WORTHY IS THE LAMB WHO WAS SLAIN

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

And when [the Lamb standing in the center of the throne] had taken [the scroll from the hand of him sat on the throne], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. Revelation 5:8-14

 

Have you ever had a situation in which some moment of drama impacted you and the story of that event lived in your memory? You may have even recounted it for others. It could have been a happy event or a traumatic one. Either way, it is your story. You lived the moment. What happens when you encounter someone who witnessed the same event and tells their story? They may weight the significance of the details differently than you. Their version doesn’t necessarily negate yours, but it may illuminate the event beyond your previous awareness. If your part was nearer the center of events and they were observing from a more objective vantage point, they may have been able to perceive a broader view of the event.

That’s what I experience when I read this passage from Revelation 5. The inhabitants of heaven are all witnesses of the most important event in human history and their perceptions are the song that is sung before the Throne. They sing the significance of the sacrifice of Christ in terms that go beyond what we often include when we tell our personal version of the story. Anyone who has experienced restoration with God through the blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness of their sins, joins the song of praise. But do we recognize the magnitude of the event as all of heaven does?

The first significance of the sacrifice of Christ is that it has made Him worthy to take and open the seals of the scroll. This scroll is the authorization for the events that lead to the end of this earth and the advent of the new heaven and new earth. “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain…” If you read the rest of Revelation, you realize that opening those seals unleashes the systematic destruction and judgment of life as we know it. It is so severe that twice the account says, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints…” (Rev 13:10, 14:12) If we live through those days, will the work of the Cross be the testimony of our lips and the source of the necessary patient endurance that will keep us faithful? I suggest that broadening our story to include this significance, to acknowledge that Jesus as Savior means that He is Judge as well, is important to a healthy eternal view. The Book of Revelation ends with Jesus saying, “Yes, I am coming soon.” We ought be those who, with eyes wide open, say with sincerity, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

The next significance that is sung in heaven is that “with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” I am currently living in a foreign country. I speak the language with the eloquence of a toddler and know only a rough sketch of the culture. There are many nuances that I am oblivious to because I do not know the stories, legends and historical events that shape and inform the ideas and values of the people. These cannot be underestimated and take time to learn. Therefore, there are many things that I observe without understanding and sometimes with aversion. It is Holy Week right now, Semana Santa, and the traditions enacted have their roots in the same history of the Church that mine do, but are colored by a different tribe, language, people and nation so that it is sometimes hard to recognize our shared DNA. Though I love living here and I love the people and am striving to understand, there are moments when it feels so FORIEGN. It is too easy, and I think too common, for us to be so committed to our way and our version that we dismiss or even discredit that of others. Yet the second significant detail of the sacrifice of Christ is that He purchased a very diverse lot of humanity and that carries weight and adulation in heaven.

Next, heaven sings, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God…” Ask ten or a hundred Christians what resulted from Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. How many do you think will say that it has made them a priest to serve God? Our version of the story usually highlights forgiveness, freedom and peace, all of which are valid, but it takes a while, if ever, for it to occur to us that we were saved to become priests and servants. We are often too preoccupied with just being a better or happier person.

“And they will reign on the earth.” Now we’re reaching the outer limits for me. Just being honest. I acknowledge priesthood, but reigning is hard for me to conceive. One approach to this is to focus on the word ‘will’, indicating a future condition that, in the meantime, calls for patient endurance. This I can wrap my brain around. But I know believers whose wisdom and maturity is beyond mine who live and speak of reigning as their present responsibility. From their words and lives I see those who are not subject to the opinions or influences of the world, but who live only at the pleasure of God and have conquered their flesh. In this way, they reign. I believe that this is the beginning and that there is more to come.

