In these days of almost global social distancing, social media takes on a heightened role in our lives. The Easter service of Joel Osteen reportedly had over 11 million views. Cable news channels give their competing points of views as to what is happening. In the USA, everything seems to be interpreted through President Trump. For those who oppose Trump, he is the reason why the USA leads in COVID-19 infections and deaths. To those who support President Trump, he is the savior, the one who will lead the USA to become better and stronger. To his supporters, China and the World Health Organization are the villains. Facebook, Twitter, and other media give exaggerated, false, and misleading interpretations, warnings, and remedies. But what are you watching?
The Bible says what you focus on will influence your state of mind, your spiritual health.
The Highway Department in Texas once ordered a study that was very revealing. The Department was concerned with the number of highway workers being injured on the road. Even on clear days with well marked road construction sites, people were still endangering the workers. So they commissioned a study. The study was very revealing. They found that we steer our cars in the direction our eyes look. So as eyes were drawn to the workers they tended to steer toward them.
The Bible has long recognized this issue spiritually. What you focus your spiritual eyes on will lead your life. This is why the writer of Hebrews says to us, “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The phrase “looking to Jesus” means to fix your eyes on Him. The prophet Jeremiah can help us understand the importance of fixing our eyes on Jesus. Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet because the country he loved, Israel, was headed to judgment and captivity by Babylon. Indeed, Israel was in captivity as his life ended. God had sent Jeremiah to warn people and call them to repentance. The people refused Jeremiah’s warnings to repent. They put him in stocks, put him in pits, threatened him. The people rejected him because they were willfully blind and deceived. They had multiple false prophets denying all of Jeremiah’s warnings. The false prophets reasoned that Israel was the favored nation of God. They believed they were entitled to prosperity and protection from the ills of the world around
them and the dangers from Babylon. They believed their nation was the only favored nation of God on Earth. As recorded in Jeremiah 14:13, one example of the false prophets’ words, “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.” Even when carried away in captivity, the false prophets said they would be freed in two years, and I suppose in the language of politicians today they would come out stronger and better.
The people of Jeremiah’s day were similar to the false prophets in Isaiah’s day. God was bringing judgments on the nation to call them to repentance and to warn them of worse judgments coming. But when judgments came, it did not lead them to repentance. It led them to increased national pride. They said, as recorded in Isaiah 9:8-10, “The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.”” Thus, rather than the judgment of God leading to repentance, it led to a pride that said we will be better and stronger after this. It is this passage that is behind Jonathan’s Cane prophesy called the Harbinger. Verse 10 was actually quoted by a US Senator after 9/11. Without understanding the irony of his words, he said the USA would come back stronger and better. The 9/11 attacks, rather than leading the USA to humility and repentance before God, led to a rising national pride.
It is my conviction, as I have written before, that the attacks of 9/11 were a warnings of God’s judgment on us as a nation. There was an immediate moment after 9/11 when people turned to God, but they soon turned from any attitude of dependence to a spirit of pride. A pride that believed we were an entitled nation with the “God given” right to live in prosperity and isolation from the problems of the world around us. That pride has taken new levels under President Trump and the call to Make America Great Again. Many evangelical leaders regarded Trump as the man designated by God to make America great. Everything seemed to be moving the right way until COVID-19 came. It has humbled the USA and the rest of the world. The reaction we see to this crisis is the statement that, “we are Americans, the best and smartest people in the world, and we will defeat this virus and come out stronger and better.” There seems to be little chance of repenting of pride, greed, entitlement, sexual immorality, drug and alcohol abuse, idolatry. The debate is soon turning to an issue of which is more important: survival of the Dollar or lives? Somehow, to some it seems the virus favors the old and people of
color, so we ought to ignore its peril and choose the Dollar.
It is at this point that the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations at a similar time are so important. As Jeremiah writes, the judgments of God have come. Babylon has taken Israel captive, the temple is in ruins, and the temple treasures are in Babylon’s storehouses. As Jeremiah focused on current events and their message, he felt great loss and despair. He wrote in Lamentations 3:19-20, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” It’s like Jeremiah has split his time between watching Fox News and CNN. He realized no one had answers, only blame and false hope. The situation was so beyond control Jeremiah knew there was no hope in mankind or in man’s answers to the problems. All the political solutions were rooted in blindness to the future and the utter powerlessness to control or influence it.
