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.

That time God talked to me in the Mexican restaurant

By Dan Kivett

 

2012 was a pretty eventful year for me. That’s probably the biggest understatement I could ever make. At the beginning of the year, I was a hopeless drunk who didn’t know what he was going to do. I had no money and, much more importantly, I had no hope. God was looking out for me and arranged for me to stay at a rescue mission in York, Nebraska. It was there that not only did I get back on my feet, but that I took Jesus as my Savior and began a new life.

At the mission it seemed like every day I learned something new about God and my relationship with Him. People would tell me that I was growing by leaps and bounds. I tried very hard to learn as much as I could because I felt like God was preparing me for something. I didn’t know what it was but I wanted to be as ready for it as I could be.

I started showing symptoms of some sort of illness in August, and by December I was using a cane because I had trouble walking. Several trips to different doctors didn’t produce the kind of concrete diagnosis that I had been hoping for. With that on my mind, one evening I went to dinner try to blow off some steam and just relax for a while.

Mexico Lindo was a restaurant right across from where I would go swimming so I would often stop by there afterward to put back on any calories that might have escaped from me. It was usually pretty quiet and it was a good place to go escape from the world for a bit. On this particular night as I was waiting for my meal (probably huevos con chorizo) I started to sense that God had something he wanted to tell me. Now for me to just sit there obediently and graciously accept a message from my Creator, I guess, would be just be a little too easy. In my arrogance I turned up the headphones I was wearing and tried to drown God out.

Looking back it seems pretty absurd and disrespectful but I guess that’s just where my mindset was that night. I was very stressed out and frankly was very tired of hearing about and thinking about my health problems. It had started to consume my life. This night I just wanted to eat my Mexican food and for a half hour, just be somewhere where no one would want to talk about my health.

As I sat there I felt the same feeling as before, that God had a message for me. This feeling grew over several minutes and eventually I realized that I was being immature. There have been many times in my life that I cried out to God and wanted a response so badly and here I was arrogantly thinking that I could ignore Him. So I turned off the music and these were the words that he put in my head:  “I already know what’s going to happen and at no point will I leave you.”

When I heard those words I felt something that had been very rare in the weeks and months leading up to that moment; I felt peace. And I don’t think I realized at the time what a gift God had just given me. It’s been over four years since that night and I still think of those words on a regular basis. Those words have come to mind during some of the most difficult and trying periods of my life.

There’ve been many times that I have struggled to understand why I am sick and why I can’t get well. There have been times when I am in so much pain that all I can do is lay in bed and pray that I fall asleep so that I won’t hurt anymore. There have been times when I have lost relationships because the people involved were unable to come to terms with my illness and decided to walk away. And there have even been times I have doubted that God really loved me because I couldn’t understand why this illness had to happen to me. During these times and so many others, the gift that the Lord gave me was always there. These simple words were always there: “I already know what’s going to happen and at no point will I leave you.”

It took me a long time to understand that God already knows the outcome of every problem and situation that I face. None of this is a surprise to Him. If He tells me that He won’t leave me it means that He has seen the end and knows that He didn’t leave me. These are the words that allow me to keep going no matter how much pain I’m in or how much frustration I face because my arms and legs don’t work the way I would like them to. I can keep going because I know that God goes with me. He gave me the gift of letting me know that He will never abandon me and I take that with me everywhere I go.

Now I understand that this whole talking to God thing might sound a little crazy to some people and I definitely used to think that way too. But there are a few things that I have learned during my walk with the Lord and one of them that is that just because things don’t make sense doesn’t mean they’re not real. I don’t have to understand everything even though I might want to. Frankly, I’m not going to understand everything about God. My brain just can’t do it, and that’s okay.

I’m not someone who pretends that it’s easy to have faith. It’s not, at least for me anyway. It’s not an instinct for me, it’s a choice. Sometimes it’s a very difficult choice but I know that what God wants from me is faith.  He wants me to trust Him. He never told me that my life would be easy but He did say that he would never leave me.
And He never has.

MY YEAR LONG BIBLE ADVENTURE

By Dan Kivett

 

About a year ago I got the sudden urge to read the Bible cover to cover. It had been a few years since I’d read the whole thing and I knew that there was plenty of it that I didn’t really remember that well anymore. I did the math and figured out that if I read 3.25 chapters a day I could get it read in about a year.  Well, the other day I finally finished and my main takeaway was the same as it had been the first time:  I’m gonna need to read it again.

       There is so much to take in that I know I’ll never get it all. To be honest, it can be pretty intimidating to attempt to read the whole thing. I know of several lifelong Christians that have told me they have never read it all and that actually compelled me to do it. As Christians we believe that the Bible is the word of God. I look at it as a gift that God gave me to help me understand Him better. It would be pretty rude to get a gift from the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE and not try to get as much use out of it as I can.
       I’m not saying that everyone should read it the way I did, especially if you are very new to the faith (the Gospels are your friend, trust me). There are probably hundreds of ways to read the Bible and I’ve seen year long plans that make it much more manageable but I guess that’s just not my style. I suppose that I get some odd sort of satisfaction form plowing my way through some of the more difficult to read books like Leviticus or finishing the six week marathon that was Psalms.
       And let me tell you, the joy that I experienced when Jesus finally showed up in my reading after nine months when I started Matthew was very real. I felt… like I was going back home. There was a true feeling of comfort when I started reading the Gospels. Not that I hadn’t seen plenty of Bible verses on Facebook and other things like that throughout the year and of course Jesus is mentioned many times in the Old Testament (it’s fun to try to find Him, sort of like Where’s Waldo but a billion times better).
        Now that I’ve finished it’s time to go back and read the passages that I’ve underlined and examine them a little closer. One of the really neat things about the Bible is that different verses will stand out that never really did before as you read through it. It’s called the Living Word and it’s really cool to see what stands out as time goes by.
        It won’t be long and we’ll be hearing about people making New Year’s resolutions. My suggestion is that you take the time to read the Bible next year. The whole thing. Do it in whatever way makes sense for you. As long as your heart is set on loving God and trying the understand His Word, I don’t know that there’s really a wrong way to do it.