Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Our attention, this time of year, turns to gifts. We make lists of people, ideas, and budgets. We try to meet everyone's expectations. I'm sure you will agree with me that meeting all those expectations is difficult. For a few minutes, take time to look at the Gift we celebrate at Christmas and think about the way salvation through Jesus Christ exceeds all our expectations.
The gift of salvation. So often we take it for granted. Yet this elegant, priceless gift is worthy of our constant consideration.
The Bible tells us that we were born with sinful natures. God judged us guilty of rebellion against Him. We stood under the sentence of death. Since the shedding of blood fulfills the death sentence, Jesus gave His life in our place – shed His blood in our place – so that we might be released from the sentence of death. No one else could make this sacrifice. No other person was born without a sinful nature. Jesus bought our freedom with His blood.
It was necessary to free us from the penalty of death, but Jesus accomplished much more than that. At the moment we asked for His forgiveness and accepted Jesus' death for our punishment, the Holy Spirit breathed new life into us. Until that moment, we were dead, spiritually. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born of the Spirit before he could enter the kingdom of God. Jesus' death was a requirement for our freedom. His resurrection from the grave is the picture of our new life. He arose and returned to Heaven, sending the Holy Spirit to earth to bring new life to those who trust in Him. This new life is life by God's definition: eternal union with Him, always in His presence, ever praising Him.
We are free from sin's control – but not its existence. We live in God's presence – but experience it only dimly. We continue to exist in this sinful world. Sometimes the muck and mire sticks to us. Jesus' sacrifice provided for that as well. Remember when Jesus washed the disciples' feet at The Last Supper? Jesus told Peter that He had to wash his feet because they got dirty from walking, even though the rest of him was clean. John 19:34 relates that the piercing of Jesus' side while He was hanging on the cross, caused blood and water to come out. This water is for cleansing – Jesus faithfully cleanses us from all unrighteousness when we confess our sins to Him.
Only the cleansing from unrighteousness has a natural ending. As long as we live on earth, we will need Jesus to keep the spots of filth removed from our souls. However, when He returns to carry us away from this sin-filled earth, He will clothe us in garments of sparkling white, never to be soiled again.
Salvation always has a definite day of beginning, but it has no end. Today we are free to resist sin's desires. Today we live in the presence of God. Today we can be clean and spotless before Him. Salvation truly is the gift that keeps on giving – for all eternity.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
"All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6) is a familiar verse to most of us. Isaiah compares people to an animal that has hardly enough sense to care for itself. Not a flattering comparison.
The rest of that verse says that we have scattered in every direction away from God. Because of His mercy, He calls us to Himself and sends the Chief Shepherd - Jesus Christ - to care for His flocks. Sometimes the under-shepherds act more like hired hands so that wolves get among the flocks. In the face of such a crisis, we bring Psalm 23 to our minds: "The Lord is my shepherd…" The Good Shepherd protects us from our enemies and God loses none of His sheep.
That accounts for the sheep that come back to God, for those who accept salvation through Jesus. What happens to the rest of these two-legged sheep? Who is their shepherd? According to the book of Matthew (9:36), Jesus recognized a harassed and hopeless crowd to be like sheep without a shepherd.
Many people wander aimlessly through much of their lives. They follow wherever their eyes lead them to the juiciest grass, never seeing the edge of the cliff beneath their feet. They fail to heed the grasp of the thorns as they push to reach the next tender morsel. According to the English Standard Version (ESV) of Psalm 49, "This is the path of those who have foolish confidence…"
When the land falls away from their feet, no watchful shepherd will pull them back at the last minute. As the brambles hold them so tightly that they can find neither food nor water, no kind shepherd – heedless of his own scratches – will pull the sheep to safety. These sheep with foolish confidence will find a different kind of shepherd comes for them. They discover that death will be their shepherd.
Death cares nothing about the comfort of the sheep. He will leave them alone. They may wander as they wish. In their foolishness, they think they are free. Yet when they fall off the cliff, death comes for them, pulling them with his staff to destruction. The sheep starving in the brambles finds death gleefully gathering them to devastation.
Death will not gently gather them to his chest for comfort. Instead, he gives them what they claimed they always wanted – eternal separation from God. This shepherd gives them what they always feared the most – eternal punishment and pain. In the end, death will be thrown in the lake of fire, a just punishment for one who destroys the sheep.
By the mercy of God, we may choose our shepherd. Remember:
"All we like sheep have gone astray."
"Death shall be their shepherd."
"The Lord is my shepherd."
Who is your shepherd?
Friday, October 22, 2010
Four times in the book of Revelations, John the Apostle writes of the "second death:" Revelations 2:11; 20:6,14; & 21:8. To the post-modern, western-trained mind, the idea of a second death makes no sense. The reason it makes no sense is the automatic definition that comes to our mind when we use the word death: extinction. We are trained to equate "permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism" (a dictionary definition of death) with extinction, when, by the Bible's definition, that is simply not the case.
God introduced the concept of death to Adam in the Garden of Eden. When He told Adam that his diet would be fruit and green things, He excluded one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. According to Genesis 2:17 (ESV), God said to Adam, "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (emphasis added).
Genesis chapter three gives us an account of the effect on Adam, Eve, and the serpent when Adam and Eve disobeyed that rule, but not one verse speaks of their extinction. On the day they ate the fruit, God separated them from Himself, from the Garden of Eden and from harmony with each other and the world. Even the serpent was punished, not destroyed. From the first instance of death, we see that death means separation, not extinction.
"OK," you say, "how does that apply when a person dies? Adam and Eve died physically, too."
That's a good question, but the Bible's answer might surprise you. When a person dies, the body "ceases all vital functions" and decays. However, Jesus told us in John 5:26-29 that the decay is a temporary condition. He said, "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment."
Regardless of your spiritual condition, your body and soul reunites when Jesus calls you. That means that the death of a person is the temporary cessation of all the vital functions (of the body) and the temporary separation of the body and the soul. Extinction does not apply.
Let's go back to the second death, now. The second death of Revelations is a place – a lake of fire. This lake of fire eternally separates the unrepentant sinner from Holy God with no hope of relief. Eternal separation from God. That is a horror too unspeakable to comprehend.
In the Bible Exposition Commentary, Warren Wiersbe expresses the situation clearly: "If you have been born only once, you can die twice; but if you have been born twice - born again through faith in Christ - you can die only once."
Mortal death = separation of the body and soul in time; second death = eternal separation from God. Do not delay being born again. It's not worth the risk.
Monday, September 20, 2010
The smell of Godiva chocolate lured Beth toward the doorway of the store. The shelves glittered with brightly colored packages of sweet chocolate truffles. The glass front of the refrigerated counter separated her from a bounty of chocolate choices. She immediately decided to enter the store and buy some of the melt-in-her-mouth chocolate extravaganzas. Is this an impulse or a temptation?
Katie dropped by her brother's house and discovered that his wife has taken their family's turkey platter from their Mom's house and displayed it with her antique plate collection. Katie's surprise turned to shock when she saw the smirk on her sister-in-law's lips and the triumphant light in her eyes. "We'll have Thanksgiving dinner at our house from now on," she said. Katie's face turned red and her hands became fists. "That's what you think!" wanted to spring from the tip of her tongue. Impulse or temptation?
