Returning to God
”Even now— this is the Lord’s declaration — turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God. For he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and he relents from sending disaster. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave a blessing behind him, so you can offer grain and wine to the Lord your God.”
Joel 2:12-14, CSB
A couple of years ago my family and I had the pleasure of visiting the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. We enlisted a guide to show us around and give us some of the fun facts particular to this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Monkeys swung overhead as we walked. The sounds of unseen animals echoed within the thick jungle that surrounded us. Big mounds, with even bigger trees growing out of them, hid buildings that have yet to be excavated. The juxtaposition of these ancient ruins and the exotic beauty of the jungle was truly a sight to behold.
I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Tikal, in its heyday, was completely paved! Our guide told us that when inhabited and thriving there was barely a tree or a blade of grass visible within the entire city. You can understand how unbelievable this was especially with so much nature and jungle inside of it now.
The beauty and vibrancy of nature reclaiming the vast concrete constructs of Tikal makes me think about the hardness of heart that causes us to turn and stay away from God. Because, as Charles H. Spurgeon so eloquently put it, “...the soil of your heart is so hard beaten by continual traffic, that there is no hope of the seed finding a living root-hold. Satan is constantly passing over your heart with his company of blasphemies, lusts, lies, and vanities. The chariots of pride roll along it, and the feet of greedy mammon tread it till it is hard as adamant.”
This hardness causes us to head out on our own. Ultimately led by the promises and lies of The Enemy. However, verses like Joel 2:12-14 and parables like that of The Prodigal Son tell us that God yearns for our return. Not only does he eagerly wait for the day that we repent and turn back to Him but he extends His arms out to us in our greatest moments of disobedience.
"God yearns for our return"
How many times have we been afraid to turn back towards those we have abandoned for fear of an “I told you so” or even worse, for fear of being met with anger, resentment, and ultimately rejection.
God asks us to “tear our hearts” and not our garments. He greatly delights in true repentance (which literally means ‘turning back’), the likes of which naturally result in fasting, weeping, and mourning. Undoubtedly He will welcome you back with grace and mercy and His Nature will fully reclaim the pavement that has been laid down during your departure.
Would you meditate on this today? Pray for a transformed and repentant heart confidently knowing that He rejoices in your return.
To the Father Unseen
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Matthew 6:16-18, NIV
In this passage, Jesus teaches us to not be a people that fast for the sole purpose of showing others that we engage in this religious practice. That kind of fasting is motivated by a desire to be perceived favorably by the people around us--the reward. But rather Jesus teaches us that we, CCF, should be a people that fast joyfully because we are motivated by a hunger to be with the Father unseen--the divine reward. Our Father wants to meet us intimately and powerfully in our secret place of prayer and in the private areas of our hearts. Fasting allows us to physically experience a deep need for being in the presence of God. Our father, who is unseen, meets us in our secret moments of anguish, pain, and hunger.
Do we desire a reward from the people around us more than we do from God? Do we desire a response from the people around us more than we desire a response from God?
I repent because I have and it has kept me from coming hungry for God’s daily bread in my secret place of prayer. I pray that we, CCF, may be a people that fast to experience a deep hunger for the Father unseen in the pits of our stomachs and hearts. I pray that in turn, we may go into our secret places of prayer with anticipation to have our souls fed by the Father unseen. I pray that our hearts may need intimacy with the Father like our bodies need food. May the Father sustain us!
Loose the Chains
"Isn’t this the fast I choose:
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him,
and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?"
Isaiah 58:6-7, CSB
There are chains wrapped around my heart. Shiny, and black, they reflect mistakes of recent years. Some have grown orange with the rust of past trauma, sunken deep. They creak, telling me to hold on tight to the sin that feeds me---I’ll be left with nothing if I let go. Their stench of shame and wasted time makes me step back, hunch over. Hide myself within the folds of the crowds and walls. When I think to draw near to the one that can break them, their weight stops me.
To fast is to release my need to sustain myself, to ensure my daily functionality. What would it mean to lie against the solid rock? To be soothed by Him alone? It would mean the chains would loosen, unravel, light like yarn, around me. It would mean breathing Him in, no longer suffocated and confined, no longer hidden within the walls but revealed; loving people, even those who wrapped the chains around me. So I let go. The chains rattle in His presence, crack from the heat of his holiness, fall away, like nothing, as He drapes my naked heart with Himself.
What would it mean to lie against the solid rock? To be soothed by Him alone?
"As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you,
O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?"
Psalms 42:1-2, ESV
When I read this I imagine a deer desperately trying to outrun a predator. It’s the deer who catches my attention because I think he knows something we often miss.
He knows he won’t be able to continue to outrun the hunter if he doesn’t stop for a drink. He also knows that submerging himself in the water will throw off his scent and he’ll be much harder to catch.
So he pants in search of what he knows can aid him, and he comes over and over again.
We have more in common with the deer than we might see at first glance. How often don’t our problems send us on a spree of angst? How often when we think about our finances, our careers, or our children, aren’t we overcome with fear, becoming parched from worry? Our anxieties hunt us like prey and if we’re not watchful we could easily become consumed in their grip.
But the deer and the psalmist both know the cure. We can come to Living Water and find perfect peace. We can wash away all the fears and worries in the stream.
The assurance is not that coming to the brook will keep all the predators away but that we are better equipped for the race. I pray we would be as wise as the deer, never hesitating to come over and over to God’s stream, knowing in His presence our thirst is satiated.
