HIS GOODNESS IN OUR GROANING

I’m posting this because it may be as timely for you as it was for me. If you have been in a season of lament, it is not without purpose. Mark Vroegop, in his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, writes, “The space between brokenness and God’s mercy is where this song (of lament) is sung.” So true.

I encourage you to listen to this message from my pastor, friend, and mentor, Bill Elliff. And I pray that you are as encouraged by the goodness of God in your groaning as I have been.

PAINTED GRASS

There was a time, not so long ago, where I was looking online for apartments to rent.  When you’re almost 50 years of age, and have been married for 29 years, living with your parents temporarily while searching for an apartment are very humbling experiences.  During this season I found myself often asking, “How did I get to this place in my life?”  

“How DID I get to this place in my life?” is not a bad thing to ask along the journey of life; actually I think it would be helpful not just during the difficult seasons, but also in the seasons of delight.  The answer to that question, regardless of where you are, will be a sobering reminder that you didn’t get to where you are apart from God, either in the delight of His blessings or in the difficult days of His discipline.  The truth is, both are blessings.

Back to apartment hunting.  As I was looking at different apartment complexes taking notice of their location, amenities, and most importantly cost, I scrolled through the reviews of each complex.  There were mixed reviews on every one, it seemed, but there was on review that was glaring, funny, and insightful on a different level. 

The review actually read,

“There is not enough room in this box to tell everything that happened. Mostly all negative. I rated Landscaping Poor because they spray paint the grass green in the winter so it will “look better.” REALLY????” 

Sounds appealing to me.  You at least have to give the apartment management a “10” for creativity and effort.  And who knows, if you’re looking for a job, love working outside, and have a passion for art, they might have a place for you.

As I read the review, the thought came to me that I have, at times, lived my life that way, painting the dead places in my life to make them look “green.”  Alive.  Thriving in the midst of winter.  I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra, “Fake it ’Til You Make It.”  This particular apartment complex’s slogan could have been, “Paint Green ’Til Spring.”  Sounds catchy.  But the reality is none of us like the dead or dying places in our lives to be seen, so the tendency is to create an illusion to protect our image.  The problem with living life that way is eventually the paint fades, revealing that it was just a cover.  It may not be true for every area of my life or yours, but I’ve discovered that maintaining even a small area of life that is dying by painting it is exhausting.  It takes a lot of effort, and it never really works. 

How interesting and refreshing would it be if that apartment complex had said, “Great place to live, but just know we paint our dying grass in the winter.”  Or, even better, “Great place to live, where we let you see who we really are, dead grass and all.”

We all have areas we try to “paint.”  We see it every day on social media where some even put on a couple coats of paint; all for the sake of not letting others see the dead places in their lives.  We see it in the relationships of marriages, families, friendships.  We even try to make ourselves look better in our own eyes.    

What I’ve learned on this journey is it’s best to allow God to water the thriving places in my life, and let Him break up fallow ground and cultivate the dead places.  He’s a master landscape artist.  He knows how to turn the dying places in our life into green pastures.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  (Psalm 23:2-3) 

Proverbs, Prodigals, & Pinocchio

Pinocchio tricked“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to destruction.”  Proverbs 16:25

Sin takes you further than you want to go; keeps you there longer than you want to stay; and will cost you more than you’re willing to pay.

I heard that statement years ago, and many times since, but now I’m understanding the reality and gravity of its truth.

We tend to be drawn to pithy phrases.  Think about the posts you share or retweet from your favorite theologians like Piper, Keller, and Bueller, Ferris Bueller.  Of course I’m kidding, but not kidding, about Ferris.

It’s an easy share.  It looks good.  It sounds good.  But how much pondering is done on those few words that we are quick to share but slow to let saturate us to the point of sinking into our hearts and showing up in our actions so that they become evident in our daily discipline?  They’re thought provoking, but how often do we allow them to become guardrails that serve as a tangible reminder that beyond their wisdom and protection is a precipitous cliff that results in grave harm and destruction?

