“Thus says the Lord, let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practises steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
Power. Knowledge is power. Strength is power. Wealth is power.
Power is exalted in the world. Few would deny it. Many seek it. We praise those with power. We envy those with power. We delight in power.
We say, that CEO is a Christian, praise God! We say, that Minister professes Christian values, praise God! We say, that pop star said “God”, praise God! We are saying, they have power and we want to be like them.
But this power is nothing. The almighty God judges not by how much power one has. In the verse preceding this, God declares: “Thus declares the LORD, ‘The dead bodies of men shall fall like dung upon the open field, like sheaves after the reaper, and none shall gather them.'” God judged those with much power and sentenced them to a severe penalty. The cinematic scene is vivid. The putrid stench must reach our noses. The closing shot lingers long.
There is only one measure in God’s judgment. That is to understand and know God. To understand and to know His character is not merely head knowledge. It means to internalise His character. It means to become the same as Him. It means to externalise the internalised.
That means to know His steadfast love, His loving kindness, His covenantal faithfulness, His mercy. This is to refrain from exercising power despite entitlement. It is to eschew power to preserve loyalty. It is to exercise power to give others beyond what they deserve.
That means to know His justice. That is to curb power to protect the weak. That is to wield power to enfold those at the margins. That is to exercise power fairly and truthfully.
That means to know His righteousness. That is to live in right relations with every human being and with every creature of the earth and with God. That is to live the good life, not the perverse or corrupt life.
These things–steadfast love, justice and righteousness–are the things God delights in.
What do we delight in? Ice cream after a long day of work? A long awaited sci-fi cult film? The melodies of a favourite artiste? Or the smile of your baby after her intense crying? Or affirmation from one’s employer for a job well done? Do the three things God delights in delight us when we see it in others? Do we delight when we see our brothers and sisters and our children and our friends practise them?
So let us boast only in this. Let us delight in this. That we know God, know His steadfast love, justice and righteousness on earth.
3-4 The King of the Heavens, the God of the Church says to you: change your ways and I will let you remain in your place. Do not believe what some church leaders say: this is the house of the Lord, this is the house of the Lord, this is the house of the Lord!
5 If you truly change your ways, if you truly treat one another with justice, if you do not oppress the migrants, the single mothers, the poor, the marginalised, or commit violence in word or deed, and if you do not chase after idols like fame, fortune, force or fear, I will let you remain where you are Church, secure, in peace, prospering, where I gave your forefathers.
9 Will you steal, exploit, cheat, hurt or harbour anger and bitterness against others, lie, chase after idols of the world, and come and stand in your churches which are called in my name and say “We are saved!” only to go on doing these utterly detestable things? Have your churches become gathering places of evildoers?
18 The children study, the fathers slog, the women strive, to make offerings to the idols of the world, to provoke me to anger. Is it I whom they provoke? Is it not themselves, to their own shame?
23 But listen to this world I gave to them: obey my word, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in the all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you. But they did not obey or lean forward to listen, but walked in their own wisdom and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.
34 And I will silence in your churches the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegrooms and the voice of the bride, for your churches shall become wastelands.
– the Word of the Lord to the Church from Jeremiah 7 (2016).
“Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” – Jeremiah 6:16.
Rest is found on the good way of the ancient paths.
The people of Judah were judged.
Their cities were wells full of oppression, evil, violence, destruction, sickness and wounds (v 6-7).
Their people were greedy for unjust profits. People dealt falsely. Even the prophets and priests declared peace when there was in truth impending disaster which flowed from their evil (v 13-14).
Their people are stubbornly rebellious. They slander (v 28).
The word of the Lord is the object of scorn to them; they do not pleasure in the word (v 10).
This is the picture of people who turn away from the ancient paths.
Where are the ancient paths? How are they to be found?
Stop in your tracks.
Stand by the road.
Look hard with eyes not of flesh but spirit.
Ask for the ancient paths. Seek. Question. Explore.
It is right there. Before you. Beneath your noses. At your bedside. Under your bills and newspapers. In your phone.
The only question then is, will you walk in it? Or will you follow the trail of the people of Judah and say, we will not walk in it?
We need rest for our souls. Rest is waiting for us on the good way of the ancient paths.
Advocating for Survivors of ISIS’s Genocide of Christians and Yzidis in Syria and Comforting the Oppressed and Trafficked in the Middle East
This short film tells the stories of many Syrian Christians who watched their loved ones tortured and killed at the hands of men who hated their religion and their God. The martyrs were unfazed at the hands of their tormentors. “I am blessed because I am persecuted for my Yeshua,” cried a lady who was tied to a pole in the middle of the street in Aleppo, spat on and punched day after day. A man was crucified in the city, having the glory to die in the same manner as his own saviour. These were the stories I heard tonight from Jacqueline and Yvette Isaac, a mother-daughter team of Egyptian Christians who started Roads of Success, a humanitarian NGO which provides support and care to the downtrodden and oppressed, and advocates for those whose stories have been suppressed.
