"Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?"


A voice on the bare heights is heard, the weep­ing and pleading of Israel's sons,

 because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the Lord their God.


"Return, 0 faithless sons, I will heal your faith­lessness."

"Behold, we come to thee; for thou art the Lord our God.

Truly, the hills are a delusion, the orgies on the mountains.

Truly, in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel."

                                                Jeremiah 3:21-23


For the person who has never seen the reality of God there may be some excuse – though even in the most perverted mind there is still some light. (He knows more of God than he admits.)


But when a person somewhere in his or her life has seen, and touched,

                                                                                            and tasted,

                                                                                            and handled the reality of God, and now finds himself once more in spiritual darkness, who's to blame?


Once we have heard those words of Jesus that raised us from the dead and experienced the relief that came when the burden of guilt was lifted from our backs,


- Once we have seen his glory,


....from that moment we know the un­reality of everything that denies him, and the deceitfulness of every­thing that fails to acknowledge that he is Lord.


Reality is the lordship of this humiliated, bruised, despised, rejected, bloody Lamb of God.


He is reality - and everything in the universe, seen and unseen, derives its reality from its relationship to him!


Yet, how fragile is our grip on this reality! How quickly we lose our vision of it. And when we do we instantly blame God.


"Why did God give me a vision of his Son and then let me lose it again?"


We sit in our darkness and insist that there's nothing we can do.


"I can't help it."

"Do you think I like sitting here in the dark?"


Yet even while we protest our innocence we know that this darkness didn't just happen. God didn't reach down and haul the vision back into heaven. There was a point where we turned from the vision God gave us to pursue another kind of vision – a vision which sooner or later we'll have to admit is a lie. Moreover, we can come back into the light of God's vision anytime we de­cide to turn around and face reality.


When the prodigal son took the wealth the father gave him and journeyed to a far country and wasted it in loose living, he was pursuing a vision of happiness he'd seen on television hundreds of times. But the vision turned out to be what he knew it was all along, a delusion.


Even when he ended up half-starved and feeding swine the man still didn't want to admit he was pursuing a lie. Finally, he came to himself. And at that moment when he came to himself his life was changed, even though he was still feeding swine.


"How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough to spare, but I perish here with hunger!"

"I will arise and go to my father and admit the truth. 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.''


If at this moment there is something blocking the clear light of God in your life,


- robbing you of the assurance of God's presence,


- crippling you so that you simply can't walk the walk Jesus is calling for,


you can be sure that at the bottom of this weakness, or this constant defeat, is the fact that you are deliber­ately dwelling in the unreal.


"Truly, the hills are a delusion...


The hills are the place of idolatry and idolatry is the worship of an unreal god, whatever that god is.


For instance, some of us are having a problem with alcohol. A hundred times you've made the resolution to quit. You've read articles on it,

                        gone to meetings,

                        said prayers,

                        cried out for help. And you know in the depths of your heart that you can't control                        your drinking.


But there is one thing you can control. You can control whether your heart is going to cling to the unreal world and its unreal gods alcohol brings you, or whether you are going to return to reality. You can choose whether you will remain in that far country feeding swine, or whether your heart will return to the Father's house. When you decide to return from the unreal, you won't drink.


And some of us are living in a state of almost constant depression. In the morning when you look out the window it doesn't matter whether it's raining or shining you feel like crawling back under the covers and sleeping forever.


- You read books on "praising your way out of prison."


- You try gimmicks to cheer yourself up.


- You listen to brothers and sisters tell you to snap out of it.


- Nothing helps.


You have no control over that cloud that hangs above your head.


But you won't have to look far in your inner life to find that at some point the real world was too painful, or too frightening, or too demanding, and you escaped into a far country.


You formed the habit of forever dwelling in the past, or forever making plans for the future - plans that are never carried out - and letting the present slip through your fingers day after day.


No wonder mornings become painful because each morning reminds you that one day you're going to have to wake up and face a reality that can't be escaped.


Now maybe you can't control that depression,

                                                those migraine headaches,

                                                that sick feeling in your stomach, but you can choose whether you are going to go on in the far country of delusion, or whether you will come home to the reality you know still waits for you with open arms – who is your refuge and strength.