In the small home group, Steve confessed that he didn't understand what the pastor meant in his sermon on Sunday. He was a new Christian who grew up in a family that didn't attend church. Mark on the other hand, understood what the pastor said and had a few of his own thoughts to add. As Steve expressed his confusion for a second time, Mark tired of waiting for the leader to stop Steve and begin answering his questions. He opened his mouth to interrupt Steve. Impulse or temptation?
Each of the three scenes can trigger an impulse or expose a temptation. For each person, the set of circumstances can be either an impulse OR a temptation at different times.
Making an unplanned purchase of chocolate candy is often only an impulse buy with no spiritual impact. It can be a temptation for the person who is fasting for a time. It can tempt a person to spend money unwisely or make a poor choice that harms their health.
Family discord can exert an impulsive pressure on us to protect ourselves and to vent our anger. It can also be a temptation to hurt the other person the way they hurt us.
Sometimes the impulse to fix a situation or to solve another person's problem comes from a servant's heart. The same situation can be a temptation to become impatient, to display our own abilities or to control.
The correct decisions for these scenes cannot be decided on a specific rule for each instance. Oswald Chambers stated the issue clearly: "A person's inner nature, what he possesses in the inner, spiritual part of his being, determines what he is tempted by on the outside. The temptation fits the true nature of the person being tempted…" (My Utmost for His Highest, September 17)
I have a challenge for you.
For 24 hours, write down everything that you believe tempts you to sin.
Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you sensitive to the motivation of your heart.
Discover the condition of your spirit.
Then ask the Lord to give you the ability to resist the temptations until those things no longer temp you.
(P.S.: When you overcome that set of temptations, the Holy Spirit will show you a new set to resist.)
Monday, September 13, 2010
In his mid-60s, Larry was the picture of health. Then, last Tuesday, he failed his stress test in the cardiologist's office.
"Come back in the morning so that we can do a heart cath and maybe put in a couple of stents," the doctor told him.
The next day, less than half an hour after they took Larry back to do the heart cath, the doctor came out to talk to my sister. "We can't put in stents," he told her. "One of Larry's blood vessels is 98% blocked and has a kink in it. Tomorrow, we'll do by-pass surgery."
Larry entered the operating room at noon. After six hours, the surgeon came out to tell our family that he replaced four blood vessels. "The plaque," he said, "blocked all of them at least 90%. They were no longer pliable, but as hard as concrete."
Less than a week after this whole thing started, Larry's recovery exceeds the doctors' expectations. They prepare to discharge him from the hospital, today.
This sequence of events stunned our family. Before we could get our minds to accept that Larry needed medical intervention, the surgery was over. At the same time, the 48 hours between stress test failure and the end of the operation stretched out so that each hour seemed to be a day.
My sister set the standard for us as she responded to these events with faith. She had no assurance that God would allow Larry to stay with her. Within, she had a terror of being left behind, bereft of her partner, lover, and best friend. Tension knotted her stomach and roiled her thoughts as she waited to see whether God would take Larry to heaven or leave him here. She knows the truth in Lamentations 3:37-38: "Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?" God held Larry's life in His hands.
Yet the uncertainty of the results did not rob her of her trust in God. Before the surgery, she told one of my nephews, "We will not allow the events of this week to steal from us the peace that God has given us." By an act of her will, she remained focused on God and His goodness.
In The Disciple of Grace, Jerry Bridges reminds us that Hebrews 12:20 states: "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness."
He further states, "This is the design of God in all of the adversity and heartache we experience in this life. There is no such thing as random or chance events in our lives. All pain we experience is intended to move us closer to the goal of being holy as He is holy."
Sometimes our response to adversities causes us to move away from holiness rather than toward it. The next time heartache comes in my life – and I know it will – my thoughts will turn to my sister. Like her, I will acknowledge the pain I feel. Like her, I will take my pain to God and trust in Him.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
What do The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews, Storm Warning by Billy Graham, and my pastor's sermon on Noah have in common? Maybe you can see the connections.
The Boy Who Changed the World introduces children to the "Butterfly Effect." In this delightful narrative, one boy's decision to change the world is traced back through the lives of three other people in previous generations to see the way their decisions affected him. I shared it with my 10-year-old granddaughter who enjoyed the stunning artwork by Philip Hurst and who was fascinated by the connectivity in the lives of the four men. If you have a child or grandchild between the ages of 6 and 11, this is an excellent book to share with them.
Storm Warning, on the other hand, reaches into the future. Billy Graham used the book of Revelations as a backdrop for this up-dated version of his book first published in 1992. While based on Revelations, the book contains more material on our responsibilities to prepare for the coming storm than it does about the prophecy in Revelations. Billy Graham skillfully weaves in personal memories of fulfilling his destiny as God's voice to the lost world. He presents his vision on what we need to do to meet the needs of our generation against the background of the approaching storm. If you buy just one book by Billy Graham, I suggest that this would be the one to add to your library.
The sermon about Noah emphasized the faithfulness of God to protect Noah from the destructive storm He would pour out on a society in absolute rebellion against Him. That Noah's ancestors - from the fall until the flood - remained faithful to Yahweh was a miracle. Noah's commitment and witness in building the ark is equally miraculous. What was it about Noah and the generations in his family before him that made such a difference? First, it was the initial decision to follow God and not society's example that each person made. Next, that decision was followed – every day – by choices that reinforced it.
I'm sure that you can see the connection between these three very different messages. Each one spotlights a unique part of a single concept: Today Matters; Make Good Choices. Storm Warning calls us to prepare for the battle ahead. The thunderheads of chaos loom over us. Lest we become discouraged, we have the example of Noah to show us that steadfast obedience in the face of resistance finds its reward in shelter beneath God's protective wings. Lest we feel hopeless and think that nothing we do can make a difference, the message near the end of The Boy Who Changed the World will call us back to reality: "…every little thing you do matters: what you did yesterday, what you do today, and what you do tomorrow. God made your life so important that every move you make, every action you take, matters…"
Today Matters. Make Good Choices.
(Thank you, BookSneeze, for free copies of The Boy Who Changed the World and Storm Warning to review.)
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Is God's love unconditional? Our pastor asked that question in his sermon. When he later implied that God's love is conditional, I became indignant.
As a little girl, one of the first Bible verses (I John 4:8) I learned was "God is love." When I was older, I memorized another verse (John 3:16): "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son; so that whosoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life." As an adult, I read a passage (Matt. 5:45) where Jesus told His disciples, "God sends the rain on the just and on the unjust." While our pastor preached, I remembered part of a letter in the New Testament where the Apostle Paul wrote, "But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) That all sounds unconditional to me.
Then what was I to do with this huge condition to God's love that I know - but ignore - when I talk about God's love? In the two verses following John 3:16, Jesus said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." The Psalmist says in Psalm 103:11, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him…" (Emphasis is mine.) Not all of God's love is unconditional.
I sometimes wish that the English language were less ambiguous. Maybe then, I could find a word to describe God's love for the time before we confront our sinful condition and another word for our experience of God's love after we repent of our sin.
