“Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me. For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” Isaiah 63:15-16 ESV
Today, I’m starting a series on the names of God. Isaiah 63:15 is the beginning of a prayer of the prophet Isaiah, a prayer for mercy and restoration for the Jewish people. My focus today is on verse 16, where God is seen as FATHER and REDEEMER.
This prayer begins with a plea for God to look down on His erring people with mercy and compassion. God was displeased with His people, and they were in exile in Babylon because of their sin. But He was still their Father and their Redeemer, and Isaiah was praying for God to show them mercy and restore them.
I usually think of Father and Redeemer as New Testament terms, but Isaiah 63:16 shows that they are not limited to this. The people of Israel were loved by their Maker, and their sin that had brought judgment did not change that relationship. They were experiencing His discipline, but He was still their Father and their Redeemer.
The Hebrew word for Father is‘āḇ. It was used of the first ancestor of a family, and it was used figuratively of benevolence & protection. Here it is used of God as the Father of His people, the one Who controls, guides and lovingly watches over His people.
Redeemer, gā’al in Hebrew, means “To purchase back; to ransom; to liberate or rescue from captivity or bondage, or from any obligation or liability.” Yahweh is here seen as the one Who redeemed Israel, His people, from slavery in Egypt, and later from exile in Babylon. With God as the subject, it implies a personal relationship that is being restored.
I’m so grateful that the terms Father and Redeemer aren’t limited to Israel. As Christians, those who have accepted Christ Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we also have the privilege of calling Yahweh, Almighty God, our Father. Galatians 4:6-7 says, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
In addition to God being our Father, He is also our Redeemer. In fact, God took on human flesh for the purpose of redeeming us or setting us free from the bondage of sin. Titus 2:14 speaks of God redeeming us to make us “a people for his own possession.”
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)
If you have accepted the free gift of salvation, You have the privilege of calling God both Father and Redeemer. If you haven’t accepted Christ’s death on the Cross as the payment for your sin and beginning of a new life, now is the time to do so. I want to close with the word of the apostle Peter, the invitation given to those gathered on the day of Pentecost.
“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”” Acts 2:38-39 ESV
I was getting ready to leave this morning when a phone call suddenly changed my plans. My medical appointment was cancelled and rescheduled because the doctor was not available today.
As I began to shift my plans for the day, a term I’ve heard frequently in recent months came to mind. Cancel culture. What exactly is cancel culture?
I was surprised to find a definition on my Merriam-Webster Dictionary app. It defines cancel culture as “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” The entry adds “This practice of ‘canceling’ or mass shaming often occurs on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.“
As Christians and political conservatives, our beliefs and convictions based on Scripture are no longer considered acceptable. In a culture that values the right to abortion and LGBTQ rights, Biblical beliefs are considered offensive and harmful. As Christians, our convictions based on Scripture are being censored as distasteful and even dangerous by the social media platforms that many of us use regularly.
While we may not yet be directly experiencing cancel culture personally, now is the time to determine how we will respond when it is applied to all who hold onto Biblical beliefs and convictions. If the social media giants have their way, we will quickly see mass canceling of all those whose beliefs do not line up with what is politically correct.
Canceling of Christian and politically conservative leaders from the popular social media platforms is already well underway, and unless there is a major change in our culture soon no Christian who stands by their Scriptural convictions will be exempt.
Our pastor has been preaching a series on the book of 1 Peter, which he calls “Following After Christ In a Non-Christian World.” The sad truth is that we are living in a post-Christian culture that no longer professes the values of Christianity. A Christian worldview is now considered offensive by the most vocal people in our nation – and in many other nations as well. When we use Scripture as our standard of genuine truth, we will find ourselves shamed and ostracized.
Let’s look at what Scripture says about this issue.
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV
Be zealous for what is good. To be zealous for what is good is to have a focused desire, with passion and commitment to doing the will of God, which is always good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). This isn’t a guarantee we will be spared from suffering, but rather a promise that we will be not be harmed eternally if we are called to suffer for righteousness’ sake.
We must choose to always honor Christ, by giving Him the respect and obedience that He deserves. He is holy, and He calls us to lives of holiness.
We need to be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us. The Greek word for “make a defense” is “apologia.” This is where we get the English word “apologetics,” which refers to the defense of the Christian faith. In other words, we need to know what we believe and how to explain to others why we believe it.
