God is always faithful, but He’s not always predictable. While reading the Book of Job, I discover a great “drama” being played out with God on one side and humanity on the other. Job is experiencing grief and suffering, and his friends are no real comfort. God is with Job but is mostly silent (until the last several chapters). God knows what man cannot see. The big challenge of Job is the challenge we also face as believers. There are times we go through when we can’t “figure it out.” We know that God is faithful, but, by outward appearances, it seems like He is silent or aloof. Job and his friends had their preconceived ideas of how God “should act,” and how life should look. When trials came instead of blessings, Job’s friends came to quick conclusions. “Job, you must have sinned. You weren’t good enough. God is finally giving you what you deserve!” Even Job jumped to conclusions about his difficulties. “God doesn’t like me. He just wants to judge me. He knows I am innocent but doesn’t do anything about it.” From Job chapter 32 to chapter 42, God lifted Job to a “higher perspective.” Job is not given specific answers to all his questions, but his faith in God’s majesty and sovereignty were raised to a higher place. After this awesome revelation of God’s greatness, Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). Job finally discovered what we need to discover. Our God is faithful to us, but that doesn’t mean that we can put Him in our “predictable” box. We can’t assume that God will “do what we want Him to do.” We, as Christians, live on the edge of faith which declares, “God answers prayer, but He is not our servant.” We are His servants. This means that we don’t need to pretend we know all the reasons for the worldwide pandemic. We must admit that sometimes God’s ways are past finding out. The best we can do is repent of our sins (known and unknown) and trust God’s faithfulness to bring about His plan. You may not be able to trace His hand, but you can always trust His heart. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:23).
Have you noticed the Bible contains a lot of irony? This is especially true when people take it on themselves to “destroy” God or His people…only to end up destroying themselves. Take, for example, the Book of Esther. Haman, the righthand man of the King of Persia, took it upon himself to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. His intense hatred started because of a Jew named Mordecai, who refused to bow down before him in public. Haman’s super-sized ego created an obsessive hatred—not just for Mordecai but also for the whole Jewish race. Haman had a “final solution” to dispose of Mordecai. At the urging of his wife and friends, Haman built gallows on which to hang Mordecai. Mordecai would become a public spectacle of those who dare to insult the high and mighty Haman! The gallows were far from ordinary; they were seventy-five feet high…so people from long distances could view “the exhibit.” As the Book of Esther unfolds, we see the “fortunes” of Haman drop like a rock. During a banquet held by Queen Esther (the cousin of Mordecai the Jew), Haman was exposed in the presence of the king as a murderous racist. While the king considered the fate of Haman, one of the servants spoke up saying, “A gallows seventy-five feet high stands by Haman’s house. He had it made for Mordecai who spoke up to help the king” (Esther 7:9). It did not end well for Haman. The Bible states, “So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai” (7:10). What Haman “sent around” came “back around.” As I read the story this week, I thought of our lives and actions as building something for others. Haman was obsessed with “building” hatred and harm for others he deemed as unworthy. His rich—but miserable—life ended in great shame and disgrace. On the other hand, the principle of “what goes around, comes around” can be a source of hope and joy to the followers of Jesus. Our prayers and actions of love and service for others are not unnoticed by our Lord…and by others. Even though we don’t expect to be noticed and rewarded by others, we believe that blessings come to those who live to bless others. What are you “sending around”?
Most of us have spent a lot more time at home recently. This can be both good and bad. The downside is that we easily get stuck in bad habits. Instead of staying sharp in our spirit, we can “put off” seeking God and ignore His Word. Staying at home for an extended time can dull our heart if all we do is watch TV and binge on movies. For spiritual fruit to grow, we have to “stir our hearts” to desire Jesus and His will. As most of you know, I am preaching a series through 2 Peter entitled, “Stir it Up.” This week in my devotions, while reading the Book of Ezra, I was surprised to discover the expression “stir up” twice in chapter one. The first time is found in verse one: “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing…” (Ezra 1:1, ESV). The Israelites had been in exile from their homeland for about 70 years. Now, God worked in the heart of King Cyrus (who did not even know God) and “stirred” his heart to encourage the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. How would the Israelites in captivity respond to this challenge to return home? The proclamation by Cyrus was not a forced evacuation. They had a choice to stay or to go. To return to Israel was God’s best for the Israelites, but He allowed His people to make up their own minds. “Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5). The Bible tells us that over 50,000 made the choice to do the right thing—to go build God’s city and the Temple. In order to venture into this step of faith, they needed to allow God to stir their hearts. Because of routine habits, it would have been easier for the Israelites to stay in Persia and continue the “same old same old.” When I read this, I thought of all the people I know who have slipped away from the Lord through neglect of their “heart life” with God. Yet, He is willing—right now—to stir our hearts if we let Him! Keep your heart tender toward God by praying, “Lord, stir me up so that I always say yes to Your will! Help me not to drift into bad habits that dull my heart toward You and deafen my ears to hear Your Word.” The Lord is faithful to stir us up…just ask Him!
I keep hearing people say, “I just want things to get back to normal.” As I write this, the news reports that over 486,490 people in the United States have confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, and 17,925 people have died. Anyone in their right mind wants this virus to go away, but do we really want to go back to normal? Or could there be a “new normal”? What if our new normal would see a deeper respect and reverence for God? What if we humbled ourselves and asked God to forgive us for our pride and walked before Him in faith and humility? I just finished the Book of 2 Chronicles. Chapter 36 ends with the sad story of Judah’s demise over many years of spiritual neglect and idolatry. Their final defeat came after many attempts by the Lord to get their attention. “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy” (vv. 15-16). I don’t believe God delights in seeing something like COVID-19 grip the nations of the world. I do believe, however, God’s people should take this crisis as a call to pray for our world and to repent. These days of struggle are a powerful lesson that life can change dramatically, and whatever we put our hope in (besides the Lord) can disappear quickly. So, my prayer is not that we return to “business as usual.” I pray that we stop ignoring God and that we learn to reverence Him and walk before Him in justice, mercy, and humility (see Micah 6:8). May we, as the church of Jesus, do our part to seek the Lord, crying out to Him for our family, neighbors, community, and world. Does America have a prayer? Only you can answer that.
Sometimes it feels like you’re living your life inside a parenthesis. Your life story seemed to be moving along just fine, and suddenly it seems like someone pushed the “pause” button. Covid-19 hasn’t stopped the world, but it certainly has changed how we do life. Is it possible to not just survive this time of parenthesis but actually thrive? When I think of the fruit that grows in the fields, I realize that fruit weathers many storms and unpredictable days. How can we make the most of what we are going through? Instead of complaining about being bored, maybe we should seek the Lord for how He would have us fill the hours of our days. Let’s first ask the Lord to help us think right about this unusual season. This brings us to the Word of God. The young man Joshua found himself of the edge of the Promised Land…a vast unknown land filled with adventure and danger. For him to act on his own emotions or impulses would bring disaster and defeat to himself and those he led. He needed God’s thoughts. Here is what God told him. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:8-9). The only way to know God’s way is through God’s Word. Those who love the Lord and His Word discover His words to be more powerful than negative thoughts and fickle emotions. During this stay-at-home time, we need to know what God is saying to us. This “parenthesis” is a great opportunity to saturate ourselves in the Bible. My suggestion is to start reading the Book of John slowly and carefully. Think about what Scripture said to the people back then and what God is saying to us now. Write down what stands out to you. Then pray over what you have read. This discipline is not too hard. When you do right things, you feel right thoughts. Please start today…you won’t regret feeding your soul on His thoughts for you! Take this “pause” in your life and make it a special part of your story!