I have been in Christ and a part of the Church for over forty years. I have observed many Holy Weeks and celebrated many Resurrection Days. I always want them to be special, weighty, worthy recognitions of the importance of the event it commemorates. I seek to live in the shadow of the Cross and under the blood of the Lamb, for there only do I have life. But I do not want the significance to myself to be the whole and the end of my testimony. The center of the event is not saved little me but triumphant and glorious Him. As you celebrate, hear the resounding echoes of the thunderous song of heaven that sings in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Say, with them, “Amen” and, with them, fall down and worship.

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MAKE EVERY EFFORT

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 2 Peter 3: 8-14

Last night we experienced an earthquake. It was not a strong one, only 4.0. The house shook and my bed rattled against the wall. A smaller quake occurred 15 minutes later. My son, who lives 12 km away, felt it also. This would not have been worth mentioning when we lived in Northern California. There, earthquakes were a part of life. But I now live in a part of the world where, I was led to believe, earthquakes do not happen. Thus, the fact that we experienced two earthquakes last night has given me pause and has caused me to ponder big thoughts.

I have been sick with flu-like yuck for a few days, so I had thoughts such as, “Please, God, I don’t have the energy for a natural disaster tonight.” and “If the house is going to fall down, couldn’t it happen in the daylight?” I wasn’t frightened exactly, but I did have a few moments of concern and a strong awareness that I was in no condition to tackle the challenge of a serious event. Fortunately, nothing else happened. I fell asleep and woke to find all in order.

Today, feeling a bit better and in the clear light of day, I am considering my state of readiness. I have always been stirred in my heart by the words of Peter, quoted above, and have held up the call, “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” Sadly, I find that it doesn’t take much for me to start pleading with God to postpone the day and slow its coming. When I read of the heavens being destroyed by fire and the elements melting in the heat, it gives the impression of a rather quick, awful day followed by eternal joy. But it is just as possible that the process could be rather more drawn out, given the state of things currently. Is my heart at peace with God? Am I so convinced of the reality of the coming joy, the new heaven and new earth and the appearance of my King, that I will look forward to the day and speed its coming? I cannot truthfully say yes, but I want to be.

It is a bit past the day of New Year’s resolutions, but I have been contemplating what mine should be nonetheless. I now believe that this is to be the focus of 2015: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” I am too prone to fear in the face of the mounting sources of concern that bombard me from all sides: strife, violence, financial uncertainty, pollution and contamination of the air, water and food supply, etc., etc., etc. These are born of wrong perspective and have nothing to do with godliness or peace with Him. The charge is to make every effort, so making every effort is to be my task.

Do you have a resolution or focus for 2015? I encourage you to give yourself to the task He has given you with every effort. If you do not have direction, meditate of the words of Peter and see what the Spirit prompts in you. Do not wait for an earthquake to shake you into readiness.

HEARING GOD: PART 4 THEMES OF THE WORD: LIVE

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:3-7

This is my final installment in this series of articles on hearing God. I began with the Jesus quoting Isaiah quoting God telling us that not all who hear from God really hear. I suggested that our greatest hindrance is that we project what we want to hear over what God actually says. With that, I have been highlighting a few themes, things God actually says again and again, that would be good starting places for those of us who desire to have ears tuned to really hear God.

Today’s theme is the trumpet call of God throughout the Word calling His people to LIVE. Here are a few reasons why I think this Word falls so often on deaf ears: The call to live implies that we are not currently doing so. The alternative to living is dead and we do not readily acknowledge that we are dead. This is an age-old discrepancy. In the Garden of Eden, when the serpent questioned the validity of God’s prohibition of the fruit from a particular tree, Eve confirmed that “God did say [in Genesis 2: 16-17], ‘You must not eat of the fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:3) The serpent’s comeback was “You will not surely die…” but instead life would be better because she would be like God, knowing good and evil. That sounded appealing, so Eve ate the fruit and shared with Adam. Deed done.

