A Hope and a Future

Thriving Amid the Exile

Several weeks ago, our church read an excerpt from Jeremiah’s letter from God to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. It struck me as I was hearing Jeremiah’s words read out loud that they were just as prescient for our day as they were then.

The Chaldees Destroy the Brazen Sea  c. 1896-1902 by James Tissot

A People Deaf to Warnings

In 597 BC the Babylonian armies invaded Israel and Judah and eventually conquered the capital city of the Jewish people in 586 BC. The Fall of Jerusalem to Babylon is one of the great tragedies of the Bible. The walls and buildings of the city of Jerusalem were literally disassembled and the Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed to its foundations.  Many people were deported into exile, including the entire royal court.

All of the destruction and deportation was anticipated and foretold through the writings and preaching of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was not a particularly popular person in his day with the ruling class. Truth tellers are often difficult to hear.

False prophets rose up. Prior to the exile, they preached a message of denial. After the exile, they preached a “quick fix” approach, promising the exile would be a short few years, and that God would restore things back to the “good ole’ days” quickly. The truth was more severe.

The problems with the nation were deep and they went all the way to the top. Corruption existed at the highest levels—with the kings themselves, Ahab and Zedekiah. These men would ultimately be judged by God unto death for their spiritual adultery with foreign powers and gods, for their rebellion against God’s commands and for their lies.

Hope, But Not False Hope

One of the most cherished parts of Jeremiah’s writings are his promises of hope to the people of God amid their exile. As severe and devastating as the Babylonian exile was, it was not the end of the story. All hope was not lost. However, such hope should not be falsely understood; restoration would not come quickly. There would be no quick fix. The exiled Jews in Babylon needed to take a long, multi-generational view. It would take 70 long years to turn things around and for Israel to be ready to return to Jerusalem. Here is a portion of God’s letter to the exiles. It said:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

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. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 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, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile (Jeremiah 29:4-14).

The letter encourages the people that they need to take a long view. It is critically important that they live and even thrive during the exile. In other words, it was incumbent upon them to thrive even though the culture around them was foreign to them—not their home. They should even seek the welfare of the city in which they live so that they can thrive for the long term with the city’s good favor.

Restoration would come eventually. God promised to give them “a hope and a future”, to prosper them with good plans. But, it would take a good long while to see such blessing. By adopting a long view mindset, the Israelites would stay strong for the long haul and stay faithful to God for generations.

Our Day…

The writers of the New Testament considered the secular Roman Empire in which they lived a type of Babylon. The church is the exiled people of God. Peter called the church in the world “scattered exiles” (1 Peter 1:1). This world is not our home. Even though we are citizens of the United States from an earthly perspective, our true and lasting citizenship is in heaven, in a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).  We are destined for the New Jerusalem and the heavenly city prepared for the new earth after the consummation of all things. In the meantime, what are the faithful people of God to do?

Some false voices suggest that the problems are not that severe. That one day soon, we can get things turned around. Beloved, if the election of 2016 has taught us anything, I hope that we have learned that there is not a sinless messianic presidential figure in the offing who will lead the United States of America back to the promised land that it once was.

The faithful need to be disillusioned with the pundits and the politicians who preach a message of false hope and quick fix. The problems that this nation has are deep and intractable. The truth is that it will take generations for this nation to be restored. They will not be solved in the short run with government solutions. On the contrary, national restoration of the United States will come from many generations of faithful consistent witness and discipleship by the church.

If the Foundations be Destroyed…

In Psalm 11, David asks: “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” There are times when it seems as if the very ground underneath our feet is coming out from under us. This political season may have shaken our confidence in the very institutions which we rely on for stability. However, David knows that if your trust is not in earthly foundations but in the Lord’s sovereign rule, all is secure. Here is David’s answer to his own question:

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face (Psalm 11).

God remains firmly in control of all events happening in the United States of America. He is sovereign over all. So, what will the righteous do?

Go on Being Righteous.

No matter how bleak the circumstances are in this land of exile, our hopeful confidence is ultimately not in the government of the United States of America or its elected leaders. As beautiful and wonderful as our nation is (God has truly shed his grace on thee) our hope and help is in the promised restoration that will only come by the sovereign hand of God and in his sovereign timing.

