Column – Turning and returning

Published 5:42 pm Friday, September 8, 2023

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If you’ve ever shopped for a new rug, let’s say for a den or an important room in your house, you know there are decisions to be made. Decisions range from color, style and decor to budget and quality. 

We began to notice a couple of years ago that a rug we had had for a considerable amount of time was looking a little shabby. So, we decided that it would need to be replaced. About that time, a business over toward the coast was advertising their big annual sale. “I’ve got your rug,” we heard the fellow on our tv say in his bubbly and confident manner. 

On a Saturday morning, we got up and went to find out whether he really did or not. We knew a little bit of the routine we might be in for. On a biblical tour of ancient Ephesus, Turkey years ago, our group had been required to tour a rug factory as part of that day’s excursion. That was by law, to capitalize on the presence of tourists. 

The rug factory tour that year didn’t yield a purchase for us. But it was quite entertaining and we saw an array of beautiful heirloom pieces. On this particular Saturday now, and for us, that quality and expense was not what we were after. We noticed on the way over to this specific shop that, of all things, a local membership warehouse was also having a huge tent sale on rugs. Probably no accident of timing. 

We stopped off and saw several nice ones, but continued on to see if the man in the tv commercial really did have our rug. Well, his were apparently deeply discounted. Still, even with that percentage off they were out of any price range we were interested in. Plus, we never really saw one that grabbed us. 

There under the big tent in the parking lot back at the membership warehouse, upon our return we saw exactly the size and look we were after in a new rug. Better yet, the prices were right in line with our reality. Were they heirloom quality? No. But a striking golden pattern or motif that would look just right in our house was woven through the one we chose and took home.

One of the golden threads or patterns we find woven through our Bible is an ancient Hebrew word that might be best pronounced “shubv.” I’ve mentioned it in this column at least once before. That word is the root word from which we get concepts like “repent,” “turn” or “return.” God was constantly calling on people to do these things.

In Jeremiah 15: 11-21, there is a tender and striking exchange between God and the prophet. God had already spoken to the people, calling on them to turn from unfaithful and inattentive ways. Now, Jeremiah himself has voiced his own weariness. He is worn out, discouraged and fearful. 

God’s response to Jeremiah here is striking. God acknowledges the collective wrongs of a distracted and unfaithful people. God also gives notice to Jeremiah’s specific issues. What should encourage us is that God was big enough to hear those problems as Jeremiah voiced them. God was also willing to make promises to the prophet in return for his own faithfulness. 

God’s words spoken through the prophets are never just intended for the people of those places and times. They are intended to be heard and re-heard by generations of faithful believers across time. 

If these promises, warnings and instructions from God are intended to be for us, too, then there are decisions to be made. As with any scripture, we might ask, “Is this among the biblical content I am convinced is only for other people and not really for me?” If so, then why? Another question might be, “How seriously will I take this if it is intended for me?” Or, we might wonder, “How inconvenient is this going to be for me if I take God seriously?”

Jeremiah’s breathtaking honesty with God is instructive here. So is God’s willingness to be an available hearer of the prophet’s deepest concerns. Now the assignment is for us to wonder how honest we’ve been with God lately. To wonder what kind of prayer that our own most honest, transparent thoughts or feelings might make. 

If you engage in that kind of open, vulnerable exchange with God do you know what you have? You have a healthy relationship. How important might that be? 

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.