And some of us have managed to gain entrance to the en­chanted land of self-confidence.


"Once I thought I needed God, but now I know I can make it on my own."


"I'm free from dependence on anyone but myself."


Self-idolatry. Were so taken up with self, everything else is boring.


"I can't help it if I'm so intelligent."


"I can't help it if I'm a born leader,

                                 or beautiful,

                                 or handsome,

                                 or artistic,

                                 or musical,

                                 or poetic,

                                 or a mathematical genius."


But you can indeed help it that you have chosen to close your eyes to the futility of your empty, self-centered life and worship that idol of self, which will soon be smashed.


And some of us are like the elder brother of the prodigal. We have a cynical spirit which is just the other side of a spirit of self-pity. We're cynical about our loose­ living brother, cynical about our father, and we're so sorry for ourselves. We're living in the very shadow of our good Father yet we never see his love because we're cynical about him.


"But I can't help it. This is the way I am."


No, this is the way you've become because you've chosen a lie about God in exchange for the truth which you could see any time you choose to open your eyes.


Now the pitiful thing is that these phony worlds into which we've run are so obviously unreal it's a wonder we stay in them one day. Yet some of us have been wasting our lifetime in them. We've abandoned the God who is a real refuge and strength – a very present help in trouble – for a phony refuge.


Sometimes in our house if we happen to toss the news­paper on the floor, the cat dashes under it and hides. I suppose she feels safe looking at us from her secret hiding place blissfully unaware that her entire tail is exposed. I don't know if cats can feel silly, but if they can that's how Simon, our cat, feels when we lift up the newspaper. She cocks her head and seems to say, "How in the world did you ever find me?"


So God lets us go for a while, then he starts lifting the newspaper. Then we either confess that we've been deliberately walking in a delusion and return to him or we run and find some new delusion to hide under.


A voice on the bare heights is heard, the weeping and pleading of Israel's sons, be­cause they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the Lord their God.

"Return, 0 faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness."


If we want to find the blessedness we knew when first we saw the Lord,


If we want to behold that vision of Jesus we once had,

- we begin by joining Israel's sons on the bare heights, out in the open,

  weeping and pleading and confessing that;


- we have perverted our way,

- we have forgotten our God,

- we have forsaken the truth,

- we have abandoned our first love.


We begin by coming to ourselves like the prodigal and admitting that we have blown it with an act of our own will. God didn't put us in this far country of delusion. We put ourselves here!


"I will arise and go to my father. And I will confess with these lips what I have done and I will plead for his mercy."


"I'm no longer worthy to be called your son, your daughter. Make me as one of your hired servants."


And what does the Father say as he stands by the road looking for the return of his children, just waiting for them to come home so that he can kill the fatted calf and put robes on their bodies and shoes on their feet and rings on their fingers and crowns on their heads? What does he say?


"Return, 0 faithless sons and daughters. I will heal your faithlessness.


All you have to do is return from that unreal world and I will heal you!


You can't heal yourself. You can't cleanse yourself. You can't give yourself life. I have to do that for you and I have provided for it through the shed blood and Spirit of my Son. But you can return, you can come back to me, and you can do it now, if you will."


And the Spirit isn't just saying this to hardened sinners.

He's saying this to lukewarm saints,


                          to confused sons and daughters,


                          to the idle, stagnant ones.


Who of us can honestly say they have lived, even this past week, in the vision of reality God has given us?


"I will heal your faithlessness if you will return."


"Behold, we come to thee for thou art the Lord our God.

Truly, the hills are a delusion, the orgies on the mountains.


Truly, in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel."


We've been pretending that we don't know the difference between the real and the unreal. But we do. We know that the hills of idolatry are a delusion, and the orgies on the mountains never satisfy. And we know where our salvation is. And we have the power to turn from the darkness and come back into the light of the vision God has already given us.


One day soon, our Lord has warned, the door will close and those who are living outside the vision will remain in darkness.


But now the door is still open.


- The light still shines.


- The Father still waits by the road.


- The Son still says, "Come."


And if we will, we can forsake the unreal worlds where we have strayed and return to the Father's house, right now.