Everyone arrives in this world a sinner from birth. Each person experiences God's love in what is often called the "common graces" of God. To varying degrees, we all have ability to "eat, drink, and (sometimes) be merry." If God placed any conditions to this love, we could not function. Even though most of us take these common graces for granted, every single one of them is an expression of God's unconditional love.
God's highest expression of His unconditional love is Jesus' death on the cross. Jesus bore the death penalty for all of everyone's sin. By the Spirit of God, we confront our rebellion and either accept or reject His sacrifice. How we experience God's love after this confrontation depends on whether we accept this wondrous gift or not.
For those who refuse and reject the offer of forgiveness and peace with God, "common grace" love is all they ever know. For those who repent and accept this perfect gift, an explosion of love occurs. Ephesians 3:17-19 says, "… that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge …"
Imagine that you are a fish swimming in the shallow waters of a tropical bay. Sometimes life is beautiful, sometimes stormy. One day you and another fish discover the outlet between the two arms of coral reef. You decide to leave the bay and launch out into the deep. The other fish stays in the bay. Eventually he washes up on the shore, dead. You grow to match the possibilities in the boundless ocean.
This is an analogy for humanity and God's love. His "common grace" love is unconditional, but it doesn't last forever. For those who refuse Jesus Christ, it ends at death. For those who repent of their sins and accept Christ's sacrifice, we experience God's love translated into dimensions that surpass our knowledge. I find it impossible to express the magnitude of the difference between God's unconditional love to those who continue in rebellion against Him and the unconditional, boundless, eternal love He pours out on His children. I can only join the Apostle Paul when he says, "… to him be glory … throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
Friday, July 23, 2010
If you've ever built or remodeled a house, you know by experience that it always takes longer than you thought it would. That's what happened with this article on building our spiritual house. I thought I could complete it in two posts, but that just didn't happened. Today, I want to explore two more types of building material, grace and faith.
Grace is an incredible gift. My favorite explanation of grace comes from the Amplified Bible: "The unmerited favor and merciful kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, and keeps, strengthens, and increases them in Christian virtues." (From 2 Corinthians 1:12)
As I showed in part 2, God's grace is an integral part of the foundation. He pours out His grace on us at the cross. In that outpouring, we can never receive any additional grace that will affect our salvation. However, God's grace has more than one purpose. He intends for us to use grace to build our house.
If God's love is represented by the house's framework, then grace could be considered all the wiring, plumbing and air conditioning systems. We never see any of these systems, but without them, our homes would be less valuable. Like them, grace affects the way we act, something that may not be noticed. Consider some of the statements in the Bible concerning grace:
- God commands us to grow in grace. 2Peter 3:18
- We are to ask for grace in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
- According to the grace God gives us, we receive different gifts. Romans 12:6
- We are to be good stewards of God's varied grace. 1Peter 4:10
- God will give us more grace to resist temptation. James 4:6
All of these scripture verses suggest that grace should affect the way we respond to the events in our lives – the way we act every day.
If love is the framework and grace is the hidden systems of the house, then faith is everything else: the doors, window, walls, roof, and furnishings. Faith represents the parts of the house that everyone sees. Faith is the raw material that we use to make our house beautiful.
In both the foundation and house, faith holds a unique position. Love is the essence of God and one of His attributes. Grace is also one of God's attributes. Faith is neither part of God's essence nor one of His attributes. It is a special gift from God to humanity (Ephesians 2:8). Faith allows us to believe that everything God says is true. It instills in us a conviction based on that belief so that we can respond to God in ways that are pleasing to Him.
In salvation, the gift of faith alone is part of the foundation. For the building of the house, however, what we do with the faith determines the quality and beauty of the house. James chapter two explains in detail that faith is useless unless we show it in our works. In Hebrews chapter eleven, the record of the great heroes of the faith, their actions show their faith.
Even though God assigns different measures of faith (Romans 12:3), we are to pursue faith (2Timothy 2:22) and build ourselves up in faith (Jude 20) so that it grows abundantly (2Thessalonians 1:3). Just to make sure that we are not deluding ourselves, God will test the genuineness of our faith (1Peter 1:7). The beauty of our house shows the richness of our faith.
There you have it. Half the year is gone, but the challenge is even more important than we knew. Unless our goals are focused on building a house that pleases God, our other goals have limited value. Let's both make a new list that includes using the building material God supplies for our lives.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Last time, I challenged you to look at the plans you made for 2010. If your plans fell apart the way mine did, then that was probably something of a shock. How shaken we become when the storms and trials of life hit us depends on our foundation and upon our building material. The foundation must be Jesus Christ, our salvation, given as a gift of God through His sacrifice. (Scroll down to the previous article to read the scripture passages for these comments.)
For building our house, we would be wise to use the building materials God makes available: love, grace, and faith. It should not surprise us that God provides these materials to build our house. If you'll look closely at the foundation you can see these three materials interlock in such an intricate, self-supporting structure that nothing in creation can destroy it. John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8 explain the way God gives us love, grace, and faith in the gift of salvation.
In Paul's first letter to Timothy, he ties not only his salvation to love, grace, and faith, but also his commission for service. First Timothy 1:12-14 says, "I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." ESV
Just as God appointed Paul to His service, He has also appointed you and me to His service. That service includes everything about us: who we are, the way we act, and the work we do. This service is the blueprint for our house. Using the material and blueprint He provides, we are to build a house that enhances the foundation on which it stands.
Love is not only one of God's attributes; it is also an essential part of His nature. "God is love," the Bible declares in 1 John 4:8 & 16. We experience the love of God in two ways. First is the love of God for us. That love was poured out for us in Christ on the cross.
The second way we experience God's love is in us. Jesus says in John 13:34, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." In the Apostle John's first letter, he states, "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. … but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. (1 John 2:3, 5 ESV) In these verses, we see both the building material and the use to which we are to make of it. In obeying God's command to love one another, we build up and bring to maturity God's love in us. His love changes who we are so that we become more like Jesus.
Next time, we will look more closely to the roles that grace and faith play in building our house.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Remember where you were six months ago? The year 2009 was ending. The weather was cold and nasty. You indulged in too many holiday treats. You considered the things you wanted to accomplish in 2010. Did you make a list? Have you looked at it since you wrote it?
Now, at the halfway point in 2010, review the recent past. So many unlikely events occurred: the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, an earthquake struck Haiti, and Senator Edward Kennedy died. That was just a few of the things that happened in January.
We have our own list of unexpected personal experiences, too. I published Changing Me, Change the World, four people whom we love died, and I sprained my knee – twice! Only one of these was included on my list of goals for the year.
All the things that have happened so far this year affect our goals for the remaining six months. How can we best adjust our lives to allow for the ebb and flow of these events that affect our lives? We find the answer by building our lives on the right foundation.
Let me remind you of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:24 – 25: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock."(ESV)
Jesus is the Rock, the Foundation, the one place we can securely stand when the events of life swirl around our walls, seeking to pull us out to sea. We prepare for the inevitable changes in our lives by loving our Lord with all our hearts because even if the house we build on the foundation has cracks and squeaky doors or broken windows, The Foundation will not fail.
