God Notices When You’re Stuck in the Mud

Jeremiah 37:2  “Neither he nor the officials who served him nor the people of Judah paid any attention to what the LORD said through the prophet Jeremiah.  16 So Jeremiah was put in prison in a cell in the dungeon in Jonathan’s house.  He was kept there a long time.

Jeremiah 38:6  “So the officials took Jeremiah and put him in the cistern . . . there was no water in the cistern, only mud.  So when they lowered Jeremiah into the cistern with ropes he sank into the mud.

Jeremiah 38:9  “Your Royal Majesty, those men have been very wicked in all they have done to the prophet Jeremiah.  They have thrown him into a cistern and he is sure to die of starvation there because there is no food left in the city.

Jeremiah 39:12Find Jeremiah and look out for him.”

Jeremiah 40:4 “But now, Jeremiah, today I will set you free from the chains on your wrists.  If you would like to come to Babylon with me, come along and I will take care of you . . . go wherever you choose.  5  Then the captain of the guard gave Jeremiah some food and a present and let him go.

Life has many twists and turns, most of them unforeseen.  In the middle of chaos, we can begin to wonder if God is aware, but once we are on the other side of turmoil, the treasure gained from the ordeal far surpasses any temporary hardship.  Of course if the trial is severe, one shudders at the thought of having to journey that path ever again.  The doubt of God’s enablement prior to hardship, though, has been changed forever in the presence of a Sovereign God Who was truly sufficient to meet our every need.

The story of an individual who was noticed, rescued and provided for by the King evokes respect and a sense of awe.  But when one contemplates what came before the honor, I wonder if anyone would want to go through all they have to in order to receive the blessing on the other side.  We cannot see in the future, though, which is where faith comes in.

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, and after reading once again from the book of Jeremiah, I can surely understand why.  Imagine hearing from God and being His mouthpiece, only to be rejected for your obedience and thrust into imprisonment continually and a deep pit of mud.  Was that a part of God’s plan?  He allowed it in – but why?  How could He receive glory for the torture of His chosen servant?

We have seen this before by those chosen to serve God.  Joseph saw a vision and ended up being sold into slavery – God kept him from being murdered and eventually elevated him to second in command of the land.  Wow.  Even though we delight in the end of the story, we often do not understand the middle of the story, but God does.  I love how the Lord ensures that someone was looking out for Jeremiah.  Imagine getting the mud cleaned off and then going before the king and the Captain of the Guard, who gives you a present and more importantly, your freedom.  Israel was under siege and all the Israelites were being captured or murdered.  But Jeremiah was set free. 

God knows our suffering and all of the inner workings of our lives have a very specific end which He already knows completely.  When we read all of the accounts of faithful followers of God and see how God always kept His covenant promises, we should never be given to doubt.  But life’s pain creates a raw sense of reality that causes us in our flesh to wonder if we have been a fool to trust in the One who would permit such atrocities.

Just like the individual who was late on 9/11 and whose life was spared, I have to wonder if Jeremiah’s life was spared as he sat in the mud and wondered.  Israel was under attack – Jeremiah had foretold it and even told the king how he could avoid Babylon’s punishment.  It might have seemed like God was not in control when His servant was dying in mud.  Not so.  Not exactly a glorious picture of how one would want to die, though, and I am sure fear gripped his heart.  Kind of reminds me of a story I heard of someone who suffered a humiliating death when they were hit by a potato chip truck.  Tragic.  We don’t want to see such an end for a man of God.  Not suffocating in mud.  Not Jeremiah.

Are you in the mud of life right now?  Feeling forgotten and beginning to wonder if your Deliverer will ever come?  He hears.  He sees.  He is weaving something beautiful out of that pain.  He promises.

Lord, when we do not understand, help us to place our faith in you.  In our fragile humanity, help us to rise above our circumstances and abide in You.

The Progressive Slippery Slope in a Vaccuum

Exodus 24:3

“Moses came and told the people all the LORD’s words and all the decisions.  All the people answered together, ‘We are willing to do all the words that the LORD has said.'”

Exodus 24:9-11

“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel.  Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself.  But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

Exodus 32:1

“When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Get up, make us gods that will go before us.  As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!”