Here’s the question: Did God tell the truth or not? Did they die or not? Clearly, Adam and Eve continued to have breath, pulse and brain activity. If the presence of these bodily functions constitutes the only form of life that you acknowledge, then you will question the veracity of God right at the beginning of the story. “See, they ate the forbidden fruit and they didn’t die. God is either a liar or was manipulating them to keep them under His control. Way to go, Adam and Eve, for seeing through the lie and asserting your independence!” If physical life and death are the only valid states, then this is the only logical position, even if you are uncomfortable saying it out loud.

But if God’s definition of life is something different, something spiritual and not physical, then the presence of breath, pulse and brain activity can exist in a dead person. Indeed one can be born, grow up and live to a ripe, old age and be dead the entire time. If life is right relationship with God, that life was lost with Adam and Eve’s decision. They, being the parents of us all, have reproduced in us a race of breathing dead people. When they died, we all did. Nothing any of us could ever do would reverse the condition. Only God could rectify the situation. The entire story of God and man has been, from Genesis 3 on, the story of God’s work to restore men to Himself. He revealed Himself, taught His ways, gave wisdom and understanding in order to prepare for the reconciling act of Jesus on the cross that regenerated the dead to life.

So what is genuine life? A soul in right relationship, in communion and at peace with God. It is what we were made for, what was lost and what was restored through the purchase of Jesus with His blood. It is eternal, existing both in the physical tent of the body and in heaven. What it would look like if our first parents had not fallen, we will probably never know. Jesus died to restore our souls. Our flesh continues to breathe in a fallen world and in a fallen state. The restoration of our souls does not change much for our bodies. We are given the Spirit of self-discipline to enable us to live differently, to exercise authority over the urges of our flesh rather than be enslaved to them. We are occasionally blessed with miraculous intervention in regard to our health and wellbeing. But the Word makes it quite clear that trouble, hardship, affliction and physical death, sometimes even violent or painful death, are still our lot in the physical world. The difference is that that physical world and the physical existence is not our life anymore. It is merely a temporary state that will be swallowed up in what is real, in the only life that is truly life.

For those reborn, the context for everything – hope, desire, value, expectation, priority, comfort, security, ambition, need – changes completely. Before it was founded on the physical and emotional wellbeing of themselves and those they chose to care about. Now it is founded upon God. Their love for Him consumes their hearts and their trust and confidence in Him and His wisdom and goodness covers everything else. They acknowledge that what they do in the body matters because it demonstrates that love, trust and confidence. But what happens to the body doesn’t matter very much because it is not the totality of their life.

Reread the encouragement from Peter that I quoted at the top of this article. It is the perspective of a living person, one in right relationship with God, viewing everything with the eyes of an eternal being who knows that this physical state is of little consequence in the grand scheme of life. Now read and meditate on the rest of the Word and learn what it means to live. Stop trying to grasp at promises for physical prosperity or wellbeing like a drowning person whose survival instinct is striving to promote or preserve their physical life. Hear what God promises about real life and learn to live it. Don’t be distressed when He tells you that real living requires abandoning habits, values and priorities that you had when you were dead. There is peace in the real life that shines in the midst of trouble. There is joy in the real life that persists despite any temporal circumstance. There is hope in the real life that lives even as the physical world disintegrates. God saved us to live. Don’t settle for just breathing.

HEARING GOD: PART 3 THEMES OF THE WORD: LEARN

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

I am writing a series of articles about hearing God since the Word teaches that not all who hear really hear. I have been saying that, in order to tune our ears to hear what God actually says, it is helpful to recognize the major themes of His Word. Today I want to emphasize how frequently God insists that we LEARN.

We need to learn because we are really, really dumb. No one is excluded from this. We are dumb because we are fallen. The things we know outside of God are tainted at best, but are usually contrary to the wisdom and truth of the kingdom. We are born separated from God and, as a result, we know nothing of Him or His ways, even though that is precisely what we were created for. In this state, we can never improve or change the situation. We can never educate or enlighten ourselves enough to be restored to God.