Remember The Three Little Pigs? The big, bad wolf never attacked the foundations; he always went for the weakest point. Even with Jesus as our foundation, the structure we build on the foundation can be weak or strong. The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, "Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you'll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won't get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn't, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. But you won't be torn out; you'll survive — but just barely." (1 Corinthians 3:12-15, THE MESSAGE©)
What building materials will survive the event-storms that want to destroy us? Only those materials provided by the Master Builder. Jesus told His disciples, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…" (Matthew 6:33, ESV) Next time we'll examine a few of the building materials available to us when we seek His kingdom first.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Jealousy. We all know the power of never being satisfied with what we have. We know the seductive temptation of seeking to possess something exclusively. Jealousy tears apart families when siblings indulge in it. It is so common that Dr. Deborah Tannen wrote You Were Always Mom's Favorite, where many of the conversations between sisters revolve around jealousy. Worse, yet, jealousy destroys marriages when one partner attempts to control every thought and every action of the other one. As a part of the jealousy, this partner simultaneously withholds true intimacy, creating double jeopardy for the marriage. Jealousy destroys contentment and sabotages peace, because it promotes selfishness and suffocates generosity.
When we read in the Old Testament, "…I the Lord your God am a jealous God…" what are we to think? (Deuteronomy 5:9) From Exodus to Zachariah, the Bible says that God is "jealous" fourteen times. Five of those times, God describes himself that way. Are we to think of God in a jealous rage, zapping everyone and everything in His path? If that is the first thought that comes to mind, maybe we should give the idea more consideration.
What is the object of God's jealousy? Under the New Covenant, Jesus bought us with His blood. We belong to Him. That means that we are the object of His jealousy.
God displays an extreme, holy possessiveness toward us. He longs for us to experience Him to our absolutely highest capability. When we spend time with Him, honor Him by our obedience, and display His glory in our lives, He rejoices at these first steps of our experiencing Him. When we live selfishly, disconnect from His presence and dishonor His Name by our actions, He does not leave us in our sin. Instead, a different expression of His jealousy kicks in. He orchestrates circumstances – sometimes-painful ones – that call us back to the closest relationship we can experience with Him. Both His rejoicing over us and His discipline of us are evidences of His jealousy.
We are the objects of God's jealousy in another way. When Satan or any person through whom he works attempts to destroy us, God's jealousy protects us. Just as with Job in his pain-filled misery and Peter when he denied Jesus, God sets boundaries around His people. He limits the damage to His children to that which will promote growth in their faith. Suffering will come to us all, but we can trust God in His jealousy to protect us from destruction.
This drives us to a new question: since God's jealousy is a reason for us to rejoice and to trust even more in Him, why is human jealousy so destructive in our lives? I believe the answer lies in the facts that we are trying - in our jealousy - to be God and that when we become so obsessed with the object of our desire, it becomes a "god" to us. The capability to possess something or someone exclusively and entirely is an attribute of God that becomes, in the hearts of humanity, a twisted weapon.
So, yes, jealousy is both a monster and a guardian. It all depends on who holds the power.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Not everyone who says one thing but does another is a hypocrite. A woman, who gossips but fights against that sin even when she participates, is not a hypocrite. An honest man, who steals money from his partner to feed his family, is not a hypocrite. The subtle distinction is the reality of the person's belief. If a woman pretends to hate gossip in order to trick someone else into sharing a confidence and then gossips about it, she is a hypocrite. If a man pretends he is honest so that he can gain access to his partner's money in order to steal it, he is a hypocrite.
"Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops." (Luke 12:1-3, ESV)
Hypocrisy was the problem with the Pharisees. They pretended to love God when they loved only themselves. They pretended to teach the people about God when they taught their own set of rules and regulations. They were not servants of their people before God, even though they pretended to be. All of this hypocrisy existed for one purpose: in order for the Pharisees to be important, powerful, rich leaders in their culture.
This pharisaical hypocrisy continues, today. Some men become ministers in order to have a cover for their sin, not because they are called by God. We see the results of this proclaimed in the headlines: priests abuse alter boys, ministers betray parishioners' trust, preachers steal the church's money. The shock of revelation can be almost as destructive as the sinful act.
Some ministers perform another type of hypocrisy. They abuse their wives and children. From the outside, the family looks perfect, but that is all part of the lie. This form of hypocrisy is often the most difficult to break open. No church member wants to believe that his or her pastor is capable of hurting his own family.
Mary DeMuth wrote a fictional account of a small Texas town, a child's murder, and a family's secret life of abuse at the hands of their preacher/father. The story is well written in three books that follow from the murder in Daisy Chain to catching the killer in Life in Defiance.
Woven throughout these two books as well as the middle one, A Slow Burn, is a vivid portrait of a family in extreme distress and pain. As the life for this family unfolded, I found myself comparing Mary's descriptions of their actions and emotions to the twenty or so preachers' families that I have known through the years. I could recognize two families that had many similarities. One of the preachers went to prison for abuse. The other one left town with his family to escape facing the truth.
I recommend all three of these books for the well-written stories. More than that, I ask that, after you read the books, you consider whether you know someone who may need your help. Revealing the hypocrisy of an abuser may save someone's life.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
In my imagination, I can see the astonished look on Jesus' face. The "Lynnda Ell translation" of Jesus' response: "Get real, guys. The issue is not about the sin that caused the blind man's condition. You asked the wrong question. Instead, ask how we can display God's works, here."
Then Jesus made another one of those statements that surges down the river of time: "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work." (John 9:4 ESV)
"We must work…" This is an unexpected beginning. For the remainder of the incident, Jesus says "I," not "we." He is the one who works to bring sight to the blind man, so who is "we?"
That becomes a little clearer when Jesus states, "the works of him who sent me." God the Father sent Jesus to do "rescue and relief" work – to rescue humanity from the power of sin and to relieve humanity from the effects of sin. Later in the book of John (20:21), Jesus tells His disciples that He sends them out just as His Father sent Him out. The "we" in Jesus' statement is all of us whom Jesus rescues from the power of sin by His death and resurrection. Jesus sends us out to rescue others by leading them to Him and to relieve others from the effects of sin through prayer, love, and giving of our time, skills and money.
Next Jesus sets out the deadline for the work's completion. As a part-time procrastinator, I recognize that a deadline is critical to getting the work done. Jesus knew that many of his followers would be lazy, slothful, or distracted in completing the work without it. Jesus gives us the sense of urgency because He experienced that same sense of urgency while He was on earth.
Jesus had a limited time to work the works of the Father. For Him, the "day" was the period between this statement and His crucifixion. In the 40 days following His resurrection that He remained on earth before He ascended to Heaven, the Bible records no new disciples recruited by Jesus and no miracles performed by Him.
Instead, Jesus assigned to us the rescue and relief work which previously occupied Him. What is "the day" for us? How urgent is our deadline? The Bible tells us in Job 14:5 that God limits our life span. We have a finite number of days. Like Jesus, we are in the rescue and relief business only as long as we live in a place where people need rescuing.
The "day" also means the time of God's favor. (Check out Isaiah 49:8 and 2 Corinthians 6:2.) You may have experienced, as I have, one of those extraordinary days when an opportunity opened up to be the answer to a person's prayer that you didn't know they prayed. That is an example of the "day" of God's favor.
