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Can God’s people make their hearts and spirits new? Look at this passage from Ezekiel:

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live (Ezekiel 18:30-32). 1

However, we also have this, penned by David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:9–10). 

So, how was Israel to make themselves new hearts and new spirits and thus participate in God’s new-creation work? According to the passage in Ezekiel, that would include:

  • Knowing they will be judged by the sovereign Lord God Almighty. Fearful words.
  • Repenting from all their transgressions because the iniquity they committed brought ruin. Humbling admission of the truth of God compared to theirs.
  • Casting transgressions away from them. Hard work, from the heart.

If they did these things, they would avoid death. The Lord has no pleasure in the death of anyone, we’re told. That’s good news. I hope we can hear the heart of God in these verses. Why does He not want us to sin? Because it kills us. It wrecks us. It destroys us. He does not want that to happen.

If God’s people did these things they would live.

So, assuming they wanted to live—and I’m not sure the evidence is clear they took the Lord and His prophet seriously—how should they repent, cast sin away from them and thus make new hearts and spirits for themselves—I mean in a practical, day-to-day way? From their not-new hearts, they would begin to do just as the Lord told them to—repent. Sincerely. In fear—their lives were at stake. They would stop doing the activities that had brought them under God’s judgment. However, having repented, they’d soon discover their inability to obey His commands. If their hearts were true, they would feel guilt and godly sorrow. They had failed their God. That’s when repentance would be required again, and they’d ask for help, for mercy, for forgiveness.

Then finding life and new hearts, they would move on. If they sinned again, repentance was required yet again.

They would strive, to return to Jesus’ command in Matthew, to “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14).

 Notice that Jesus said this way is “hard.” Arduous. Restrictive. We don’t like these words.

The other way is “easy.” Broad. No worries about compromising. No constraining boundaries. No difficult humility. This is where we would rather live out our days.

 No need to strive.

This is the nature of our struggle with the world and our sinfulness. We must strive. We work through these sins and accompanying untrue thinking with the Lord, on our knees, repenting. We do not stop. We realize that in this process He is loving us and does not want us to be destroyed. That love would undergird our striving. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.

Nothing offered here from the Lord is easy. And, as in Ezekiel, there is no step-by-step, engineering handbook about how to do these impossible things. Jesus doesn’t give us the how, just the command.

With a strong dose of heat. Like in Ezekiel, Jesus warns us about not entering this way of striving. The easy, broad way leads to destruction. Ruin. Waste. Annihilation.

Hello. There it is. Fear. Wonderful love. Impossible commands. Life to the full.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to giphy.com for the gif.

 

 

 

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wake up 2

Three weeks ago, as part of our efforts to become more fully awake to the truth of God’s Word, we looked at the validity of what is called the Four Spiritual Laws. We found in the New Testament that a person coming to the knowledge of Jesus was not a 1-2-3-4 step, verse-by-verse-proof process. Were verses quoted in those salvation accounts about a person’s sin? Verses about how people were separated from God, and that He wants them to have abundant lives? No. People came to the Lord in different ways and many times through miraculous occurrences. Repentance, however, was an essential ingredient in all cases. Sin was a given.

The aspect of the Four Spiritual Laws I’d like to look at with you in this article is this claim: God has wonderful plan for your life.

Is that true?

Well, if that means God’s heavenly kingdom and eternity, certainly.

If it means a long life full of effective ministry, success, and prosperity…not so much.

Did God have a wonderful plan for Stephen’s life? After a short, active, powerful ministry, this happened:

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out,  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:58–60).1

Did God have a wonderful plan for Simeon’s life? He was a righteous and devout man and, like very few in Israel, the Lord told him about Jesus before He ever performed a miracle or spoke one word. However, he shows up only once in the New Testament, does not appear again, and may have died shortly after he took the baby Jesus in his arms.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25–32).

Did God have a wonderful plan for the man who was born blind? Would you sign up for this?

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1–3).

Isn’t this God-displaying-His-works true of all those whom Jesus healed? The lame, the deaf, the paralytics?