In the meantime, we take the long view. We go on being righteous, in season or out of season. We proclaim the good news. We plant and build churches, we do good deeds that build up the kingdom of God. We build houses and raise families. We study the scriptures together in community, and we seek the things of first importance, Jesus Christ, and him crucified and raised.

The Lord is in his Holy Temple and he calls us to live and thrive in the midst of exile. We should always seek the welfare of the nation and cities in which we live. By getting involved in the affairs of our community and being the salt and light of Jesus Christ, we manifest the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. Elections do matter, and we are called to engage in the affairs of our communities and our nation so that the place where we live will be strong and good.

But for God’s sake take the long view, do not be discouraged or lose hope by the affairs of this world. We will remain in exile a good long while. As the Lord promised the people of God of old, his words continue to ring true:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 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 (Jeremiah 29:11-12).

Guarding the Faith

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” – 1 Timothy 6:20-21

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Galatians#/media/File:File%22-Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles%22_by_Valentin_de_Boulogne.jpg

Paul’s final charge to Timothy is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (6:20). As a minister of the Gospel, Timothy is being sent into a battle on the front lines for the very Gospel itself. He needs strong encouragement to see the importance of the task and ministry with which he has been entrusted.

The need for Paul’s letter was occasioned for two main reasons: geography and time. First, Paul was simply not able to be in more than one place at a time. The delegation of leadership to others was an essential task for Paul if there was to be a geographically broad gospel movement. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys moving from region to region, city to city, town to town, many new congregations were planted. New leadership had to be developed in each region, city, and town. Coordination and support of those various congregations also became mission-critical for the gospel.

The second issue was related to time. Paul was always keenly aware that his days of “fruitful ministry” were numbered. The issue of succession was critically important to Paul as he empowered Timothy to lead and then to identify and empower more leaders for the churches.

In this way, we see the first examples of succession and delegation at work in the church in the personal and pastoral relationship between Timothy and Paul. For Paul, the issue is not merely the passing of a torch humanly speaking, but for him it was critically important that the content and character of the gospel be guarded in order that it may be passed on faithfully to the next generation of leaders.

As each generation considers its own faith, it must also keep in mind the needs of the next generation of believers. We are given a sacred trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ, guarding the faith carefully so that it can be passed on.

In what ways are you delegating, passing on, and guarding the faith which has been entrusted to you?


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

We Will Not Neglect the House of Our God

Prophet_nehemiahIn the Old Testament, the testimony of the people was to keep covenant and maintain the Temple through faithful worship, offerings, and tithes. They had promised, “We will not neglect the House of our God” (Nehemiah 10:39). In chapter 13, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and finds that they have indeed broken their commitment. They were neglecting the house of their God in their stewardship of four critical areas: space, resources, time, and relationships. We often do the same.

The first neglect was caused when Eliashab, the priest in charge of the temple chambers, allowed a foreigner to dwell in a room which had a specific purpose for offerings to the Lord. Nehemiah kicked him out and restored the chamber for its godly purpose (13:4-9). In our own lives, are there inappropriate things cluttering up key spaces that should be properly devoted to godly use?

A second neglect was caused by a failure to bring the appointed offerings to the Levites, thus forcing them to abandon the service of worship in order to provide for their families (13:10-14). Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). Our patterns of giving can reveal a neglect of our relationship with God. Practically, when the people of God withhold their tithes and offerings, the worship of our God and the ministry of His Church falls into neglect.

A third neglect was caused by buying and selling on the Sabbath (13:15-22). If our time is focused on doing personal work on the Sabbath, then we will not be focused on praising God and His work that day. The Lord calls us to devote one day out of the week to worship and work for Him.

Finally, the marriages of Israelites to foreigners were leading the hearts of the people into idolatry and away from God. Paul warned the church about being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). The friendships, partnerships, and marriages we make can draw us away from the love of God, thus causing neglect of our primary relationship with God.

Nehemiah led the people to repentance in all four neglects of space, money, time, and relationships. Is there one or more of these areas in your stewardship that requires reform?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, show me any area in my life where I have neglected your house. I repent of my neglect of you with my stewardship of space, money, time, and personal relationships. Please forgive my neglect and restore me to your goodness. Amen.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

What Are Christians to Do?