Finally, sometimes the "day" is most urgent – TODAY is the "day." The Bible emphasizes the urgency in Psalms 95:7 and in Hebrews 3:7-13. Death is usually an unexpected event. We have no promise of another breath, much less another day. This statement is literal for me because I can breathe while I sleep at night only with the aid of a machine. Any time God indicates to us that something should be done TODAY, then that knowledge should fuel us to action.
Like a fire fighter or a police officer, we may not always be on duty, but we are always on call. We must be ready to do the work of God.
Friday, May 14, 2010
It was such a simple sentence: "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Luke 20:25, ESV)
The Jewish religious leaders set a trap for Jesus and that was His answer. They asked Him if it were lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. On one hand, if He said yes, then He might lose some of His popularity with the average Isralite, for they held Him in high esteem. However, Rome taxed Israel heavily and unceasingly, so most Israelites might find a positive answer reason enough to reject Jesus.
If Jesus said no, then the Jewish religious leaders could charge Him with treason against the Roman Empire before Pilate. That answer would suit these leaders even better. Crucifixion was the penalty for treason. Death would absolutely resolve the possibility that Jesus would take their power and wealth away from them.
Jesus, however, was smarter then these crafty men. He asked them to bring Him a Roman coin, a denarius. In my imagination, I can see Him taking the coin and turning it over in His hand as He looked down at it. Then holding it up for His questioners to see He said, "Whose image is on it?" Caesar's, they replied. "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
For these Jewish religious leaders, who were also knowledgeable about the Jewish Torah – their version of the Old Testament – they recognized what Jesus was saying. The Romans stamped their denarius with the image of Caesar. The religious rulers knew that Genesis 1:27 (ESV) says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him..." While Jesus acknowledged Caesar's right to levy taxes, He also threw down God's claim for the hearts and souls for humanity; God made us in His image. The religious leaders did not want to hear that answer. They were more interested in political power and gathering wealth than in responding to God's constraints.
Do we respond to God's declaration of this fact as the Jewish religious leaders did? We also, must recognize that we, who were created in His image, belong to Him. When Jesus told the Jews "to render," He was saying to return or to yield the taxes to Caesar and likewise to return or to yield ourselves to God.
The apostle Paul expanded on this idea when he said (in Romans 12:1, ESV), "…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" and (in Ephesians 4:24, ESV) "…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." What was true for these Jewish religious leaders is even truer for us.
The next time you see me trying to get my own way, would you remind me of this? And the next time you don't want to obey God, pull out a quarter and look at it. Remember that God has a much higher, prior claim to our lives than anything else in this world, because He made us in His image.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
That literally took place on several occasions following His statement: (1) when Jesus stood in His glory on the mountain - before Peter, James and John, (2) after His resurrection - to numerous disciples, (3) when Jesus was taken up into Heaven, and finally, (4) to the Apostle John when Jesus appeared to him on the island of Patmos.
However, I believe Jesus' prophetic statement applies to more than the people who were physically standing with Him before His death. (See Escher and Prophecy Fulfillment to read the basic premise.) The statement seems likely to be appropriate for other generations.
Jesus' words reverberate down the strand of time as His kingdom becomes more visible.
» The apostle Paul identifies one generation in 1Corinthians 15:23 when he talks about Jesus returning to raise the dead in Christ and to change His followers who still live.
» Jesus speaks of an occasion when everyone alive will see Him in Matthew chapter 24. There, He and His disciples discuss the signs of the end of the age. Jesus tells them that His coming will be not in secret, but similar to a lightning strike where all can see it.
» Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV) tells us of a powerful event fulfilling His statement: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." In a future age, even the mention of His Name provides evidence that He has come into His kingdom.
As Christians living in a fallen world, we long to see Jesus honored in every way. Now, we see His kingdom come one lost sinner at a time as they find new life in Him. Nevertheless, a day is coming when "some standing here will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Jesus says in Revelations 22:20, "Surely I am coming soon."
So be it. Come, Lord Jesus.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The opportunity to make choices fills our culture and society. Some decisions – like whether to choose strawberry or chocolate ice cream – have few consequences. However, others will change the whole future for you. Psalm 1:1 & 2 says, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." (ESV)
This prayer, from my new book, Changing Me, Change the World, freely admits the temptation and chooses God instead. Can you make it your prayer?
Lord, I greatly desire this blessing; the blessing You give for not listening to the counsel of the ungodly.
"Follow us!" shout the commercials. "Buy this! Watch that! We know how you should live. Listen to us!" Everywhere I turn, advertisements demand my attention.
God, I am tempted. Many times the life they show sounds easy and fun. Sometimes I would like to "go there" and "buy that" and live a "carefree" life, especially when I am tired and my life seems more than I can handle.
Truly Lord, I want to follow only Your plans and purposes. Your Word shows me the eternal end of the ones who follow the counsel of the ungodly. I see the twisted lives of those who walk with sinners. I know the dark and empty thoughts of those who live as scornful mockers. No matter how beguiling the temptations of those who give ungodly counsel, You have shown me the truth behind the lies. I reject the counsel of the ungodly, the path of sinners and the seat of the scornful.
Lord, my delight is in You and my desire is in following Your law. I want to think about You and meditate on Your law night and day. Plant me firmly by Your streams of living water, so that I will bring forth fruit in Your seasons. Let me not wither, but prosper according to Your Word.Father, let those who are wicked see that their lives are worthless without You. Show them that the end of their lives will be judgment and ruin. Let them seek a righteous life in You that lasts for eternity.
What are you choosing, today?
Friday, April 23, 2010
The Bible contains passages that amaze me in the same way. They reveal more than one truth at the same time. Malachi 4:5-6 is one of those passages. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers…" (ESV) Through the years, the Jewish rabbis debated the meaning of this prophecy without reaching consensus.
The first fulfillment shows up in Luke 1:13-17: “The angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…" (ESV)
The angel announced the birth of John the Baptist as fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. However, that fulfillment did not look the way the Jewish rabbis expected it to look. When they asked John the Baptist if he were Elijah, he told them that he was not. (John 1:19-21, ESV)
Jesus clarified the way John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy and pointed to an additional, more complete fulfillment in Matthew 17:10-13. “And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" He answered, "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” (ESV)
John the Baptist fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy in a way that the most highly trained religious scholars could not recognize. It appears that even John the Baptist did not see his own part in fulfilling it. It took Jesus to reveal that the prophecy had more than one fulfillment and that the first one included John the Baptist.
What did you see when you first looked at the Escher drawing: white horses on a black background or black horses on a white background? Did it take you some time to see for yourself that it was both?
People who can only see black horses sometimes argue with those who see only white horses about what they see. The Jewish scholars argued over the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy. We sometimes fall into that same mind set when we read a passage in the Bible. Before we find ourselves convinced that a passage in the Bible can have only one interpretation, we might think about this drawing.
If a man is intelligent and creative enough to produce a picture that shows so many things at the same time, then we can well believe that God can do the same thing. By exploring just two verses in Malachi we see that God may surprise us in the way He chooses to fulfill His words, similar to the way Escher surprises us by his art. After all, the Bible is God’s Living Word.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Periodically, one of those messages makes its way into my in-box. "My score is 67%" the subject line reads. I open it and discover a brainteaser quiz (a.k.a. trick questions). A typical question says, "You only have a match when you enter a dark and cold room. You come across an oil lamp, an oil heater, and a candle. Which do you light first?" I find those quizzes irresistible, even though I seldom do well.