When we have the opportunity to explain to others what we believe and why we believe it, to give a reason for the hope that is within us, we are to do so with gentleness. Gentleness is better translated meekness, an English word that is often misunderstood as weakness. Biblical meekness is not weakness. Biblical meekness has been defined as “the patient and hopeful endurance of undesirable circumstances,” from an inner desire to please God. It is strength under God’s control.
We are also to share the reason for the hope within us, with a good conscience and without shrinking back in fear of rejection, always honoring the Lord and His Word.
Finally, this passage speaks of being willing to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will. Our decision to do good regardless of the consequences, to discern and then make a commitment to do the will of God as revealed in His Word may result in suffering.
There is one more truth that will determine how we live in this cancel culture. It comes from 1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV, “Let all that you do be done with love.” Dwight L. Moody said, “The world does not understand theology or dogma, but it understands love and sympathy.” Love alone has the power to break through the hardened heart with truth.
Are you currently facing the challenges of cancel culture? If so, determine to stand strong as you hold firmly to all that you believe.
Or, if you face this challenge in the future, are you making a commitment to truth as found in God’s Word. Are you ready to stand firm in your faith, to be brave and strong as you take advantage of opportunities to share truths from God’s Word?
Regardless of which situation you currently find yourself in, cancel culture is a challenge all Christians need to be prepared to face. Be alert. Hold firmly to the truths of Scripture, even in the midst of ridicule and shaming. And no matter what you face, remember that all you do is to be done in love.
“You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:17-18 NLT
If you’ve watched the news on television recently, or read a newspaper or even posts online, the reports have been full of warnings concerning the Corona Virus. It’s wise to be on guard and take seriously what we hear from dependable sources on how we can protect ourselves. But to do that we first have to sift out the lies from the truth.
Today’s Scripture begins with another kind of warning, one that is the theme of the book of 2 Peter. This letter was written just before Nero began his persecution of Christians. Peter recognized his time on earth was coming to an end (2 Peter 1: 13-15) – shortly after this, he was martyred for his faith – and this final epistle was written to both warn and comfort the church in a time when their future looked unsettled. It was a time when the church also needed to recognize the lies and stand on the truth.
After encouraging the believers to remember that God’s power had given them everything they needed to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3), even in the midst of the problems they were facing, the beloved apostle closed the book with the above two verses. To these who had been entrusted to his care, Peter was saying it’s time to be on guard, to both the dangers from without and complacency and heresy from within.
After warning the believers to maintain their secure footing in the midst of the false teaching that had infiltrated the church, he says the words that I’m focusing on today. “Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In essence, he was reminding them to become aware that the main business they were there for was growing in God’s grace and in their knowledge of Jesus.
GROWING IN GRACE
Dwight L. Moody said concerning grace, “Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal…Grace means undeserved kindness. It is the gift of God to man the moment he sees he is unworthy of God’s favor. It’s a way to live. The law tells me how crooked I am. Grace comes along and straightens me out.”
One definition I’ve read is that grace is the power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. By grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross we are saved. Saving grace is explained in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
But grace isn’t only for salvation. We need God’s grace every day we live on this earth. God gives not only saving grace but also sustaining grace, the type of grace seen in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Max Lucado said concerning sustaining grace, “Sustaining grace meets us at our point of need and equips us with courage, wisdom, and strength.”
David Wilkerson said, “To me, grace is Holy Ghost empowerment to become more like Jesus. Therefore, to grow in grace means to increase in Christ-likeness through the unmerited power of God’s Spirit.”
As we grow in grace, we talk and think less about ourselves. We become lower and lower in our own estimation. We also come to a greater understanding of God’s holiness, justice, and sovereignty, which in turn allows us to more clearly see our rebellion, selfishness and pride. We recognize our unworthiness and see the greatness of His undeserved favor and love that drew us to Himself. And as David Wilkerson said, we become more like Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells our spirit.
GROWING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
Knowing Christ is of incomparable worth–of more value than anything! The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Philippian church.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Philippians 3:7-11 ESV
Sometimes it takes a dramatic turn of events to alter our perspective. For me, that started with an accident that took the life of our firstborn daughter, Teresa, and left me crippled so badly my doctors did not expect me ever to be able to walk. Because of God’s grace, they were wrong. At the time, I was already a Christian who loved the Lord and wanted to please Him. My husband and I had met each other while attending Bible College, and we were now working with a ministry group in a small town in west Texas. Everything looked promising for the future.
