This I call to mind

Lamentations 3

When times are hard, even the faithful suffer. As long as we are in this world, whatever disasters strike, from pandemics to wars to natural catastrophes, we can expect to endure along with all of humanity. The prophet in Lamentations (presumably Jeremiah) described his own suffering with the people under the Lord’s judgement. He broke down his suffering into four realms:
1. Suffering is physical (v.4)
2. Suffering is psychological (v.7)
3. Suffering is emotional (v.15)
4. Suffering is spiritual (v. 18)

Physical suffering

Jeremiah wrote about his physical suffering first, describing the effects of hunger, disease, and broken bones on his body. For us, pain is the easiest form of suffering to understand because we all experience it. We may not remember the pain of being born or the scrapes, bumps, and bruises that come with childhood, but we do remember our most recent experience with pain, whether it be an occasional headache or a chronic condition. For those who survived the Babylonian attacks on Jerusalem, physical pain began with hunger and for most, continued in slavery. Enduring physical pain is exhausting and demoralizing. Today, physical pain may be reduced by medication, but its debilitating effects may still cause us to question God’s purpose for our lives.

Psychological suffering

Isolation causes psychological suffering. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic served as a reminder to every person on the planet that we are created for community. A video chat cannot replace companionship. Loneliness has long term physical repercussions, including sleep changes, altered metabolism, and even neurocognitive effects (Ellis, 2020). Jeremiah described his isolation as impenetrable walls and heavy chains with no way of escape.

Emotional suffering

Emotions affect the way we perceive the world. It’s how we are wired as humans. We feel deeply. Emotions allow us to connect to each other with empathy and love and authenticity. But our emotions can also make us feel things that aren’t real. When times are hard, we tend to follow our emotions and feelings rather than reason and logic. The prophet here felt his suffering was God laying in wait to pounce on him like a bear or a lion does its prey. He felt torn to pieces, taunted by others and cowering in ashes. The recent protests in the US revealed the emotions of many of my Black brothers and sisters who feel much as Jeremiah did: they feel tormented, ridiculed, unheard, and without value. The suffering is real and is runs deep.

Spiritual suffering

The worst possible kind of suffering is suspecting that God has abandoned us. Jesus himself dreaded being separated from the Father, even asking whether there was another way to make atonement for our sins in order that we might be reconciled to God (Matthew 26:36-46). Jeremiah’s soul was bereft of peace to the point where he had forgotten what happiness felt like. This deep spiritual suffering leaves us hopeless and, if not resolved, can have dire consequences. Spiritual suffering is hell.

God makes a way where there is no way

After 20 verses painting a picture of his suffering, the prophet comes to his purpose in writing: BUT THIS I CALL TO MIND (v.21). Those are powerful words.

BUT THIS. There is an end to suffering. There is more than the current crisis. There is something greater at work.

I CALL. It is not a new revelation. We can access the greater lesson. We can call on the Lord; he has redeemed us and called us by name (Isaiah 43).

TO MIND. Suffering is real, make no mistake. But what Jeremiah wrote is a reminder to all of us that we do not have to focus on our suffering. God has given us minds that we can train to endure the physical, psychological, and emotional strains on our lives, especially in bad times.

What exactly did Jeremiah call to mind?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases (Lamentations 3, v.22). Never. Even in the chaos of devastation, the Lord is good to the souls who seek him (v.25). His mercies are new EVERY day (v. 22). Hope comes when we recognize that every solace we may need is available to us (v. 24). His compassion and steadfast love means He will not cast us off forever; He is with us (v. 31-33).

In the meantime, our response is to examine our own ways and thoughts to root out anything that separates us from the Father (Lamentations 3:40-42; Psalm 139: 23-24), lifting up hearts and hands in repentance and lament. The Lord will come near when we call on His name (Lamentations 3:57) and let us see that He is with us and for us, even in the middle of the mess.

It reminds me of the William Dawson (1937) song, “Ain’a That Good News.” Suffering is part of living in this world, but there’s “a Savior in-a that kingdom” whose compassion will redeem us!

Ain’a that good news William Dawson, 1937. Tuskegee Institute Choir

Lamentations 2

Lamentations 2 and Proverbs 21, 25

” Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:2-3).

“The Lord has done what He purposed; He has carried out His word” ( Lamentations 2:17).

