Saturday, December 17, 2011

From My Utmost for His Highest: December 17th

Redemption Creates The Need It Satisfies
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him."  1 Cor. 2:14
The Gospel of God creates a sense of need of the Gospel.  Paul says -- "If our gospel be hid, it is hid"-- to those who are blackguards?  No, "to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not."  The majority of people have their morality well within their own grasp, they have no sense of need of the Gospel.  It is God Who creates the need of which no human being is conscious until God manifests Himself.  Jesus said --"Ask, and it shall be given you,"  but God cannot give until a man asks.  It is not that He withholds, but that that is the way He has constituted things on the basis of Redemption.  By means of our asking, God gets processes into work whereby He creates the thing that is not in existence until we do ask.  The inner reality of Redemption is that it creates all the time.  As the Redemption creates the life of God in us, so it creates the things belonging to that life.  Nothing can satisfy the need but that which created the need.  This is the meaning of Redemption -- it creates and it satisfies.
"I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me."  We preach our own experiences and people are interested, but no sense of need is awakened by it.  If once Jesus Christ is lifted up, the Spirit of God will create the conscious need of Him.  Behind the preaching of the Gospel is the creative Redemption of God at work in the souls of men.  It is never personal testimony that saves men.  "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life."

This reminded me of a sermon I heard at Epicenter a while back, on grace.  It is only by God's grace that we can even feel repentance.  Conviction is something we have to ask for.  That is just staggering to me: that is only by grace that we even see our need.  And how merciful God is in tearing away our blindness enough that we can ask for Him to save us.  I like this picture of "creative" redemption too, creating a need in us that it alone satisfies.  That sounds like growing and depending more on God's work in me -- creating, making all things new.  Utter dependence, which is scary but beautiful and fully worth confidence.
Thanks Oswald.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Matthew 16: Lose Your Mind to Save Your Soul

"Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."   Matthew 16:16
"But Peter took him aside and corrected him.  'Heaven forbid, Lord,' he said.  'This will never happen to you!'"   v. 22
This must have been a confusing time for the disciples.  They had been with Jesus for a while, they saw the miracles, they heard His words.  These were Jesus' closest friends as well as His followers.  He kept them close, explained things to them, and rebuked them when they lacked faith.  Here He gave them a chance to profess, to test what they believed and why they followed Him: "Who do you say that I am?"  Peter declared it, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  What an exciting time to live; what a wonder to realize this great promise, foretold by the prophets was coming true.  The Messiah was come.  What Israel had waited for, longed for.  The great Hope of Jacob (of the world, but they didn't know that yet).  This, the culmination of Israel's history; of the holy promise to Jacob; of the always-intended redemption of mankind (they probably didn't know that either); all this fulfilled in this Man, Jesus, the promised Messiah, Son of the living God, finally come to earth.
And He told them not to tell anyone.
"From then on Jesus began to tell His disciples plainly that He would be handed over to die" (v. 21). 
Lord, forgive me.  I think I would have protested too.  How could He lead Israel to victory if He gave Himself up to killed -- by the teachers of the law He came to fulfil and the leaders of the nation He first came to save?  They probably thought His life's work had just begun.  It was humanly natural that their minds would fly to ambition.  This must have been a time of emotional ups and downs, of confusion wrought by human reason drowning out simple trust.  Especially for Peter.  Jesus blesses him and promises him great authority.  Then Peter tries to insist on things going the way he thinks they should, in light of this.  And Jesus calls him Satan.
"If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside selfish ambition, shoulder your cross and follow me."  Lose your life to save your soul.  Give up the whole world for Jesus.  He has something better in store than anyone's ambitions or grandiose plans.  Did they begin to understand then? 
The Transfiguration was six days later.  Peter got to see it, reacted kind of stupidly, but he must have needed that.
I have to wonder how slow I would have been.  How misguided would my wandering thoughts be, how far would my expectations drift from the mark if I had been there to hear Jesus' words with these ears, from His own voice?  Our understanding is so limited in comparison with His revelation.  Sometimes He had to rebuke His followers for trying to fill in those spaces with their own explanations.  Now, a couple of millenia later, we have His writtend word, we have the help of the Holy Spirit, we have the records of millions who lived for Christ, and there's still plenty of room to practice putting one foot in front of the other without looking away from Him to see where we're walking.
God reveals things as He wills, in His right time.  He knows when we need it.  But we need that simple trust which accepts what He says.
"Jesus said to his disciples, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambitions, shoulder your cross and follow me.  If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.  And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?  Is anything worth more than your soul?  For I, the Son of Man, will come in the glory of my Father with His angels and will judge all people according to their deeds.  And I assure you that some of you standing here right now will not die before you see me, the Son of Man, coming in my Kingdom."
Matthew 16:24-28

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trust

Some thoughts.  From about a month past.

