4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.The letter encourages the people that they need to take a long view. It is critically important that they live and even thrive in the midst of the exile. In other words, it was incumbent upon them to thrive even though the culture around them was foreign to them—not their home. They should even seek the welfare of the city in which they live so that they can thrive for the long term with the city’s good favor. Restoration would come eventually. God promised to give them “a hope and a future”, to prosper them with good plans. But, it would take a good long while to see such blessing. By adopting a long view mindset, the Israelites would stay strong for the long haul and stay faithful to God for generations. Our Day… The writers of the New Testament considered the secular Roman Empire in which they lived a type of Babylon. The church is the exiled people of God. Peter called the church in the world, “scattered exiles” (1 Peter 1:1). This world is not our home. Even though we are citizens of the United States from an earthly perspective, our true and lasting citizenship is in heaven in a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). We are destined for the New Jerusalem and the heavenly city prepared for the new earth after the consummation of all things. In the meantime, what are the faithful people of God to do? Some false voices suggest that the problems are not that severe. That one day soon, we can get things turned around. Beloved, if the election of 2016 has taught us anything, I hope that we have learned that there is not a messianic presidential figure in the offing who will lead the United States of America back to the promised land that it once was. The faithful need to be disillusioned with the pundits and the politicians who preach a message of false hope and quick fix. The problems that this nation has are deep and intractable. The truth is that it will take generations for this nation to be restored. They will not be solved in the short run with government solutions. On the contrary, national restoration of the United States will come from many generations of faithful consistent witness to the Christian life, as well as discipleship by the church. If the Foundations Be Destroyed… In Psalm 11, David asks: “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” There are times when it seems as if the very ground underneath our feet is coming out from under us. This political season may have shaken our confidence in the very institutions which we rely on for stability. However, David knows that if your trust is not in earthly foundations but in the Lord’s sovereign rule, all is secure.
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. 5 The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. 6 Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. 7 For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.God remains firmly in control of all events happening in the United States of America. He is sovereign over all. So what will the righteous do? Go on Being Righteous. No matter how bleak the circumstances are in this land of exile, our hopeful confidence is ultimately not in the government of the United States of America or its elected leaders. As beautiful and wonderful as our nation is, God has truly shed his grace on thee, our hope and help is in the promised restoration that will only come by the sovereign hand of God and in his sovereign timing. In the meantime, we take the long view. We go on being righteous, in season or out of season. We proclaim the good news. We plant and build churches, we do good deeds that build up the kingdom of God. We build houses and raise families. We study the scriptures together in community, and we seek the things of first importance, Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised. The Lord is in his Holy Temple and he calls us to live and thrive in the midst of exile. We should always seek the welfare of the nation and cities in which we live as that will be for our welfare and blessing. By getting involved in the affairs of our community and being the salt and light of Jesus Christ, we manifest the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. Elections do matter, and we are called to engage in the affairs of our communities and nation so that the place where we live will be strong and good. But for God’s sake take the long view, do not be discouraged or lose hope by the affairs of this world. We will remain in exile a good long while. As the Lord promised the people of God of old, his words continue to ring true:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
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In this season of fear of illness, quarantine, and shelter-in-place orders, we find ourselves facing a long period of isolation. We are anticipating weeks, or even months, of being unable to go to church or meeting with our regular study groups. Yet our hearts and souls need inspiration and encouragement now more than ever! As a pastor or group leader, you need new tools to help lead your people during this uncertain time.
Our team at Bible Study Media has been working over the last two weeks to convert our studies into an online format to meet the new requirements of today’s circumstances. We have created an online community forum, which will serve as our online home for community and courses. We want to offer this online forum to your ministries and congregations as an Easter resource for virtual small groups. We have two courses to offer for Easter: The Resurrected Life: Making All Things New (Fr. Charlie Holt, author) and our brand-new forthcoming study, A Living Hope: A Study of 1 Peter (Sarah Viggiano Wright, author). Many more online courses will be available soon.
Our Platform Offers:
Each study has:
Here is how it works:
Step One: You will be invited into a clergy host group. From there, we will organize and set up your private congregation group. The fee to join is $79.99; this fee covers the cost of setting up your private branded group and course. NOTE: It takes one full week to process a new group and course.
Step Two: Each congregation will be given a unique invitation to a private group and a private version of the course so that you can uniquely minister to your flock. Within your private group, you can customize your site, set up your events, and schedule church-wide notices of your teachings related to the course.
Step Three: You will use your private link to invite the members of your congregation into the study. They will be prompted to set up their profile and log in. They will be then automatically placed in your private group and course. Anyone that you invite can join. You can share it on your website, email, and social media. Each individual will be charged $9.99 upon registration for the cost of the course.
Our team is available every step of the way as you are getting familiar with this new tool for ministry. We also have the Clergy Host Group where we can all share ideas and figure out this new way of doing life together online—the Body of Christ helping the Body of Christ.
We would love to have the opportunity to serve your ministry. The first step is to join the Clergy Host Group. Let our team begin setting up your unique and dedicated ministry group and course so you can start inviting your members into a meaningful Easter Season.
