Sunday, August 31, 2014

If Only We Knew

After requesting a drink of water, Jesus spoke even more surprising words to the Samaritan woman at the well, If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

The woman said “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes he will explain everything to us. (v. 25)

Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” (v. 26)

I love this scene in the Mary Magdalena version of the Jesus film.

The completely transformed woman left her water jar behind and ran back to town to tell everyone she saw what she now knew. A large crowd came back with her and urged Jesus to stay with them for two days.

Then they said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (v. 42)

God says,“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Do we really know Him? And will we continue to trust Him when we don’t know what He’s doing?

Beth Moore writes about knowing and trusting Jesus in her book Beloved Disciple:

“We cannot claim to know anyone intimately whom we’ve not known in the intensity of both agony and elation. Anyone with eyes willing to truly behold Jesus will at times be confused and shocked by what he sees. You see, if we’re willing to be taken to the extremes of His glory where intimate knowledge is gained, we will undoubtedly see things of Him we cannot explain and that sometimes disturb.

Then comes the question: Will we walk away from Jesus when from human understanding he looks weak and defeated?...What do we do when we can’t explain what Jesus is doing? Will we remain nearby when He hasn’t stopped a tragedy? When based on earthly evidence, human reasoning implies evil has defeated Him? Or that evil seems to be found in Him? Will we stand by faith when human logic says to run? That’s what will make us different.”

I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14)

Do we really know Him?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Both Calamities and Good Things

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
(Lamentations 3:38)

During the time of God’s judgment on Jerusalem in 586 BC, we see a bleak picture.

God’s people were
Racked with hunger
Ruled by slaves
And they experienced a River of tears
As the Rod of God’s wrath was upon them

But the author (likely Jeremiah) refuses to give in to bitterness or despair. He holds on to hope in God’s compassion, faithfulness, and goodness (3:21-23). And he holds firm to the belief that God’s harsh actions are not random, but according to His divine plan. (Deuteronomy 28:15-68) His intentions are always to bring his people back to Himself.

For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men (3:33)

And the author believes that times of calamity can bring us to our knees in self-examination and repentance.

Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven… (3:40-41)

Our friends the Wangs visited us a few weeks ago and we had fun playing a new card game with them called Saboteur. Everyone peeks at an identity card in the beginning and then plays cards either as a gold miner or a saboteur. Tunneling cards try to connect paths to successfully find the gold, and blocking cards make dead ends in an attempt to keep the gold miners from reaching that goal. 

During one game I had played several blocking cards, and thought that Charly and Joseph were my partners in crime, when Joshua surprisingly laid a blocking card. Since there could only be 3 saboteurs, I took another look at my identity card and realized that I was actually a gold miner. Oops. The rest of the game I tried to undo the wrong I had unintentionally done to myself and my fellow gold miners. But because of my mistake, the “bad guys” won.

He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. (3:9)

Whose side is God on?

In the book of Lamentations, it seems that God sometimes acts like a saboteur—blocking the path of the “good guys.” Allowing victory to the side of the enemy.

Like an enemy, he strung his bow
He poured out his wrath like fire on Zion
Like an enemy he swallowed up Israel
He handed them over to the enemy
And did not withhold his hand from destroying
(taken from Lamentations 2)

But unlike my playing the wrong cards because of a mistaken identity, God’s saboteur-like actions are never a mistake. We will never hear God whisper Oops. Or see Him try to undo unintentionally played wrong cards. His actions are always intentional and right.

Because of their hard hearts, God’s people had listened to false prophets—who did not expose their sin to ward off their captivity. (2:14)

And so, the Lord has done what he planned; he has fulfilled his word, which he decreed long ago. (2:17)

God’s plan for us is that we
And find Relief.
That we recognize His Reign
So that He can Restore
And Renew us
And Redeem our lives.

The waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to be cut off. I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.” You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.” O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life.” (3:54-58)

You, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (5:19-22)

I believe that here the author of Lamentations allows God to be Who He Is—the One who reigns forever—who could choose to be angry with his people beyond measure, who could choose not to forgive, but to forsake them...

If God were to choose that path, his response would be “God is God. His choices are always right.”

But the author does not let go of hope, and what he knows to be true of God:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him…For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love (3: 21-25, 31-32)

Whose side is God on?

As I’ve been reflecting on this question in Lamentations, I’ve thought about the words in the song

If our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?

The truth is that God brings both good things and calamities into our lives—to bring our rebellious hearts to repentance and ultimately closer to His heart. To restore, renew, and redeem us. Because God is for us. He is on our side—even when His actions seem to allow the enemy to be victorious.

It seemed that Satan had won a great victory as Jesus breathed his last breath on the blood-stained cross. But death was not able to keep him down. And God’s victory—through Jesus’ resurrection—is ultimate and final.

God turns even calamities into good. Great is His faithfulness.


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