"Forrest Gump" is the fictional tale of a remarkable man from Greenbow, Alabama and his extraordinary and unexpected life experiences. But there was a second narrative running parallel to Forrest's in the movie. Remember Jenny? Er, I mean Jen-nay. The movie followed the highs and lows of her life as her tragic choices led her away from Forrest and back again. She was determined to go her own way, but Forrest was always there for her when she came home.
We've all had seasons in our life where in one moment all is going well and in the next we're living in some sort of desolation. Just three weeks ago, life was going swimmingly for residents of the Texas coast. Sometimes desolation comes because of circumstances beyond our control.
Sometimes the devastation comes because we've made devastating choices.
That was Israel's history. Read the Old Testament, and you'll recognize the patterns of decline, desolation and death due to their rebellion followed by renewal and restoration due to their return to God.
Rebellion = devastation.
Repentance = restoration.
On Sunday, we began a new series on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah and the beginning of the upswing for Jerusalem following the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the Babylonian exile of God's people. Nehemiah was a second-generation exile Jew living in Babylon whose job was to pour the king's wine. How do you get a job like that?
Pouring Artaxerxes wine put him very close to the king's ear, and eventually, Nehemiah won the king over. In 445 BC, Nehemiah was allowed to return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding the ancient city of God's promise. Jenny was headed back to Greenbow, Alabama.
The book of Nehemiah begins with Nehemiah's prayer to God. It was a prayer of confession, the beginning of Israel's hope. Honest, gut-wrenching ownership of what he and his people did wrong was the starting point for Jerusalem's recovery. Every prodigal's journey home begins with confessions like his. He confessed who God is ("...the great and awesome God...") and who he was (someone who had "acted very wickedly toward you").
He remembered what God had said: "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them and bring them home." He knew return was possible.
The good news is that we can come back from whatever desolation we find ourselves in. God's creative order of the world is designed to come back. The earth comes back after ice ages and warming periods. Nature springs back after devastating volcanic eruptions and ravaging wildfires. Nations recover after war. And in Christ, we can also be renewed and reborn. If you've found yourself personally devastated by your own choices in which you have walked away from God, you get to come back.
God wants to restore you. He wants to restore a decimated church. He wants to restore decimated families. He wants to restore a decimated earth (and One Day will do just that). He wants to restore you.
Confession and remembrance starts the journey home.