Redemption Story

By Jamie Martelle

I’ve been reading through the book of Jeremiah. It’s filled with gut-level honest and, as it turns out, totally accurate prophecies delivered by the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. He relayed God’s message of impending discipline and suffering for wayward Israel and Judah – His special people, set apart from the rest of the world – telling them that He would allow this to happen to them because of their wicked ways. The Lord tells the people through his servant, Jeremiah, that He will bring down their leaders, deliver them to their foreign nations and send them into captivity for decades. Reading along these lines, I was almost surprised when I came to 29:11, “for I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I’m very familiar with the verse. But it seemed odd in the way that it came along in a story so filled with adversity and judgment for God’s people who have been unfaithful to Him.

As we read through the Old Testament, we see over and over again God’s people failing to live as He has commanded them. God allows them to suffer the consequences of their actions so they eventually realize they have strayed far from His ways and His will for their lives. We can see in this story the principle of reaping and sowing (Job 4:8).

But, back to verse 29:11, “for I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” God isn’t giving up on His people, regardless of how far they have wandered. He loves them, and He perseveres with them, in spite of their stubborn, willful, self-defeating tendencies. I am so thankful that He doesn’t give up on me, either. The really beautiful thing about this message in Jeremiah, and in God’s nature toward us, and in the very gospel, is the recurring echo of His redemptive purpose.  I have a note in my bible scribbled hastily from a talk given by a speaker whose name I have since forgotten, which says, “although we don’t always understand the mysterious sovereignty of God, we KNOW it is redemptive.”

Just a little later in the Jeremiah narrative, we are told:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  (Jeremiah 33:14-15)

We know that Branch, and we are known by Him. We love Him, and He loves us. Christ Jesus, the name above all names, the Lion and the Lamb, who gave Himself up to death and was resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, so that we may live eternally through His atoning sacrifice. Justice and righteousness have obviously not been attained in our land, so we know the story has not ended. This, too, is prophecy, yet to be completely fulfilled.

I love that the stories of the bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments, tell us that whatever is happening right now, or whatever happens tomorrow or the next day, whether it be the consequences of our own foolish actions, or someone else’s that affect our lives, this will always be true:  that God’s purposes for us are to save us, both from the evil in this world and from the evil within ourselves.

In her book Less Than Perfect, Ann Spangler quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them; but, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Things really haven’t changed so much since the Old Testament times. We look around and wonder and we say things like: “what is wrong with the world?” “Why are things so messed up?” “Why does God allow all this violence, anger, hatred, and strife?” “Where is God in all of this???” At least part of the answer we can know through His Word is that God has given each and every human being the freedom to choose between good and evil. The truth is, the human heart has been horribly corrupted since the fall, when man and woman first perceived good AND evil, and in that condition, had to leave Eden before they could become eternal beings in that corrupted state. As such, we are not inclined to always choose what is truly good on our own – we don’t really even have the faculties to know what the truly good choice would be. Tragically, in God’s eyes and in our eyes, we see the result of so many choosing to act on evil impulses. This, also, is expressed by Jeremiah, in Chapter 17, verses 5 through 10, but particularly in verse 9: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Is it hopeless? No. See what Jeremiah has to say in these verses:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord, for he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8).

We have a future, and a hope, because God has promised it. He has made a way – is making a way – for us to come back to Him. Jeremiah wrote in 31:33 through 34, and the author of Hebrews quoted him in 11: 16 through 17: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

We have a future, and a hope, because God sent His Son, Jesus. I would like to leave you with the words of Peter, the apostle, writing to a people like the ancient Israelites and Jews who had come to believe they could follow God – as misled modern-day Christians believe they can follow Christ – and live in whatever way they please – following their own very human hearts – believing the lie that grace absolves them from the responsibility of living a holy life as God’s holy people (I can almost hear the hiss of the serpent, “God surely didn’t say…”). So Peter, in his second letter, Chapter 1, verses 2 through 8,  writes: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Live your lives in such a way that others can see the light and life of Christ within you. Be kind, be peacemakers, and truth-tellers. Love the Lord and love others, and live in God’s love for you.