What had I counted as gain? My health for one thing, my ability to walk whenever I wanted to, to get in the car and drive wherever I wanted to go, a relatively pain-free life, the desire to one day return to teaching kindergarten when our daughter was a little older. In one dramatic turn of events, all of those were lost.
How could I count these good desires as rubbish? How was all of this “for the sake of Christ.” Honestly, it took me a long time to come to the point where I could look at the losses and see any gain from them.
In his book The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote,
“The difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable. It is the way we look at them – through faith or unbelief – that makes them seem so. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us and that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good.
“Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him. We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.”
It took many years before I could look at these difficulties and others that came years later and see them through the lens of faith. I still don’t know why God allowed the accident that took the life of our firstborn. I still don’t understand God’s purposes in making my husband and I parents of a little boy who lived with profound mental retardation and was completely dependent upon others to meet all of his needs for all 34 years of his life. I don’t know why in the midst of this, we also became the caregivers of my dear mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. In fact, I stopped asking “why?” many years ago.
But there are some things I do know. I know God is good. I know He is faithful. I know from experience that His grace is sufficient, even in my weakness. And above all, I know that the circumstances I’ve lived through have changed me into a different person than I was when all of this began in December 1975. My love for God is deeper, and my peace surpasses my understanding. And finally, I know a time is coming when the Lord will wipe away every tear from my eyes, when death and mourning and pain will be no more, when God will make all things new (Revelation 21:4-5).
Until then, my desire is to continue growing in the grace and knowledge of my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. And to continue trusting my unknown future to a God I’ve come to know.
Yesterday, I did a short “Thankful Thursday” post for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness on Strengthening Ourselves in the Lord. It was based on 1 Samuel 30, where David and his men return to their home-base in Ziklag, only to find the city had been attacked by Amalekite raiders, burned to the ground, and all the inhabitants of the city, including the wives and children of David and his men, taken captive.
As if this wasn’t enough for David to deal with, the passage also tells us that his own men had turned against him and were talking of stoning him. To say David felt overwhelmed is an understatement. Yes, the passage says David (and those with him) “wept until they had no strength to weep.” But then David did something else. The final words of 1 Samuel 30:6 say, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” After doing this, David had the courage and wisdom to turn this dire situation around.
This has been a difficult week, as I’ve dealt with the disappointment of no obvious improvement in knee pain well past the five days it usually takes to tell if a cortisone injection will be effective. But after reading this passage, I had to admit my bad days aren’t even worthy to compare with what David experienced in this chapter.
I also knew God had a clear message for me from this Old Testament historical narrative. I needed to spend some time strengthening and encouraging myself in the Lord. That was the “next step” God was calling me to take, before I was ready to face the uncertainties of the future and begin moving forward.
And the Lord went a step further and showed me a specific area where the enemy had been using difficult circumstances of the last nine months to chip away at my trust in one of the major truths of the Christian life, the goodness of God. Without a firm foundation built on the goodness of our God, difficult circumstances can result in a type of emotional paralysis that keeps us from moving forward.
I’ve spent some time yesterday afternoon and this morning studying what God’s word has to say about the goodness of our God. God is with us whether we have awareness of His presence or not. He is always loving, whether our circumstances are a clear reflection of that love or not. And God is good, in every situation, even when our emotions are making it hard for us to believe this.
The truths that God is with us and will never leave or forsake us, that He loves us with a steadfast and unfailing love, and that no matter what is going on in our lives God is still good are three foundational truths about the nature of God that we need to accept by faith to make it through the tough seasons of life.
Ten Essentials Truths About the Goodness of God
The goodness of our God is with us always, whether we have awareness of it in our emotions or not.