God made clear His expectations for his people through Moses (Leviticus and Deuteronomy). At the top of the list was keep the Name of the Lord holy by not worshipping idols. Other expectations were to ensure justice for everyone, from the lowest slave to the king. Everyone was to be held accountable to the Law. God was also clear about the end result of disobedience: utter destruction. Generations after Moses, after multiple rescues and second chances, God followed through by letting His holy wrath pour out like fire (Lamentations 2:4), laying waste to the city like an enemy (v. 5).

Jerusalem was prosperous and beautiful, a princess among nations, but she turned from the Lord and took satisfaction in her wealth and idols, listening to the words of false and deceptive teachers and kings. Finally, God did what He told them He would do if they persisted in sin (Lamentations 2:17; Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28; Jeremiah 51).

God is the true and just sanctifier (Leviticus 22:31-33) who sees the violence of the wicked among his people, and He will sweep them away (Proverbs 21:7). False teachers who did not call out sin for what it was led people away from the Lord. They still do. And the people of Jerusalem learned that trusting treacherous teachers is dangerous. The same is true today. The Church in the US has largely been lazy, calling people to God not because they need to repent over sin, but to join with social movements or prosperity doctrines that make people feel happy.

Jerusalem had to be utterly and corporately destroyed for God to get their attention. The US is crumbling by corruption from within, and as always, the devastation is corporate, not individual. Why is there evil in the world? Because people choose themselves over the Lord.

The Lord knows our hearts.

Interlude for Thursday

Proverbs 21

The US in in the third month of COVID19 limitations and fear. It is also in the 7th day of protests that began with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and expanded to race relations and systemic injustices in general. In the last few years, and increasingly faster, we are witnessing the consequences of people doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). At the moment, there seems to be little hope for deliverance from both natural and man-made catastrophes.

The truth is that there is no hope without the Lord Almighty to save us. Proverbs 21:2 says, ” Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Verse 7 adds, “The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just.” We see this in the world around us; the US is only a small part of global injustice, where humans harm others for power, control, and wealth.

We who call ourselves believers know that the only true power belongs to Almighty God. He knows the hearts and motives of each of us. His desire is for us to be people of righteousness and His justice. We look to Him, because “no wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30). As we seek and pursue peace, we know that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31).

Our prayer today may be “Lord God Almighty, Jehovah Adonai, go before us and behind us so that we walk with confidence that You alone are wholly just and You alone are mighty to save. Let me be a source of your wisdom today so that Your mighty hand can work through me.”

an interlude for prayer

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

The Lord is with his own in this time. When humanity is at its worst, God’s compassion offers comfort to the afflicted. We who call ourselves believers must embody the Comforter, standing for what is right and embracing those who have been wronged.

Let this be our prayer: Lord, make me a person who is active in providing comfort to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Let those who are afflicted feel safe in my presence. Thank you, Father, for being Jehovah Shammah. Amen.

an interlude

This is not a black square. I listened to one of my Black sisters who said it made her uncomfortable. I know, too, that it is a symbol, so I do not have an argument with anyone who chooses to #blackouttuesday. For me, however, I choose to stand with my Black brothers and sisters as together we appeal to Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, for His mercy, His grace, and His will.

The words in this image are a song from my childhood about Jehovah Rapha as the One who turns the bitter water sweet and heals both body and soul. I have interspersed the repeated lyrics with the promises of Psalm 147: He heals the brokenhearted; He binds up their wounds; He gathers the outcasts; He lifts up the humble; He makes peace in your borders; He declares His Word.

More than anything, racial reconciliation requires repentance that allows the Almighty to heal us. Let our prayer today be this: Lord, make me a person who brings your healing to a broken person today. Let my words be your balm and let my actions demonstrate Your love as I listen and learn. Thank you, Jesus, for being Jehovah Rapha.
Amen.

Lamentations

I have been broken by the events of 2020, and I feel like I need to take a short break from Psalm 119 to examine the most profound lament of the Old Testament in light of the current Church and culture in the US.

Illuminated Scripture Journal cover. Crossway, 2001

I did some background reading on Bible.org, BibleScripture.net and in the Tony Evans Bible Commentary. Context is always king when it comes to any kind of literary analysis, and especially so for Bible study. As I am writing this, many cities in the US are reacting to an alarming number of murders of black people by racist white men. The most recent, and the one that set cities ablaze was the videotaped murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, and only stopped when the man was unresponsive. It was cruel and violent and vile behavior. What made it even worse is that the officer was looking for someone else, someone who was accused of forgery.