My score discourages me because I think I know the (obvious) answer when the right answer is something unexpected. That same "are you sure that's the right answer" reaction happened to me not long ago when I was asked this question: "In the New Testament, how many apostles are identified by name?" (I will tell you now my answer was not even close.)
The obvious answer – the first answer I got wrong - was "twelve." Jesus commissioned twelve men to send out as His special representatives, to be His apostles (Matt. 10:2-4):
1. Simon (Peter)
2. Andrew (Peter's brother)
3. James, the son of Zebedee
4. John, the son of Zebedee
6. Bartholomew (Nathanael)
8. Matthew (Levi)
9. James, the son of Alphaeus
10. Thaddaeus (Judas, the son of James)
11. Simon the Zealot
12. Judas Iscariot.
However, the answer of "twelve" leaves out Matthias. He took the place of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26) after Judas committed suicide. Unfortunately, "thirteen" is not the right answer, either. The book of Acts also identifies both Paul and Barnabas as apostles (Acts 14:14). The count is up to fifteen, but we have yet to complete the list. Several places in the New Testament record James, the brother of Jesus, as an apostle, including the passage of I Corinthians 15:7.
As trick questions go, this one ranks right up with the trickiest. Even "sixteen" is not the right answer and I never got that close. As far as I know, the correct answer is "seventeen." The name of the last apostle to put on the list is Jesus.
I know. I didn't believe it either. When I heard the answer and the scripture reference, I wasted no time in reading it for myself. Hebrews 3:1 (ESV) states, "Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession." Yet, when we hold the definition of an apostle up to Jesus, we see that the title easily applies to Him. An apostle is defined as one sent out as a special representative. In John 6:57 (ESV), Jesus said, "As the living Father sent me…" Everyone else on the list was an apostle of Jesus. Jesus is The Apostle of the Living God.
While you and I are not named as apostles in the Bible, that definition can also apply to us. Jesus sends us out as special representatives to people in our spheres of influence. You've probably heard that our lives are the only Bible that some people will ever read. Well, you may also be the only apostle some people ever meet. We may never have the opportunity to speak a word of kindness to anyone but a neighbor's child or to comfort anyone other than a coworker, but the Holy Spirit can use the smallest act to reach into eternity. For those times, and for those people, we can be God's special representatives that turn their hearts toward Him. And, when God asks, "Will you go for me?" it's not a trick question.
(The answer to the first trick question: Everyone would light the match first. Did you get it right?)
Friday, April 2, 2010
This weekend we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Looking back at the event on which hangs the destiny of every person who will ever live causes us to look forward to a time when Jesus will reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nevertheless, right now we live in the "abide 'til He comes" time. The story below dramatizes the way in which some early Christians chose to spend their "abiding time." I hope you enjoy it.
as retold by Lynnda Ell
Rhoda sighed. Maybe now she could sit down for longer than two minutes. The Seder meal had been long over and preparations for breaking the morning fast completed. This time of year, during the Passover celebrations, everyone had more work than usual. However, this year, the execution of James bar Zebedee and the arrest of Peter also had everyone on edge. She slid down the wall by the door at the back of the dimly lit room. Rhoda hoped that she would not fall asleep as she closed her eyes and joined the group in prayer.
Rhoda's whole body jerked when the pounding on the outer door began. She staggered to her feet and scooped up the nearest oil lamp. Stumbling across the courtyard, her heart skittered in her chest as she wondered who would come to Mary and John Mark's house in the middle of the night.
"Who's there?" Rhoda called out through the stout door.
"Open up, girl."
Rhoda stepped back at the sound of the voice she recognized as the apostle Peter's. Without unbarring the door, she whirled around and ran back to the prayer meeting.
"Peter's at the door!" she exclaimed over the sound of several people praying aloud.
"You're out of your mind," hissed one young man, shaking his head.
His friend nudged him with his elbow. "It must be his angel."
Rhoda ignored them as she gingerly stepped through the crush of people, making her way to Mary and John Mark.
"Please come. I know it's Peter."
Motioning with her hands for Rhoda to speak softly, Mary said, "Yes, yes, we will come."
Once clear of the room, they could hear the pounding on the door. John Mark quickly removed the bar and opened the latch.
"Peter!" Mary exclaimed. "Come in, come in."
"Not so loud," Peter whispered. "I want to hide before sunrise, so I won't stay."
Quickly Peter told them how an angel had come to his cell, awakened him, removed his chains, told him to dress and then escorted him out of the prison, down the street and finally disappeared.
Peter grabbed the locks of hair on both sides of his head. "I thought I was dreaming. The angel lit up the night as brightly as day, but the guards didn't see us walking right passed them. They even ignored the iron gate that opened itself."
Peter glanced over his shoulder and then turned around. "Tell James bar Joseph and the rest of the brothers what happened." He disappeared into the night.
Rhoda followed Mary and John Mark back into the prayer meeting. She no longer felt the least bit sleepy. She knew that they would pray the rest of the night for Peter's safety and she was ready to do her part. Tomorrow, the soldiers would tear the town apart looking for him. Rhoda trusted that the God who got Peter out of prison would hide him as well. Nevertheless, right now, it was time to pray.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" And Jesus answered them, "See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
(Matt 24:3-8 ESV)
Don't the disciples of Jesus sound just like us? We want to know what will happen in the future, especially the future time when Jesus will return. The best-selling success of the Left Behind series of books and the fascination with Nostradamus give evidence that many people seek to know the future.
However, Jesus responds, not with the time of His return, but with events leading up to it. He mentions four specific signs: false messiahs, wars/rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines. He calls them the beginning of birth pangs and a look at history demonstrates that every generation since Christ's ascension to heaven experienced these events. Watching the evening news for a few minutes demonstrates that our generation is no exception.
More importantly, Jesus' response contains two commands about the ways we are to respond to these events. First command: listen to godly advisors. Bad advice can lead us out of God's purpose for our lives. Not everyone who says, "The sky is falling! Follow me, I can save you," knows what they are talking about. Without comparing what we hear to what God says in the Bible, praying about the issue, and talking to other godly people, we can be led astray.
Spending too much time watching the TV news networks makes the second command almost impossible to obey; Jesus tells us not to be frightened. Rather than "Don't worry. Be happy," advice, the command gives us an opportunity to prepare as God directs. (Fear and worry can drown out God's voice.)
When we know the possibility exists for an event to occur, we can prepare. Fire is one of the most common catastrophic events. For that reason, people hold fire drills in schools, offices, and homes. Knowing how to respond in case of fire reduces both the risk and the fear.
Famine is also a common catastrophe. We see pictures of the effects of famine in foreign countries often. Even in the United States where food is plentiful, Feeding America estimates that one in four children struggle with hunger.
A grass-roots opinion seems to be growing that the United States may face a famine in the near future. A military officer recommends to an executive that he store food for his family. A financial advisor emails a similar suggestion to his clients. A neighbor receives a large order from Emergency Essentials. A relative begins gardening and storing the harvest.
