No Turning Back

If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Hebrews 11:15‭-‬16 ESV

A few weeks ago I quoted the above passage as I discussed how faith moves forward. I pointed out that the people of faith in the Bible didn’t long for where they came from; they moved forward into what God had for them. For what is in store is much better than what has been (You can find that post by clicking here).

Yet on Sunday as I listened to my pastor share about Rahab, God brought to mind this verse again with a new perspective: just as we must let go and let God as we walk in faith, we must also stop reliving the old once God has made us new. In other words, we must walk in newness of life; we must live as the new creation we are. We must stop letting our past define our future.

As we read the hall of faith in Hebrews 11, we read about Rahab:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
Hebrews 11:31 ESV

Rahab wasn’t perfect, but she had faith. She may have been well known by her people for shameful reasons, but the One who knew her before the world began knew her heart. And God saw a heart that yearned for more–for something better. Even though up until meeting the spies, Rahab may have only known prosperity through prostitution, she knew there was hope in the God of Israel. She could see her future in Him–and it was bright. So when the spies entered her dwelling, Rahab didn’t hesitate; she saw her chance–her chance at a new beginning–and she took it. By faith she protected the men of Israel–she believed, knew, and trusted that by protecting the men God would protect her (and He did!).

Rahab chose God. She chose to let go of the past.  She chose to move forward–and to keep moving forward in spite of adversity. It took faith to keep quiet about the attack she knew was coming. It took faith to gather her family together and to tie that scarlet cord outside her window. It took faith to trust that the way of the God of the Israelites was indeed the way of redemption. It took faith to not turn back.

And by walking forward in faith, the old Rahab walked into a new life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying she never had the opportunity or the temptation to go back. I’m also not saying there were never repercussions from her former choices, for all choices have consequences. But what I am saying is that even though the Bible does not give specifics, based on Satan’s track record, I’m pretty sure he did his best to lure her back to the old ways. I am sure there were days that demons from her past tried to haunt her present. Yet I also believe Rahab knew full well that what God had in store for the future was much better than what was in her past. I believe Rahab knew no worldly pleasure could compare to the joy of knowing God. I believe Rahab consciously chose not to think “of that land” of prostitution because she desired a “better country.”

And you know what? She got it. No, the Bible doesn’t say she lived happily ever after. The Bible doesn’t say her life was one of simplicity and ease. It really says nothing except that she lived with the Israelites after that. But as I said, she got that city. For if we read Matthew 1:5-6, we will again find Rahab’s name. She’s not listed as a prostitute, however. She’s actually King David’s great-great grandma–and ultimately in the lineage of our Lord and Savior Jesus.

How awesome is that! God took a prostitute willing to change and determined not to look back and made her a matriarch of kings, even the King of Kings! No, He didn’t erase her past. But He transformed her future.

And he wants to do the same for you.

So I encourage you today not to look back. Don’t look back to the life you once had and think it’s too much for God to redeem. Don’t begin thinking that life was easier before God took hold of your heart. Don’t begin thinking back on the land of your old self. For by doing so you most likely will have “opportunity to return.” Instead, remember that what may seem impossible with man is possible with God. Remember that you are never alone.  Remember that if God is for you, then nothing formed against you can or will ever stand.

Keep looking forward, keep walking forward, and keep trusting in God. Desire that better country. Know that God is preparing for you a city, a city not built with human hands.  It is a city of rejoicing and of hope–one with no tears and no shame. It is a heavenly one.

Sing with me the words from the age old hymn “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”: no turning back, no turning back.

And finally, encourage yourself today with the words of Paul–a man who God transformed from perscutor to persecuted–a man who went from seeking souls to destroy to seeking souls to save–a man who knew his past wasn’t perfect but his future was bright because of God:

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13‭-‬14 KJV

You are not beyond redemption, my friend, and there is nothing too difficult for God. So do not let your past define you and do not think about the land from which you came. Rather, fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and know “…that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”
(Philippians 1:6 KJV). No turning back, no turning back.