Exodus 32:4

So Aaron “accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf.  They they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'”

Forty days.  The number forty is a common duration for a time of testing many times in the bible.  Forty days of rain on the ark, forty years wandering in the desert, Jesus was tempted fourty days in the desert and Moses was on the mountain forty days, two separate times, hearing the commandments of God, to name a few.  Forty days goes by in a flash in our home.  Months come and go, years fly by.  But I guess to the Israelites, it seemed never-ending.  Certainly if one was suffering significantly, time would drag on.  But to God’s people at the bottom of the mountain, one would think there was great anticipation.  One would think that the meal with God that Aaron witnessed, coupled with thundering on top of the mountain would serve as vivid reminders that Almighty God was very near, indeed.

But somehow in that vacuum, in that moment of dearth, not hearing from God, the people of God longed to fill that void with something.  They wanted to worship, but impatiently accepted a counterfeit.  I wonder if there was a plethora of rationalizing going on – how did they ever arrive at it being acceptable to worship a golden calf in such a short amount of time?  Particularly troubling to me is that Aaron suggested the people donate golden objects and made the calf himself.  He had just encountered the living God.  How could he so quickly be deceived?  Was it peer pressure?  The sheep pressing in on him and he feared them more than God at that moment?  And the sheep – they had just stated that they were willing to do all the words that God had said.

This hypocrisy and seemingly blatant rebellion seems odd until I contemplate my own walk.  Evidence of lukewarmedness and blindness to our own faults can be seen if we are willing to let down our guard of self righteousness and self-protection.  I well recall the early days of my salvation, standing and sharing the gospel to a small crowd at the University of Maryland, being persecuted in class for being a Christian.  I recall many moments of victory in the past twenty-six years through various trials, where God grew my faith exponentially.  Candidly, I also recall being tested severely and beginning to lose my way, save the grace of God.  I started strong – though I was crushed, I would run to His word.  But in the lengthiness of the trial, I began to get confused and wondered when God was going to deliver me.  I began to compromise and look for a counterfeit to relieve my pain.  I am no better than the Israelites.  My trial was seven years of hardship, pressed on every side, not forty days, but I emphathize with the Israelites.  They wanted to follow God, but quickly chose an alternative god to appease their spiritual paucity.  In their moment of being deceived, they could not see clearly and needed a leader to guide them.  Their leader failed.

Humbling to us leaders, it is terrifying to think that we bear the responsibility of leading someone astray.  Shockingly, Aaron lied when confronted with his waywardness.  Somehow a golden calf popped out of the fire.  Wow, really?  As hard as it is to admit that we, too, have gone off the path, it is far better to confess and renounce our shortcomings and move forward in the new humility gained from our failure.  The former pride at imperceived righteousness that was our own, has been replaced with the knowledge of our own failure, which reminds us that it has never been our own righteousness, after all.

If you are a leader or a believer who has fallen short, you stand in a great cloud of witnesses who have also gone before us and failed.  David, too, a man after God’s own heart, murdered and committed adultery, yet later he would cry out to God in Psalm 51, for God to “restore unto me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me”.  It is easy to get lost in the vacuum or in severe trials and forget our mission and purpose in Christ.  But those mistakes, those blemishes we wish could be removed from our record are actually a means of grace to humble us and can make us more useful for the kingdom of God.  Thank God for second chances and His grace.

Maybe you have not yet endured a severe time of testing.  If not, count yourself blessed, but be ready.  Times of dryness, of not hearing from God can be around the next corner – will you cave in to comfort around you, or wait as long as it takes until you encounter the living God?  We might not have a warning sign cautioning us that the potential to slip is ahead, but we do have the Holy Spirit guiding us, if we listen.

Lord, I want to be near to You always.  I never want to drift away and walk in a manner that displeases you.  Please grant us grace to be aware of spiritual dangers that lie ahead and to walk humbly before you.  Help us to remember all You have done and to not forget when the heat is turned up or You seem far away.

The Context of Promises

victoryoutreachwhittier.org

victoryoutreachwhittier.org

Jeremiah 29:10-11 “For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you.  Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore your homeland.  11  For I know what I have planned for you, says the LORD.  I have pans to prosper you, not to harm you.  I have plans to give you a future filled with hope..'”