Through Christ, however, we are regenerated and reconciled to God, but we are still ignorant and, thus, need to learn. The bulk of the Word of God is His faithful instruction for His people. He teaches us who He is, what He is like, His values, His ways, His priorities and how we were made to relate to Him. He pours out generously to fill the void left by the Fall.

But please consider what is involved in learning anything. Who hears an instruction one time and then fully grasps, retains and executes perfectly? Learning is a process that involves time, practice and maturation. Instruction comes in many forms to encourage that process. Timothy hit on a few of these forms in the passage above: teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. Other forms include repetition, counsel, guidance, example, illustration, testing, discipline, conviction and reprimand. All are necessary forms of instruction to help us learn. God, being perfect, is the perfect Teacher so if there is a failure to learn, the deficiency is on us, not Him. As a result, He instructs us on how to learn, not just on what to learn. I would like to emphasize some of the how to learn instructions for our edification today.

God pours out revelation: through His Spirit, His Word and His creation. We need to meditate on that revelation. He promises to give wisdom and understanding, but if we run with what we hear without pausing, we are demonstrating a high opinion of our own understanding, which we have already established is corrupted by our sinfulness. Begin with a default position of humility. Meditate, pray, wait. Let God elaborate and illuminate and it will go so much better for us.

Another vital step to learning from God is to obey. Hearing instruction from God is not a spectator sport but a means of renewal and transformation so we must do what the Word instructs. Obedience is often a struggle because, sinners that we are, His ways feel awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes outright wrong to our sinfully formed sensibilities and habits. The couch potato who begins marathon training feels the same, but no amount of talking or thinking about the process will get the job done for the would-be runner or the would-be disciple.

The history of the people of God has a lot of fine beginnings that got sidetracked into sorry failures. In those moments, God gave a how to instruction for their rebuke and correction, but also for us so that we can avoid their mistakes. When His people went astray, it was often because they did not remember the Lord. They probably didn’t forget His existence, but they forgot who He was or what He had done in the past or what He had instructed them to do. The Hebrews freed from Egypt saw signs, wonders and miraculous deeds done on their behalf, but every time the next obstacle or difficulty presented itself, they would weep and cry, “We’re gonna die! Why did God bring us out into the desert to kill us? We should have stayed in Egypt!” They were terrible at remembering! Psalm 106 is a great survey of this story. Their forgetfulness got them into trouble again and again because, not only did they forget God, but after He rescued and restored them, they would then forget how they got into and out of the previous messes. They forgot that forgetting was their problem! If we are going to succeed where they failed, we must be those who make a concerted effort to remember what we have seen and heard.

Finally, I want to hold up the instruction to follow. All of the above depend on this. We were made to receive everything from God. Independence and self-sufficiency from Him have no place in right relationship with Him. We cannot go our own way or go ahead of Him. To do so will render everything we learn corrupt and useless. Failure to follow inevitably leads to crazy distortions of God’s Word because sinful people wield it with their own wisdom and understanding. He has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us. We cannot have any relationship with Him if we are not following His Spirit. But when we follow, the Spirit trains and perfects us, causing God’s instruction to take root and grow up in us, mature and complete and producing His intended fruit.

Many, many people ignore these oft-repeated charges and pursue the study of God’s Word in their arrogance and independence, confident that they don’t need to heed such mundane instructions as meditate, obey, remember and follow. There are many, many examples throughout history of how this goes astray and I’m sure the Day of Christ will reveal many more. If we will be those who hear the instruction about how to learn from God, we will be those who successfully learn what God has to teach us about Himself and His ways of life.

HEARING GOD: PART 2 THEMES OF THE WORD: LEAVE

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3

In my last post I indicated that I would be spending time on the topic of hearing, really hearing, God and that it would span several articles. My opening premise was that the primary reason we do not hear God is that we are too busy sifting and twisting His Word to make it say what we want it to say that we do not hear what He is actually saying. I stated that there are oft-repeated themes in the Word and that essential to tuning our ears correctly is to focus on those themes rather than the bits and pieces that support what we want to focus on.