Like many of you, I am deeply grieved by the continuing tension in our nation—shootings involving police and race in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, protests around the country, and more violence targeting the police in Dallas and other areas. All of this follows the recent mass shooting in my own city of Orlando. What is happening to our nation, and what are we as Christians to do?

veiled police badge

A Christian citizen of the United States can’t help but feel discouraged.

The Scriptures describe how, in the last days, there will be an unholy trinity that takes the form of a seductive harlot, a politically appealing anti-Christ, and a violent beast. Throughout the history of the church, people have believed these three entities to be manifest in various people and movements. What is important is, until Jesus returns, there will be an ever-present manifestation of evil in various worldly forms. Behind all of it is the evil one himself, Satan. I believe our country is being stirred up by this evil one.

We know from Scripture that these sinister powers and principalities cause tremendous distress for the people of God and the people of the world. We also know that they are defeated foes! The promise of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that the days of evil are numbered. They will come to an end.

In the meantime, what are the people of God to do?

The answer is simple: Go on being faithful—endure. Do not allow intimidation, discouragement, despair, or weariness to keep you from maintaining a vigilant zeal in the Lord. The Gospel of Jesus remains this world’s only hope. We are the stewards of that message of eternal life and peace.

Now, more than ever, the people of our nation are open to solutions other than the ones the world has to offer. Let us be diligent and sober-minded in prayer. Be quick to give a reason for the hope that you have in Jesus. Enlist in the fight with the weapons of the Spirit. Pray for our nation. Repent of your own sin and anger.

The founders of the United States knew that for freedom to flourish in this government they devised for us, two other pillars also were necessary: virtue and faith. These three “goods” are interrelated and interdependent. All three are under assault today from every side. We need to rekindle them.

We rekindle faith and virtue by standing firm in the Gospel. The only thing that will reconcile the divisions in our nation is the Gospel of peace. There is no black or white, male or female, nor any other political or human division at the foot of the Cross. Jesus died for sinners, all of us. Faith in that radical grace has the power to dissolve anger, heal hurts, forgive wrongs, purify sin, and reconcile enemies. When faith and virtue are rekindled, real freedom for all can thrive.

We need spiritual renewal, revival, and reform in the United States of America. Pray for it. Work for it. Yearn for it. The work that we are doing as the body of Christ is mission critical. Commit yourself to standing strong as a representative of Christ’s freedom, virtue, and faith, no matter what the enemy does in this world.

Prayer In the Midst of the Insurmountable

By studying the prayers of Scripture, we can learn a lot about how to pray effective prayers. Constantly throughout the Bible, we see prayers like the one Hezekiah offers to the LORD. “So now, O LORD save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.” – 2 Kings 19:8

Poynter's_Daniel's_Prayer

Things are looking bleak for Judea and Jerusalem. The hordes of the Assyrian army are mocking YHWH God and His people, threatening at the gates. Yet Hezekiah does not resort to bravado; no, he encourages his men NOT to answer the Assyrian mockers (2 Kings 18:36).

He does resort to prayer. THAT he prays in this situation is instructive in and of itself. The forces outside the gate of Jerusalem appeared to be insurmountable in sheer numbers. Why even hope? Why even pray? There is not a chance. But that is precisely the moment to pray!

The LORD loves to show His hand on behalf of His people in seemingly insurmountable situations. Hezekiah knows the LORD well enough to understand that if He so chooses, He can overcome such odds and forces. But notice the way Hezekiah makes his appeal to the LORD to act. His humble request for salvation comes with a purpose or motivation for the LORD– “…that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”

When the LORD acts on behalf of His faithful people by overcoming insurmountable odds in spite of their weakness, His strength is revealed, His name is glorified.

The LORD desires to be worshiped and obeyed to the ends of the earth. Human beings are made to do that very thing. In your prayers, appeal to the LORD’s preeminence over all other powers and forces. God loves an opportunity to reveal His power and glory through the weakness of His faithful people. When we are at our weakest, God delights to show Himself strong. Pray to that end.

LORD, I am not able to save myself, but you alone have the strength and power to forgive, to heal, to restore. Please show your strength in my life that others may see that you alone are God and that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.