In Limbo and Exile

Today’s Scripture is from Jeremiah 29:11-13,

“For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart . . .”

Today’s blog post is by Will Newton, Director of Contemporary Worship…

In campus ministry, I had plenty of students who realized they had made a mistake.  Maybe they chose the wrong major, or they wound up at the wrong school (though FSU is never the WRONG school), or maybe they didn’t want a college education at all. Driven by a quick shove, and a society swarming around them to be “productive” and “make a career”, they found themselves paying tens of thousands of dollars for something they realized they didn’t want.

And the fall out was catastrophic – at least in their minds.  They wound up in my office, teary-eyed and worried. Had they just chained their life to this future? To this career?

Now, to us on the other side of college (or technical school), this reaction seems over-the top. Of course you can change your path after school. But what gripped these students wasn’t the need for change; rather it was the mounting insecurity and vagueness as to what that change was. They were in limbo, in a competitive professional setting that demanded them to be ever growing, training, and producing. There was no space, or time, for vagueness and doubt. Professional limbo was as good as dead, or at least frozen, in their minds.

When we read Jeremiah, we have to realize that Israel was in a twisted space of limbo.  Jeremiah is speaking to an Israeli community that was displaced in Babylon. A community whose faith was centralized to Jerusalem –  which had been sacked – leaving their Temple (the sole place to commune with God) in ruins. They had lost their home, their bridge to God, and their security – their future was vague (if not dour.) And so you can imagine the fear of this limbo came crashing upon this community.

I am going to be bold and say that we too often take these verses out of context and make this section of Jeremiah to mean one thing, when it can mean another. We want this to be deliverance, and assurance. We want escapism with God. I would encourage you to read the whole chapter, instead of settling for this cliche reassurance. Because what is truly happening, in my belief, is more powerful and difficult, than a simple escape or vacation from trouble.

Don’t get me wrong. Clearly God’s proclamation in this section is one of hope. Later in  Jeremiah, he will discuss Israel’s return from Babylon. When we read this chapter though, God begins his work of deliverance in Babylon, not in Jerusalem. His hope springs forth in the midst of the trouble, not after Israel has escaped it.

This promise of a future is stated after an important commandment for the Israeli’s  continue to build homes, raise families, and to “seek the welfare of the city” (verses 5-7.)  In fact, God says that the welfare of Babylon will be the welfare of Israel. God desires for his people to seek growth in the very nation that was their destruction. Even in the country of their exile, banished from their home and Temple, there is a purpose, there is growth, and God is present.

So back to college students. Caught half way through a degree, smack dab in the middle of a semester they can’t escape – the answer I gave was often not to drop out and escape their fear. Rather, I would encourage my students to seek God, to seek growth, in this new limbo they’ve found themselves in. Maybe the answer to their limbo wasn’t to run away, but to seek the welfare of the place they were in.

I believe there is always hope, I believe there is always deliverance. But maybe
deliverance to God is not escape, but rather a divine purpose within our places of limbo and exile.

Daily Anticipation

Today’s Scripture is Psalm 24:1 (NIV), 

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it the world, and all who live in it;

Today’s blog post is by Monica Hidalgo, Director of Traditional Worship,

Psalm 24 is a psalm of anticipation. David, the shepherd king, is anticipating the arrival of the LORD.

During the last few weeks I have really had a chance to reflect; to inspect and challenge myself in so many ways often anticipating an “experience” through my stretching. What have you experienced? What has really been challenging? What have you failed at? What have you conquered?

One of my successes has been the ability to really see people. Not just the poor and the needy – the list goes on. Not them,  but him and her… to see the individual; their story, who they are and that they belong to God just as much as I do.

God can show up in your life today in an unexpected way. Will you recognize Him? Or like the busy people of Jerusalem, will that moment pass you by? Will we be too caught up in the day to day stuff? Will we be too distracted by social media to recognize the Holy Spirit?