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No Mistakes

Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.
Genesis 25:5‭-‬6 ESV

I know. Unusual scripture to highlight, right? Well, sometimes it’s those obscure verses the Holy Spirit uses to speak the loudest to our hearts.

At first glance the beginning of Genesis 25 appears to be the typical “begat” section in which we as readers learn who gave birth to whom. I admit, it is easy to get lost in long lists of begats. Yet as I read the list of those children born to Abraham by Keturah, verses five and six struck a cord.

Isaac was the promised one. He is the one God commissioned as Abraham’s heir. So as the days of Abraham’s life came to a close, Abraham sent all the other sons away from him.

Could you imagine what those sons must have been thinking? Their father was sending them away.  Their own father! And Why? Because they weren’t “the chosen one.” As the unfavored, they were sent away. Sure, Abraham sent them away with gifts, but what were mere gifts when Isaac was getting the throne?

On a human level, that just doesn’t seem fair. I’m sure it must have hurt. I wonder if the sting of rejection also traveled with those sons as they headed east. If we think about it, Abraham had chosen Keturah. He had known what he was doing when he married her and when he lay with her. I’m sure he knew she’d most likely conceive. I’m sure he knew the day would come he’d have to tell his other children, “Isaac gets it all.” But he did it anyway, and then he sent them away.

Now I’m not saying Abraham was right or wrong in the choices he made, for only God knows his heart and his motives. But what I am saying is even when we are seemingly forgotten and rejected by man, we are never forgotten and rejected by God.  If we pay attention to the scripture, we will see that even though God established a covenant with Abraham and Isaac, He still had a plan for the sons of Keturah (and Hagar) as well. The generations birthed through Hagar and Keturah were always a part of God’s plan and God’s promise to Abraham, whether or not man saw it.

Read below two portions of scripture from Genesis:

I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.
Genesis 13:16 ESV

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
Genesis 17:4‭-‬5 ESV

God told Abraham he’d be the father of many nations. Many, not just one. One son didn’t make the dust of the earth; multiple sons did.  Those children born to Hagar and Keturah were also part of God’s plan. Ishmael became a nation as God had told Abraham (“And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” Genesis 21:13 ESV). We know Midian, the son of Keturah, became father to the Midianites. And do you know who was a Midianite? Jethro, Moses’ Father-in-law.

Sure, the nations birthed through Abraham’s other sons did not always get along with the descendents of Isaac, but God still used them. They were still a part of God’s plan.

And this is what I want you to remember today: you are not a mistake. God has a plan, and you are part of it. No matter how people treat you, no matter how insignificant and underappreciated you may feel at the moment, God has a purpose for you. You weren’t an afterthought; you were foreknown. Before the foundation of the earth God knew you. Though father and mother forsake you, God never will (Psalm 27:10). Though some may say you were never meant to be, God says He formed you before you were ever conceived–that He knew every day of your life before you were ever born (Psalm 139).

God knows you, my friend. And God loves you. You are not a mistake because God doesn’t make mistakes. So go forth today with confidence knowing the one who fashioned you loves you and has plans for you–plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

Not Beyond Redemption

…and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,
Matthew 1:6 ESV

David and Bathsheba. There is so much I could share about this story. The fact that David should have been at war like the rest of the kings. The fact that Beersheba had been minding her own business cleansing herself when she was seen. The fact that David didn’t look away at the sight of Beersheba but kept looking and then acted unrighteously. There is a long list of lessons we can take from this famous escapade.  But what I’d like to focus on today is an important lesson we learn about God through this: There is nothing you could do that is beyond God’s redemption.

David lusted after a married woman, took her and lay with her, then had her innocent husband killed to cover his tracks. That’s not some simple sin; that’s a complex, calculated, and willful transgression.

Yet God redeemed both David and Bathsheba. No, He did not just look the other way. There were consequences for those actions. But in spite of the consequences they suffered (the most difficult being losing the baby conceived through the fornication), God still used them in His redemption plan.

Look again at the verse above. In the bloodline record listed in Matthew we find David, Bathsheba, and their son Solomon. What began in sin ended in redemption.

Hallelujah!