A Chance To Grow

      A few minutes ago I was lying in bed getting ready to read a novel when I got the sudden idea to read something out of the Bible instead. I brushed the thought aside and continued messing around on my phone for a minute and then I opened up the app where the novel is (and let me tell you that as someone whose arms and hands don’t work as well as they used to, I love the fact that my phone can hold books because it’s so much easier for me that way).
       Once again the thought of reading the Bible popped into my mind and I said aloud “OK I’ll do it but I don’t know what I’m going to read.” I’d just finished up reading 1st and 2nd John yesterday and hadn’t decided what to read next. When I opened the Bible app it was on James chapter 1 which is what we were looking at in Sunday school this morning.
      And there it was, the thing that I was supposed to read and unbeknownst to me the column that I was supposed to write. That’s often how these things work for me.
     There are some pretty challenging verses in the Bible and several verses out of James 1 have been difficult for me. Verse 2 reads “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (NLT).
      Often when I read that verse, my sarcastic side comes out and I think “Well I should be a pretty happy dude then.” I don’t know about anyone else, but rarely do I feel any joy when I have trouble. Frustration, confusion, and anger maybe, but probably not joy.
     Verse 3 goes on to say “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (NLT). One word in particular sticks out to me in that verse and it’s the word chance.
      My faith seems to be tested on a pretty regular basis. I’m sick, and my health is not good. I’ve had to make rapid changes to my lifestyle that I didn’t want to including moving into handicapped accessible housing, using mobility equipment, scaling back daily activities and much more. I’m not complaining, that’s just how life goes sometimes.
     Making life changes, dealing with disappointing doctor visits and having to deal with unfortunate relationship dynamics caused by my disability have definitely tested my faith on several occasions.
     Doubt is something that people often don’t feel comfortable talking about but I feel like it’s something I need to do. I’ve doubted. A lot.
     I’ve had doubts at one time or another about seemingly everything I thought that I’d learned about God. I can recall a couple of different times where I felt absolutely destroyed after yet another doctor visit where I went away without a diagnosis. I felt empty.
     I didn’t understand why things had to be this way and I was so angry.
     What I have learned is that God is there with me through the doubt. No matter how angry I might be or how lonely I might feel, He is still there with me. And He always will be.
      Feelings come and go, but God never leaves.
     Lately I’ve taken to looking at my life as a boat traveling the waves of the ocean. No matter what highs or lows may come my way, as long as my ship stays afloat it will always keep moving closer to where it’s supposed to go. God has control of the ship and the best thing I can do is to let go of the wheel and embrace that.
     Is it easy? Of course not, and sometimes I will struggle but God will still be there.
     Verse 5 says “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (NLT).  I hate asking for help as much as the next person but there’s no one better to ask than the one who has all of the answers.
     So do I feel full of joy about my troubles?  Certainly not at first and that’s where I think the word chance comes into play. If I ask for and accept God’s help, then my endurance WILL grow. If I don’t, then in my experience that’s when bitterness grows and my pain will have been for nothing. It’s all about how willing I am to humble myself and trust my creator.
     It’s hard to see the bright side in difficult situations but rest assured that the next time it might feel like life is kicking you when you’re down, you have a loving God just waiting for you to ask Him for His help and wisdom.
      And yes, your endurance will grow as He guides you through your struggles, enabling you to more effectively do His will. If you ask me, that is something to be joyous about.

Truth, Honesty, and all of that fun stuff

I feel like if this column is going to be anything worth reading, then it has to be honest.

After all, it would be a waste of my time and yours if it was anything else.  So in that spirit, I would like to talk about why you see my name by the title of this blog and not a fake name

I didn’t want to use my real name, at least not until I’d been doing this for a while.  There are a few reasons for that.

The first is that I’ve never really been comfortable with attention.  I don’t crave it, or enjoy it, or seek it out. I used to go out of my way to blend in, but in the last few years I’ve lost that option.  I’m 32 years old, use a cane, and live in a small town.  The way that I walk is very awkward and painful and as a result, I get stared at everywhere I go.

I’m not comfortable with it at all, but it’s also something that I can’t really do anything about.  Being sick has brought so much attention my way and it’s something that I’m still not used to.  The thought of going on the internet and talking about it while using my real name isn’t all that appealing to me, because I feel like I already attract too much attention.

But a while back, God put a thought in my head that I’ve been trying to make sense of ever since, “What if God doesn’t want me to blend in?”

What if instead of me trying to hide in the shadows, God would like attention called to me so that I can direct it back to Him?

What if when someone asks me about my struggles, I tell them about how God provides for me?

The only problem with that is that I’m not very good at it.

Not that long ago I felt like the Lord gave me a calling to go forth and be a light in this world, to spread the love of Christ to everyone that I meet and be a beacon of peace and understanding.  So I prayed and truly felt the Spirit within me and I set forth and…. didn’t do so good at it.

It turns out that it’s not easy to do that sort of thing, at least not for me.  The truth is that I didn’t want to use my real name on this column because I feel like a lot of the time I’m not a good representative of what a Christian should look like.

I don’t have a halo.  I get mad about things, and the more pain I’m in from falling down all day the worse it tends to get. I’ve done things that I’ve been ashamed of since I’ve become a Christian and behaved in ways that I wish I could take back.

I’ve learned a lot about God’s forgiveness because I need that forgiveness EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I’m not perfect, or anything even close to it. I don’t feel like it’s okay to pretend that I am, so I don’t.  I’ve talked about this subject with other Christians, and they have assured me that they share this same struggle.

I want to be so much better for my God than I actually am.

I don’t feel good about failing but I know that when I ask Him to forgive me, He does.

What I have learned recently is just how difficult it is to forgive myself.  I’m not proud of the way I behave sometimes, and it’s probably safe to say that I beat myself up about it much more than anyone else does.  I’ve always been told that I’m too hard on myself, and I know that there is some truth to that, but when I know that I have acted in a way that is displeasing to God it just crushes me.  I want to be perfect for Him, but I’m not.

He is a God of mercy though. He forgives me and so I have to do the same. If I don’t forgive myself, then it’s like I’m saying that I know better than my creator does.  So I pray that God will help me to do that, because all forgiveness has to come from Him. I can’t do it on my own.  I can’t do any of this on my own.

So there it is.  If you’re looking for a column written by the perfect Christian, this isn’t it.  All I am is someone who God had mercy on and rescued.  If there is anything in my life that I have achieved or any success that I have had, it is because God made it happen.

The times that I actually am able to be a light, a beacon, even just a decent guy doing the best he can, it’s because I serve a merciful God that loved me long before I loved Him.  That’s why I desire to serve Him and why I pray and ask for forgiveness and why I try again when I fail.

I really don’t feel qualified to have any sort of calling from God, but when I read the Bible it is filled with stories of  underqualified people doing things that are amazing. They are able to do these things because they trust God and He enables them to do whatever He needs them to do. That’s the person that I want to be today, the one that trusts in God enough that I want to do His work even if it looks impossible.  So for today, I choose to trust that He would not have given me a calling if there’s not a way to accomplish it.

I was hoping to work some sarcasm and bad jokes into this column, but I’m sure that I’ll more than make up for it the next time around. Until then, I pray that God will bless you and guide you throughout your day and into tomorrow.