This one verse is such a huge reminder that we all belong to the Kingdom. Let’s take our attention off the mundane things of this world and focus the eyes of our hearts on the Lord. Seek Him daily. The King of glory may be passing by today.

My prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come. I open my eyes, my heart and my mind to you. I want to see you at work in my daily circumstances (all of them :/).  Help me to anticipate you appearing in my life today. Grant me a pure heart so I can recognize you. Amen.

Recalling Milestones…

Today’s blog post is by Lisa Primavera…

This is the view that is just outside my office door.  I am thankful for this constant reminder of God’s power, ability and His faithfulness. Each day the sun rises and the waves roll in. Everyday is different, but everyday comes.

A beautiful serene picture. But, life isn’t always so photogenic.

Too often we read about, hear about and yes even face being overwhelmed.  When work, life, commitments, responsibilities become too much, we turn to alcohol, drugs, isolation, anger, and countless other methods to make it all better – to make the hurt go away. The end result – it doesn’t go away.  But, often the depression manifests and deepens with every new obstacle, crisis or dilemma. The mourning of a loved one, stress of a job, sickness, a broken relationship – these circumstances send us into a whirlwind of feelings of inadequacy, doubt and despair.  These feelings represent unbelief.

Unbelief allows my feelings to get the best of me. Do you do that too ?  When we need God most, we turn away, fighting to ” get over it”, “to handle it”, the result – we are thrown deeper into the throngs of frustration and depression – all unwarranted for the believer.

Psalm 77:13-15 written by David reminds us to not focus on our problems but to set our eyes upon God.

 O God! Your way is holy!
    No god is great like God!
You’re the God who makes things happen;
    you showed everyone what you can do—
You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,
    rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.

God, the one who not only created but can change the course of nature.  The one who tells the sun to rise and waves to stop and even the sea to be calm enough to be walked upon. Our circumstances are not exempt; nothing is too much for our God. It is helpful to look back on scripture to see how God has demonstrated His love for us and to those that went before us.  No circumstance was too much for God.  We see that His abilities are beyond measure, defying man’s ability over and over. Recalling personal milestones -God’s victories in our lives  – will remind us that He is in control, has always been and will always be. No matter how bad the circumstance is, God is greater.

And a walk by the sea is always good too.

 

Help’s coming…

Today’s Scripture is Psalm 20:6-7…

“Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” 

Today’s blog post is by Lisa Gonzales, Director of Children’s Ministry…

That clinches it—help’s coming,
    an answer’s on the way,
    everything’s going to work out.  Psalm 20:6 The Message

I’m not going to lie, I read the verse (above) about 15 times.  The first 14 times I got nothing.  It wasn’t until I read the Message translation (also see above) that I thought, “Oh, I get that!”  It’s funny because, as the Children’s Director, that’s what I do with the children every week.  I take scripture that is hard to understand and tough stories from the Bible and I bring it down to their level.  I try to relate it to their small, growing brains. I let them know that it’s ok to not understand the Bible sometimes and that as they grow up, the stories will start to make more sense and the words on the pages will begin to come alive.  And you know what?  Even when they become adults, they might still look at a verse and say, “Huh??”  – Just like I did this past week.

But most of the Bible is really just a few simple ideas.

  • God is the creator of all.
  • He loves us more than anything else.
  • He sent His son to save us from our sins.
  • If we believe in Him, He offers us eternal life.

So basically, “Trust in God, everything’s going to work out.” 

Of course, that’s way harder to do than to read.  I wish I had some great story to share with you about a time that I was so worried about something that I put my complete trust in God and it all worked out.  But, since I think blogs are written to be real and relatable – here’s the truth – I freak out all the time!  Do I pray when times are tough?  Absolutely!  Do I plead with God to make His answers visible to me?  You bet!  Do I panic and try to do things my way?  All the time! 

The Bible is hard to read and even harder to live by.  But, that’s ok.  I think realizing the NEED to trust in God and that His answer IS on the way is a huge step.  Just like I teach the kids on Sunday mornings, I too need to understand God’s basic truths, that “everything’s going to work out,” if we just have faith.