Jeremiah 30:10 “So I, the LORD, tell you not to be afraid, you descendants of Jacob, my servants.  Do not be terrified, people of Israel.  For I will rescue you and your descendants form a faraway land where you are captives.  The descendants of Jacob will return to their land and enjoy peace.  They will be secure and no one will terrify them.  11 For I, the LORD, affirm that I will be with you and will rescue you.  I will completely destroy all the nations where I scattered you.  But I will not completely destroy you.  I will indeed discipline you, but only in due measure.  I will not allow you to go entirely unpunished.”

We all fondly cherish God’s promises, in particular the very popular verse found in Jeremiah 29:11.  We all want to believe, especially in dire times, that God does have a future and a hope for us.  Yet we often ignore the context of such promises.  Just before the wonderful promise of Jeremiah 29:11, God is letting Israel know that they are about to get a big spanking (ok, that is greatly minimizing being made eunuchs and taken into captivity 70 years).  In that moment of promised retribution, He also injected encouragement and a promise of good things to follow the hardship about to visit His chosen people.

This reminds me of how much I detested punishing my children when they were young, but the folly bound in their hearts had to be purged, in order to get to the blessings in store for a child who would walk in wisdom.  My heart deeply desires blessings for my children, but sometimes the road to blessing is paved with discipline.  The one who disciplines is often viewed in a harsh light.  Why can’t sin just be overlooked and we still get our reward?  Because God knows that treasuring sin will ultimately destroy us.  If we excuse sin, we allow it to live in our members and grow.  Dealing with sin as it should be dealt with is actually a kindness and brings life.

Discipline is never meant to be rejection, but rather restoration of our relationship to God.  Living in the moment, we can neglect to see the larger picture of God’s activity in the lives of His people.  Perspective of hardship is altered when we recognize it is but one piece of fabric in the large quilt of our lives.  Herein lies a bittersweet truth: We cannot claim the promises of God without claiming what precedes and follows them.  Will we be a sunshine Christian, only praising God when blessings come, or a faithful follower, during blessings and hardships?  Trusting His character, we can have eyes to see that what He permits is truly always for our good and achieving something far greater than what we see on the surface.

This morning, I was contemplating the fourth poor soul awaiting execution by ISIS, displayed for the world to see.  Wanting to cling to God’s promises through this crisis, I asked my children to pray with me for this man and for God to show Himself strong in this situation.  I asked that God would strike the executioner dead and inject a fear of God in this vile enemy.  My daughter then injected a prayer of her own – “can we pray that they would be saved, too?”  I was at once humbled.  Could I pray that?  Is it possible that even this wicked organization could be saved?  God knows.  But while we wait for God’s deliverance, we have to trust that even these difficult times serve a purpose – God will not waste this sufferingOn the other side of every atrocity in history, there is a plan of redemption all for God’s gloryThat is where I place my hope this morning – in the context of God’s promises.

Oh Lord, just as You were sovereign and Almighty when Paul was murdering Christians, You are the same All-powerful, All-seeing, All-knowing God who can convert a murderer into a man of God used by You to save many.  Lord, I want to see You glorified in these times.  Help us to understand and endure all hardship as discipline from a loving father.  Please defend your people all for Your magnificent glory!!

Not Our Home

Photo Credits  jlhaughton.blogspot.com

Photo Credits jlhaughton.blogspot.com

Ephesians 4:1

“I, therefore, the prisoner for the LORD, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires.  23 To be renewed in the spirit of your mind.  24  And to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.  Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.  27  Do not give the devil an opportunity.”

Ephesians 5:11, 15-17

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  15 Therefore be very careful how you live – not as unwise but as wise.  16 Taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the LORD’s will is.

Imagine walking out your door in the morning to find everyone speaking a language you don’t understand.  As you go about your day, you notice you do not have much in common with all those around you.  You have a choice to make: will you try to be like them, or choose to be different?  Such was a similar scene in the sci-fi thriller, “The Bodysnatchers” which terrified me as a child.  Every person’s souls were snatched away, one by one, replaced by look-alikes who had no soul, no god.  The panic was tangible – being the only one still with a soul, running into friends who were no longer who you thought they were.  So it is today.

The native tongue today is lies.  Flattery and white lies are uttered throughout the land.  Even more bold, outright falsehood and slander permeate our society.  If you speak the truth, it is not perceived or understood. Blinded by political correctness and dressed-up “truth”, we each swallow the daily dose and march to the drum we are told to march to – or not.  When I was first saved, my eyes were opened that I had been “bodysnatched” before, not really living at all.  Once I knew God and His truth, suddenly the world around me seemed odd.  Walking into a grocery store, I had never before been bothered by magazines with ungodly images, but now my heart felt differently.  I was a citizen here in the United States, but also simultaneously a citizen of Heaven.

