THE BELOVED OF HIS SOUL

beloved_by_panhead13-d6q1tw9Jeremiah is not an easy book to read.  I feel for the guy, and for the people of Israel and Judah.  But even more, my heart grieves for God that His own people, the beloved of His soul, would chase after false gods and the pseudo-pleasures of this life.  Truth be told, we are no different than Israel and Judah, and God’s heart still grieves for the wandering soul.

Day after day, and year after year, Jeremiah warned the people of God that unless they repent, they would experience the discipline of God at the hands of their enemies.  God had been patient, offering mercy to penitent hearts, but still Israel and Judah sought to dig the empty wells, and hold onto the broken jars, of their own selfish pursuits that would never satisfy; it would only lead to a famished soul.

The very thing they desired and chased after, is the very thing God allowed them to experience.  From the outside it looked as though they were prospering; living life to the fullest.  Even Jeremiah seemed dumbfounded when he asked God, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all who are treacherous thrive?  You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; You are near in their mouth and far from their heart.”  Jeremiah 12:1-2

That’s the lie of the enemy, Satan, isn’t it?  He has a way of making that which is toxic at the core look like a delicious desert.  He promises the riches of the world that are alluring, while turning your eyes away from the small print disclaimer that speaks of the true price you’ll pay.

God reminded Jeremiah that what looked like prospering and thriving was really a people dying.  And it broke God’s heart.  He would step back and give His own people over to their ruthless enemies who they had become like.  And the reason God was willing to do that was so that Israel and Judah would come to their senses (repent of their sins) and see that only in God is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. (See Psalm 16:11)

For God to step back and watch His people choose the lesser things over the immeasurable treasure of being in relationship with Him, grieved Him.  “I have forsaken My house; I have abandoned My heritage; I have given the beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies.”  Jeremiah 12:7

He disciplined them because He loved them.  I realize that seems an odd statement, especially in today’s culture where discipline has gone the way of rotary phones.  Even now some of you are even wondering “What are rotary phones?”  But the writer of Hebrews sheds some light on why God would discipline us as His children when he says, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives . . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.  For the moment disciplines seems painful rather than pleasant (can I get an “Amen”), but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ”  Hebrews 12:6, 10-11)

For those who have placed their full trust in what Jesus Christ did on the cross so that we might be forgiven of sin and have a relationship with God, you are His beloved!

He has proven that by giving the beloved of His soul, His only son Jesus, into the hands of the enemy; not because Jesus was disobedient, but because He would be the sacrifice for our sin, our rebellious disobedience.  Jesus, by taking on our sin, was rejected and abandoned by His own Father, while on the cross, so that we would not have to be.  It is in Christ we find forgiveness of sin, the fullness of joy, true treasure, and an eternal inheritance that is being kept for us until the day we see Him face to face.  It is in Christ that we are the beloved of His soul.

So, if you are at a place in life where you are more like Israel and Judah, digging empty wells and holding broken jars; chasing after what will never really satisfy, but will only leave your thirsty soul famished, come back to the true Lover of your soul; to the One who calls you His beloved.  

     

KICK THE CAN

diy-can-for-kick-the-can-gameWhen I was a kid, summer afternoons and evenings were when our neighborhood came to life.  It was a day when the only time spent inside the house was to eat a meal.  There were no smart phones to waste time on, no video games (outside a pixelated Pac-Man or Frogger on the Atari 2600), and no Netflix.  From morning until dark there was always something to do:  ride bikes; play football or baseball in the field just down the street; for my Fort Worth friends, it may have been intense games of two-square; or, wait for it . . . a game of Kick the Can.  Best game ever.  We would play that, literally, for hours.

If you don’t know about the epic game of Kick the Can, you seriously were deprived as a kid.  But for those of you who have played it, I’m guessing there is a sense of nostalgia stirring at even the mention.

It’s a lot like hide and seek, but with a twist.  You have a person who is “It” (not the clown, by the way), who is supposed to guard the empty Folger’s coffee can.  (Just a side note if you decide to play: make sure that the coffee can is empty before you use it.  Not saying that I would know anything about that though). The person who is “it” would count to 50, and all who were playing (the more people, the better) would go and hide—behind trees, cars, bushes, the neighbor’s St. Bernard, wherever.  The point of the game was to try and kick the can before the person who was “it” could run back to the can and say, “1-2-3 I see (your name goes here).”  And if you were caught, you were captured until someone kicked the can to free you.  There were a couple of rules:  1) if you were “it,” you couldn’t be closer than 10’ to the can.  2) if you broke rule #1, we kicked you instead of the can.

