BY JORDAN MAYER
"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."
In the book of Jeremiah, we enter a tumultuous time in Israel's history. The northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the Assyrians and now Judah's reckoning has come. Despite God's repeated attempts to warn the people through the prophets, His words fall on deaf ears. Consistent and persistent patterns of sin and idolatry have lead the people away from God's blessing to their own ruin. God raises up Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, as His chosen instrument of judgment. Babylon lays siege to Judah and takes the people into exile for 70 years.
With the people now in Babylon, Jeremiah sends a letter to the elders there. It is a word from the Lord meant to be shared with all the exiled people. What words would God speak to His people in this foreign land?
I know what I would say. "Keep your heads down, don't draw attention to yourselves. Be patient until your time of exile is over." But this is the total opposite of what God tells His people and I think there's a word in there for us as well.
The message is not to hunker down and just survive, they are encouraged to live and to thrive! The Lord tells them in verse 6 to "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." In short, "Make a life for yourselves!"
I recently finished reading a book called Engage with Honor written by Lee Ellis, a former pilot and POW during the Vietnam War. In the book, Lee describes the difficult conditions in the prison. But as the book goes on, he details the life that he and the other prisoners build inside the camp. They come up with their own programs for entertainment, education, spiritual development and physical fitness. In a situation where you might not blame someone for just throwing in the towel, they find ways to not only stay alive, but thrive.
So here we find the Israelites, strangers in a strange land. Hundreds of miles from home. God's message to them is to start building a life for themselves. Building houses, planting gardens, and entering into marriages are not short term goals. God intends them to settle in for the long haul; they're in exile for 70 years after all. But then He continues in verse 7 with these words to the people. "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 all intents and purposes, Babylon was Judah's enemy, their captors. And yet, God's message to them is to seek the city's good and to pray for its welfare. For in so doing, they themselves will prosper.
I confess, in my longing for Heaven I can often feel tempted to isolate. To keep my head down and ride out the storm until such time that the Lord returns or calls me home. On the one hand, I think it's important to remember that this life is not our end destination, and thus we should not cling too tightly to it. But the fact that this world is not our true home is not license to isolate ourselves from it. Our highest example can come from no other except Jesus himself. Jesus, who humbled himself by taking human form, who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners; who died on a cross for sins not His own. He willingly chose to enter into the mess that is this world in order to reach out in love to His people. And He calls us to do the same.
After reading this verse in Jeremiah, these words continue to echo in my mind. Jordan, seek your city's good.
Paul shares a similar message in his letter to Timothy. "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Pray for your company and your co-workers. Pray for those around you, for your friends and for your neighbors, for those you like and those you don't. Reach out and make a difference. Share His hope, show His love, shine His light.
BY JORDAN MAYER
“And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD…”
My year-long Bible reading plan recently had me in the wisdom literature, which consists of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Perhaps I am not the only one that is overwhelmed by all the wonderful verses and bits of wisdom contained in these books?
I am always fascinated by the unique perspective that each book offers. Proverbs highlights the ways of the wise, and the blessing and benefit that follows wise living. There is a simple cause and effect drawn out in the book. Conversely, Job and Ecclesiastes reveal the harsh realities of life, the ways in which things don’t always work the way we think they ought to. Far from simple and logical, life can often be perplexing, frustrating, and overwhelming.
But the thing I find most interesting of all is a particular theme that shows up in all three books (and the rest of Scripture for that matter): the fear of the Lord.
"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7)
"And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:28)
I find the fear of the Lord to be one of those phrases that immediately elicits a response. We’re not quite sure what to make of it, it sounds somewhat off-putting and abrasive. And yet, each of these books present it as the fundamental element of wisdom, true wisdom.
As we celebrated Father’s Day this past Sunday, I was thinking about how the father-son dynamic is such a helpful aid in understanding this idea. And that is no coincidence! God provides us many models for helping us understand the truths of His Word. When it comes to the fear of the Lord, there is much more wrapped up into this idea than what we might presume.
We often think of fear in the traditional sense, as in being afraid of someone or something. And to a certain extent, this is a healthy fear to cultivate. From a young age, I was taught to fear the consequences of my bad behavior and that became a prompt to pursue what was right. When it comes to God, we must all come to grips with our standing before Him and the terrifying reality of His wrath. This, too, becomes a prompt to seek salvation in the only one who can truly save, Jesus Christ.
But to leave it there is to miss the mark, for that is only one dimension of fear. I think it's the first thing that comes to our minds, but it is not the full picture. Fear is also respect and submission. I don't have to be a parent to know that these two things do not come naturally to children. I do have experience as a child, though, and can say with certainty that they do not! Thus, it is the role of parents to instill these things into their kids. To fear is to respect and submit to a higher authority. This is a fear that is taught and cultivated. It’s a surrendering of the will.