Such talk might sound strange to the unredeemed, but to those who have tasted and seen that the LORD is good, there is nothing this world has to offer that could ever come close to what God has given.  Striving for self glorification is replaced with dying to self, serving others and glorifying God.  Talking about others is substituted with praying for others.  Former desires, which were once carnal and worldly, are now saturated with a desire to please God.

Oh, but if we could just stay there.  I fear that the bodysnatchers have returned to deceive the elect – if that were possible.  Once saved, we can begin to grow comfortable in our new culture and begin to adapt to a new blend – Christian hallmarks, with a touch of the world to be “relevant”.  Once we have been redeemed, we can’t forget the cost for that redemption.  We need to be vigilant to place reminders all around us, lest we grow lukewarm.  God help us to not acquiesce to the culture around us, slowly being numbed to the evil all around, which is sometimes dressed up to look righteous.

Lord, no one is good, no not one.  We all stumble in so many ways and each of us has gone astray.  Strengthen your bride, LORD.  Please help us to not compromise in this day and age and boldly live for You, no matter what the cost.  Our cost could never compare to Yours, LORD.  Thank You for paying the ultimate price for our salvation – may we cherish that sacrifice and live worthy of that payment!

A Fight Against God

Psalm 83:1-5
“O God, do not be silent! Do not ignore us! Do not be inactive, O God! 2 For look, your enemies are making a commotion; those who hate You are hostile. 3 They carefully plot against Your people, and make plans to harm the ones you cherish. 4 They say, “Come on, let’s annihilate them so they are no longer a nation! Then the name of Israel will be remembered no more. Yes, they devise a unified strategy; they form an alliance against you.”

My heart is grieved at the horror and atrocities being committed now by the hands of wicked men who slaughter innocent children. And why? Because they believe in Jesus. Simultaneously, Israelites are murdered with a hope of completely wiping them off the face of the earth. And why? Because they believe in One God. Such hatred – who is behind it all? The same enemy of our souls from the very beginning does his bidding through these men who claim to be radical Islamic Sunnis doing god’s holy calling. Really? Who are they really hating? God Himself.

This is nothing new underneath the sun. Mankind has been subjugating and persecuting one another since the beginning. From the first offspring – Cain who killed his own flesh and blood over jealousy – to nations trying to kill Israel and Christians for thousands of years. We have come so far, or so we thought we had. A holocaust could not happen again, could it? Symbols painted on doors sounds familiar. Witnesses of the Holocaust in WWII had hoped we learned a lesson from that time and that we would not repeat history, but these things are destined to occur.

Scripture is replete with prophesies – it is going to get worse, not better. So what are we to do? Cry out! Who knows if we might have yet another revival? Who knows if God will grant victory? God is sovereign and already knows the end, but we who are here at this place and time are here for a reason – not just to be bystanders shaking our heads, but to pray on the behalf of those who are being killed and persecuted ruthlessly. We cannot stand by and be idle. We cannot bury our head in the sand. We must stand with our persecuted brethren. God forbid that such atrocities should visit the USA, but I fear that time is imminent. For such a time as this, may we be faithful and fervent. For such a time as this may we boldly proclaim Christ and not shrink back. For such a time as this may we pray continually. El Roi – God sees. All.

Although it is hard as a human being to not think or ourselves, ultimately this hate is all toward God, and we are His representatives. They hated Him, they hate us. They might win a battle, but God has already won the war.

Oh God, most Holy, Sovereign Lord – You know all, and You see the crimes committed against Your children – the apple of Your eye. You see their tears and count each one. You are not far off, but are ever-present, enabling those who are suffering. Please help them, God! Hide them in the cleft of the rock – place a hedge of protection around them and show Yourself as their strong Deliverer. Act on the behalf of Christians and Jews and defeat our enemies – all for Your glory!

Pray for Israel & Christians in the Middle East!!

tx_judeochristian

Jeremiah 8:11
“They offer only superficial help for the hurt my dear people have suffered. They say, ‘Everything will be all right!’ But everything is not all right.”

