Exodus 20:1-17 – Perspective Changes Everything

Welcome, friends! Sometimes in our lives we can get lost in our thinking – only seeing things from one perspective. God’s Word invites us to see differently – to view ourselves, others, and the world in ways that can change our lives. Click the videos below and let us explore that perspective…

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt
Words written and sung by Michael W. Smith

The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
    reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
    bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
    giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
    lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true;
    each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold,
    even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
    even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant,
    a great reward for those who obey them.

How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
    Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
Keep your servant from deliberate sins!
    Don’t let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt

    and innocent of great sin.

May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Amen. (Psalm 19:7-14, NLT)

Perspective Changes Everything

Perspective is everything. Nearly sixteen years-ago, me and my family were in a car accident. I was traveling on a highway in rural Iowa and a small car on a gravel road blew right through the stop sign without even slowing down. There was nothing I could do. I slammed into the rear quarter panel of his car, and he literally spun like a top off the highway and came to a stop. Both the driver and his girlfriend passenger were not injured. 

Two of my daughters were in the very back seat of our minivan, with my wife and dog as front seat passengers.  The girls were not harmed. However, my wife tore her shoulder’s rotator cuff trying to protect the dog and had to have surgery to repair it. My lower back was injured, but not in a way which surgery could repair. To this day I live with low-level chronic pain. Most days it’s not bad, maybe a one or two on the pain scale. But on a bad day I can barely walk across the room and need a cane to get around.

I have played the scene of the accident in my mind hundreds of times. I have thought over-and-over again about what I could have done to prevent the accident. Yet there was no way to avoid it. I thought about the fact that if we just would have left a minute earlier or a minute later from my parents’ house from where we were visiting, all would be fine. But I know that kind of thinking is a fool’s errand. I have pondered every possible scenario in my head and have gotten nowhere. 

It also took me awhile to forgive the young man who was driving the other car. He changed my life, and not in a good way. Although his insurance took care of everything and he was very repentant about the whole thing, I was understandably mad for a long time. I eventually did come to the point of forgiving him.

Over the years I have learned to live with my limitations. I have now accepted the sometimes-irritating pain as part of my life. Still, on occasion, I cannot help but think of what my life would be like today if I hadn’t been in that stupid senseless accident. 

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

carl jung

About six years ago I was praying alone in the church for which I was a pastor, at the time. God brought the accident to my mind. I said to God, “Lord, we’ve been through this accident hundreds of times together. I don’t want to think about it anymore. Why are you bringing this up now?”

Even though I wasn’t really looking for an answer to my question, God brought it up because the Lord knew I was finally ready to get a divine perspective on the accident. Out of the hundreds of times I went over that accident, the one perspective I never took was that of the young man – the other driver. God invited me to take the young driver’s view of what happened that day. So, I did.  I know that intersection like the back of my hand, so it wasn’t a hard exercise. 

I put myself in the driver’s seat of his car. I’m driving down the gravel road not paying attention to the fact that a stop sign is coming up. I blow through the sign onto the highway and right in front of a minivan who slams on the brakes just enough to plow into the rear quarter panel. I spin out like a top and come to rest only a few feet from a huge Iowa grain elevator.

For the first time in my life, I finally understood. God had a divine appointment for me that day. You see, if I had not come along just when I did, that young man and his girlfriend would have blown through the stop sign and struck that grain elevator. It would have killed them both instantly.

“Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it.”

Irving Berlin

Suddenly, my perspective changed 180 degrees. I always thought about me and my family. I always considered my hardship and my change of life. But now I saw that God sent his servant to save two lives that day. Had I not struck his car, causing him to spin and come to a rest unharmed, two people would have died. 

Now, every time my back acts up and it effects how my life is lived, I’m reminded that it is a small price to pay for the lives of two human beings. Perspective changes everything.

The Bible invites us to view our lives from a different perspective. Our hurts and our pains, our sorrows and our sufferings, our changes, and our limitations, are all part of something much bigger God is doing in the world.  We are not always privy to God’s plans and purposes. Yet God’s Word challenges us to take a perspective of the world, of humanity, and of ourselves which is counter to how we often think.

In this season of Lent, we are invited to read God’s Word and practice repentance – literally, a change of mind.  We are invited to see the Ten Words (Commandments) as the glasses through which we are to view our relationship with God and our relationships with others (Exodus 20:1-17). Jesus, summarizing those Ten Words, put it this way: All the Law hangs on loving God and loving our neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40)

The thread of those moral words, those ethical commands, runs through the entirety of God’s Word, the Bible. The psalmist reminds us that this Word is good, sweet, and more precious than gold (Psalm 19:7-14). The Apostle Paul reminds us that this Word is our wisdom to live by (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  And Jesus, as the Word made flesh among us, lived that loving and gracious Word with perfect moral and ethical goodness.

The temple, as the place where God’s Word was read and observed, was not to be adulterated with making a profit – which was why Jesus drove out the moneychangers.  And he did it with flavor! (John 2:13-22) Later, after Jesus died and rose from death, the disciples remembered their master’s words and affirmed them as being the Word of God. They believed. Their faith and repentance changed the world.