The first oft-repeated theme of God’s Word is LEAVE. I started with Abram’s charge because he is the father of all the faithful and leaving was his first instruction. In his situation, leave meant relocate. He was called to relocate from Haran to an as-yet-unnamed destination. Included in that was also the requirement to leave behind his extended family and community.

But Abram was not unique among God’s people to hear the call to leave. Moses was told to relocate from Midian and return to Egypt where he was instructed to assume a whole new occupation, that of leader and liberator. His charge to leave was to relocate and repurpose, to leave what he had been doing (shepherding) and do something different. Peter was called to repurpose, to leave off being a fisher of fish to become a fisher of men. Saul of Tarsus was repurposed from persecutor of followers of the Way to Paul, the preacher of the Way. In fact, if you’re paying attention to this theme, you’ll notice that many of God’s people were called to relocate or repurpose.

The most repeated call to leave, however, comes as the call to repent. To repent means ‘to think again after, the fact, in order to choose a new course’. All are called to repent. We are called to leave our sins, our ways, our values, our thought patterns, in order to choose His ways, values and patterns. On this definition, the call to leave goes out to all. Do we have ears to hear?

Lest you reject what I have just said with the ‘Yah, but…’ about God’s value of faithfulness, let me reassure you that these are not mutually exclusive concepts. The problem is that God calls us to be faithful to Him and His purposes and we sometimes cleave to people and purposes that do not flow from Him and want faithfulness credit. If we will listen to what He says, He will tell us when to stay and when to leave. If the call is to leave and we choose to stay instead, we are not being faithful!

Has God been telling you to leave? There is no question that He has called you to repent. Are you listening? Has He called you to relocate or repurpose, but been ignored because it doesn’t fit your agenda? I have been called to leave many times. Sometimes I’ve been instructed to relocate when I was eager and enthusiastic to go. But there have been a few relocations that, had it not been the voice of the Lord telling me to leave, I never would have budged. I have been repurposed many times, sometimes with a sense of promotion and sometimes with a sense of loss, but as it was the Word of the Lord, I chose to call it good. I hear His voice telling me to repent constantly because, even when I leave one issue of sin behind, He points at another that He wants to free me from. Leaving is a continuous theme of His Word and I want to hear and retain it, so I persevere in order to produce the crop He desires.

The voice of God goes out into all the earth and He tells us to leave. I encourage you to spend some time fine-tuning your ears by listening to what He has to say to you about leaving.

HEARING GOD: PART 1 A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24

This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do no see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding: you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. Matthew 13:13-15

Jesus’ declaration in John 5 asserts that to hear His Word is to live. But He also repeats the age-old prophecy that indicates that not all hearing is really hearing. This motivates me to seek discernment. How does one really hear? What prevents true hearing?

The passage in Matthew comes from Jesus’ parable of the sower. In it, the farmer sows the seed, which is the Word of God. The ability to respond to the Word is determined by the disposition of heart of those who receive it, represented as the various soil types on which the seed falls. I’m sure you are familiar with the story and, if not, you can read it beginning at Matthew 13:5 and in Luke 8:5-15. I like the conclusion of Luke’s version: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

This still leaves me wanting to know more about the qualities of a noble and good heart that really hears the Word. I know people who do a lot of good things, and though I’m sure they perform actions that are encouraged by the Word, it is not actions that bring life. Hearing and believing bring life. Indeed, Jesus teaches that there will be people who have acted benevolently yet will not enter heaven on the Day of Christ. If actions do not flow from Him, they are not life. We must hear first.

The parable of the sower teaches us that the He sows widely and generously, indicating that the opportunity to hear is abundant. God is not stingy with the declaration of His Word. I hold forth that a significant hindrance to hearing is the tendency to superimpose the ideal of what we want to hear or what we think we should hear over what God actually says. God speaks, but we ignore what He says while we sift or twist the Word to come up with what we want. Thus, the quality of the noble and good heart that really does hear is that it is humble enough to pay attention to what is actually said. If you have been reading and listening to the Word for a while and practicing the sift-and-twist game, you have probably gotten some of those distorted ideas ingrained in your thinking and it will take an extra measure of humility to recognize and abandon them, but God’s grace is sufficient to the task and life is at stake.