Should you be alarmed? No, go back to the first command and listen to God. Determine what preparations – if any – God wants you to take. Then obey God. (That takes the risk out of anything!) Relieve your fear by taking to heart the prophet Habakkuk's words when he saw a famine looming over Israel. He said, "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." (Habakkuk 3:17-18, ESV) Deciding to trust God before a catastrophe occurs is the best antidote for any fear.
Whether we are faced with war, earthquake or famine, we can trust God and rejoice in His love. After all, nothing can separate us from God's love.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
As I've tried to explain in The Treasures series, I have strong opinions on the matter of God's emotions. I think that it is impossible to overstate how intensely God expresses His love for His people.
As I complete this series, I want to draw your attention to the ESV translation of Zephaniah 3:17: "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." (I added the italics.) Part of the note in the ESV Study Bible on Zephaniah 3:17 contains these thoughts: "This verse remarkably adds that God himself will rejoice over you with gladness, indicating that when God's people seek him and follow him, and rejoice in him and trust him, then God personally delights in them. This is not an aloof, emotionless contentment, but it bursts forth in joyful divine celebration: he will exult over you with loud singing."
I can hardly imagine it. God wants to sing His love song over me. Just the thought of it leaves me breathless with amazement.
No wonder we have an empty hole in our hearts before we find Jesus as our Lord and Savior. He created us to experience His pure, intense love expressed as His delight in our actions as we seek and follow Him and as love songs from His ravished heart as we rejoice in Him and trust in Him – and Him alone – to lead us. We can know nothing of that until we have repented of our sins and accepted His sacrifice on our behalf.
If you are like me, the first question that pops up in your mind is, "Why don't Christians experience these all the time?"
In order to give some of the answer to this question, I want to look at Song of Solomon 4:9 again. It says, "You have ravished my heart, My sister, My spouse; you have ravished My heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace." (NKJV) (I added the italics.)
The Bible is full of symbols. For me, this necklace symbolizes my obedience to God. Let me show you how I got there.
The neck can represent a person's will. The term "stiff necked" speaks of a resistant will, someone who will not submit. Isaiah 48:4 speaks of this: "…I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew…" (ESV) When someone bows in submission to a king, the most vulnerable part of the body is exposed – the back of the neck.
So, for me, this necklace represents the activity of my will. When I willingly, eagerly, and lovingly obey God's guidance, I add a link to this spiritual necklace. Sometimes the link is fashioned in the heat of heartache, other times in the sparkle of joy, but always in the absolute trust that my Master knows best. In order to experience the reality of God's love and delight, we must know God's ways and obey His will.
In my jewelry box, I have a necklace made of small oval links. In the center of each link is a tiny precious or semi-precious stone: sapphire, ruby, topaz, emerald, citrine and others. When I waver in my willingness to obey God in all things, I look at that necklace and remind myself that God and I are creating a spiritual necklace much more beautiful than the one I have now. Each link of that necklace is a remembrance of a time when I ravished the heart of God with my loving obedience. I hope to wear that priceless necklace on my wedding day, at the wedding feast of The Lamb of God. I want it to be a sparkling witness to the glory of my Lord.
Now you know the treasures of my heart and the way I experience them: God's powerfully passionate love for me, His delight in me as I turn away from sinful ways, my desire to ravish God's heart as I keep my life focused on Him, the protection I have from the Holy Spirit, and the necklace I'm designing with my joyful, loving obedience. My prayer is that you will find these treasures as valuable as I have. I pray that God would always fill your heart with the joy and peace that comes from loving Him, the source of all treasure.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Have you tired of gazing at my treasures: God's pure, encompassing love, His delight in my fumbling attempts to be like Him, His ravished heart when I look only to Him? These treasures make my dark days brighter and my bright days indescribably lovely. You have undoubtedly turned them into your treasures, too, so let me share another one with you.
My fourth treasure: The Holy Spirit is jealously guarding me.
Fear and insecurity can deprive me of sleep at night and of joy in the morning, but God desires me to live my life secure in His love. He has gone to extremes to see that I am secure. James 4:5 says, "Or do you think it's without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit He has caused to live in us yearns jealously?" (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Normally, jealousy would be considered a negative emotion. It usually indicates a lack of trust one person has of another person. However, in one relationship, jealousy can be appropriate: marriage. Suppose a man discovers that his wife is being romantically pursued by another man. This husband truly loves his wife and is committed to the relationship, so he does not ignore the situation and let this thief steal his wife's heart. He does everything in his power to keep his wife's love and to eliminate this thief permanently.
The New Testament speaks often of the church being the bride of Christ.
The best way to understand this relationship is to look at the Jewish practice of betrothal and marriage. The betrothal lasted for about a year, but was much more than our engagement is, today. The betrothal was as binding as the marriage. A betrothed woman could be executed for adultery if she became pregnant, because the marriage was not consummated during the betrothal. (This almost happened to Jesus' mother.) Traditionally, the woman received a gift from her husband at the betrothal.
From the perspective of betrothal and marriage, I have been betrothed to Jesus Christ and am now waiting for Him to come and claim me as His own bride. I have received the Holy Spirit as a type of betrothal gift. He is a seal that guarantees that I am Christ's, but He is also here to defend me from temptation and to rescue me from the world.
According to Rick Renner in Sparkling Gems for the Greek, one scholar expands James 4:5 to it's full meaning this way: "The Spirit takes it very personally when we share our lives with the world. He wants us so entirely for Himself that if the world tries to take us away, it infuriates Him. You need to know that in these cases, the Holy Spirit will not sit idly by and watch it happen. He'll do something to change the situation."
With the Holy Spirit completely committed to protecting me and to holding me safely in my betrothal to Jesus Christ, I have nothing to fear. I am secure in His love. Absolutely.
Friday, March 5, 2010
I trust that, by now, you have meditated on how God's love for you is His infinite, all encompassing, enveloping love that can never be destroyed. I hope you have experienced the feeling of God delighting in you as you work in the power of the Holy Spirit to remove sinful actions and attitudes from your life. Now I want to share with you another special treasure.
My third treasure: I have the ability to ravish God's heart.
"What!" you say, "Does the Bible say that?"
Yes. In the beautiful love song called the Song of Solomon, chapter 4 verse 9 says, "You have ravished my heart, My sister, My spouse; you have ravished My heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace." (NKJV)
Ravish is not often used in today's vocabulary. In the few times that modern translations of the Bible include the word, it has the general sense of doing violence, humiliating, and oppressing another. Most often, it refers to a man forcing a woman to have intercourse.
In the eloquent declaration of His bride's affect on Him, the Bridegroom (Jesus) twice says that she "ravishes my heart." This is violence, all right, but not violence committed against another. It is the expression of such an overwhelmingly intensely loving emotion that all other emotions seem colorless by comparison.
A strongly intense emotion of the heart is seldom described in the Bible. Proverbs 5:19 gives one example. It states that a husband should be intoxicated with the love of his wife. A second example can be found in Luke 24:32, where the two disciples stated that their hearts burned within them while Jesus walked with them.
Two other examples include God in text. Genesis 6:5-6 show God looking at the continuous evil of man's life and the end of verse six states, "…and it grieved him to his heart." How the sinfulness of man pierced the heart of God!