To help you better understand our offering, we will host six Zoom Webinars over the next week. Please plan to join us at one of these times. Click the link to register:
We hope to see you there!
By Brooke Holt, Adult Curriculum Specialist
Many people have been asking me what I make of the Coronavirus, what I think the purpose of it is, and what God will do through it. My humble answer is that I have absolutely no idea! There is a reason that God is God and I am not!
While I do not have any answers, I do believe that we can be asking ourselves how God wants us to live through these days. I think there is a faithful way to live, one that puts our trust and hope in the Lord, and I think there is a fear-based way to live, one that looks around us and sees panic, doom, and gloom. No matter what your response is, God still sits on his throne. He is sovereign over this virus. Despite the pain, suffering, and loss, I know that God is good. I believe that he will work for his glory and our good through this.
As a Lenten discipline, I am meditating on a Psalm each week. This week, I am focusing on Psalm 95. There is a phrase that keeps calling me, speaking to me, and challenging me: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (verses 7-9). I keep wondering how my reaction to this Coronavirus will either harden my heart or soften my heart to the Lord.
In Psalm 95:7-9, the Lord speaks of when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. He worked powerfully on behalf of his people and accomplished many miracles so that the people could not only escape Egypt but leave with plunder. The Israelites saw the mighty hand of God as he parted the Red Sea for them to walk through. That sea then crashed upon the Egyptian army that pursued them. God changed bitter water to sweet water in the wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:25); the Lord provided manna for food in the morning and quail for food at night.
As the Israelites moved on to camp at Rephidim, they couldn’t find water and became indignant. They grumbled against God and against Moses: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3) Pause here a moment to think about all the miracles the Israelites had witnessed with their very own eyes, to remember how God had provided everything they needed just when they needed it. Instead of asking God to once again provide water, they whined and complained. Can you imagine how frustrating that must have been for Moses, for God? In his mercy, the Lord does provide water. Moses struck the rock at Horeb and water came out to quench their thirst.
The Israelites were slow to understand and slow to believe. They say it took 40 days to get the Israelites out of Egypt but 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites. All those years of bondage certainly took their toll. Likely, the Israelites felt forgotten by the Lord. God never forgets his covenants! God never forgets his people. During the years of slavery, the Lord had a plan for their escape. He knew their course through the wilderness, and he knew the glories of the promised land.
In Numbers 13, Moses sends the men to spy out the promised land. They go into the land and find it is even more glorious than they could have imagined. The only problem was the people in the land. The report from 10 of the spies was that the people were like giants and there was no way to overcome them. Only Caleb and Joshua brought back the report that the land was glorious, and although the land was occupied, they knew that God would give them the land. Caleb and Joshua remembered God’s faithfulness through their Egyptian escape and their journeys. They believed that the same God who provided water, food, protection, and guidance would allow them to supernaturally defeat the giants.
Sadly, the Israelites succumbed to the dour report of the 10 spies instead of choosing the faith and hope of Caleb and Joshua. They cried and groaned all night and once again asked why they couldn’t have just died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness. After all God’s faithfulness, they still did not believe. Their hearts were hard to the Lord.
The Israelites serve as a warning to us. Though we are quick to criticize them, they represent us. In Psalm 95, we are warned not to harden our hearts. How do hearts become hard to the Lord? The Psalmist says that hearts harden when we hear the voice of God and choose unbelief instead of belief, when we put God to the test, and when we go astray in our hearts. The Lord was certainly worthy of the Israelite’s full-hearted faith. Nevertheless, they chose fear over faith; they chose to complain instead of pray; they chose despair over hope.
As Christians living in the year 2020, have we seen God’s faithfulness? Have we experienced his gracious provision, his mercy, and his love? If so, how do these experiences shape our response to the Coronavirus? As we see the people of the world around us panicking, retreating, and lamenting, do we join them or do we take a posture of trust in the sovereign Lord? Do we move into complete dependence on him and into continual prayer? I am not saying we won’t have a range of emotions. We are human, and those emotions are normal and even healthy. It is what we do with those emotions that makes all the difference. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We can choose to dwell in the perfect love of the Father or we can choose to camp out in fear. Love will keep our hearts tender, soft, and dependent on the Lord, while fear will harden our hearts and cause us to seek comfort in idols and the things of this world.
So, what does faith look like? Solitude, contemplative prayer and meditative Scripture reading are Christian disciplines that have been lost in our day and age. We are constantly busy with our agendas. If it is not work, school, family, or friends then we find ourselves lost in social media. What if we used this extra time in our schedules to get truly still and quiet before the Lord? What if we turned off all our technology for certain hours of the day so that we did not have the constant distractions? What if we read a passage of Scripture, then re-read that passage asking the Lord how he wants to speak to our hearts and lives through his words? What if we sat before the Lord without a major list or agenda and just invited him to speak? What if we spent some time journaling, allowing our thoughts and feelings to be released, knowing that God sees, knows, and cares about each and every one of those thoughts and feelings?
