Eating the Good and the Bad

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Photo credit to David Bee Mallari.

 

“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you; Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” (Ezekiel 2:8)

 
Ezekiel carries God’s words of warning as well as words of encouragement from the Lord. But sometimes, both the warning and encouragement are hard to take and weighty for us. Bad news is always hard to swallow, but good news can actually be a hard road too. But then again, Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) Maybe Ezekiel will help me learn the truth of that.

 
So here is Ezekiel, called before this angel of God or Jesus Himself, but he is so filled with awe and fear at the presence that he cannot stand of his own strength. So he is told to stand. But here’s the thing. He’s not expected to do it on his own. The Spirit enters him and sets him on his feet and then he was able to hear what was spoken to him. How important is it for me, for each of us, to allow the Spirit to enter us so that we will firmly be planted in God’s ways? How important is it for me, for each of us, to allow the Spirit to enter us so that we can hear and understand and live out Your words, Your will, Your desires in faithful obedience and love?

 
And Ezekiel heard. It’s that word shama again. It’s never about just hearing and letting the speech go in one ear and out the other. It’s about hearing and discerning and acting upon that hearing. Is that how I hear? Do I lean in attentively to You? Or am I busier leaning into my own understanding? (see Proverbs 3:5) Do I incline all my being, my mind, my will, and my emotions into You? (Joshua 24:23) Do I realize that it is Your desire to incline my heart unto You, so that I might walk in all Your ways, and keep Your commandments and Your statutes and Your judgments? (1 Kings 8:58) If I expect You to incline Your ear toward me and hear me and act upon what You hear, do I expect the same of myself toward You, or do I hold myself to a lesser standard when it comes to hearing? (Psalm 17:6)

 
I want to really listen, no matter what the consequences, just like Ezekiel. So what was the bad news? Well, the bad news is bad news for rebellious people but it’s also kind of bad news for Ezekiel. God was appointing Ezekiel as a prophet of God to these rebellious people. I don’t think that Ezekiel jumped up and down and said, “Oh, thank You, Lord, thank You! This is so wonderful! I’m so excited! Woohoo!” He was being equipped and sent to tell a rebellious nation bad news. And here’s the bad news about that, they might not hear and act upon what they hear. They might just keep rebelling. Nothing might change. It might look like no good is being done. It might look like Ezekiel has been profitless. (No pun intended upon the prophet.)

 
That’s not all the bad news. It’s going to be scary stuff for a man to go through, even an anointed prophet filled with the Spirit of God. God prepares Ezekiel with these words, “and you, son of man, don’t be afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with you, and you dwell among scorpions: don’t be afraid of their words, and don’t be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.” Ezekiel is to keep speaking God’s words whether they hear and change or not.

 
But here is the good news. “Ezekiel, you, make sure you hear what I say to you. Don’t be rebellious like them: open your mouth, and eat what I give you.” What does that mean to eat what God gives him? Could that mean that Ezekiel has to take the bad tasting medicine as well as the delicacies? Does Your word and Your way sometimes seem like bitter medicine or bitter herbs to us? Do we want to refuse what is good for us because part of it is bad news for our own selfish desires or bad news to our egos or our own plans? Would we rather hold unto our rebellious faces than be changed into Your glorious image?

 
So here’s my question about what You want me to learn from You and Ezekiel here. Do I get it? Do I understand that hearing from You means doing and living out what I hear? Do I understand that being a follower of the Creator of the heavens and earth through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection means more than having a head knowledge of You? Do I understand it means tough times ahead? Do I understand that the “world” responds the same way today as it did in Ezekiel’s day? And do I understand that as a believer I am called to share with and in a defiant world just like Ezekiel? Will I hear and answer my calling?

 
If it doesn’t seem clear through Ezekiel, or maybe I shouldn’t transfer Ezekiel’s responsibility to me and other believers, let me listen to Jesus’s own words in John 17. “And now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world, that they [those who believe] might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Now, wasn’t that God’s desire all along, even back in Ezekiel? But I digress, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Is this like a deja vu? “I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil.” Does it sound as though I need to be stood up straight and strong by the Spirit just as much now? “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Was Eziekiel like everyone else? Or was he different because of what he allowed You to do in him and how he clung to You? “As You have sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” Well there’s the clincher.