Listening: "Your Hands," J.J. Heller
Where do I begin?  I don't know what You are doing with me.  I don't know that any of the gifts or desires or relationships or hopes I have are anything I can hold on to.  And that terrifies me.  If I really think about it, about the future and what might become of any of the above, I have a gut reaction similar to reaching for something to grab onto when you feel like you're going to fall.  But in that moment of terror I also remember God's faithfulness.  And that falling becomes a violent turning of my heart inside of my chest.  And I have to close my eyes to the open air and false emptiness.  You are there.
Here is what scares me: when I simultaneously see that my independence is illusory and that what I grab for is prone to collapsing.  I am like a little child that thinks she can pull her boat to the dock by herself, intent on her task, pulling with all her might; while an amused father stands behind, calming tugging the end of the rope behind her, with far stronger arms.  I can easily imagine such a miss, looking back in surprise only when her father begins to laugh, and turning red.  What chagrin.  To think you were doing something on your own, accomplishing, growing, coming to your goal, only to find you have proven nothing.  She would wave him away -- wouldn't you? -- and insist on doing for herself by herself.  Papa would let her too.  He wants her to learn well what she insists on knowing.  But the ebbing tide of the ocean is not something to be conquered even by the vast and glorious pride of a little child.  The unfortunate thing is that pride is resilient and it can take all of a soaking, a fall, and being dragged across a dock for it to die.
Enough of cutesy similes.
Here is what I was thinking about: I truly cannot depend fully on anyone but God.  But I truly must depend on God's method of working, even through fallible people.  So I cannot place my identity or my confidence on anyone, not my family, not my friends, not people who teach me.  But I must be willing to be taught by these people, to trust Christ in them, to care for them, to be open to God using these people -- who remain fallible, grace-needing, redeemed and not yet glorified children of God.  But I cannot lean on my own strength and I cannot lean on their strength.  But I must believe that Christ is in both them and me and learn to see and trust that.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Matthew 15: The Faith of a Gentile Woman

She came pleading.  She came asking for mercy, calling Jesus "Lord, Son of David."  Why did He turn away from her?  Why did He not speak a word?  He came to heal, to seek and save that which is lost.  To this woman He spared not even a word.  Did it make so great a difference that she was a Gentile?  Nowhere else does it say that He turned away Gentiles.  When He refused to do miracles it was because the people had no faith, or the hypocritical leaders demanded a sign to satisfy their own opinions.  Why here?  Why the harsh reply?
Elsewhere it says Jesus knew what was in people's hearts.  It could be there were attitudes in this woman's heart that needed to be defeated.  Maybe she needed that humbling before she could have faith.  Maybe to her former way of thinking it would have been contradictory to say, "Lord," and "Son of David" to the same person, and that pride needed to die.  Maybe it was just to show that the Living God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and not with the gods of the Gentiles.
But then she worshipped Him; said, "Lord, help me!"  Is that not a humble and contrite spirit?  And Jesus' answer is hard.  "It isn't right to take food from the children and throw it to their dogs."  This isn't for you.
"Yes, Lord," she says, humbly, before answering with pert and pleading wisdom, "Yes, Lord, but even dogs are permitted to eat crumbs that fall beneath their master's table."
What did Jesus' friends and followers think of such an exchange I wonder.  And did Jesus act surprised at finding belief in this corner, like with the centurion?  "You have great faith," He tells her.  But was He pleased at all?  Was He saddened by the comparison to Israel?
If without faith it is impossible to please God, does this faith please God?  I think it does.  And maybe there was more in "You have great faith" than "You believe what is true."  You have great faith, you believe well.  You have great faith, you act on it.  You have great faith, you place your trust outside yourself and walk in humility.  You have great faith, you are bold in pursuing what that faith holds as right.  You have great faith, you can plead, brokenhearted, and be boldly persistent.
I wish these accounts said whether Jesus smiled at her, or looked favourably at her at all when He said, "You request is granted."  I wish I knew His reaction, and the disciples reactions, when she took His metaphor for her own request.  It reminds me of Abraham, pleading for Sodom.  He never asks God not to destroy Sodom.  He simply asks, "Would You spare it, for a few righteous men?"  And attitude of , "Yes, Lord, but is this in Your nature?"  The woman says, "Yes, Lord," but will You be more merciful than our deserving?
I wonder if she knew the history of Israel, of Rahab and Ruth, the Gentile women in the lineage of the Son of David, the ancestors of Jesus. 
In Mark's account Jesus says, "First I should help my own family, the Jews," and then, "Good answer!" in place of "You have great faith."
I am a Gentile.  And I think Jesus was pleased to have mercy on this woman.  I hope to have such great and humble faith.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hosea

"Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you."
Hosea 10:12
Hosea is so poetic.  I like the words, the sound of righteous judgements showing God is just and the declarations of loving compassion and mercy.  I almost wish there was more about Gomer, but perhaps what is told about her is just to show how God made Hosea understand His love for unfaithful Israel.  I wonder if she did run away multiple times, if each time he brought her back, torn by her betrayal or lovingly able to forgive, was when the word of the LORD came to him.
Here I am seeing again, what God gives us is deeper in meaning than I might first understand.  Hosea's life, his unfaithful wife, his morbidly named children, were a living illustration to Israel.  But it must also have been for Hosea to understand and feel what God wanted to say; so that, from experience, he could express it well.  I think the prophet was invited to empathize with God.  Which means he must have loved his wife very much.  Which means that these words given by God were also written out of the prophet's own anguish, yearning, anger, and love.  He must have been a faithful man to be entrusted with this.  I like Hosea.  I admire his faithfulness, his ability to convey the words God gave him, his courage and strength in empathizing with the LORD, if I may say that.
God, thank You for Hosea.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Psalm 16: A Heart That's Secure

"Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.  I will praise the LORD who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me." 
Psalm 16: 5-7
LORD, You are the God who knows me, who has my heart.  You know my every desire, my every wish, my every thought.  You are intimately acquainted with each and every feeling that touches me.  You know every reason and every cause for every wistful look and quiet moment and soft smile and racking sob.  You know exactly what springs me into exultant joy.  And everything perverse in me is laid bare before You.
You know who I am , who I was, and who I will be.  You know and understand all my words and fully know every intent behind them.
Knowing full well, You are the God who rescues me.  You give me worth and then set me up above all the mire I could have sunk in.
LORD, You are the God who knows me; and knowing full well, loves me.  You have my heart.  And every heart is known to You.
I lay my heart bare before You, God.  Even before the people in this world.  Knowing You hold it, I will not fear.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Like a Hurricane

Have you ever been overwhelmed by love? Please do not misunderstand. I mean unconditional love which is so vast you can't resist and could never repay it. Love like a hurricane that floods your carefully wrought balance of give and take. Love that plunges you into such a sea of kindness all you can do is float along and marvel at its vastness. You can't contain or understand or categorize or measure it. It seems presumptuous even to say you receive it. As if you have a choice. As if. You cannot contain it; it has no fathom. You cannot encompass it; it is beyond you. And yet.
And yet, you find yourself the object of it. Like molten gold poured into a plastic cup. Like the ocean tenderly tipped into a thimble. Love that crashes you into quietness. The only thing you could say, in a whisper: God, I am so unworthy. This is love that humbles; something so painfully beautiful. Joyous despair. Tender terror. I cannot contain. I cannot comprehend. And yet.
And yet, I am loved. And yet, the God who holds back His glory, knowing it would kill us, pulls back the curtain enough for this glimpse which slays self importance and overcomes all you are.
You hold your head in your hands and silently sob at the disparity between your capacity and the sheer greatness of what you are freely given. Oh, this is not a love that puffs up. Harrowing sorrow comes with seeing your own efforts try to stand up next to it. What a fool I was to think I could repay! What a painful delusion to ever think I could earn it! And yet.
And yet, O still, small, thunderous Voice, and yet You are with me even to the end of the age. This love never leaves you nor forsakes you at any moment. This love took and withstood the searing, Almighty wrath meant to burn up unworthiness. For you. In your place. And this love knows your heart. Knows it! Floods and overwhelms and overcomes it!
What can this love not do? What CAN this love not do? Have you ever been overwhelmed by such love? The love that you surrounds you, that you cannot always see?
Oh yes. You are loved like that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ezekiel 37: You Alone Know