God both is good and does good, goodness marks His nature and His works. “You are good and do good…”(Psalm 119:68a)
God’s goodness follows me daily through this life, and because He gave His Son for my sins – His ultimate act of goodness – I will spend eternity with Him. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)
By faith I receive God’s goodness in the midst of daily trials. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” (Psalm 27:13)
God’s goodness is tangible – we can “taste and see” it. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8 ESV)
Because of His goodness, He is a stronghold we can flee to in the day of trouble. “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” (Nahum 1:7)
Giving thanks to the Lord should be our response to His goodness. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1)
God’s goodness is for all. “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:9)
God especially promises to show goodness to all who wait on Him. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”(Lamentations 3:25-26)
While goodness is a fruit of the Spirit and a character attribute we are to extend toward others, no one is fully and truly good but God! “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19)
Youth With A Mission, better known as YWAM (pronounced “WHY-wham”), is an interdenominational Christian missionary organization founded by Loren Cunningham and his wife Darlene in 1960.
While on a beach in Hawaii, looking out at the waves, Loren Cunningham saw a vision of a different kind of waves – waves of young people taking the gospel message to the ends of the earth. YWAM was founded as a result of that vision. Fifty-nine years after it began, YWAM continues as an effective tool for fulfilling the vision He gave Loren and the Great Commission of Acts 1:8 upon which it was based and of Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
YWAM has had a special place in our lives. Some close friends of ours, Billy and Lyn Littlefield, went through the YWAM discipleship training program in the 1970s, and their training became the catalyst for a discipleship training program my husband Mitch and I were a part of in the early years of our marriage. A few years later, Mitch’s sister Shirley also spent time with YWAM.
I think the thing that has stuck with me more than anything else from these early years of our marriage and our indirect involvement with YWAM is the stated purpose of this Christian organization: To know God and to make Him known. I can’t think of a better description of the effective Christian life!
To Know God
John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The Christian life begins with a personal relationship with God. Through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we receive forgiveness for our sins and come to know God and His Son Jesus Christ. J. I. Packer, author of the book Knowing God, said:
“There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve Him, boldness to share Him, and contentment in Him.”
Knowing God begins when we become a part of His family through faith in Jesus Christ. But it is also a growing process as we come to know Him more fully through His written Word. As we read and study the Bible, we learn what He is like – a faithful God, loving us with a steadfast love, showing us mercy by not giving us what we deserve and grace by giving us what we don’t deserve. His names, attributes, promises and the total of Scripture progressively reveal the fullness of Who God is. This kind of knowing is a lifelong process.
To Make HimKnow
Once we know God through a personal relationship with Him, Jesus has commissioned us to go into all the world and share that knowledge with others. Starting with our “Jerusalem” – the neighborhood, town or city where we live and moving out from there, we begin sharing the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As disciples, our call is two-fold, to grow personally in our knowledge of God and to be disciple-makers, introducing others to the good news that has changed our lives.
When An Unknown Future Looms Ahead
At no time in our lives is truly knowing God more important than when we face an unknown future. When things feel totally out of our control, knowing God gives us confidence that our circumstances aren’t out of God’s control. God has not promised to shield us from trouble. He has promised to be with us, whatever we must walk through.
Peter Marshall, pastor and chaplain of the United States Senate from 1947 to 1949, said: “God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.”
Corrie ten Boom, survivor of Ravensbruck German concentration camp and Christian speaker and author of The Hiding Place, a memoir telling the story of her family’s hiding Jews from the Nazis, said: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
As I write this Teach Me Tuesday post, I’m preparing for an MRI on my left knee that has been swollen and extremely painful since the end of May. As I await this test, scheduled for today, I don’t know what lies ahead. So I’m choosing to focus on what I do know.
I do know God has promised to go before me and be with me, no matter what lies ahead, and He always keeps His promises. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8
I do know God promises to work all things together for the good of those who are called according to His purposes, and I am one of the called. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
I do know that God uses the circumstances He allows to touch my life for His purposes, specifically, to conform me to the image of His Son. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29
I do know God is good and I believe I will see God’s goodness while I’m still on this earth. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” Psalms 27:13
I do know God is faithful. He never promises and then fails to deliver. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
I do know God is love. God’s love is so great that He gave His only Son to bring us into fellowship with Him. With His love, He embraces each of us personally. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10
I do know when this life is over I have an inheritance awaiting me in heaven. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” 1 Peter 1:3-4
As Corrie ten Boom said, if we know God we have no reason to fear the future. If we understand His love for us, we can know the difficulties we’re currently walking through will produce blessing, both in this life and in eternity when we go to be in His presence forever.