How about Christians that you may know, those who have suffered and perhaps died from cancer, those who are in constant physical pain, or who die at an early age in accidents? Did God have a wonderful plan for their lives?

I have little doubt that Mr. Bright had good intentions in writing the Four Spiritual Laws. But here is the truth of God’s plan for your life:

The glorious God Almighty alone is the plan for your life.

He alone is your purpose. He alone is your salvation. He alone is your life. Your truth. Your way to His kingdom.

But, you may reply, “I don’t know how to do this. How am I to know Him? To receive salvation?”

Exactly.

I cannot fix that for you.

And He will not supply a step-by-step plan for you.

Why?

You must seek Him. Seek Him for salvation. Abide in him. Know Him.

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23–24).

Jesus said, “Strive.”

The Greek word is agōnízomai.

The definition from Zodhiates’ Complete Word Study Dictionary:

ἀγωνίζομαι agōnízomai; fut. agonísomai, mid. deponent from agṓn (73), conflict. To contend for victory in the public games (1 Cor. 9:25). It generally came to mean to fight, wrestle (John 18:36). Figuratively, it is the task of faith in persevering amid temptation and opposition (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). It also came to mean to take pains, to wrestle as in an award contest, straining every nerve to the uttermost towards the goal (Luke 13:24 [cf. 1 Cor. 9:25; Phil. 3:12ff.; Heb. 4:1]). Special pains and toil (Col. 1:29; Col. 4:12). Implies hindrances in the development of the Christian life. 2

I encourage you to reject the easy, seemingly logical 1-2-3-4 way to salvation, the easy, unstriving prayer. Strap up, strap in, and seek the most wonderful God possible—the only God possible.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers

 

 

 

 

anna_wake_up_by_doragoon-d79r3xh

When I was writing The God We Do Not Know, I had a wonderful time working through the chapter, The God Who Is Perfect. It was fantastic to think about how God is perfect. His works. His judgments. His thoughts. His sacrifice. So, this thought buzzed through my mind a couple of days ago:

God’s weakness is perfect.

So, it looks like I’m still waking up.

You and I know how the world works. By means of power. Wealth. Influence. Physical strength. Military strength. All these at once or in some combination. It has been thus since Cain used a rock to murder his brother. But weakness in the world? It doesn’t have any power at all. It is those without power who are usually at the mercy of those who possess it. Therefore, they are usually the ones who suffer when power moves its hand. However, power can be used for good as well as evil purposes. Time and space limit us from exploring this topic in any depth, but it doesn’t require an abundance of thought to understand how employers, families, governments, military, and police, to name a few, can use their powers either negatively or positively.

The Lord God Almighty, the Creator of all things, is the apex power among all others. No weaknesses or flaws exist which would enable another power to overcome Him. We see the magnificent use of this power in creation, or at least we should. One day, we will see how the greatest power in the universe exercises His incomparable strength to establish His righteous throne and perform ultimate good forever.

Regardless of what people believe about the Lord and His acts, He cares not at all and is not the least intimidated by human power in any of its manifestations.

“The kings of the earth establish themselves, and the rulers conspire together against Yahweh and his anointed: ‘Let us tear off their bonds, and cast their cords from us!’ He who sits enthroned in the heavens laughs. The Lord derides them. Then he speaks to them in his wrath, and in his fury he terrifies them: ‘But as for me, I have set my king on Zion, my holy mountain’” (Psalm 2:2–6)1

Paraphrase:

“We, the powerful leaders of the nations of the earth, have no need of You, God Almighty, or Your so-called anointed Messiah. We, together, reject You, Your outdated, constricting law, and Your supposed sovereignty. We don’t need you and never will.” The Lord God who created all things laughs and holds these power holders in derision. He mocks them. He terrifies them by His acts. “I—not you—have set My Ruler over all things upon the  mountain. Your claims to power mean nothing. I am the One who brought you to power and gave you the authority about which you boast. I am the One who will bring you down from that power and authority. Your nations are nothing—less than nothing.”

However, in mind-boggling contrast, He accomplished His most significant act in a way that no one anticipated.