This kind of behavior by anyone is evil, but law enforcement officers are supposed to be held to a higher standard. Most officers are good men and women, committed to protecting communities and the individuals who live there. Sadly, only a few power-hungry individuals (both legal and judicial) can ruin the relationship between police officers and the people they serve. Several recent officer involved deaths have not be prosecuted or investigated properly, and in Georgia, Ahmaud Arbury was stalked and murdered by a white father-son duo who claimed Arbury looked like someone who had been burglarizing their neighborhood (he was not a suspect, nor is there any evidence he had anything to do with any misbehavior). The last time I checked, laying in wait and ambushing a jogger is intent. Vigilantism is illegal, along with being immoral, yet until a video surfaced of the murder, neither men had been charged.

These events, and others like them, are leading the US toward destruction, and we are witnesses to it. The undercurrent of sin as acceptable behavior will not be long tolerated by a holy God. When believers justify the actions of murderers or rationalize the injustices that are continually revealed, they participate in the sin that will result in the chaos and rage that cities like Minneapolis are living in this week.

Lamentations is the heart cry of a witness to the destruction of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar. The burning of the city was devastating, and the destruction was complete. The historical account is recorded in 2 Chronicles 36, and Jeremiah’s protection from it in Jeremiah 39. Chuck Swindoll preached a series on Lamentations in 1980, and his background work is stellar. I recommend starting with his words here. It is interesting to listen to Swindoll’s application points in 1980 and to think about where we are now. It’s more evidence that the Word of God is timeless.

The Heart of the Matter
Most of us have never been involved in a mop-up scene after a battle or following a calamity. But those who have can testify that it is one of the most painful and pathetic experiences a human can endure. The ravages of war and the consequences of disaster are usually beyond belief or description. Few are those who can capture the tragic scene in words. Jeremiah was one of the few. His brief, biting journal of what he saw and felt following the fall of his beloved nation is contained in this short book. It is one of the most vivid reminders in all the Bible of that verse in Galatians: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (6:7).
And so will a city. And so will a nation.

Swindoll, C. (1980) God’s Masterwork, Volume Three Poets, Prophets, and Promises—A survey of Job–Daniel Lamentations: A Prophet’s Broken Heart A Survey of Lamentations. Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.

As believers, we must join the lament for the sins of our country and our churches. We must lead the way for repentance. As Tony Evans (2019) wrote, “When God is your biggest problem, He is also your only hope” (p. 721). We, as the Church, must lead the way to racial reconciliation by demonstrating the love of Jesus in all its facets: care, compassion, speaking truth, serving one another, and standing with all our brothers and sisters against injustice and evil.

Steadfast to the end

James 5:1-11


Throughout this letter, James wrote about the lure of materialism and the danger of believing that success was God’s reward. At the end of chapter 4, James called out those who claimed their success was a measure of God’s pleasure, saying they boasted in arrogance. James continued his condemnation of that arrogance, being clear that the material makings of success in this world would decay and be the source of ultimate destruction. The arrogant will destroy themselves by putting their faith in material gain.

James then reminded his readers that the characteristics of godly people are patience and steadfastness. He reminded his readers of the prophets like Habakkuk, Nahum, Micah, Amos, and Joel, all of whom asked God, “How long will we suffer?” God’s reply was inevitably, “Wait and see.” The kingdoms the prophets spoke against have long since turned to dust. The kingdom of this current age, with its faith in secularism and humanism will also turn to dust.

Our responsibility is to focus on building relationships, not quarreling or grumbling. We look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises, while remembering that the mercy and compassion we found in Jesus is still being extended to all the world (Matthew 23- 25; John 3). While we wait in steadfast expectation, we should spend our time, not worrying about the future, but in establishing our hearts in the trustworthiness of God’s promises (Psalm 1; Habakkuk 3; Joel 2; Nahum 1; Zephaniah 3:17).

Nineveh: the Sequel

Nahum chapter 1.