June 16, 2011
He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, You alone know." Then He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!'"

Ezekiel 37:3-4

This sounds like a test and apparently Ezekiel gave the right answer. He does not say, "No, LORD, it is impossible." Neither does he say, "Yes, they can live." Zeke turns it over to God, "Only You know." Maybe by now, with all his prophesying, he simply knew better. God can do what to us is impossible, but He alone knows if He will. Better for us to know that, perhaps, than to build expectations of anything besides God's will being done.
I used to do that, plan the future in my head, try to figure out what would be as if I were a conjurer. But God does His will, and it is wonderful. This is trust indeed. O Sovereign LORD, You alone know our hearts and what impossibilities You will do. And this is good. I trust in You. Do Your perfect will and lead me to do it too. Forgive me for when I have not trusted, please. Jesus, let me know the Father's will.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ezekiel 1: The Word of the LORD Came to Ezekiel

December 25, 2010
The word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him.
Ezekiel 1:3

My thoughts often turn to wondering about the people who wrote down these words in God's Book. Perhaps it is an exercise in empathy, which I could certainly use. I have a few questions for Ezekiel. How soon after this vision did he write it all down? How much did it mean that he was the son of a priest in Babylonia? How much social standing would he have as a 30-year-old priest? What was he doing by the river when God chose to show him this awesomely indescribably vision?
The preliminary introduction is short here. I suppose it often is but somehow it struck me that it feels like there is a sense of urgency, a need to get on to the fantastic part. It begins with a quick telling of who, when, and where, and then moves on to descriptions that somehow defy imagining. There is a sense of urgency there too, and repetition. As if he were in a hurry to put down all he saw lest he forget any part of it, but struggles to find words that can express it. And no wonder!
The verse above stood out to me on the first read through and made me wonder about his social status and personal background. The introduction is humble. I realize now he says he was among the exiles by the Kebar River. But there still seems like a note of defiance in how he says that God gave him a vision, as if to say, "even in Babylonia," or "even to me." The reason it stood out to me in the first place is how he switches from first person to third and back again. I can understand telling it all in first person. He is the one who saw it; I'm glad he did. But when he says, "There the hand of the LORD was upon him," in third, I imagine it comes with a humbling sense of amazement o realize God chose to give Ezekiel His words, visions of His glory, even as an exile in the land of the enemy. There is urgency and a sense of responsibility, ownership of his experience, if I can say that. But there is also a great sense of wonder, and this is why he is emphatic. This is why he must assert to whoever will read the book and perhaps to himself in third person, as another speaking to reassure him, that the word of the LORD did indeed come to him; that the hand of the LORD came upon him.
I wonder if that verse in third is God speaking to reassure Ezekiel as he is about to attempt to relate the glorious and fantastic things he saw.
I imagine this young priest who never lived in a God-serving Israel at peace, now in exile (were they travelling? Just arrived? Had he gone to the river to be alone with some shame or to cry out to God when the vision came?) Was he still shaking when he sat down to write? In awe of God, but doubting himself perhaps? Did he pause when he wrote that verse? Maybe he sat back and sighed, a release of his doubts and fears. Maybe he dropped his pen, fell to his knees, and wept, overcome by God's love. Maybe the humbling wonder of such a thing prompted him to write it and later, looking back, it would send a shiver down his spine to read it.
It also stuck me a moment ago (Thank You, God) that the way we are as Christians in the world today is something like what Ezekiel experienced. We are the remnant living in enemy territory. And in spite of all that was our shame, to us have been revealed the secret things of God. In spite of what we were, where we were and when, God has given His Spirit to those who call on the Name of Jesus and believe in His power to save.
The word of the LORD came to Marissa, His maidservant, the daughter of the LORD's servants, living in the world. There the hand of the LORD was upon her.
May I say this, God? Thank You for these words. Thank You for Ezekiel, thank You for being the Good Teacher and teaching me. I pray my heart stay open to learn. Please let me be filled with this humbling sense of awe and wonder at what You have revealed to Your children, to me. I will remember that You are with me, though I am not yet home. Thank You for revelation and the precious knowledge of who You are and all Your wonderful promises. Thank You for entrusting this knowledge to me. Make me worthy of it, that I might please You. I love You, LORD. Jesus, I love You. Lead me to know You and love You more.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Proverbs 23: Buy the Truth

"Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline, and understanding." Proverbs 23:23

Buy the truth. Do not sell it. We say we buy into something when we believe it. We say it about others' acceptance of ideas usually with a sense of derision. We say of ourselves, "I'll buy that," in mild defiance to doubts or contradictions. In all cases perhaps the implication is that the believer of ideas is paying for the concept they accept. If someone buys into something false it may mean paying in disappointment or betrayal or loss. What are we paying if we buy the truth? Looking at this world, what we give in exchange for truth may be position or possessions or relationships or wealth or even life. To have Truth has meant giving everything for some people. Yet the writer here says do not sell it! That is how much worth truth has. Don't give it up for any earthly gain! Buy truth. Get wisdom, discipline, and understanding. Buy Truth and get the tools to live by it. That is worthwhile.
LORD, teach me Truth, please. Thank You for Your gifts of wisdom and understanding. Thank You for discipline. Teach me to use these well in all humility to reflect Your goodness and holiness. Show Yourself strong through me, Holy God, and make Your Truth lovely in my life. Let me love Your ways and live by them.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ezekiel 15: You are LORD

"And when I set my face against them, you will know that I am the LORD." Ezekiel 15:7

All this trouble, Lord, so they would know? You set signs in the sky, bodies of splendor declaring there is a Sovereign King. You made earth with roaring oceans, waters that circle, sustain, and surround all life. You made mountains to tremble before You Whose hands were their mold. You made ants to march like soldiers at Your command, and daffodils to bloom in winter's chill when all else would rather play dead. They all say You are LORD. You made babes to quiet at their mother's touch, and lovers to sigh at each others'. You made souls cry out for someone to serve and hearts to yearn with unkept longing. Our very beings say You are LORD. All of creation knows it. Your mighty works proclaim in overwhelming sound, inundating glory, drowning out even stubbornest deafness: You are LORD!
So I would think.
And yet You act with justice, mercifully, -- You are good -- now even tenderly, gently, Mighty God, that we might know that You are LORD. What is man that You are mindful of him? O LORD, tear away our self-inflicted blindness! We are like children playing with knives, screaming at the top of our lungs, insisting, "We cannot hear You. We did not hear, so You said nothing." And yet Your whispers are overpowering: "Be still; know that I Am. Give Me your burdens. Peace, little one. I love you." The child screams louder and hearts become hard. How can You love that, Lord? Yet what is Yours, You make lovely. Your love astounds me. I hope they listen and know You are LORD.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ezekiel 36: God's Glory, the Greatest Good

"It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name... Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes." Ezekiel 36:22-23
(Emphasis added)
It is not for our sake, O people of God, that He has redeemed us for Himself. It is not for our glory or even for the intrinsic worth of humanity. But the Sovereign LORD has redeemed us for His name's sake. that He might show Himself holy through us before all nations. And if God is so holy and mighty, all I can say is, who am I that the Lord of all creation would choose to show His holiness through me, even in the sight of all the earth? This is a wondrous thing. It is all for His glory, and this is what alone satisfies a world-weary heart. This is our purpose, even God's ultimate glory.
I think with His greatness being ontologically prior to our worth and purpose (existence, basically), it shows wonderful tender kindness on God's part to create us with the high purpose of showing His worth. Put this way, He greatly exalted man at his creation by giving us the highest purpose He could. So creating us to live for Him and consumed by wonder at His splendor was, to begin with, a supremely loving act. Because He is prior to all things, sustains all things, and is infinitely, absolutely, consummately worthy of all good.
Thank You, God, for making me for You.