I’m kidding.  But rule #1 was legit.

Over time, we had to modify the rules a bit because of . . . Alan.  Alan didn’t play fair.  He was notorious for staying too close to the can, which made it virtually impossible for us to run from our hiding place to kick the can.  So, I came up with some strategies that were specifically implemented whenever Alan was “it.”

• Strategy #1:  Get several people with you to hide in the same place, and then rush the can in a group.  Alan never had a chance.

• Strategy #2:  Have several people rush from different directions at the same time.  Alan cried one time because of this.  I feel bad about it now.

• Strategy #3:  Have the friend who came over to stay the night, and who Alan didn’t know, rush the can.  You can’t get a person out, if you can’t call their name.  Brilliant.

After using all my strategies, we had to modify the rules again.  But it was fun while it lasted.

To kick the can was a big deal, because there were always people who were captured and needed to be set free.  In order to be successful you had to have good timing.  You had to be fast, which always helped if you had new tennis shoes.  We all run faster with new tennis shoes.  You had to be strategic (see above).  And you had to take risks.  Rushing the can in order to free the captives was not for the faint of heart.

The reward for kicking the can?  There was a lot of celebration by those set free.

Looking back, though, Kick the Can reminds me of something bigger.  The truth is that all of humanity was once held captive because of sin. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He (Jesus) Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Hebrews 2:14-15.

All of us were once held captive, because of sin, by our enemy, the devil.  He guarded the “can” of sin and death.  There was no hope for release from our bondage.  But God being rich in mercy sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down His life by dying on the cross to set us free from sin and death.  Jesus has kicked the can of sin and death, by way of His crucifixion and resurrection, and has made a way for those bound by sin to be set free.  The prophet Isaiah said that Jesus would set captives free, and open the prison to those who were bound in sin.  The apostle Paul wrote, “He (God) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.”  Colossians 1:13

Some of you who are reading this are still captive because of your sin.  The great news, though, is that Jesus has made a way for you to be set free.  You can’t free yourself.  You need a Savior; One who has kicked the can of sin and death.  And the way that you find true life and freedom is by turning from sin and turning to Jesus.  I’d love to talk with you about that if you’d like to know more.

Here’s why this is so important:  this is not a game.  This is reality that is affecting your life now, and will for all eternity.

For those who have trusted Jesus as Savior, and are following Him faithfully, we are called to go to those who are held captive still.  We need to realize that there are those around us who need to hear the great news of Jesus, and how He has made a way for us to have life, be forgiven, and set free.   We need to have a sense of urgency in telling our family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and others because life is like a vapor.  We need to be strategic.  And we need to take risks.  You might risk your reputation; you might risk a job promotion; you might risk being criticized or mocked.  Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are risking their very lives.  And some have lost them for the sake of this gospel hope.  This is a hostile culture when it comes to making much of Jesus and what He has done for us.  But the risk is far less than the reward.

The enemy is still trying to keep captive those who do not yet know Jesus.  I hope you’ll join me in taking risks to go and kick the can, but it’s not for the faint of heart.    

      

IN COLOR

black and white colorI’m not a big fan of country music, necessarily, but there was a time where I would have told you I couldn’t stand to listen to it at all.  My grandparents, one set in particular, loved country music.  Whenever I was at their house, or riding in their car, I can remember the radio being on KTCS, Ft. Smith, Arkansas’s, country music station.  And it made me nauseous.  Give me The Police, Journey, Chicago, The Eagles, or any music remotely close.  But please, for the love of all that’s music, no more Conway Twitty’s, “Tight Fittin’ Jeans.”  Give me, “Billie Jean.”

But I’ve softened to some country music, I guess.  I like songs that have a story; stories that take me somewhere.  Take for example, Jamey Johnson’s song, “In Color.”  Whenever I hear that song, I think about my grandfather who loved to tell stories (If you’re not familiar with that song, here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYGwxf1gCC4).  I remember sitting on his front porch, he and I whittling sticks with an Old Timer pocket knife he gave me.  He taught me why you spit on the whet stone before sharpening your knife.  He shared with me about life when he was a kid.  He told me some stories about being in the Pacific campaign in WWII.  He would take me on drives and show me fields he used to walk in; tell me the history of places in the town I was born and raised in.  He even drove me to the place where he proposed to my grandmother, and told me the story.  I wish I could have seen those things in color.    

Even as I write this I find myself missing my grandparents.  But I’m thankful for the memories, and the stories to this day that still make me smile when I think about them.  They have left an indelible mark on my life.      