It seems like every blockbuster movie or popular novel tries to create a sequel that matches the drama and characters of the original. Most of the time, the sequel falls flat. Either the original writers don’t return or there’s some formula that they try to squeeze the story into or they just run out of ideas. Now and then, however, there is a sequel that not only maintains the energy of the original, but adds to the initial storyline in a meaningful way.

The Assyrian Empire at its height

The prophet Nahum was responsible for the sequel to Jonah. The setting is the same, Nineveh. The characters have changed, from Sennacherib who called for repentance to Ashurbamipal, who reigned over Assyria at the height of power. The conflict is also the same: defiant and evil people running into the omnipotent God.

Jonah may have been upset at the Ninevites repentance, but God relented on destruction for that entire generation and the one that followed. However, by the time Nahum preached, the Ninevites had returned to their old ways with a vengeance. They were more cruel, more violent, and more evil than ever before, and God said, “Enough.” This time there is no offer of repentance. There is only the promise of utter destruction, which history verifies. God made a complete end to Assyria as a world power.

In the middle of Nahum’s description of Assyria’s utter destruction, he offers comfort to those who take refuge in God. His name means “consolation” and he lives that name even in the middle of catastrophe.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power. The Lord is good. The Lord is a stronghold in the day of trouble. The Lord knows those who take refuge in Him. The Lord brings good news and peace. We can trust Him I the middle of the chaos. That is good news, indeed!


Thanks to @drtonyevans and @insightforlivingministries for their publications that helped establish context for Nahum

The Day of the Lord

1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11

So, this is the passage that brought me to 1 Thessalonians after reading Joel. The Day of the Lord is God’s just wrath poured over the evil of the world (Joel 2). The Thessalonians knew about it, and worried about when it would happen and whether their fellow believers who had died would miss it.

Paul first reassured them that even in their grief, they had hope because Jesus was with them even in death.

This part of the letter has been interpreted and taught in dozens of ways, but the heart of the message is this: Jesus is coming back and the Day of the Lord is yet to come. We don’t need to know exactly when; we should live as though it is any minute.

Matthew 24 records what Jesus said about what would precede that day: wars, natural disasters, false teachers, and all sorts of evil doing. We seem to be in that pattern of society now, but Paul added another detail: people be saying “There is peace and security” (5:3). We are most certainly NOT hearing that now.


However, that time will come and as believers, we need to remember that it is a false security led by the anti-Christ (Matthew 24:15, Revelation 13). We can be sure of this: Jesus has saved us out of that day of wrath, whether we are alive or not when the Day of the Lord comes.

Yet, even now

Joel 1:1-3:21

Joel’s word from the Lord opens with a dire warning. I had to look up the context of the book and I learned that it was written after a massive natural disaster: locusts that consumed everything (insightforliving.org). Joel starts by telling the people to remember this disaster, and to prepare for even worse. The nation of Judah (southern part of Israel) was persistent in idolatry and disobedience to the Law. Joel used the natural disaster as a call to repentance before God’s wrath was fully unleashed. “For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11.) Destruction will be swift and violent and utterly complete as God unleashes His righteous judgment on the nations. The worst natural disaster will not compare to the day of the Lord. “Yet even now” chapter 2 verse 12 begins. God always offers a path of restoration and reconciliation. He calls His people to return to Himself. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (2:13). In that time, if the people repented and returned, God would stay His hand.

Then Joel jumps to the future, to a time when God will display His power and fully restore His people and His kingdom. Part of that restoration came during Pentecost, when the Spirit of the Lord appeared as tongues of fire (Acts 2). In Jesus, there is hope for all of humanity, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” ( Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). Part of the prophecy is yet to come: the final and ultimate judgment of evil on this earth. In that day, the Lord will roar from Zion and heavens and earth will quake, but He will be a refuge for His people (Joel 3:16; Revelation 6:1 -7:17). So what is the word of Joel to people in the 21st century? The same as it was in 834 BCE: Wake up! If you think things are bad now, just wait. The people of Judah were devastated by the disaster of the locusts; we may feel devastated by the politics and divisions and injustices around us, seeing no hope for a future.


And yet, even now, God offers a lifeline: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).

And there is a lifeline for believers, too: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

When we look around and feel despair because the world around us is falling apart (because in many ways it is), we know we have a refuge. If we are part of the problem, we have an invitation to run to the Father who loves us so much. In Him we find sanctuary and shelter from the battles of the ages. We know we can abide in Him!