The Bible often uses examples from the lesser to the greater. Thus, if we are to fear our earthly fathers, how much more should we have the fear of the Lord? When we recognize and acknowledge His power and authority, we surrender and submit to His rule over our lives.
Even Jesus possessed a fear of the Lord! Prophesying about the coming Messiah, Isaiah writes, “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD…” (Isaiah 11:2-3).
Notice this fear is a source of delight! What a wonderful insight into what the fear of the Lord is truly about. It’s not a fear that makes us turn and run, it is a delight to be in. How can this be? It's because this fear is ultimately motivated by love. As a son, the fear of consequences is overshadowed by the greater love and respect I have for my father. It is my love for him that prompts me to do that which pleases him. So it is to a far greater extent with my Heavenly Father. Fear leads me away from sin into a deeper relationship with Him. My greatest fear is to do what is contrary to Him. My desire is to honor and glorify His name. We need not shy away from this fear, rather we may fully embrace it, for we fear Him whom we love.
BY JOYCE PELLETIER
I so appreciated Jordan’s reflection recently about his first hike on the West Coast, on such a high mountain last week. More than 20 years ago, Maurice and I made a quest to make two hikes that one summer. The goal was 2 but we ended up doing 4. I don’t know what we were thinking. However, we made them.
The first was quite painful, climbing up Camels Hump, but it was also invigorating. It was a clear day and you could see for miles. The next one was Mt Abraham in Bristol, which was cloudy all the way, and even though we didn’t have the vista, it was amazing to be on top. Hiking down was chatting with our friends about God and so many things about the hike.
The third was the summit of Mt Mansfield and that was a clear day as well. It was an easier hike but you still have to maintain your balance to stay safe. Our son, Joe, was with us and I had wanted to make it across to the end of the very top, as I’d never been there. We were two-thirds of the way when I said I had enough and wanted to quit. Joe reminded me of my goal. We rested for a while and kept
going. When we arrived I had a sense of euphoria. The vista was amazing. We sat and had our lunch as we watched a glider make it’s pass atop of all of us on top.
The last hike was Mt Philo. Now that appears to be the shortest and easiest hike. Well, yes it was short, but steep and we felt the pain from that one more than any of the others. The weather was clear.
The lessons from that summer were not so much as bragging rights, but more of taking each step along the way, one at a time. We can only go one step at a time. We had to stop along the way for a rest, but we made it. I stopped hiking that one summer. My body went into rebellion. I will never be sorry for any of those hikes. There were so many lessons with each step.
On the middle of a high (or low) mountain, the vistas were amazing. On the first one, we had several friends from the church we were attending. We prayed on top, thanking God for getting us safely. We had an exchange student from UVM with us and she had been to Disney in Florida and brought along one of those molded chocolates of Mickey Mouse. She wanted to share it with the 7 of us as a victory.
This was a lesson that God celebrates with us our victories. He also celebrates with us when we accomplish our goals, but also when the goals are not achieved (but tremendous lessons learned through those goals), He leads us through and then celebrates with us as we learn to trust Him to carry us.
It’s not about winning, in the sense of a gold medal. It’s about the one who gets us to our destination. As a believer, we are called to live a life as Jesus promises to be challenging, yet filled with amazing grace and unending love and support. No matter what He knows will happen, we don’t know what it all means, however, we do know we can trust Him. You see He knows, yet we have to remember to trust Him in all things.
In our Grounded sermon series, our iConnect group found the whole book convicting. Amazingly, we learned from Eph 1:5 that we are chosen to be a ‘child of God.’ He predestined us to share in His Kingdom. We are called to be thankful, even in the middle of one crisis or challenge after another. We don’t have to despair and lose heart. Why would our God want to continue to live with us, especially since
we all fall short of the glory of God? However, He is always ready to forgive. No greater love can we experience than this. He gives us grace to forgive ourselves. His grace so eloquently gives us strength to face whatever challenge is before us.
In Eph 1:15-23 we learned to be faithful with gratitude in prayer. For without God, we are nothing. As we walked through His Word, every step is a continuous invitation to trust Him in all things. Even if we have to go through the same circumstances 20 times until we learn to thank Him in all things.
I have read Ephesians many times, but now this series on being Grounded has helped me to see it all more clearly. This series has brought me to a different reasoning. He suggests ever so dearly that because we are not our own, we need to remember, we don’t travel this world alone. We don’t have to rely on our own strength because if we don’t rely on God, we fail to see the wonder of His existence. If we don’t embrace that grace filled with love from our Father, we trip and fall again and again. Even though answers don’t come as fast as we would like, the temptation is to feel sorry for ourselves.
We have to remind ourselves in Proverbs 4:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path!”