When I read what John wrote in his first letter, it was as though he was inviting those to whom he was writing, and us, to pull up a chair and listen to the stories of his time with Jesus.  Stories that would lead somewhere, and ultimately to Someone who could change their lives now, and forever.  

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands concerning the word of life–the life was made manifest and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:1-4

I wish I could’ve heard and seen that in color.  To hear what John heard.  To see what John saw firsthand.  To touch Creator God, and embrace the Savior of the world.  

As followers of Christ, we have not been left without a story to tell.  For now, we walk by faith.  We see somewhat, but not fully.  The apostle Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  1 Corinthians 13:12 

We believe by faith the scriptures are true.  We believe the Spirit of God, who dwells in every believer, illuminates the truth of what Christ has said and done.  He transforms us so that we are able to bear witness to the truth of Christ.  We have heard Him because He speaks to us by His word and His Spirit.  We see Him because He Spirit works in and through us.  And we proclaim Him because He is worth telling others about. 

But there is coming a day when this faith we walk in as followers of Christ will become sight; when what seems to be monochrome becomes more brilliant than Ultra HD 4K. 

Until that day comes, we need to keep telling the stories, and look forward with expectant hope that we’ll see it in color.  

FULLY DEVOTED

Fully-DevotedI remember a time when I couldn’t wait to wake up and spend time with God in the morning.  The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school was a turning point in my relationship with God.  I had experienced the misery of fighting with and running from God much of my 9th grade year and it came to a climax in Glorieta, New Mexico.  Centerfuge camp was the last stand of my Armageddon campaign of self-rule against God.  The battle didn’t last long, and my surrender was unconditional.  God changed my life that night in Glorieta, and the days following were unlike any I had experienced before, spiritually.  I was at peace.  I was on fire.  I was fully devoted.  

But it didn’t take long before the devotion waned.  What started out as consistent reading of God’s word and spending time with God in prayer, became back-seat to other things.  My time with God was sporadic, and although not absent, it was not the priority of my life.    

It brings to mind what God told Jeremiah to tell the people of Jerusalem.  “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of His harvest.  All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.”  (Jeremiah 2:2-3)

It’s as though God is saying, “I remember your devotion. You’re not devoted now, but I remember how you used to be devoted to Me before you allowed the cares of the world to overwhelm you and the idols of the world to become the pursuit of your life.  I remember how you used to love Me as a bride loves her husband; how you trusted Me in desert places where all you had was Me to lean into.   But that’s all changed now.  I’m wondering though, what did you need that I did not abundantly give you?  What of the priceless treasures found in Me, that were yours, was not enough that you felt you had to go and chase after worthless things?  What more did you think you would gain?  What pleasure did you believe you would find?  What caused you to forget all the way I led you in your dark moments, and loved you with an everlasting love?  What happened that you chose to forsake the Source of your joy and life, only to try and go it on your own; finding yourself empty, broken, and desperate?”

Maybe you’re there right now.  It could be that you are thinking, “I remember when I was devoted.  I remember when I was on fire for Christ, wanting nothing more than just to know Him and spend time with Him.  But now, in comparison to Christ, I am chasing after worthless things.  I’ve turned from the joy and life He gives, and I’m trying to go it on my own.”  But you don’t won’t to stay where you are.  So, what do you do?  

Return.  God told Israel, “Return, faithless Israel.”  In the same way, you need to return.  And here’s the promise of God for those who return to Him:  “I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful.”  (Jeremiah 3:12). That is so good!  God is merciful.  He is gracious.  He is loving.  He longs for you to return.  But returning doesn’t happen without confession and repentance.  Confessing that you have wandered and that your devotion has waned.  And repenting of sin, which is having a sincere broken heart over your sin, and in doing so turning back to Him.  

Although you may feel a thousand miles away from Him, it only takes on step of  turning back to lead you down the road of devotion.  After all, He is the Father who runs to embrace the prodigal who returns. 

At this time in my life, and only by God’s grace, I find myself devoted to Him and wanting to know Him even more.  I look forward to waking up just to spend time with Him; and not just in the morning, but experiencing His presence throughout the day.  Don’t get me wrong, the enemy fights with demonic zeal to lure my heart to chase after worthless things.  But devotion to Christ is worth fighting for, and deepening.  

So for those needing to return, turn around and take a step towards Christ.  He is gracious. He is merciful.  He is waiting.  And as you spend time with Him, trust Him, and follow after Him, you will find that your devotion will grow stronger.