This topic will occupy several articles, but I will begin with this: there are a few themes that God repeats often and, if I want to tune my ear to really hear, I will start to recognize those themes and give them weight. If God tells all of His people the same things, over and over, I should expect that those Words are for me, also. Rather than hunting for a verse here or there that supports an idea that I want to champion, I should lay my foundation on the big ideas that dominate the story. I hope I can help remind you of some of those big ideas that God appears to think are important. We need to pray for the humility to really listen so we can be those who hear, retain, persevere and produce a crop.

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! Psalm 32

Why do we resist the Lord? It does us nothing but harm. Submission to Him brings such benefit: the forgiveness of our sin, the removal of unbearable burdens, His supernatural empowerment and protection, His wise guidance and counsel. The list is much longer and it is all good. Yet our fallen instincts incline us to resist and run from God. It was one of the first manifestations of the newly acquired sinful nature that Adam and Eve demonstrated in the Garden as soon as they ate of the forbidden fruit. Where once they went eagerly to the Presence of God and received gladly from Him, they immediately hid from Him instead. When given the opportunity to confess their sin, they passed blame instead. Crazy, isn’t it? But we carry their DNA and we are cursed with the same stubbornness. David writes of this in Psalm 32 and gives a word of exhortation: “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found…” In the lucid moment when you can acknowledge the truth, pray! This is the moment when He can be found. Before you return to your default position of self-reliance and resistance, pray! David’s insightful comparison of our condition to that of “…the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you” is very vivid for me because I have had dealings with a horse like that. It wanted what it wanted and wouldn’t cooperate with my wishes without much firm usage of the bit and bridle. No fun! Yet, you have to admit, this is very descriptive of how God often has to move us. Because we do not love and trust Him, because we so stubbornly want what we want and do not believe in or desire His purposes, our default disposition is resistance. “Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.” Resistance is costly and futile. Confess, acknowledge, agree, pray, learn, submit, trust: rejoicing and gladness will follow.

MORE THOUGHTS ON RIGHT PERSPECTIVE

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before him all nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:12-31

Before I begin to share my thoughts about this passage from Isaiah 40, let me acknowledge that 1) I have again used a lengthy portion of scripture and 2) I have already written on the last few paragraphs of the above portion. In explanation, 1) Summarization of the above was not an option for today’s article and 2) My thoughts for today are on a different vein than the previous writing on Isaiah 40:25-31. This said, I hope you will bear with me.

I am a very emotional person. This is, I am told, both a strength and a weakness, depending on how I direct it. God gives us the spirit of self-discipline to empower us to channel the aspects of our nature to imitation of Christ and His holy purpose and not squander them or be enslaved by them. When in their right place, I find my emotions to be valuable to empathy, passionate prayer and worship, and to love and faith in my Creator. Out of place, they send me on a roller coaster of confusion that usually ends in the slough of despond. Thus, one of the chores of walking with the Spirit for me has been to perpetually cling to right perspective and to map the paths back to it when I lose my way.

Right perspective, as I have shared in previous writings, is my solid ground, my firm place to take my stand and wield the weapons God has given me. When I lose it, I lose my footing. I stumble and fall and am overpowered. Fear and fatalism are the enemies that wait for these opportunities to afflict me. The only way to regain my feet is to regain right perspective. I have learned this by much trial and error and as a result, I no longer mess around, praying for the scary things to go away or to feel better or particular circumstances to change. I pray for the thing I need most, the critical ingredient that will facilitate all of those lesser prayers. Right perspective is my most important need. I need to see God, high and lifted up above everything else. When I do, everything else regains proper proportions. It doesn’t matter how small I am in the vast sea of perplexities. What matters is how small they are before the infinite majesty of Him.