Of course, we must remember two important​ things: redemption does not mean the end justifies the means, and before redemption comes repentance. David was still in the wrong for taking Bathsheba when she wasn’t his. David was still in the wrong for having Uriah killed. And it wasn’t until David confessed and repented and Bathsheba was rightfully David’s wife that she gave birth to Solomon–the wise one who penned Proverbs and rebuilt God’s temple–the one whose body continued the bloodline leading up to the birth of our Savior.

David sinned and Bathsheba was the innocent object of his sin. But God redeemed both.

And God can redeem you.

Today, whether you are the perpetrator, the victim, or a little of both–whether society views your transgression as small, large, simple, complex, light, or egregious–whatever you have done or whatever you have experienced does not leave you beyond redemption.

If you’ve messed up (we all have), confess, repent, pay the consequences, and then wait. Wait for the Lord. Rest in His goodness. Trust in His mercy. And watch Him move. God can and will redeem you. For you are never beyond His redemption.

Because His Compassion Never Fails

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope:
It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed,
because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, saith my soul;
therefore will I hope in him.
Lamentations 3:21-24 KJV

“How come she gets that and I don’t?!” “Why can’t​ I do that but she can?!” “Why do I have to clean up the mess when I didn’t make it?!” “That’s not fair!”

Sound familiar? If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard such outcries more than you care to admit. I know I’ve heard them numerous times since having children. “That’s not fair! She has more chips!” “That’s not fair! His cake has more frosting!” Or the one that always leaves me shaking my head: “That’s not fair! He’s prayed for dinner more than I have!”

Whether it’s something as seemingly small as the portion size of a snack or something ironic as the number of opportunities to pray for a meal, we as humans often decide early on in life that life should be fair. From childhood and on throughout adulthood we continually try to demand fairness in everything. Yet as I often remind my children (and ultimately myself): life is not fair. Wrongdoers don’t always get punished, the good guys don’t always win, and sometimes the good guys are the ones who suffer most.

In today’s world especially chaos, destruction, and heartache abound. Every day we read or hear about people being killed, families being torn apart, and communities pitted against each other.   Watch a few minutes of the evening news or read the headlines of your favorite news website, and you’ll quickly realize we live in a broken world–an unfair world. Bad things happen to good people.  Those we love suffer at the hands of someone else. Righteousness seems lost, and we often find ourselves enduring grief and trouble.  The only “fair” aspect of life is that no one is immune from tragedy.

And it is as we read Lamentations, we see that Jeremiah’s generation also faced adversity. Life was one big tragedy. The altars were destroyed. Their enemies had overtaken them. They were separated, starved, beaten, battered, and broken. God’s chosen people had gone from being on top to being trampled underfoot.  Nothing was going their way; in fact, everything and everyone seemed against them. Jeremiah actually laments at one point​, “my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… (Lamentations 3:17)

Have you ever been there? Your peace is gone and you’ve forgotten what happiness is. Your life is in turmoil. Your once seemingly perfect life now lies shattered in pieces at your feet. And it just doesn’t seem fair. Questions like “Why would God let this happen?” and “What did I do to deserve this?” fill your thoughts and escape your throat.

Well, Jeremiah was there, too. His entire nation was there.

Yet Jeremiah found hope. In fact, it was actually within despair and depravity he penned those famous verses of compassion and mercy found in Lamentations 3.

So how could Jeremiah find hope within such desolation? such despair? such destruction? Why did he not just give up amidst such adversity? Why did he keep marching on? keep moving forward? keep trusting God?

Because it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.

