Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
With a name like “Lamentations,” you know it isn’t a joke book. It’s not lighthearted or jovial. It’s the inspired record of Jeremiah’s tears and troubled spirit over the punishment of Judah for her idolatry and abandonment of God. It is graphic (see 2:20-21; 4:4-10; 5:11-14). Conditions became terrible for the nation (cf. 1:9-10). The book is filled with apocalyptic language and hyperbole (3:1-16).
In the middle of the prophesy, though, Jeremiah expresses the hopeful effect of all this calamity and reaping. The desired effect of captivity was three-fold, according to Lamentations 3:40. First, it was for self-examination–“Let us search out and examine our ways.” Second, it was for repentance–“and turn back to the Lord.” Finally, it was for spiritual development–“Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”
When we sin or even are caught in some long-term transgression, there will very often be consequences. If we fail to overcome it, the consequences will be unending and most serious. Yet, if we “come to ourselves” (cf. Luke 15:17) and let go of what is keeping us from being right with God, it can have those same three positive impacts on us. It cause cause us to engage in proper self-examination. It will hopefully lead us to repent. Then, this paves the road for us to grow close to God through proper spiritual development.
The ideal is to avoid spiritually spiraling out of control or into some sin problem. Yet, if or when we do, let us remember Lamentations 3:40. Good can come from bad.
“From the stirrups to the ground,
Mercy I asked for, mercy I found”
That is a distorted view of grace,
Which seeks God only in death’s face.
It cheapens that which cost Him much,
To use Him only as a deathbed crutch.
Unlike the seeker at his eleventh hour,
Who sincerely reaches for His saving power,
The hardened sinner who in last resort
Hedges his bets for some eternal life support.
So many never reach a deathbed sound in mind,
Or care for His will ’til their death warrant’s signed.
While God is long-suffering, wanting all to be saved,
The majority spend their lives to sin’s power enslaved
They only think heaven when earth’s living is through,
But an afterthought gesture will just not do.
Scripture says “come now,” not “wait til tomorrow,”
So many delayed to their own regret and sorrow.
Instead of relegating God to a last-ditch recourse,
Submit to Him now, you He’ll publicly endorse.
Deathbed repentance is not found in His Word,
No matter what men from their wisdom you’ve heard.
Obey from the heart what His doctrine requires,
Let His word be your truth, let all others be liars.
When we think of the parable in Luke 15, we inevitably think of the younger son who left home for the far country of sin. We appreciate God giving us the prodigal (reckless; wastefully extravagant) son in this parable to illustrate hope, love, and forgiveness, no matter what we may have done. Then we think of our favorite character in this story, the father. He represents God and reveals God’s eagerness to embrace and restore a sinner who repents. He gives the undeserved, unexpected, and unanticipated (cf. Eph. 2:4-8).
Then, there’s that other main character in the story. How does he strike you? After all, his brother has been reckless and irresponsible and his dad lets him off scot-free and even throws him a party. He robbed his father blind, and he isn’t even punished one bit. How do you see the brother who stayed home? Let at the text more closely and see how God sees him.
Some of us may find ourselves in the position of the prodigal. None of us will ever be in the position of the father. May we never find ourselves in the position of the boy who stayed home. If we do, we may lose our place in the father’s house!
When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.). But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying. Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.” But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).
It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:
Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us. Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.
When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick. No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.
It happened on October 16, 1912, the eighth (*) and deciding game of the World Series. In the bottom of the 10th, with his New York Giants winning by a run, Clyde Engle sent a lazy pop fly to centerfield. Fred Snodgrass, an average hitter and dependable fielder, settled under it and ultimately dropped it. A lot of other things happened. Snodgrass made a spectacular catch on the next play. Hall of Fame pitcher walked the next batter. Tris Speaker, before driving in the winning run with a single, hit a pop foul that both Fred Merkle (aka “Bonehead Merkle,” but that’s a story for another day) and Chief Meyers failed to catch. Snodgrass’ blunder was the scapegoat for the Giants’ series loss to the Boston Red Sox. Fred would go on to be successful in business as a banker, an appliance merchant, and a rancher, was elected mayor of Oxnard, California, and served on the City Council for three terms. There was so much more to Fred Snodgrass than a single unfortunate moment in time, but even his obituary read: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” In a 1940 interview, Fred spoke of how that fated fly ball would come up as he met or spoke with people (info via sabr.org and history.com).
Isn’t it interesting how a mistake or sin committed in a moment can have such lasting implications, bringing infamy and an enormous challenge of trying to live it down? But doesn’t Snodgrass also prove that we do not have to be defined by our failures? Maybe our blunder is not played out with such renown and infamy, but it can still stay with us and dog our continued steps.
Have you dropped the ball with something? Maybe you let down somebody you loved or somebody that was really counting on you. Maybe you hurt someone special to you. It might have been a foolish or ungodly word or deed when someone was watching. The bigger the blunder, the heavier that burden of guilt might be in your heart. There’s no excusing it. But what will you do now? Will you let it keep you down or will you refuse to be defined by it? The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b). The focal point must be what’s before us, not what’s behind us. So said Paul (Phil. 3:13).
Dust yourself off. Regroup. Get ready for what’s next! Focus on what’s next, not on what’s over and done.
(*) Game 2 was called on account of “impending darkness”