Reread the above passage. Let the words of Isaiah adjust the proportions of things for you. I am particularly moved by verse 26: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” I have been blessed in the last few years to live in places that are far from the light pollution of cities so that I can see the stars. It is said that there are about 4,000 visible with the naked eye, but that there are countless trillions in the universe. The iconic photo snapped by Voyager 1 in 1990, aptly named ‘The Pale Blue Dot’, shows said dot in a slim ray of dim light in the midst of the dark of space. This dot is our planet, Earth, seen from 3.7 billion miles away, when Voyager 1 was leaving our solar system. The ray of light was from our Sun, its warmth and illumination rather feeble at such distances. Yet our Sun is only one of 200-400 billion other stars in our average-sized galaxy and the current count on galaxies in the universe is more than 170 billion, with more being spotted and counted regularly as our telescopes increase in effectiveness. We haven’t yet seen them all, but He calls them each by name.

All the troubles of our world – war, strife, deception, oppression, injustice, exploitation and destruction – are real and need to be addressed with prayer and action, but step back and remember: they are limited to the minute geography of the Pale Blue Dot and it has a finite lifespan. All of that will end and be dealt with. The Day of Christ will come. In the meantime, right perspective of the magnitude of God in contrast to the limited scope of the troubles is given to strengthen the faith and resolve of His people as they wait and work for that blessed day. If you are inclined to respond emotionally, as I am, let that view swell your heart with joy, calm the tension in your nerves and move your spirit to pray with effectiveness rather than with desperation. We are o, so very small, but He sits enthroned above and all will be well.

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-8

This passage of scripture is very straightforward and helpful to me. It is an emphatic reminder of what the necessary choices are in every situation and the consequences of each choice. My human nature inclines me to paint every choice with myriad complications, but the Word teaches me that the issue is much simpler: do I trust in man (myself or others) or in the Lord?

I feel the pull of the Fall that whispers that the strength of men is the only realistic strength. That strength includes such things as that which makes sense to my little brain, conventional wisdom, the values of popular culture, and the irrefutable authority of the internet. Ignorance feels validated by company. But my redeemed soul responds to the Word that reveals my all-wise, faithful God and exhorts me to put the whole weight of my trust in Him and His ways. He made the heavens and the earth, He knows the hearts and minds of men, He sees the end from the beginning and He is working His sovereign power to accomplish His purposes. What is conventional wisdom and the internet before Him? Cursed is the one who trusts in man, blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.

The curse of depending on flesh for your strength is not an arbitrary judgment from on high, but simply the natural consequence of expecting something from a source that cannot deliver. Flesh doesn’t have the goods. Mankind and all of our combined resources cannot provide the desired results. Jeremiah says, “…he will not see prosperity when it comes.” I have an image of this from my favorite writer, C.S. Lewis, in his children’s book, The Last Battle. A group of self-sufficient dwarves are thrown into a stable where, they have been told, a grim death awaits them. Instead, when they cross the threshold, they are in a glorious, sun-dappled paradise. Others who had been thrown into the stable along with them walk about on fresh, green grass, marveling at the beauty around them. But the dwarves, so determined to trust in themselves and nothing else, sit huddled together, convinced that they are in the dark and about to be slain at any moment. A feast is spread before them, but though they eat and drink, they describe the fare as rotten vegetables and water from the animal trough. Prosperity came and they did not see it. What prosperity do we miss when we doggedly depend on ourselves or others? For a hint, consider the manifestation of blessing the Lord promises to those who trust in Him. “He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” I sum this up as a steady confidence that is independent of outward circumstances because of reliance on a constant source. It is the “…peace of God, which transcends all understanding…” (Philippians 4:7) It transcends understanding because those who look only at outward circumstances cannot understand it. And those who trust in man, in flesh, can only look at outward circumstances.

So, let’s be those who look at the fundamental choice in all things: who do we trust? All details and all outcomes flow out of that initial decision.