 
If Ezekiel was sent out into the world in the middle of bad and good news all wrapped up together, then wasn’t Jesus sent even more so? Jesus came knowing He would be crucified by a people He loved. But He never stopped loving and never stopped telling. God was everything and the suffering and hurt was a moment in comparison. And the truth is that all who would believe are called in the same way. We are called to hear and follow despite the pain, despite homelessness, despite ridicule, despite our health, despite the faces people make, and the deterrents along the way. We are called to hear and follow despite our feelings and our hopes and dreams. We are called to cast off our rebellion and follow wholeheartedly, counting the cost and understanding it will cost much. We are called to count God worth every cost and to live like it. That’s what I learn from Ezekiel today. And that’s what I learn from Jesus every day. But is that how I live?

 
Lord, I have not always lived as though You were the greatest worth. I admit that I cannot stand on my own. I am in desperate need of Your Spirit to stand me up firm on my feet so that I can hear You rightly and walk rightly in Your words and Your ways. I need Your Spirit to make me strong and keep me strong in a world that is rebellious. I even need Your Spirit to keep me from falling into rebellion myself or for getting out of it. But I also want to take the steps to seek You, to cling to You, to value You more than anything in life. When I’m weak, I want to fall on You, not on my weakness. I don’t want my weakness to rule me; I want You to rule me and guide me and strengthen me. I want to be ready for the good and the bad and the bad and good, however they come. And I thank You so much, that You do not leave us unprepared but that You fully equip us for every situation. So let me eat whatever You give me, the bitter and the tasty, so that I may dwell in the beauty and safety of You. And may others be drawn to eat from that same plate and count it more than worth it.

Destitute and Bereaved No More

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“…for in You the fatherless finds mercy.” Hosea 14:3

 
Since I was a young child, I have had a heart for the orphan. I remember probably being around five years old and somehow knowing that You, Lord, watch over, care for, and love and invite a kingdom of orphans in to Your presence. To me, it was like all your children were orphans caring for other orphans. And then my parents ( when I was about 13) adopted my first brother! He was an answer to my prayers, that chubby, brown baby boy. And after I was married, my parents adopted five more siblings. So I know that there are lots of ways one can become “fatherless.” And I also know that there are ways that people don’t have to remain “fatherless.”

 
But what are You talking about here, when You speak about the fatherless? I believe that there is that level of understanding that means what it says outright. There are people in the world who don’t have their fathers in the picture. And You are there for them. But what’s so bad about being fatherless? The Hebrew word is yathom. It means lonely or bereaved, like a fatherless child or orphan. But what does bereaved mean? Webster’s dictionary says it means “deprived; stripped and left destitute.” And what is it to be destitute? Again, Webster says it means “to set from or away, not having or possessing; wanting; needy; abject; comfortless; friendless; one who is without friends or comfort; forsaken; deprived.” It’s not even that you once had it and then lost it. It’s that you may not have ever had it in your possession.

 
Now I have to ask, why do You pay attention so much to the fatherless? Why do You “execute justice for the fatherless and the widow, and love the sojourner, giving him food and clothing”? Have You set Your heart like that of a Father over us? Are You the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribes? (Deuteronomy 10:18) Why do You call Your people to feel the same way about the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow? (Deut. 14:29) Why do You command us to all rejoice together? (Debt. 16:14) Why do You have us hold back some of our harvest for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow? (Debt. 24:19)

 
The Psalmist tells us, “the poor commits himself unto You; You are the helper of the fatherless.” You care for the fatherless and the oppressed. You are a father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows. You defend the poor and fatherless, and do justice to the afflicted and needy. You preserve strangers; relieve the fatherless and widow. And over and over again, like in Isaiah 1:17, we are called to do the same, “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” James took this thought and reaffirmed it for us in the light of Jesus who was all about His Father’s business and heart.  Pure religion, pure worship that’s undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless (like God manifests himself to us, really coming to us!), and widows in their afflictions and troubles, right where they are in the reality of their lives and conditions, and to keep oneself unblemished from the “world view” by living out God’s view.” (That’s my “paraphrase.”)

 
So here’s the question I have. Who is really fatherless? Who is really the widow? Who is really the stranger? Aren’t we all? Until we surrender to God, until we know Jesus, we are on our own, alone. There’s something we are missing and something we are striving for that we can’t attain until we have You, Lord. But the good news is that You are just waiting to adopt us joyously into Your arms.

 
It’s like being the worst kind of orphan because we left You. It’s like we approached the law and said, “I don’t want to be His child. I want to be my own person.” And we got it. And some of us have learned what a destitute place that is to be outside of You. All our friends, all our doings, all our fame or fortune, all our adventures can’t fill the hole of what we are missing because that hole can only be filled with You. That’s why God used Hosea to call His people to return to Him. “Israel, you’ve fallen by your own choice, your own sin. Come back to me. Make it right. Don’t be alone any more. I am for you. I always have been. Only you haven’t always been for Me.”