Today, I’m trying to recover from two physically exhausting days of medical appointments and two nights where the pain kept me awake. Life with chronic illness can be difficult, especially when new symptoms start popping up and we don’t know the cause of them. Doctor’s appointments, lab work, medical tests – they can all be challenging when you’re already feeling at the end of your strength.
But as I was taking some time in prayer this morning, God gently spoke to my mind in the midst of all the unknowns to turn my eyes on what I DO KNOW. I may not know why the Lord has allowed this interruption in my plans or what the future holds. But I do know I’m not alone. No matter what today or the future holds, I know I can continue moving forward because the Lord is at my side.
I do know I can choose to draw close to God and find comfort in His presence and His Word.
I do know He is my loving Father, who wants the very best for me.
I do know He is my faithful God who always keeps His promises.
I do know His grace is sufficient for me in every situation He asks me to walk through.
I do know He invites me to cast all my cares on Him because He cares for me.
I do know He proved without a doubt how much He loves me when He paid the ultimate price of giving His Son Jesus Christ to make a way for me to draw near to Him in both good times and in times of need.
I do know He is God over all I don’t know, over every pain, fear, and unanswered question. Even when I don’t know all the answers I can rest in the assurance that my God does!
No matter what fears you’re battling today or what unanswered questions you have, you can know we serve a God who is God over ALL we don’t know.
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord,” Jeremiah 29:12-14 ESV
This promise from Scripture is one of my favorites. It comes immediately after one most of us are familiar with, Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds us that God has a good plan for our lives, a plan to give us a future and a hope. Often, I see this verse quoted, with no mention of the following verses that are directly related to it. They speak of the focus that is to be present in our life as we realize God is good and His plan for our lives is good.
Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, we read a solemn warning of what was ahead for Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel) if they continued down the path they had been trodding (see Jeremiah 9). If they continued stubbornly ignoring God’s law, determined to follow their own desires, judgment was ahead.
Unfortunately, this stern warning had not been heeded, and that judgment had arrived. God used Babylon as His agent of judgment against Israel for their sins of idolatry and rebellion against Him, and in B.C. 587 Jerusalem was attached, the city destroyed, and the people taken into captivity to Babylon.
Jeremiah 29 begins with these words. “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 29:1)
In this letter, Jeremiah gave clear instructions from the Lord to the exiles. They were to build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce, marry and have children, take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage that they in turn would have children, and seek the welfare of the city where they have been sent into exile. (https://www.bible.com/59/jer.29.5-7.esv). In other words, this would not be a brief interlude in there lives, so they needed to accept the consequences of their failure to obey God and live in the best way possible during this time.
In verse 10, Jeremiah gives them a promise that this time of exile will come to an end. Jeremiah writes, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
This is the setting of Jeremiah 29:11-14. The season of exile would come to an end, the people of Judah would return to their promised land, and in having gone through the Lord’s discipline they would have a hopeful future, as they chose to seek God with their whole heart.
While we have not experienced exile because of disobedience to the Lord, like Judah we are recipients of this promise. This is a conditional promise, requiring something from us. To seek God is to desire His presence more than His presents. While God has promised to never leave or forsake us, our awareness of His presence is affected by the depth of our relationship with Him. To walk in God’s presence daily, we must seek Him with our whole heart.
What does it mean to seek God with our whole heart?
It is to seek Him with a deep longing that makes the things of this world pale in comparison.
It is to recognize receiving life from Him is a vital necessity, something without which we can’t truly live a meaningful life.
It is to realize without Him we can do nothing of lasting value, and therefore make abiding in His presence daily our highest priority in life.
It is to respond quickly to the conviction of the Holy Spirit
Remember, we are seeking the presence of a God whose desire for us to live daily in His presence is so great that He sent His own Son to earth as a man, to live the life we were called to live but could not, and then to die as our substitute on the cross. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins, was raised on the third day, and He now lives within us in the person of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live in a way that pleases the Father.
Once we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as the payment for our sin and become children of God, we can seek Him with confidence that He desires a close relationship with us even more than we desire to walk close to Him. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the way has been opened for us to encounter God based fully on His grace, mercy and love for us. All that is required for us to experience God is to set aside time daily to seek Him with ears open to His voice and a heart ready to receive and obey.
It’s easy to rejoice and give thanks when we pray and God answers in the way we hoped He would. It’s also pretty easy to thank Him when we can look around and see many blessings in our lives.