WHO WOULDN’T WANT FREEDOM?

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-36

I have restrained my usual inclinations to write out a long passage of scripture, so you will need to look up and read the rest of John 8. It recounts a truly amazing conversation. It begins in verse 31 with, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said…” This is important because the previous conversations in John 8 were with people who were adversarial or unconvinced. But these people were gathered around Jesus because they had come to believe that He had been sent by God and spoke God’s Word.

What is amazing about the conversation is how polarized they become from Jesus in such a short time. They revealed their true nature and He revealed His and they couldn’t be further apart. In fact, the narrative ends with the Jews picking up stones to kill him, only thwarted by an evasive maneuver on Jesus’ part. How can people move from belief to murderous intent in such a short interval? I have perfect confidence in Jesus’ knowledge of His audience and He, never one to bask in the adulation of others but rather seeking to bring genuine sons to God, spoke to the truth of their hearts in order to expose what was true and what was false.

It began with what seems like a reasonable and encouraging thing to say to believers: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What is your immediate response to this statement? Since I desire to be a disciple of Jesus, I am motivated to know and hold to His teaching. The promise that this will lead to knowledge of the truth and subsequent freedom encourages me. I am all too familiar with confusion and the mess it brings, so everything about this statement inspires hope and direction for me. Do you have a similar response? Or do you lean the way of the people Jesus was speaking to that day? They focused on the implications of what He meant when He said that they would be set free. Their first head-tilt came here and rather than being encouraged to give a listening ear and a receptive heart to the teaching of Jesus, they defended themselves and demanded clarification.

These two types of response are very divergent and take people down entirely different paths. Having taken the latter, it is difficult, though not impossible, to reverse direction and chart a new course. They could have done it at any point in the conversation because Jesus kept throwing them lifelines of truth, but, for this group, they stuck to their position and pressed on, full steam ahead. It’s tragic reading and it has been repeated countless times since.

As I said, both parties revealed more and more of their true natures. The Jews insisted over and over that their pedigree as children of Abraham established their credentials as ‘good to go’ and Jesus patiently pointed again and again to the Father of both Abraham and his children and, most importantly, Himself. He offered the benefit of His advocacy and salvation, but they would have none of it.

As the Jews became more defensive and hostile, Jesus became more frank. When He gently hinted that their position was influenced by a source other than God because they were beginning to entertain thoughts of harm toward Him, they continued to protest that they were God’s children. When Jesus pointed out that they could not both come from God if they were so violently opposed to Him and then suggested that they were making statements that smacked more of the father of lies, He summarized with this statement: “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:47)

The Jews’ response was that Jesus must be demon-possessed. Jesus came back with “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51) His hearers, becoming more incensed and disbelieving by the minute, retorted with the ageless, “Who do you think you are?” (John 8: 53a) Jesus calmly said that He was the Son who knew His Father and kept His word and that Abraham look ahead to the day of His coming. When the Jews mocked this, Jesus responded with perhaps one of His most revealing statements. “I tell you the truth, before Abram was born, I am!” (John 8:58) Do you understand the magnitude of what He just said? I AM is the personal name God gave Himself when asked by Moses at the burning bush. (Exodus 3:13-14) There is no more holy word in Hebrew. Jesus told the Jews without equivocation that He was God and they started groping for stones. End of conversation. They revealed themselves as those who emphatically did not believe Him and He revealed Himself as the eternal God.

To repent means ‘to think again, after the fact, in order to choose a new course; to turn’. There were plenty of opportunities during this exchange when any of the Jews could have turned, thought again. Jesus had begun with the promise that if they held to His teaching, they would know the truth and be set free. We have no ability to influence those who were present, but we still have the opportunity to repent. Do you have a default defensive position in your heart? Are you quick to question the teaching of Jesus? Think again, choose a new course. Hold to Him. He has the authority to give freedom and life. What could possibly rate higher than that?