"So, humble yourselves under God’s strong hand, and in His own good time He will lift you up."
1 Peter 5:6, J. B. Phillips New Testament Translation
"Strong hand." This part of the verse, I have to admit, gave me pause. I couldn't help but think of what a strong, invisible hand symbolizes to a weak, exposed body— especially when one is "under" it. Will it strike me? Will the weight of it crush me to the ground, forcing upon me the position of humility? This hand sounds heavy, far too heavy for a person like me to have on my back. And if I am to remain in that position until His own good time, how do I know I will last that long?
We often confuse humility with humiliation. We can sometimes believe that in order for a person to experience true humility, they must be publicly shamed, knocked off their pedestal from which they stood, and come crawling back to their peers begging for forgiveness. In some cases, and with some people, this very well may need to happen. That is not the case with Jesus. Was He publicly shamed? Yes, but by His own accord. Was He knocked off His pedestal? No, He picked up His cross. And did He ask for forgiveness? Nope, He had forgiveness to offer us instead.
Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the one we have all been waiting for, the one without sin, humbled Himself under God's strong hand.
A hand He knew was perfect, and good, and on His side. So on this Good Friday, as we praise God for the promise He has kept, let us also humble ourselves under God's strong hand, following the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ. A hand not to strike us, but to cover us. A hand not to force us, but to guide us. A hand not to steal from us, but to give to us. A hand not to humilIate us, but to honor us. If this is the strong hand I must humble myself before, then, so help me, God, I will obey.
Could it be the hand I have been so afraid of is actually the hand that will lift my face in His own good time and say, "Well done, my child."?
Yes, I believe it could be.
Hope in Him
“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him”
Lamentations 3:25, CSB
God is not a genie, giving us what we want, when we want it. God is a father, giving us what we need, when we need it. But like little children, we can easily lose hope and grow impatient with God’s timing. Not seeing answered prayers or fulfilled promises as soon as we’d like, we begin seeking to find them in sources outside of God and end up trading our inheritance for a bowl of soup. We save ourselves much sorrow when we simply seek the Lord and wait in hope for Him to provide and supply our needs. Trying to rush God often only prolongs the process. Causing our blessings to be temporarily withheld, we are left stagnant in the same place for years in our own “wilderness”. Sometimes all we can do is wait for God. But waiting is good because God is worth waiting for. Although it may seem that God is running late or taking too long, it is in our hope that we find the strength to continue to wait.
“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
It is not a question of how long we will have to wait, but what will we do in that period of waiting, however long it may be? Waiting on God is no idle activity. It requires an active submission unto God’s timing and keeping our sights continually set on His providence, convinced that it will come. And we can trust that even God is not stagnant, but always active, working in our waiting; working out his good plan in our lives and working within our hearts. God uses the process of waiting to test and activate our faith and hope in Him. Abraham and Sarah had to wait for their promised son. Joseph had to wait for the manifestation of his dream. David had to wait to take the mantle of king. The people of Israel had to wait for their promised Messiah. And we must wait for the Messiah’s promised return. The question we must ask ourselves isn’t how long we are willing to wait, but rather how much do we really believe that God will come through?
“And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.”
If our faith in God’s promises are secure, then the wait, however long will be worth it because we have the hope that on the other side is the promised provision.
“The Lord your God is among you,
a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will be quiet in his love.
He will delight in you with singing."”
Zephaniah 3:17, CSB
Pastor Rich Perez
I was shaking uncontrollably. My less than casual T-shirt had been ripped on my sleeve and my collar. My knuckles were as ripped as my shirt and blood coming from them. I rushed up the stairs and was met by my dad who had been relaxing at home with his glass of wine. A Spanish ballad filled the apartment like wallpaper, but the only music I cared about was revenge.
I had just been jumped at a nearby train station. And while I had gotten off a few good punches it was obvious I came out losing. I was filled with rage, but if I’m honest, I was also filled with fear. Where would my rage take me? What will it do to me? I was afraid of having to see these guys over and over again because we shared a neighborhood. I was afraid of the countless times I would have to rise up and defend myself or muster up the courage to be the ‘bigger man’ and simply walk away. That night, in all my anger and fear and hurt, my dad-- although not a very big man— towered over me with his presence and his words, “mijo, I’m just glad you’re home.”
It’s not often that someone with so much power in our lives, someone who towers over us simply showers us with praise and gladness. Some of us have endured so much hurt that to be received with praise and gladness can feel overwhelming, as if we’re not ready for it.
We’re often so braced for fighting, defending, protecting that we don’t know what to do with love.
We don’t know what to do with a gentle embrace. Most of us may even turn love away. That night my ego was broken. My heart was hard. Yet after the countless times I heard my dad earlier that night urge me to skip the party, I was deeply comforted by his words at this moment. “I’m glad you’re home”.
Perhaps, Jesus wondered himself if his father would show up in his darkest moment. But He doesn’t. Not immediately, at least. Yet in the moments after his battle with sin, death and darkness, God raises His son.
Jesus remains standing as the strong warrior after the battle. And his resurrection is God’s song of praise and gladness over us.
In the resurrection God calmly says, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t despair. Your life can know newness again.” In the resurrection of Jesus God breaks through the silence and the paralysis of our fear and hurt— and he breaks through with joy and power. In the resurrection he says, “I’m glad to have you back home.”