re-experiencing or re-feeling troublesome past things, then I am ripping myself off of God’s righteousness and peace. It’s helpful to think of the meaning of resentment: it means to re-feel something. So resentment is a re-play of past negative feelings.

I remember a time when I underwent a sharp and prolonged rebuke by a boss and I felt my face turning bright red and staying red. Yet today when I recall that incident, instead of re-feeling the humiliation, I view the job loss that followed as God’s way of bringing a key turning point in my life.  Sure, at the time it seemed sharp and unexpected — who likes being fired? But God used it in leading me to a new career and in setting the stage for exactly where he has me in life in 2021.

Seeing how God used that past humiliation to bring me into a new career reminds me that God has a way of turning adversity to joy.   

 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
(Psalm 90:14)  

I don’t claim that this joy-replacement is instant and 24 by 7. There are other humiliations I have had that God is still applying his restoring grace to! But even though I have not been instantly cured of the pull of old bad memories and experiences, I am glad that their grip is shrinking and that I can keep being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)