Life is lived at breakneck speeds, full of dangerous curves and intersections.  To recall the wisdom of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  Truth is, if you don’t slow down you will miss more than life; you will find yourself plunging headlong over the cliff.  Sin has a lead foot, and if you allow the enemy to drive your life you’re headed for something much different than the empty promise of a joyride.

The Bible is clear about sin and its destructive nature.  We see sin’s footprint every day in this life we live.  If you want to know why there is racism, a lack of value for life, poverty, incurable diseases, addictions, divorce, war and violence, hunger, injustice, depravity, hate, and any other brokenness you have witnessed or experienced, just look at the systemic problem.  If you’ve got a fruit problem on the tree, you have a root problem below.  The root issue for the brokenness and destructiveness we grieve over in life and in this world is sin.

You can’t keep sin in check, it must daily be confessed.  It can’t be controlled, it must ruthlessly be killed, or it will ruthlessly kill you.  But the enemy is a master at convincing you otherwise.  He will seduce you by offering his pitch of an all expense paid, pleasure trip of a lifetime with amenities that speak to all that you feel has been deficient in your life.  Even Disney knows his playbook, just watch Pinocchio.  Pleasure Island is not so pleasurable.  As a matter of fact, buy into the enemy’s sales-pitch and you’ll see that sin . . .

TAKES YOU FURTHER THAN YOU WANT TO GO . . . Sin’s road always leads you into the shadowlands of fierce “beasts” that do not have your best interest in mind.  The closer you get to the shadowland borders, the more gradual the light fades and darkness begins to fall.  But it’s easy to be lured by all the sensorial trappings of the borderlands.  When you are underwhelmed by God, it doesn’t take much to be overwhelmed by sin.  Whenever your heart becomes captivated by the affections of this world, and your vision becomes distracted by the lust of the flesh (the lust for approval, the lust for attention, the lust for affirmation, the lust for pleasure), you lose your sense of awareness and the direction in which you are headed.  It’s like looking at your phone while walking only to look up, as if to catch a breath, and find that you are wondering where you are and how you got there.  We live our lives often captivated by the vices of our devices, technological or otherwise.  And it leaves us unaware.

It reminds me of my brief stay in London while traveling to Africa.  I decided to take advantage of a long layover before my connecting flight to Zambia, so that I could see some sights of that English city.  After getting on the Tube (London’s version of the subway), I looked for my stop.  Having been exhausted from the flight, I fell asleep on the train.  After I awoke I realized I had missed my stop, and not just by a little.

That’s what happens when you fall asleep on life’s journey.  Living an unaware life will lead you to a destination you never expected.

Before you realize it, you’ve gone beyond the “Danger Ahead” sign, completely unaware of its warning, and you’ve wandered off into a place where light does not shine and destruction isn’t a probability, it’s assured.

I know because I’ve been in the shadowlands.  I am not unlike Simba who went beyond the light and met a roaring lion whose name isn’t Scar, but Death.  I am not unlike Pinocchio who got caught up in Pleasure Island, and quickly became someone he was never created to be.

Over time I’ve learned that it’s not your intentions, but the direction you are headed, that determines your destination.  You may have never intended to be where you are right now, but the direction you are going makes it not surprising that you are where you are.

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love.”  Just ask the younger prodigal son.  What he thought would be a party, ended up being a pig pen.

Sin will always take you further than you want to go.  It always does.

And sin . . .

KEEPS YOU THERE LONGER THAN YOU WANT TO STAY . . . Sin doesn’t lead you further than you want to go for just an overnight stay.  The enemy is a malevolent host who doesn’t let go.  The more you move toward sin, the deeper the barbs go.

If you had the chance to interview the trophy large mouth bass mounted on the wall of Bass Pro Shop, most assuredly he would tell you that once he took the alluring bait and was hooked, he was kept longer than he wanted to stay.  His lifeless gills tell the story.

In the hit song by the Eagles, “Hotel California,” there is a line that reads, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”  That is the mantra of sin.

The enemy is masterful at extending the stay.  He offers more with each night you lodge with him:  your favorite candy the first night, your favorite drink the next; a juicy hamburger today, followed by a filet mignon steak tomorrow.  It’s the witch of Narnia offering more Turkish delight for the hungry soul of self.  The problem with such delicacies, however, is there is nothing that Satan offers that isn’t laden with soul-intoxicating poison.  And it leads to a slow death.