Yes, even while lamenting the horrors of life–horrors brought about by his own people’s sinfulness–Jeremiah knew his hope was found in God alone. When life appeared unfair, Jeremiah knew God still was.  Jeremiah knew that even though God was more than able to do anything, if He chose not to save, He was still God and He was still good. Jeremiah knew what Mercy Me sings in their song “Even If”: But even if You don’t, My hope is You alone.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I am in no way implying that all bad things are a result of our sins.  There are many reasons tragedies strike,  some of which we’ll never know this side of Heaven. As I said, life isn’t fair. None of us is perfect, but as my pastor reminded us through the story of Hagar, sometimes innocent people do get caught in the middle of the sins of others. What I am saying, however, is that although many of us often quote Jeremiah’s hope-filled proclamation as we struggle through the storms, I sometimes wonder if we fully grasp the depths of Jeremiah’s words.  Jeremiah wasn’t hoping in God because of self-righteous pride; he didn’t think he deserved God’s redemption.  He also wasn’t just hoping that God would right the wrongs done to him.  Jeremiah wasn’t just crying out to God, “That’s not fair!” No, Jeremiah was hoping in God out of deep humility. Jeremiah was expressing a faith that even if God did not to move the mountains He was more than able to move, God was still God, God was still compassionate, and God was still worthy of praise. Jeremiah knew he not only didn’t deserve God’s help but more accurately deserved God’s wrath.  Jeremiah recognized his own depravity and the depravity of all mankind.   And it is within this depravity Jeremiah is grateful God’s compassions fail not.  It is as he is in the throes of sin’s consequences that he trusts in God’s abounding mercies.   As a “man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath” (Lamentations 3:1), Jeremiah had a deep reverence for God Almighty.

Jeremiah knew in a seemingly unfair world God was his hope because His compassion fails not and His mercies are new every morning.

And so should we. When people rise up against us, leaving us confused and broken, we must hope.  When we mess up, we must hope.  No matter how grim the outlook, we must hope.  We must daily proclaim the words of David: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (Psalm 43:5).

Yet do we? Do we really see God as our salvation and our hope? I don’t​ think we always do because I don’t think we always see ourselves as we truly are: mortal, sinful, yet saved by God’s grace. We don’t always recognize the truth of Paul’s reminder in Romans:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
   no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)

As we praise God for His compassion and mercy and grace, we must remember God is the Sovereign One. God is God; we are not. Redemption is a gift–a blessing we should never take for granted–for it is the ultimate example of God’s compassion and​ mercy. Doing the right things, saying the right words, and being able to check off those Christ-like attributes will never make us worthy of salvation, worthy of God’s blessings, or worthy of a life of ease.

We deserve nothing.

I repeat: when life seems unfair, we must remember we deserve nothing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do not believe we should focus on our depravity and go through life hunched over in self loathing and self pity. What I do believe is we must remember God alone is our hope because God alone is the only one who can save us. We deserve nothing, but  it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.

Yet day after day I believe we tend to fall victim to a sinful way of thinking: the sin of entitlement. We go about our daily lives feeling like we deserve health, deserve money, deserve peace, deserve the victory, deserve an explanation, deserve salvation.  We’ve gone from being grateful to being proud, and I dare say, demanding. We expect God to move. We expect God to answer. We expect God to be at our beck and call. And yes, God says we should not be ashamed of the power of salvation–and yes, God calls us to share the gift of salvation with the world–and yes, God calls us to seek and to ask–but we must also remember we do not deserve nor can we ever earn anything.  We don’t deserve salvation; no one does.  God didn’t save us because we earned it; He saved us because we needed it.  God saved us because His compassions fail not.  We needed Him even before we knew Him, and we owe all to Him.

All.

And this is what I believe is at the center​ of Jeremiah’s message.  After proclaiming his hope rests in God, Jeremiah says the following:

Who has spoken and it came to pass,
    unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that good and bad come?
Why should a living man complain,
    a man, about the punishment of his sins? (Lamentations 3:37-39)

Jeremiah knew an important truth: God owes us nothing. Nothing. He doesn’t owe us an explanation. He doesn’t​ owe us salvation. He doesn’t owe us a life of ease. The Creator owes nothing to the ones​ He created.

Nothing.

But...

…it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.

That’s awesome.  What a privilege to be alive and to be free from the law of sin and death!  What a joy to know that when my time on this earth comes to an end, eternity in heaven awaits me!

Why does it await me?

Because His compassion fails not and His mercies are new every morning.