Jacqueline is a lawyer who started her career in a top London firm practising international arbitration, working 18 hour days and loving the prestige and benefits of a magic circle London law firm. As she was about to continue into her second year of practice, a 35 year old newly minted female partner told her, “I’ve been observing you; you still have a soul. As for me, this is my life.” That gave Jacqueline pause. After some searching, she realised her calling. But she struggled with God. Large commercial law firm prestige or the deep unknown and unglamorous of a calling to humanitarian work? She surrendered to God in desperation. And in no time, a series of events led her to start her own estate planning law firm which gave her the flexibility to do humanitarian work at her own time. God brought a senior lawyer to her who would hand over his 30-year-old practice to her in one year. And the rest was a blur.
In the short time that she and her mother founded Roads of Success, they have travelled to places ravaged by terror, come into close contact with ISIS, and stood before the United Nations, the US Congress and the U.K. Parliament to tell the stories of those who have been torn by terror. They have a programme which care for and empower 24 girls who have suffered sexual abuse and slavery. They have sent shipping containers of humanitarian aid to various places in grave need.
One particular story sticks out. The story of how they were instrumental to advocating for the UK Parliament to pass a resolution to recognise ISIS’ acts of horror to the Christian and Yzidi minorities in Syria as genocide, which would have significant although unimaginable consequences.
This was what happened. Yvette Isaac was given the resources to go into Syria to interview the Christian and Yzidi minorities. In the meantime, separately, Jacqueline Isaac was just in London doing her work, right after having a hectic travel schedule. Where she was at a cafe in London, she saw some protests and demonstrations outside. But she was too tired and had too much work to do, so she didn’t bother about it. Just at that time, some friend from California dropped her a message saying she was in London too. Turned out that the friend was just a few doors down from where she was. She went over to meet her. Her friend urged her to go out together to take a walk. So they ended up witnessing the demonstration, discovering that it was led by an EU Parliament member. She couldn’t get close though she tried to reach out to the Parliamentarian. In vain, she went up to a man whom she thought was a security guard, and gave her a name card, hoping he would pass it to the EU Parliamentarian.
As it turned out, the “security guard” was actually a U.K. politician connected to the media. That very evening he called her and said tomorrow you will go live on the most watched show in UK. She would go on Jon Snow’s show and she was asked to share about what was going on in Syria. But she had no idea what to share.
In the meantime, Yvette Isaac had just finished shooting 8 hours of material collecting the stories of the many survivors of genocide. She was at the Syria-Lebanon border trying to get out when she realised that the border officers were confiscating and destroying all the electronic equipment they could find. She prayed and pleaded to God. She made a bargain with God. The exclusive rights to the video material belonged only to God, she decided. So she called her sponsor who had given the condition that exclusive rights to the material belonged to him. She told him, too bad, I will return you the money, this belongs solely to God. Right after she put down the phone, someone in the line recognised her Egyptian accent and said hey you should be going to this other line. So she went. At the immigration counter, the man looked at her and said, hey you’re the one on the Arab television channel. I became a Christian because of the show. Thank you for coming here. Please come back. He let her pass without even checking her belongings. Wow.
At that point, Jacqueline called Yvette and said, Mom, come to London instead of the US (where Jacqueline was based at). I’ll explain. So with all the video testimonies, Jacqueline and Yvette went on UK television live to share of the stories of the Christian and Yzidi minorities.
Unbeknownst to them, Lord David Alton in the UK House of Lords was watching the Jon Snow show. He is the politician who has been pushing in vain for the House of Lords to vote and agree on a declaration that the ISIS’ acts were genocide. There were political consequences to this. Including prioritising Syrian refugees and allowing Britain to table a resolution at the UN Security Council regarding ISIS, and possibly resolve to have them tried by the International Criminal Court. But it was not happening. When Lord Alton watched the Isaacs on the show, he knew that this was his prayer answered. He contacted them and asked them if they could come back to the UK Parliament to testify at a special hearing if it happened. They said yes of course. They returned to the US, and 48 hours later, they received the call from Lord Alton.
So they went before the UK Parliament in a closed door hearing and screened the video testimonies as well as got one of the girl survivors whom they support to testify of how ISIS murdered her father and raped a young girl so many times her body just gave way and the girl died before her eyes. With that, the House of Commons voted unanimously in favour of a declaration that ISIS’ acts were genocide.
This is not a story about ISIS. It’s not a story about genocide. It’s a story about God weaving everything together seemingly like patchwork but in reality, like a master craftsman pulling everything together in one stroke. This is a story about God’s sovereignty and glory. It is about how He works through His servants to untie suffering and brokenness from evil and instead bind them to stories of redemption and beauty. The Isaacs are continuing their ministry in working with girl survivors, empowering them to flourish. This is a story of redemption and glory. This is a story about Jesus Christ being the one who holds all things together and who is reconciling all things to Himself. And how He uses different people, big and small, from all across the world for His beautiful purposes. Praise be to God.
For more information on the Isaacs’ ministry check out www.roadsofsuccess.com.
The past 9 days 8 nights have forever changed my life, and will probably also change the course of the world. 1,300 participants from 160 nations gathered in Indonesia for the Lausanne Movement’s Young Leaders Gathering 2016.