But when our situation seems unpleasant and we’re struggling through tragedy or just plain hard times, it can be difficult to hold onto the truth that God is still in control and He is always loving and kind toward His children. Giving thanks in such circumstances is a step of faith in the character of our God.
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom, imprisoned with her family for hiding and helping many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, shares an incident that God used to teach her this important principle of giving thanks in all circumstances.
Corrie and her sister Betsie, had recently been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, the all female camp Ravensbruck. As with all newcomers, they were placed in the quarantine compound, located next to the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, Corrie says they heard “the sounds of hell itself” as the prisoners were cruelly beaten.
“It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.”
A short time later, they were moved to Barracks 28 and Corrie was horrified by their reeking, straw-bed platforms. But she soon learned things were even worse than she had realized.
“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ’Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’
“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place?’
Corrie wrote, “I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room…”
And Betsie said, “‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took Corrie a second to realize she was praying.
“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ’He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’
Corrie continues, “I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said.”
In verses 16 – 18, Betsie’s question concerning how they were to survive in this place was answered. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”
“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.”
They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the crowded conditions, making it so that more women would be able to hear God’s Word. And Corrie went along with what Betsie was saying… until Betsie thanked God for the fleas.
“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’“
“Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”
Later they learned that Betsie was not wrong. Yes, the fleas were a nuisance, but they were also a blessing. Because of the fleas, the supervisors avoided Barracks 28, making a way for the women to have Bible studies in the barracks without harrassment. Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God.
Barracks 28 at Ravensbruck became known as “the crazy place where women have hope… Hope in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of persecution. Hope in the midst of unimaginable evils.”
Many women in Barracks 28 came to know the hope that only can be found in a relationship with Jesus. They learned that (as Corrie put it), “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
I doubt any of us are facing a situation as devastating as this one Corrie and Betsie ten Boom faced. Are you willing to trust that God has a good purpose in your difficult circumstances, and thank God in the midst of them? We may not know why God has allowed the difficulties we face, but we can know that God is good and He will use the painful situations we walk through for our good and His glory.
Tomorrow will be the five-month anniversary of the day the Lord took our son David to his heavenly home. When David was born, my husband and I entered an unknown world of being the parents of a child with extensive medical needs that our lives centered around meeting his needs.
During David’s short lifetime, we’ve faced a long list of diagnoses with diseases we had never even heard of before, fragile bones which resulted is numerous fractures, evaluations by doctors that put David’s life-expectancy at twelve years or less, dozens of hospitalizations which could have ended in death, and even a legal battle to not lose all his essential nursing care when he turned twenty-one. In the midst of all of this, the Lord graciously gave us thirty-four years with David.
On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful for the work God has done in my husband’s and my life over the last thirty-four plus years to bring us to the place where the attributes of God’s character have moved from being words in a book to being truths we now know by personal experience. Trials are rich soil in which our knowledge of God has the opportunity to grow.
I now know our God is a loving and compassionate Father, because I’ve seen His love and compassion in innumerable situations in our lives.
I now know God is faithful to keep His promises, because in one circumstance after another God has given us promises and then done exactly what He promised.
I now know God has the power to do what looks impossible in my eyes, because I’ve seen Him turn around several situations that looked impossible.
The one situation that stands out to me above all others was what God did when David aged out of the children’s services program that provided him with sixteen hours a day of private duty nursing care. When David’s twenty-first birthday was approaching, the state offered us only two options. We could choose to keep David at home and meet his extensive medical needs without any nursing care, or we could institutionalize him in a state school. We went to visit the nearest state school for the disabled, and they told us they really hoped we would not enroll him there, because they were not able to meet his extensive medical needs. We’ve never faced a situation that looked more impossible!
God gave us a promise: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26 ESV) As I was praying, the Lord brought to mind the name of a legal assistance program, Advocacy, Inc. (now known as Disability Rights Texas). I made a call to the local legal office, but this was such a major case that we ended up being represented at the Federal District Court by the top legal team for disability rights in the state of Texas, at no cost to us.
Through a legal settlement, God made a way for us to continue to meet David’s needs in our home, with no reduction in the level of services he received as a child, until the day the Lord took him home. And He provided the added benefit of setting a legal precedent through our case that has helped numerous other families who have faced the same situation when their son or daughter turned twenty-one.