I encourage you, my friend, not to forget this: God is the reason we are not consumed. God is the reason we are able to get up each morning. God is the only one with the ultimate wisdom and understanding of all things.  Who are we as mere man to complain about the life God has given to us? Who are we to question God’s sovereignty? We must place our hope and our trust in the only One who knows all, for the only One who knows​ all chose to save us.

Why?

Because His compassion fails not and His mercies are new every morning.

So why do bad things happen to good people? Why do we suffer so much in this life?  Why do we continually struggle? Why is life not fair? I don’t know the exact answer to these questions and ones like them. Sometimes it’s our sin, sometimes it’s​ the sins of others, sometimes it’s a consequence of living in a broken world, and sometimes, well, we just don’t know the why’s and how’s of the heartaches of this life. But here is what I do know: regardless the current circumstances of our lives, it is solely because of God’s compassion and God’s mercy that we are not consumed.  As Paul says in the New Testament: ”…we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

The power is God’s, my friend. Salvation is God’s.  And it is God’s mercy which stops Him from utterly destroying us. It is His compassion that saves us, redeems us, and calls us out of the darkness and into the light. Do we deserve it?  No! But we can receive it because His compassion fails not and His mercies are new every morning.

So today, whether you are walking the path of ease and comfort, or whether you are walking, crawling, and struggling through the roads of adversity, you can know that the Lord is compassionate, the Lord is faithful, and the Lord’s love never fails.  Hope in Him.  You may not understand His ways.  You may not like the path He’s chosen for you.  But you can always hope in Him.  You can always rest in knowing eternity awaits and redemption is at hand, because it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.

Truly Blessed

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12 ESV

I often find myself associating being blessed with a life of ease. Finances are good. Family is healthy. Circumstances are going my way. But Biblically speaking, being blessed does not necessarily correlate with positive circumstances. In fact, many times we are most blessed when we are most distressed. Why?  Because being blessed isn’t a physical state; it’s a spiritual one.

Think about it. Jesus didn’t open His mouth and declare, “Blessed are those who have money,” “Blessed are those who are well-liked,” or “Blessed are those who never mourn.” He said blessed are the meek, the merciful, the mournful, the pure in heart, the persecuted, and the persistent. In other words, blessed are those whose focus is on eternity; blessed are those whose riches are not of this world.

Sure, having money is great; and it is certainly not a sin.  And being well-liked does not mean we’re doing something wrong. Yet neither our financial status nor our social status are accurate indicators of our spiritual well-being.

When we die, we don’t want to hear God say, “Well done, my rich and well-liked one. You have gained the world yet lost your soul.”  No, we want to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Come and share your master’s happiness. Happiness on earth? No. Happiness in heaven. God doesn’t promise happiness on earth. In fact, He often proclaims the opposite. John 16:33 reads, “In the world you will have trouble….”   Romans 8:36 declares it’s for God’s sake we are killed and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Even the above verse from James talks about when we endure a trial, not if.

Our joy and our hope are not found in the things of this world. Neither are earthly accolades indicative of eternity rewards. We must remember that in God’s economy, the difference between being truly blessed and just having a bunch of earthly blessings is found in our focus. We are truly blessed when our focus is on our Heavenly Father–when our focus is not on who we are and what we have but rather on who He is and what He has promised to those who love Him.  We are not blessed because life is perfect and the world is at our fingertips; we are blessed because God is perfect and has the whole world in His hands.

We are blessed because God. Yes. That’s it. Because God. To know Him is to love Him. And to love Him is to serve Him. And when we do–when we love the Lord with all our heart​, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength–when we seek Him first in all things–then, yes, then we will be truly blessed–whether or not the world can see it. We will endure the trials​, rejoice in the persecutions, withstand the temptations, and mourn with hope. We will not lose heart.  We will never give up.  And we will never let go. Why? Because God. Because God promises He is working in all ways for His glory. Because God promises if we persevere now, we will reap in eternity. Because God promises He will never leave us nor forsake us.  And because when God promises, “no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So do you know God today?  Do you love Him?  Seek Him?  Serve Him?  Then you are blessed, my friend.  You are truly blessed.