Return, Repent, Rejoice, Rest

It has been awhile.  Life, as usual, has gotten in the way.  The daily grind.  The tireless pursuit of … what? career? money? love? rest? Exhausting.  Today, I returned to the Bible.  And here is where it opened:

In the second year of Darius, in the eighth month, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, son of Berechiah, son of Iddo:  The LORD was very angry with your ancestors.  Say to them: Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return to me—oracle of the LORD of hosts—and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.  Do not be like your ancestors to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: Thus says the LORD of hosts: Turn from your evil ways and from your wicked deeds.  But they did not listen or pay attention to me—oracle of the LORD.— Your ancestors, where are they? And the prophets, can they live forever?  But my words and my statutes, with which I charged my servants the prophets, did these not overtake your ancestors?  Then they repented and admitted: “Just as the LORD of hosts intended to treat us according to our ways and deeds, so the LORD has done.”

Zechariah 1:1-6

How many times in the Bible does God remind us that all we need to do is return to Him?  Here are just a few examples:

  • Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.  Joel 2:13
  • Return, Israel, to the LORD, your God; you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  Hosea 14:2
  • If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored; if you put iniquity far from your tent.  Job 22:23
  • I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.  Jeremiah 24:7
  • Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds.  James 4:8
  • In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.  Luke 15:10

Throughout the Bible, the message is consistent: return to God.  No matter where we have been, no matter what we have done… return…  repent… rejoice and rest in God’s love.  Jesus makes it clear with three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and finally the prodigal son.  Luke 15:1-32  And then he tells us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Lord,

Your mercy and love is far too gracious for us to comprehend.  I do not know how or why I let life get in the way, chasing things that do not bring me the peace and joy and rest that only you can provide.  Thank you for always being there when I return.  You have made this beautiful world full of so many wonderful things.  I want to see and experience it all, but I want to do that with you.

Janet’s Joy

Today, I went to a funeral service for Janet, the mother of a friend and a faithful servant to God.  I was lucky enough to meet Janet and to speak with her on a few occasions.   On one such occasion she shared her love of God with me and she shared this verse:

Yet even now—oracle of the LORD—return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

She shared this with me when I was questioning whether God was the God of the Old Testament (who often seems angry and maybe even mean) or the God of the New Testament (who seems to be all about love).  Janet cited this verse to assure me that God was the same throughout time — all about love.

Return to me with your whole heart, He tells us.  No matter what we have done.  No matter where we are.  God invites us to return to Him.  He tells us to rend our hearts, not our garments and return to Him.    Sometimes our hearts and minds are fixed on something other than God.  Rend your heart, fast, weep, mourn and return to God.  I think sometimes we are afraid to make the change necessary to return our hearts to God.   It needs to be a conscious decision.  We need to fast and cleanse our body, weep and cleanse our inner spirit, mourn and say goodbye to something in our life.  We change our heart, change our life and follow God.  And the good part is…  He will take us back.  He is gracious and merciful.  He is slow to anger.  Look around at the world.  He has lots to be angry with.  But He still loves us, all of us!  He is abounding in steadfast love.  That is my favorite part.  Abounding in steadfast love.  God is love (Old Testament or New Testament — He is love).

And He is constantly calling us to Him.

Janet’s body is now returning to God, but I believe her heart, her whole heart, has long been with God.

God,

Thank you for your abounding and steadfast love.  Show me how to share the same with others.  I am sorry for the times I turn away.  Help me to rend my heart.  Help me to return to you whenever I turn away.

(And God, thank you for Janet.  No matter her struggle she remained steadfast in you.  Welcome her into your kingdom.  We will miss her here, but know that she is finding everlasting joy in you.)

Don’t Forget

There are so many days that we are blessed that we take for granted.  This past week I have seen two signs on churches reminding us that today is a gift, don’t waste it.  But it seems like so many things can get in the way of life…   at least the life I want to lead.  So many things get in the way of our relationship with God.

Today the Bible reminded me of the cycle that has gone on since the beginning of time.  God takes care of us, provides for us, saves us.  We become satisfied; we become proud; we forget about God:

I, the LORD, am your God, since the land of Egypt; gods apart from me you do not know; there is no savior but me.

I fed you in the wilderness, in the parched land.  When I fed them, they were satisfied; when satisfied, they became proud,

therefore they forgot me.

Hosea 13:4-6

I have  fallen into this cycle in my own life.  As God tells us repeatedly throughout the Bible, even though we may forget, all is not lost.  All is never lost:

Return, Israel, to the LORD, your God; you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  Take with you words, and return to the LORD;

Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity, and take what is good.  Let us offer the fruit of our lips.  Assyria will not save us, nor will we mount horses;  We will never again say, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely; for my anger is turned away from them.

Hosea 14:2-5

Lord, forgive me.  I continue to stumble.  I know your path is straight.  And yet I stumble off of it.  There is nothing I can do that can compare to you.  Nothing on earth, nothing I can create, no work that I can perform can save me.  Only you can save me. I turn to you, Lord.  I turn to you for your grace, and your mercy.  I turn to you for your love and forgiveness which never waivers.

A Whale of a Story

I have heard many times the story of Jonah and the whale, or at least I thought I had.  I knew that he was swallowed by a whale and God helped him escape after 3 days and 3 nights.  But apparently I missed much of the story.  Today the Bible opened to the book of Jonah.  And I read the book of Jonah — it is only 2 pages, so don’t be too impressed.  What I did not know, or never paid attention to before, was how Jonah got into the water (and eventually into the whale’s stomach).  Apparently Jonah was traveling in a boat with others when a great storm arose:

Now the men were seized with great fear and said to him, “How could you do such a thing!”—They knew that he was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them.  They asked, “What shall we do with you, that the sea may calm down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more stormy.  Jonah responded, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea and then the sea will calm down for you. For I know that this great storm has come upon you because of me.”

Still the men rowed hard to return to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy.  Then they cried to the LORD: “Please, O LORD, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not charge us with shedding innocent blood, for you, LORD, have accomplished what you desired.”  Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging.  Seized with great fear of the LORD, the men offered sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

Jonah 1:10-16

Jonah was running from the Lord.  He was physically turning away from God.  And what did God do? He didn’t kill him, although the other sailors thought that was what God wanted, He didn’t harm Jonah at all.  He called him back — He sent Jonah a wake up call.   Jonah answered the wake up call:

From the womb of Sheol I cried for help, and you heard my voice.  You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood enveloped me; All your breakers and your billows passed over me.  Then I said, “I am banished from your sight!  How will I again look upon your holy temple?” The waters surged around me up to my neck; the deep enveloped me; seaweed wrapped around my head.  I went down to the roots of the mountains; to the land whose bars closed behind me forever, But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD, my God.

Jonah 2:3-7

Jonah went down to the depths, and God brought him back.  He returned him to dry land.  He returned him to safety.  Jonah ran from God, told God no, and God called him back and brought him to safety.  It’s a whale of a story.  It’s our story.  Maybe we don’t physically run from God, but we sometimes (maybe more times than we like to admit) turn our backs on God, we choose to make our own plans rather than follow God’s plan.  God still calls us back.  He is waiting to return us to dry land no matter how far down we go.

Thank you God!