Now that our son is safely in God’s presence, no longer suffering but whole for the first time, our family is walking in a season of transition. The past is behind us, the future uncertain. In this situation, a quote I heard many years ago has come to mind. While I don’t have a clear picture of what lies ahead, I do know the One who does. As Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Today, I want to encourage you to look at your current circumstances through the lens of God’s attributes. How has He shown Himself to you through the struggles you’ve walked through? What characteristics of God have moved from simply being something you’ve read about in the Word of God to something you now know by personal experience? Let’s encourage one another today by sharing how your battles with chronic illnesses and whatever other difficulties have been a part of your life have helped you grow in your knowledge of God.
1 Peter 3:15 instructs us as Christians to always be prepared to share the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ – in other words, to be ready whenever the opportunity arises to share our personal testimony of how we came to know Christ. I especially like the New Living Translation wording of this verse.
“… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”
During recent weeks, our iConnect Bible study class members have been taking turns sharing our personal testimonies of how we came to know Christ. The goal has been for each of us to prepare and share a brief, two to three minute testimony of our life before knowing Christ, how we came to know Him, and how receiving Christ as our Savior and Lord has changed how we live. Then, when God opens the door to share this with someone who does not know Christ as their personal Savior we’ll be prepared to explain what God has done in our lives and what He is able and willing to do in their life.
This is my personal testimony.
I was born into a Christian family. My father and my mother had both accepted the Lord as their personal Savior at an old fashioned camp meeting revival before they were married, and by the time I came along over 20 years later, our family lived a Christian lifestyle.
Two of my earliest childhood memories are of my father sitting in his red leather rocker every morning before leaving for work reading his Bible, and of my mother kneeling beside her bed each night praying. And going to church was simply what we did – every time the doors were open. It was as much a part of my lifestyle as a child and teenager as going to school.
We attended a Methodist church that was at the end of the block where we lived, and I remember walking to the church early every Sunday morning. During the week, I also spent lots of time at the parsonage which was next door to the church, visiting with some of my best friends, our pastor’s daughter and another friend who lived next door.
My father was a deacon in our church, my older sister who still lived at home a children’s Sunday School teacher and choir member. And by the time I was in high school I was either working in the nursery or teaching the youngest class of children most Sundays.
When I went away to college in 1966, I continued to attend church. A large local Methodist church sent a bus to the campus to pick up students, and I seldom missed a Sunday.
When I graduated from college in 1970 and moved to the town north of Baltimore where I had a job teaching kindergarten, one of the first things I did after my roommate and I got unpacked and settled in an apartment was to start looking for a church. I found a nearby Methodist church and started attending. And this church is where my life changed.
At this church, my life changed when Christianity became more than a religious lifestyle. It became a relationship, a personal walk with Jesus Christ. It was in this church that I first understood that the only way to be a real part of God’s kingdom is by being born again. For the first time, I understood that my religious lifestyle wasn’t enough. I understood that my sin separates me from God, but that God had provided a way to bridge that gap.
Even though I had attended church all my life, even though I considered myself a Christian, for the first time in my life I recognized this wasn’t enough.
For the first time, I understood why Jesus had to die on the cross, and the steps I needed to take to benefit from His sacrifice.
I now saw myself as a sinner who needed salvation.
I understood that the just penalty for sin is death.
I acknowledged that Jesus paid that penalty for me when He died on the cross.
I recognized that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, one we accept by faith.
I received that gift by faith, as I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. And I was born again – and since that day my life has never been the same.
My life as a new Christian began me down a new road, one that definitely hasn’t always been easy. But I’ve never regretted the decision I made so many years ago. Jesus has been with me, walking at my side, through every trial I’ve faced, and my relationship with Him has been my source of strength.
Do you have a similar story you can tell? If not, now is the time to take these same steps I took. Moving from religion to relationship has the power to transform your life.
If you’ve already received this free gift of salvation by faith, are you prepared to share the reason for the hope you have found in Christ Jesus? Have you taken the time to prayerfully prepare a brief testimony of the work of God in your life to bring you to salvation? Acts 1:8 says the Lord has called us to be His witnesses, to our Jerusalem (the city where we live), our Judea and Samaria (the area nearby), and to the ends of the earth. Are you prepared to be His witness whenever He opens the door for you to do so? If not, don’t wait another day to get ready.