Through weakness.

That weakness was perfect; perfect because it included all of humankind and all of creation. Perfect because He performed it by means of the weakest act possible known among mortals:

He died.

However, we need no reminder, do we, that the King of the Universe was born a helpless baby.

In addition, He emptied Himself. He, the Upholder and Sustainer of all things by His power, became a servant.

In His incarnate time on earth, He became least of all creation.

Thus, we read from Paul, writing as he was led by the Holy Spirit:

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).2

What is foolish? Dying to accomplish something. That foolishness is wiser than the wisest thing man can do.

What is weak? Dying. No weaker act is possible. The weakest thing God can do is stronger than the strongest thing man can do.

So, let us consider the Lord’s answer to Paul, when he prayed for deliverance from infirmity:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9). 3

Let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s think about what these verses mean regarding, not only how the world thinks—because this is unthinkable to the world—but to how we in the Church think. We may well discover little difference between the world and the Church. Why? Because we in the Church cannot accept that anything at all can be done by weakness. We can only accept that we must accomplish change through strength of effort and expenditure of human resources in order to succeed. It must be effective and thus verifiable and countable. Remember, however, that His power is made perfect in weakness. He did not say that His power was made perfect through human effort and strength, human wealth, and human power.

So, we should ask, “How does death, how does weakness, accomplish anything that is effective, verifiable, and countable? How is weakness world changing?”

If you are a Christian, I encourage you to jettison the you-must-be-a-world-changer meme of the Church. I encourage you think how God gets things done without the agencies of human power and effort.

 

1Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

3Ibid.

Thanks to Doragoon for the gif.

giphy

The message above has been God’s message to me for the last twenty years or so. It may have been longer than that, but perhaps I just wasn’t able to hear. I am too often a lazy, la-tee-dah Christian. Regardless, I will give thanks to the Lord for enabling me to hear, to search, to wake up to His words. Not that I have in any way got all of this Christian walk figured out. God is so full of wonder and lovely complexity, while I want to put Him in a nice, figure-out-able box.

For example, how many times have I read the Book of Revelation? Or Jeremiah? I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t been counting. Quite a few is the best I can do. So, a couple of mornings ago, I read this in Jeremiah:

Then the LORD said to me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity'” (Jeremiah 15:1–2). 1

God is an immensely challenging God. Jeremiah says that the Lord told me to send you, Judah, out of His sight. The people say, “Where?” The Lord says, (paraphrasing), “Oh, to Pestilence Town. Just down the road there.” And Swordville. “Turn right at the next road.” And to Captivity Heights. “Just up the hill.”

Oh my.

The Lord of all things had decided in His wisdom and justice and love that judgment was necessary for His people, Judah. The decision was final. If you’re destined to plague, then you will get sick and possibly die. If you’re destined for famine, you will go hungry and perhaps starve to death. If you are destined to be captured, an enemy will come and take you and your family from your home and your country to another place all together, where the language is not yours and the culture is radically different.

So, who cares? That was a long time ago. Judah worshiped idols and was even worse than the Northern Kingdom, Israel. Sure. They deserved it.

Well, read this about a time that is yet to come:

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints (Revelation 13:5–10).

These are not happy words for Christian believers. But the situation in Revelation is the reverse of that in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah, the cause of the attacks from God were sin and apostasy. In Revelation, the attacks will be for faithfulness.

Is this surprising? Well, it is to me. However, let’s think about this a bit deeper. Paul, in the beautiful outpouring of his heart concerning his desire to know Jesus, wrote, “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10–11).

Share in Jesus’ sufferings? Become like Him in His death?

My first response? Um, is there another way to become like Jesus, like attending church services, praying, and reading the Bible? My second response: Lord, help me. And help the saints. Will I be able to say, with the prophet,

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

I do not know. I do not know what I will do when what God allowed to happen to Habakkuk, a faithful man, may happen to me, a man who is likewise endeavoring, with other believers, to be faithful.

Your thoughts and Your ways, Lord, are higher than mine. Be merciful.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

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