The last example comes from Ephesians 5:25, where Paul commands husbands to love their wives. This love is not just the insipid love we associate with modern-day romance. Paul told the husbands to love their lives as much as Jesus loves the church.
How much does Jesus love the church? This overwhelmingly intense emotion caused Jesus to give up equality with God, to become a human being, to take on all the sins of the world and to die a shameful death on the cross. Here is a Heart that is waiting to be ravished.
I, who have never ravished anyone's heart, am able to fill God's heart with overwhelming love. That is so amazing to me.
God tells us what causes His heart to be ravished. The verse says that I ravish His heart when I look at Him with my eyes. As the old hymn says,
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth
Will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace."
When I turn my eyes toward Jesus, He is already looking towards me, wanting me to see the love in His eyes. With one look from my eye, God's heart is filled with an overwhelmingly intensely loving emotion, His heart is ravished. How awesome is that?
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Before you read about the next treasure, would you please review the first treasure? Has the knowledge that God sets your value in the amazing measure of His love penetrated your heart? Unless you are anchored in the richness of God's unsurpassed love, the rest of the treasures in my box will be as meaningless as the toy in a child's fast-food meal.
So, here is my second treasure: God delights in me, even though I am not perfect.
When I accepted Jesus as the One who redeemed me from my slavery to sin, I became a member of His family and nothing – nothing! – will ever separate me from His powerfully passionate love. However, receiving God's love and knowing His delight are two different experiences.
Think about how you experience love and delight in your family. You love your family because they are family, but you delight in them for what they do. I have wonderful daughters and adorable grandchildren whom I will always love, but when they do things that display the values by which I live, I delight in them. The same is true with God. He loves me because I am in His family, but He delights in me when I obey Him.
Consider a time when He alerts me to something that I have been doing – say exaggerating the truth. When He shows me that exaggerating the truth is lying, I delight Him as I begin the process of removing that sin. Proverbs 12:22 states, "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight."
Now here is the most precious part of this treasure: God does not wait until I am completely free of this sin to delight in me. As soon as He sees the sincere change in my heart, He delights in me. I may battle that sinful habit for years, but God is delighting in me all the way, because He sees my heart. He knows that even if my sincere repentance, obedience and love for Him are flawed, they are real and He delights in them.
The Bible has two beautiful examples of this truth. The first example is from the Old Testament: In 2Chronicles 12, God sent word to the kingdom of Judah that He was abandoning them to the Egyptian army. King Rehoboam and the leaders, however, humbled themselves before God and God changed His mind. The Pulpit Commentary describes God's reaction this way: "So God delights to meet the first advances of returning penitents with such foretastes of mercy as will lure them on to desire its full fruition."
You are probably more familiar with the example from the New Testament. In Luke 15, the prodigal son repents of deserting his father and returns home. Here is what Luke 15:20 says about his return, "And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." The son had done or said nothing – just shown up – and the father delighted in him.
I love the idea of delighting God. When I feel discouraged or too weak to resist the sinful habit I am removing from my life, I take out this treasure and let God's delight give me the confidence to resist the temptation and to draw nearer to God so that I might experience more of His love and delight.
Now what do you think, treasure or trinket?
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Most people welcome a special day to celebrate love in the middle of the coldest and most depressing part of winter, but not everyone. For some people, last Sunday, Valentine's Day, was another holiday that makes them feel alone and depressed.
I know just how true this is because I often felt that way when I was married. (If you want to learn why I say that, read my essay on Kim Hess' blog: Divorce Guru.) By the grace of God, I no longer battle those feelings. Now, I have a treasure box I open when I am tempted to believe nobody loves me and I am alone. I want to share my treasures with you. I want to show you why I have the confidence of a well-loved woman.
My first treasure: God the Father loves me just as He loves Jesus.
Jesus loves me just as He loves God the Father.
That statement does not say God the Father loves me just as much as He loves Jesus. It does not say Jesus loves me just as much as He loves God the Father. This same
love that God the Father and Jesus give each other, they also each give to me!
Jesus explained this to the disciples in John 15:9, "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you…" Jesus also prayed about this in John chapter 17. In verse 23 He said, "That the world may know that You… have loved them as You have loved Me." In verse 26, Jesus said that one of the reasons He declared God's name was so that "the love with which You loved Me may be in them." Think about that: God's love for me, in me.
Not "pie-in-the-sky" love, this love is for here, for now. The apostle Paul asks us this question in Romans chapter 8: "Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble or hardship or persecution or hunger or nakedness or danger or sword?"
He answers the question by saying, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any power, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord." Can any love be more powerful than that? That love is for me, for you!
For years, I wrestled with the concept that God loves me. Forget that He loves me with this all surpassing, all encompassing love. I just could not see how God could love me with even the weakest kind of love, something like a lukewarm affection. Who was I for God to love me?
I felt that way because I misunderstood God. I saw Him as emotionally cold, frozen in eternity, wearing a happy face when seen from one perspective and a disapproving face from another. If I thought of God as having emotions, I thought they were more distant, like what we experience when we hear about a stranger dying in a car accident instead of the powerful emotions that would be magnified had our child died in an accident.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, I realized eventually that what the Bible said was true. God's love for me is the same as the powerfully passionate love the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have for each other. Fully accepting God's love for me helped me to understand why Jesus dedicated Himself to die for me and why He continues to intercede for me in Heaven; I could see why the Holy Spirit is willing to live in my far-from-perfect heart. It is all because God loves me!
What a priceless treasure it is to know His love. If I begin to feel rejected or lonely, I take out this treasure and remember that God set my value in this amazing measure of His love and I cherish the knowledge that I am a well-loved woman.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Last time, I told you how God used two blogs to confirm the topic for the article I posted. The Holy Spirit has continued to supply my "writing prompts." The latest came from a book that good friends, Steve and Charlotte, gave me several years ago: Sparkling Gems from the Greek by Rick Renner. The devotion for January 15 uses Ephesians 2:10, which states, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…"
According to Rick Renner, the Greek wording in Ephesians 2:10 expresses that God uses His most creative powers to fashion us in Christ Jesus. That activity didn't take place when the world was created. We ought to know, we were there when God did this work.
We can compare that to 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." One of God's latest creations is you – and me! We were in the presence of God while he was creating and we didn't even know it. Therefore, every time we pray for someone to be saved, we are asking God to create. When someone accepts Jesus as their Savior because we shared the message of God's love, we are midwives at a new birth. God is joyously creating new sons and daughters every day.
The creation of new sons and daughters is an on-going process, but God created something else after Genesis, according to Ephesians 2:14-16. It says, "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross…"
Here, Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus took the Jews, (who had been separated out from the other people groups by God beginning with Abraham) and the Gentiles – that is everyone else - and created one new man. He did this in order to bring peace to all humanity when they are reconciled to God through His sacrifice on the cross. This is the marvelous story of the way we Gentiles were grafted into God's family.
Finally, God continues to create into the future. We have these glorious words in Revelations 21:1-5, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new.""
God who created the universe as recounted in Genesis, continues to create, today, tomorrow, and as far into the future as He allows us to see. My prayer is that He will continue to create in me the desire to love Him with all that I am and to obey Him in all I do. That is definitely not too much to ask of God, the Creator.