It really is that simple.

Hidden Treasure

Today’s Scripture is Hebrews 11:1…

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Today’s blog post is by Michelle Morse…

When you think about it, it seems pretty silly to believe that God has granted us an unseen eternity in heaven and not believe that He will answer prayers prayed according to His will here on earth.  After all, what seems more difficult: sacrificing His only son for a long-term promise to the sinful multitudes, or granting one person’s short-term prayer of faith?

For years, Abraham and Sarah prayed for the son God had promised them.  In their old age, they still hadn’t seen their dream come true.  When God assured them that it was about to happen, Sarah laughed (Genesis 18:10-15). She had given up hope.  Yet God gave them a huge legacy of descendants, just as He had promised (Genesis 12:2, 15:4-6, 17:4-8).

For decades, I prayed for something good that I desperately wanted.  I knew God wanted it, too, so I couldn’t understand why He was taking so long to answer my prayer.  Eventually, I gave up, miserably disappointed.  I stopped praying for the thing I wanted him to change, and decided to work on changing the one thing I had control over:  myself!  In seeking help to do so, I was taught the true meaning of “Let go and let God”.  When I stretched myself to become a better person instead of demanding that God change my circumstances, two things happened.  First, I learned that my attitudes and not my circumstances were the source of my contentment.  And the second result was that the thing I’d been praying for finally came to pass!

Just because I hadn’t seen evidence that God was working on my problem didn’t mean that He had ignored my prayers.  He had his reasons for the delay:  He was waiting for me to change. By striving to make it happen, I had been standing in God’s way.  I’d been obsessing on the circumstances instead of working on the obstruction: me!  I had been focusing on the problem instead of resting on my faith in the Problem Solver.  And in worrying about what God wasn’t doing for me, I had forgotten to thank Him for the thousands of blessings He was giving me every day.

Stretch your faith.  Let go and Let God.  He doesn’t need our help.  Trust His timing. And don’t forget to be thankful.

Additional verses:  Philippians 4: 6-7, 11-12.

What if…

Today’s scripture is Matthew 7: 7 – 8…
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Today’s blog is written by Will Newton, Contemporary Worship Leader…

This verse is often used as a reassurance in times of doubt, confusion, or spiritual stagnation. I have always heard this section used to remind us that God desires to give us all of himself. Even the next couple verses, give us a wonderful metaphor of a Father giving good things to his children.

I wonder if our common interpretation of this verse is “cheap grace” – a bed-time assurance to help comfort us, rather than challenge us.

This verse is in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, sandwiched between phrases like, “choose the narrow gate,” and “do not give what is holy to dogs.” Later, in this same chapter, Jesus speaks of those who “work iniquity” and how they must depart from him.

So either this is a passing moment of spiritual coddling, or there’s something more powerful here than a spiritual Santa Claus.

Maybe the adage, “Be careful what you wish for” applies here. In the past couple years, I have asked, sought, and knocked for an answer to pains in our society. How does the Church end racism? How do we heal division and end hate-filled language across “affiliations”?

“God, please give us unity.”

Often I did not like the answers. You must become a servant of all. Love you enemy, and pray for those who persecute you. If there is discord, seek out reconciliation, as Christ reconciles you in his death.

If I ask it will be given – correct? The ease of that statement can misinform us as to what is on the other side of our request. I am certain that God does give us only good things. But sometimes our spiritual diet is not ready for good things. When you have feasted on potato chips for years and years, a head of broccoli is a scary thing. When you have lived comfortably amidst apathy and stagnant faith, the answer to your prayers for growth and change, may be to “take up your cross daily.”

If we want is a Savior, we may get a Sermon on the Mount. If we ask for justification for our sins, we will also be called into the sanctification of sin – drawn out to be a free people of God, rather than simply a receiver of His blessings.

The question is, “Are we still willing to enter through the door, if the other side isn’t what we wanted?”