When God convicts us of our sin, He does it in the manner of us coming to grips of it. He enables us to rise above the sin to reach for His hand and He does so with the intention of getting us to admit it, then that opens the door to have Him get us through that door of healing. We admit our wrong, ask for forgiveness, and receive grace and His promise to be there to get through the process of starting anew. We can’t do it without Him.
Like hiking, we set our goals, make the effort to achieve them, yet when we get weary along the way, become tempted to take the easy road, we do not walk this journey alone. God is always there to pick us up, and carry us over the crevices so that we arrive safely. The climb down from the tops are so much more daunting because you don’t see the branches we hang onto. We see the deep ravines below
us and realize that if we don’t pay close attention to each step, we could fall to our deaths. At the same time it’s a greater time to realize that our safety net is God. What more can I say?
BY MARTHA CHEVALIER
"All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah. Father of all mercy. God of all healing counsel. He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us."
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4 MSG)
A couple months ago, I stumbled across a reddit article that had me speechless. The story featured live action footage of a single brain cell. Maybe you have seen it? It seems, a single brain cell's sole purpose is to press forward, making connection with other brain cells. Pretty cool, connections on the cellular level. We are hard wired for connection. We are hard wired for belonging.
The early days of my college life was a very lonely time for me, a new city, away from the familiar. I remember someone calling out my name across the green, turning around to see the clerk from the bookstore. I had forgotten my checkbook on the counter after purchasing a stack of textbooks. I will never forget that moment. I thought, hearing my name, someone must know me, maybe I’m not as alone as I feel right now. Loneliness and isolation can leave us gasping in a chasm of grief and existential pain. There are many factors that have at times driven me into the wilderness of desolation and inconsolable longing. “C.S. Lewis names this longing with the German word sehnsucht. He calls it “the inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what.”
Mary cried out in anguish at the graveside of Jesus, riddled with sorrow after the gruesome death of her Rabboni, which means Master” (John 20:16).
“Where have they taken my Lord?” The Son of God brought comfort to His close friend when he spoke her name, “Mary.” Hearing our name spoken from the lips of someone who loves us when we are hurting is a soothing balm. Here we glimpse Mary’s moment of transformation, consolation seeping in, simple connection and so profound.
Jesus makes a better way. Only in Him can we find our belonging, rounding out our faith-life in community, His tribe on earth. Authentic community links us with others who know us at our core, friendships that don’t want fancy sets of fig leaves to camouflage the truth of our broken places. Jesus invites us in, cleansing, offering the way of the Kingdom, to love and be loved, know, and be known, to see and be seen, to belong.
BY JORDAN MAYER
“When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
A couple weeks ago, I hiked Mount Si while visiting my brother out in Seattle, Washington. It was a grueling 7.5 mile out-and-back. As my first hike of the year, both my legs and my lungs were questioning my life choices. But, eventually, we reached the top and, like always, the view more than made up for the struggle it took to get there. Having never been out West, I had never seen mountains quite like this before. It was truly breathtaking.
Something about the grandeur of mountains, or the vastness of oceans, or the brilliance of sunrises stirs something inside me. I believe it’s the same kind of feeling that David had when he wrote Psalm 8. These masterpieces of creation have a knack for recalibrating our perspective. As I stood at the top of Mount Si, apart from the beauty of what was before me, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how small and insignificant I was by comparison. One tiny human atop a mountain looking across miles of forest, neighboring mountain ranges, a small town, clusters of clouds, and endless sky.
Contrary to popular opinion, the world doesn’t revolve around us. In fact, the vast majority of the world doesn’t even know we exist. Most of us will pass through this life in relative obscurity. We are a mere breath, a passing shadow, a grain of sand. We are a small blip on the radar of the universe.
But here is where the truth of God’s Word reveals a beautiful reality. While most of the planet may not know our name, the Creator God who made the planet does! David asks the question, “What is man that you are mindful of him”, because God is, in fact, mindful of us. How can this be? The God who spoke the world into existence knows us, not just generally, but personally.
I admit that I have difficulty even fathoming this reality. I try to think of an example that might help, but the truth is I don't have any frame of reference. So I can merely say like David, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). In our finite, human minds, we would give God a pass for not knowing anything about us. After all, He not only created all things, but actively sustains it by the power of His Word (Hebrews 1:3). If there was ever anybody that could use the "I'm too busy" excuse, it would be God! And yet, He knows each and every one of us. In fact, He knows us even better than we know ourselves!
This is a humbling and sobering reality. He knows the depths of my sin and depravity. Every evil thought and every wicked deed. All the brokenness and ugliness that I hide and mask from those around me. God knows it all and yet, most amazing of all, He still chose to know me, love me and save me. I can't earn his favor and I don't deserve it, but He offers it freely to me as a gift. As Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “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”.
May we all bask in the reality that God knows us and is mindful of us. More still, may we rejoice in His great love for us!