But there was a dramatic change within Jeremiah when he chose not to fix his eyes on the world and man’s answers. He chose to fix his spiritual eyes on the Lord and the real truths of life, in a relationship by faith with the true and the living God. He said this in Lamentations 3:21-24, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”” Jeremiah brought truth to his thoughts. Jeremiah was saying, “what do I truly want from this life?” His answers weren’t measured by wealth, health, pleasantness in life’s circumstances, or a full and secure retirement storehouse. His sole desire in life was his relationship with God. The Lord was his portion, and was all he needed for life. Paul expressed similar words in prison on trial for his life in Rome when he wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
What Jeremiah knew in his relationship with the Lord is the absolute security of his relationship with Him. He was in a covenant relationship with God made by faith, and he knew the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Steadfast love is a love by covenant. God is faithful, loyal, and committed to the covenant He has made with us in Jesus. Jeremiah spoke of the new covenant God will make with us in Jesus in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Paul wrote of that covenant in Romans 8:39, that nothing in the present or the future will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jeremiah knew that no matter what the circumstances in life were saying or what dangerous unknowns may lie in the future, his confidence was that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Jeremiah also knew God had daily mercies for Him. God’s mercy could never be exhausted, could never run out, could never be a thing of the past. He wrote that His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Whatever a new day may bring in challenges and dangers, he knew His mercies are new today, and they will always be enough. God will always make a way. Elijah found it when he was in hiding and fed by ravens, and then miraculously fed by a widow with her son as the grain and oil never ran out for over three years. David, hiding in caves and in many hopeless situations, wrote in Psalm 34:18-19, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all.” We can welcome each new day with all its challenges, dangers, and opportunities knowing that the mercies we need from God today are new and always enough. Though afflictions come, His mercies and deliverance will always make a way.
Underlying Jeremiah’s confidence in the steadfast love of the Lord and His new mercies for each day is the faithfulness of God. Great is God’s faithfulness. He will never give us up, never forget us. God is faithful. When He makes a promise, He keeps it.
But Jeremiah knew that an important part for him in finding hope was to wait upon the Lord as He finishes His work of salvation. He wrote in Lamentations 3:25-26, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Salvation is coming. That is our hope. The coming of Jesus for His church is the blessed hope of those of us who have put our confidence in Jesus (Titus 2:13). We never put our hope in a country or in a political leader. We know greatness could never be measured by wealth or security. We know the purpose of time is the proclaiming of the Gospel to all nations and making the church from the people of all nations, each fully valued, wanted, and treasured.
As we come to the grand climax of history we know it will be in unsettling times. Disasters in the natural world like COVID-19, plagues of locust in Africa and the Mideast, earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, and major storms are all part of the rising birth pains of the coming judgment of God and revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know instability in governments and economies will lead to a compelling call to a new world order in economy and governance. It seems inevitable that a virus like COVID-19 will not be defeated by each country going its own way. We know huge questions rise up over our future. Knowing what was coming, Jesus instructs us to fix our eyes on Him, for all of this is exactly how He described it would be. He instructs us in this last generation directly when He commands in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is Jesus directly calling us to focus on the truth that He is soon coming for His church to take us home. He says to do this when things begin to take place, for we will not be here for the terrifying last seven years before Jesus brings His kingdom to earth.
Thus we find ourselves with Jeremiah having to make a choice. Do we focus on the loss? Do we focus on the sadness that many of us have that things will never be the same again.? Or do we focus on our hope as we fix our eyes on Jesus? We are very much like the Apostle Peter who, when the wind was blowing the waves, at the invitation of Jesus, got out of the boat and walked on the water. But the Bible says he took his eyes off Jesus and began to measure the wind and the waves, began to fear and sink. It says in Matthew 14:30, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid,” We are in a time when the wind and the waves of the rebellion of man are heading to final judgment. The dangers are real. The dangerous waves are real. This storm may pass, but more are coming. We can fix our eyes on the competing outrages of CNN and Fox News, or we can fix our eyes on Jesus. We can put our head down in discouragement and depression, or we can lift our eyes to Jesus, knowing He is coming so soon. We can take His hand and know His steadfast love will never let us go. We can know His mercies are new today and will always be enough. We can know that He is faithful and we hear His Spirit calling, “lift up your eyes child, I am coming. I am coming for you.” With Jeremiah, I call this to mind and in this I have hope.
Dear Pastor Byron. THANKS! I needed that! Intellectually I know this but my heart keeps gravitating to a focus on the world, on life as we want it to be. I have refrained from joining others in offering that reassuring phrase, “Everything will be okay,” because I don’t believe that for the world in general it will “be okay.” Your examples from Scripture are vivid examples of what we see before our very eyes…history repeating itself, but with increasing intensity. Thank you for shining a guiding light on my need to focus on Him.
Thank you Pastor Byron for delivering yet another message of proper focus and abounding hope. Oh, I miss seeing you every week! Recently I went for the first time to Kelly’s Corner where I met Brian Kelly. He told me how much he loves you and how important you, your ministry, your book and your friendship have been to him. I was so blessed by his love for you! What a wonderful Brother! Yes, I agree with him. I pray that you and Linda and all your kids and grandkids are well! I look forward to the time that we can meet for lunch again. This time, my treat! =) Jesus loves you and so do I! (I love how you write that and now, as I am your student, I have began to likewise use it!) Bob
AMEN! Thank you again for the truth of scripture, and for an accurate perspective on life’s events, and where to focus our HOPE; in the peace and Joy of Jesus, His soon return, and our glorious future! Thank you Byron for your fruitful and anointed ministry.
Thank you Pastor Byron for revisiting with us what God tells us about having the proper
focus- especially in difficult times like this.