In my devotion time this morning, the Lord burdened my heart with the plight of the Israelites and Christians in the Middle East. While this is not a political blog, I write from my time with the Lord and this morning it coincided with current events. Jeremiah cried out to His people – this morning I cry out for God’s people.

Right now Christians are being beheaded all over the Middle East for not denying their Lord and Israelites killed for defending themselves and the inheritance God gave to them. Somehow in the religion of tolerance, every religion or sin is to be tolerated or praised, except Christians and Jews. We must not be apathetic in praying for Israel and Christians in the Middle East. We must not think it does not affect us and not care. We must not ascribe to political assumptions and neglect the obvious moral implications present in permitting such atrocities to continue. Their lives depend on it.

I was overjoyed this morning to hear that the pregnant Sudanese Christian who was imprisoned for supposedly converting to Christianity from Islam made it here to the United States. I posted about her condition and prayed for her. It seemed impossible, but she is free – praise God! But we must do more. Being silent while evil threatens to extinguish all Christians and Jews in the Middle East does not safeguard us, but instead ensures the spread of evil one day to our doors.

God promises blessing to those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May we not fall short of crying out to God on their behalf and on the behalf of our Christian brothers and sisters who perish for not denying Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Let’s rise together and stand for those who need us to bridge the gap for them and see what God does. Even recently, Hamas terrorists were complaining about God changing the direction of rockets in mid-air. Let’s storm the gates of Heaven for God to show Himself strong as Israel’s Defender. Let’s ask God to defeat the ones who are killing His innocent children. Let us not offer superficial help, as Jeremiah says.

Oh God, we cry out for your people in the Middle East. Show Yourself as their Defender and defeat their enemies! Comfort those who suffer and deliver Your children. Forgive our trespasses and help us to always be fervent, never ceasing in prayer. To You be all the glory!

Genesis 12:3 “And I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all nations of the earth be blessed.”

Psalm 122:6 “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.”

The Poor Among You

homeless-man

Psalm 72:13-14
“He will take pity on the poor and needy; the lives of the needy he will save. From harm and violence he will defend them; he will VALUE their LIVES.”

My heart is gripped whenever I am driving downtown and see, yet again, a lonesome figure standing on a corner, pleading for help. I know what it is to lose my home, to seemingly lose everything. The compassion for these people who have stories of their own washes over me. At the same time, I struggle with how to help them and wonder what got them there and if helping them monetarily will really be a blessing.

This Psalm written by David to his Son, Solomon, speaks of the rule of Solomon, and is a foreshadowing of what the Messiah’s reign will be like, as well. I am struck by the last words in verse 14 which speaks of valuing their lives. In a culture where abortions are on demand, girls are sold into the sex trade, and the sick or handicapped are viewed sometimes as less, we have forgotten that each human being is valued. From an elderly person sick in a hospital bed to a baby in the womb or a homeless individual on the street, each one is precious in God’s sight and of significant value: God died and gave His own blood for each one.

Identifying the need can be problematic. A sign held by weary hands might specify that money or food is the need, but the root of the problem is not so easy to solve. I want to help in a way that is lasting. Instead, I often do nothing – unsure how my contribution can make a lasting impact. Sure, I have made lunches and handed them out to complete strangers, given cash away to people in need, but I want to responsibly give, and not just out of guilt.

While helping the poor among us is a command, it can be complex in a day and age like this. Recently, however, I believe the Lord finally showed me a way I can do this responsibly. A friend had handy gift cards in her purse, ready to help someone she saw in need. She said that CVS and Walgreen’s do not permit gift cards to be used to buy alcohol or cigarettes. Wow – this was such a blessing for me to witness. Then the Lord gave me an idea – the poor and the rich have the same poverty – a poverty of soul. To merely feed someone for a meal would not last through the day, but to provide physical and spiritual provision might have a lasting impact for eternity.

So now I carry a couple of gift cards, $5 each, with a Scripture and a note in an envelope. I do not usually blog about topics like this, but felt that this idea could impact a population if many people set out to do it. We will always have the poor among us – may we be the hands and feet of Christ and not grow weary in well doing. Who knows? Some soul wandering the streets might be on their last day, trying to find a reason to hope. Let’s be that light and keep our hearts tender for each precious life God has pass our way.

Lord, please help us to not grow apathetic. So many people are wounded and losing hope. Make yourself real through your people. Heal our land and be glorified in all we do – may it be an offering to you!