What does fear look like during this time? Fear can take many shapes and forms. It can look like the person obsessed with the next announcement by the CDC, absorbed by the media, and consumed with all the unknown. It can look like choosing to put our trust in busyness to keep our minds occupied and to keep our hearts hard and unknown, even to us; it is looking to our ways of comforting ourselves – food, alcohol, internet, online shopping, exercise, etc. You know your go-to. We all have them.
What if God wants to take this time to expose our idols so that we can turn aside from these lesser things, these things that never truly bring comfort and healing, so we can fix our eyes firmly upon him? What if God wants to use this time to search us and know us, to reveal the things in our lives that rob us of true intimacy with him, of living his abundant life so that we can choose life, so that we can choose faith, so that we can choose him?
Today, let’s make the choice to not harden our hearts. Let’s ask God to soften our hearts. Let’s allow him to work through the trials of this Coronavirus to draw us to the only true hope in him. Let’s trust him to provide what we need, to comfort us in our sorrow and fear, and to lead us through these uncertain times knowing that he is good, that he sees all of it, knows all of it, and will love us in the midst of it.
“Oh come, let us sing the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:1-3).
By Christine O'Brien, Hearts Alive General Manager
One particular morning, several weeks ago, I saw Jesus in the sky. Stick with me here-I’m not entirely crazy!
As we were driving to school, we saw birds in the sky. The kids said, “Are those bats?” Another one said, “No, those are ducks!” To which I responded, “Look at the geese! They’re flying in a V-shape.” I said the V-shape is what shows that they are geese. From there, a conversation started about why geese fly in a V formation. Nobody quite knew the answer, so the only solution on this particular Wednesday morning was to ask Siri.
“Siri, why do geese fly in V formations?”
She answered us by sharing that there are two reasons why geese take on these formations while migrating. My thirteen year old was quick to point out his brilliance, as he had stated migration was why they fly in this shape prior to us involving Siri!
Siri said that the first reason was for aerodynamics. It’s much easier for geese to fly in a V-shape, as each goose helps direct the air flow around the geese behind it. This takes the pressure off and allows them to fly easier, more gently, and faster.
The second reason was for protection. It is much safer to be with the group than it is to be flying solo, because predators can’t take on an entire flock.
It was in that moment when God spoke to my heart and said, “I’m not done with you yet. This is for you. I’m getting your attention through a flock of geese!”
It began to resonate deep within my spirit that we each need to be like a goose in that pattern. We need to be in formation with others. We need to be in formation with others so that when we are tired and weary and don’t feel like we can go on anymore, you and I will have others beside us. Others who are Aarons in our lives, ready and willing to assist and carry one another’s burdens. To make the flight feel shorter. Less heavy. Less burdensome. To take that weight and share it with others. It might not change the flight, but it sure would make it easier to feel like we’re not so alone.
The second way we are like that goose is because We need protection. It matters who we are giving a seat to at our table. If I am alone, not protected and flying solo, I might as well have a giant bullseye on my back. If we have people that are surrounding us, that are protecting us, that are building us up, we are much less likely to allow an open spot for the enemy, with his lies and schemes, to attack. I don’t know about you, but I know that if there are open seats all around my table, it’s really easy for the enemy to creep in and start to devour my thought process, my emotions, my senses -- what I see, feel, hear, believe. All of those are areas where, if I’m sitting at a table alone and the enemy takes a seat -- beside, before, below, beneath me -- he could devour me.
How much more difficult is it for somebody to find a seat at a crowded table?
If there are people around our table who are surrounding us with Christ-like relationships, what a different outcome it would be.
There is strength in those numbers. When those geese were in the sky that morning, it took them a little while to get into formation. At first my kids thought that they were bats because they were scattered all around. They were flapping their wings every which way. They looked to be on top of each other. They simply looked to be chaotic.
As those geese got into their formation, their plan of action seemed so much more clear. It was evident that they were organized, they were unified, they were working together. They had a similar shared vision that they were trying to accomplish. Those geese will migrate somewhere together, and they had an end goal in sight.
If our end goal on this earth is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, pointing others to him, we need to be surrounded. We need to be rooted and grounded in Jesus, in the Word, with his Holy Spirit inside of us, sensitive to his nudgings and his leading. You and I also need to be surrounded by other geese who will get in formation with us. Who will occupy space around us, and who will remind each one of us of who we are in Christ and what we are doing, especially when we are prone to wander?
Who are the “geese” around you? Are you flying with the right crew? Is your vision aligned or might it be time to either refocus or reposition yourself?
If you don’t have them around you, if it feels lonely, if it feels wavy, if it feels hard, try to identify some people who could come alongside you.
As leaders, let’s humble ourselves to say, “You know what, I need you… We’re better together… Let’s do this life together… We can accomplish more together than we ever could apart.”
Will you join me in this spring of a brand-new decade, in either finding “geese,” tightening up your formation, and/or being a “goose” for someone else? We have so much to glean from one another as we stay yielded to Jesus, and consistently remind others to do the same.