God is inviting us to take up the Divine Word and see our lives, the lives of others, and every event and situation through that lens. We are to see Jesus, not only as a great teacher, a moral and good person, and a loving healer – but also as Lord and Savior. In a small way, I suffered so that someone else could live. Yet Jesus suffered sin, death, and hell in our place so that you and I could live – so that we might have the eternal life of enjoyment with God forever.

Allow the Word of God to shape your lives and form your thinking today and every day. You might not always know what God is doing, but you can be assured that everything God does is just, right, and good. 

May you know God’s peace today. May you know Christ better in this season as you reflect upon our Lord’s great sacrifice on our behalf.

Jeremiah 29:1-14 – Bloom Where You Are Planted

This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (NIV)

Whenever I am in a conversation with a Christian, I often ask them what their favorite Bible verse or passage of Scripture is. Hands down, the most often cited verse is Jeremiah 29:11 –

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

It certainly is a wonderful verse. Yet, there is a distinct situation and context surrounding that verse about the future, which is very much rooted in the present. The nation of Judah had been invaded and taken into captivity to Babylon. Understandably, the people were longing to go back home. They did not want to be in Babylon. So, Jeremiah (who remained in Judah) sent them a letter, warning them not to listen to false prophets who would give them an easy answer about getting out of Babylon quickly. Instead, he instructed them to make a good life for themselves in their captive land.  He essentially told them to “bloom where you are planted.”

If you don’t like something, change it.

If you can’t change it, change your attitude about it.

maya angelou

The people, although in a place and in a situation which they neither wanted nor expected, needed to be present to their surroundings and settle down. They were to pray for peace, both for themselves and for their captors, because their own success in life was inextricably tied to their geographical place in Babylonia. The sooner the people listened to Jeremiah on this, the better off they would be.           

Plans to give us a hope and future only have meaning for us today when we:

  • Understand that we are to work hard, right where we are, in a place we do not want to be.
  • Pray for that place, its people, and their welfare.
  • Thrive in our present hard circumstance. 
  • Only then, can we look to the bright future of hope.

Our present sufferings are incomparable to the coming glory yet to be revealed. That future hope only occurs if we persevere and find ways of flourishing in the place and situation where we are today. 

So, how will you thrive in the place God has you right now? We always have the choice to practice resilience and make the absolute best of unwanted circumstances – or sit and stew over our misfortune to the point of becoming bitter and hard. It is important to choose wisely.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day.  Preserve with your mighty power so that I might not just wish for a different today and are not able to see what you have for me in this place.  May I not be overcome by adversity, but in all things direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes, through Jesus Christ, my Lord in the strength of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jeremiah 20:14-18 – Overwhelmed with Grief

By Unknown artist

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame? (NIV)

Perhaps you feel as though you must put on a good face, a decent front for others to see. You don’t like other people seeing you upset or cry because it can be embarrassing. Maybe you believe others don’t need to be burdened with your sadness. The last thing you want is to be a killjoy.

Sometimes you might even put up a front with God.  Maybe you think God wants everyone to be perpetually happy and always sing with the birds in blissful joy and gladness, or whistle while you work. However, that would not be an accurate view of God.

One of the most faithful people in Holy Scripture, Jeremiah, freely and unabashedly lamented before God – to the point of wishing he were dead. Jeremiah, the incredible prophet of God, closer to the Lord than anyone of his generation, was so despondent and ashamed that he wished he were never even born. The suffering and the shame were just too overwhelming.

To say that Jeremiah had a difficult ministry is a gross understatement. He literally had the ministry from hell, prophesying to people who neither liked him, nor his message to them. In the middle of it all, Jeremiah threw up his hands and let out his complaint to God. Jeremiah was in such ministerial misery that he wished he had been a stillborn baby.

Lest you think Jeremiah was sinfully depressed or just cuckoo, he is far from alone in the Bible. King David had no scruples about letting God know how he felt about his dire circumstances. Job, likely the most famous sufferer of all, spent time doing nothing but lamenting his terrible losses for months. What all three of them have in common is that they openly grieved with great tears, yet neither cursed God nor forsook the Lord.

Lamentation is the sacred space between intense grieving to God without blaming the Lord for our significant changes and losses in life. I would even argue that lamenting and grieving before God is a necessary spiritual practice which needs full recognition in the Body of Christ. Please sit with that last statement for a bit and consider how it might become a reality in your own life and context.

Grief can and does attach itself to any change or loss. It is the normal emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational reaction to that injury of the heart. There is only one way through grief. We must tell our story to another. It is both biblical and quite necessary.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

galatians 6:2, NLT

We need our spirituality to support us in such times – not drive us away through a misguided theology of believing you must keep a stiff upper lip. It is critical to have safe and supportive people in our lives when going through overwhelming circumstances.

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.”

Brené Brown

Our tears are holy. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. The prophet Jeremiah was doing a very godly thing in expressing his grief. And Jeremiah’s lament is what helped steel him for the several attempts on his life that he faced.

Let the tears do their intended work in your life.

God of all, you feel deeply about a great many things.  As your people, we also feel a great depth of emotion when our lives go horribly awry from our dreams and expectations.  Hear our lament as we pour out our grief before you, through Jesus, our Savior, with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.