With each day, week, month, and year that passes, the barbed hooks of unchecked sin go deeper.  And even though there is a strong desire and longing to be free, the more sin is justified and minimized, the more staying longer feels safer.  It may not be a constant feasting on pleasure, but more so indulging in the deceptive lies that to remain at the enemy’s table is less harmful than leaving.  “Think of what you’ll lose if you leave the table.”  And, “You don’t have to keep eating that particular delight, try this one:  it’s not as intense, but just as appealing.”

When you feed the flesh, more than the spirit, the flesh will always want to stay.  After all, the walk back to where you had once been is hard.  It’s painful to let God remove the barbs that are so deeply embedded in your soul.

Sin will keep you there longer than you want to stay.  It always does.

And sin . . .

WILL COST YOU MORE THAN YOU’RE WILLING TO PAY . . . Sin is false advertising.  It’s like walking into your favorite store and seeing that one item that you have been wanting for years, but it was just too expensive.  You couldn’t justify spending that kind of money.  But one day you happen to go back, and you see that the price tag was 50% less than before.  The only problem, though, is it wasn’t really on sale, someone had jokingly switched the price tags.

That’s what the enemy does.  He switches the price tag on sin to make it seem affordable, and before you know it you’re in debt to sin.  He’s crafty.  He’s the dealer at the blackjack table who can convince you to play one more hand even though you continue to sink deeper into debt.  He convinces you to play in the sandbox of pleasure, when in reality it’s the quicksand of bondage.

He plays to the weaknesses to which you are often blind.  You can’t see them, but he does.  He’s run the numbers.  He knows the cost.  And he knows that you can’t afford to pay his price.  Remember this:  the borrower is always slave to the lender.  Satan is a willing lender.  The collateral you surrender and the interest you pay will leave you devastated.  The cost for sin is too high.    

If you need further evidence, just look to the cross.  Sin cost Jesus His life, not because He sinned; He was sinless in every way.  But the scriptures are clear that “He made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteous of God.”  Jesus took our sin, our failures, our brokenness, our flaws, and our faults upon Himself, enduring the wrath of God poured out on sin, so that we might be made right with God.  Our sin cost Jesus His life.

Sin is so costly that we can not even come close to paying its debt.  It was costly in the Garden of Eden, it was costly at Golgotha, and it is costly today.  We have been set free so that we might live in the freedom Christ has purchased.  That’s what Paul says to us in Galatians:  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

The bottom line is this:  sin will cost you more than you’re willing to pay.  The sin of pride; the sin of greed; the sin of lust; the sin of deceit; the sin of selfishness; the sin of gossip; the sin of passivity; the sin of self-righteousness; the sin of anger; the sin of bitterness; the sin of unforgiveness; the sin of addiction; the sin of materialism; the sin of ______________________.  Although it may not seem like it’s costly, just remember, Satan has switched the price tags.  And it always, always, costs you more than you’re willing to pay.  It always does.

But thankfully, transforming grace restores what has been destroyed, and leads us back to a better place.  Pain is not wasted.  As a matter of fact, it is formative if you allow God to do His perfecting work in you.  Confession and repentance are necessary.  The prodigal had to come to that place; so did Pinocchio.  Both, in the end, were renewed.  The younger prodigal was joyfully received and thrown a party.  Pinocchio was joyfully received and became a real boy.  Both were at one time controlled by the strings of sin, and both came to know the joy of grace’s freedom.

Maybe you find yourself in a distant land, as I once was, because you’ve allowed sin to take you further than you want to go, and you have stayed longer than you want to stay, and you have paid more than you ever thought you would have to pay.  It’s time to come to your senses.  There is a Father who waits, and is ready to run to the one who takes one step toward home.

“Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised—Promised for you and for me!  Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon—pardon for you and for me!”

“Come home, come home.  Ye who are weary come home.  Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling.  Calling, O sinner, come home.”  (“Softly and Tenderly,” Will Thompson, 1880)

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.