 
“Come by your choice and your actions. Come by your words. Talk to Me. Speak to Me. Relate to Me. Admit you need Me to take care of you and your sin. Acknowledge that you understand. Use the “calves of your lips,” the sacrifice of your lips to praise Me instead of ‘dissing’ Me.” There needs to come a point where we understand that Asshur can’t save us, and our strong horses can’t either. There needs to come a point when we realize that it’s not by the work of our hands. Our hands only create worthless idols without You.

 
The truth is, without You I am fatherless. I am set far away. Without You I am wanting and destitute, needy, comfortless, and friendless. I am backslidden and need Your healing. I need a Father who loves me perfectly and wholly. I need You to grow me and bless me and make me fruitful for You. I need the safety of shade of Your shadow. I need Your revival. I need to give off Your fragrance as Your fragrance covers me. I need to hear You and observe You and receive my fruit from You. I want to be wise. I want to understand these things. I want to be prudent. I want to know and experience You. I want to walk in You and Your ways because You are right. I’ve been wrong. But I don’t have to keep being wrong. I can be right in You.

 
So, now that I think about it, before I ever thought about the fatherless, You were already reaching out. You are the Father of fathers. Our heavenly Father knew and knows our destitute condition and cared so deeply to get us back in His arms. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God…” (1 John 3:1) John got it. He wants to help us get it. He shares, “Don’t love the world, or the things that are in the world. If a person loves the world, the love of the Father isn’t in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world…Who is a liar but he hat denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son. Whosoever denies the Son, the same doesn’t have the Father: he that acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” Our Father fights for us. He sent us an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the way to fellowship with the Father so we will never have to be bereaved again. A father of flesh is one thing but isn’t it better to be “in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9) May God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto Him. And may we all, understanding what it is to be fatherless, widowed, and strangers, reach out in Your love to the destitute and bereaved around us.

The Good Work That Glorifies

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Photo credit to Nheng Villanueva Rubio.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

I’m starting to think that unless we read Scripture through the eyes of the whole Scripture, we fall into the danger of misrepresenting Scripture.  Because, if I just start here, with Your “sermon on the mount”  I’m left with the impression that I’m supposed to shine before others like a city lit on a hill or like an unconvered candle in a house.  I’m left to think that it’s up to me do do all the shining and then as I do my wonderful shining, my wonderful shining is going to lead to me doing things that glorify You.  Really?  When was I ever able to shine that brightly on my own that whatever I did, people stood amazed and said, “Wow, that had to be of God!”?  I mean, isn’t that what You are saying here, Jesus?  Isn’t that what You are saying should happen as people see the light reflecting from me?

Yep, I’m still thinking about what it means to be the light of the world according to what You mean about it.  And that part about glorifying my Father in heaven really stands out.  I mean, this can’t just be talking about doing good things here.  Good things aren’t what glorify God.  God things glorify God.  Acting in ways the world doesn’t act, glorifies God.  Loving when others hate You, relying on God when circumstances tell you not to, that’s God stuff.  I mean, if I want to know what You mean, I need to look back at what You did and what You thought about in Scripture.  So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m taken back to Mathhew 12 where Jesus meets the man possessed with a devil.  He was also blind and dumb.  And You heal him so he’s free and can speak and hear.  And all the people were amazed, and said, “Is this the son of David?”  See, this is a title saying that the people believed from this action that You, Jesus, were the promised Messiah.  What You did was so amazing, “existemi” in Greek, that it put them out of their wits!  I mean, no one, absolutely no one but God could do something like that.  That was a good work that glorified Your Father in heaven.  No man could do that on his own.

In Mark, You tell of another man who was possessed by a demon.  Imagine this happening in front of your eyes!  “And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, ‘Let us alone; what have we to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth?  Are you come to destroy us?  I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God.’ And Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Hold your peace, and come out of him.’ And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.  And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What thing is this?  What new doctrine is this?  For with authority commands he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.'”  The people were amazed at Your works again.  And they knew that the only One who had authority over spirits, over demons, was God.  And You were as that One in authority.  Wow!  That was a good work that glorified Your Father in heaven.  No man could do that on his own.

Let’s move on to Mark 2.  Some friends bring a paralyzed man to see Jesus.  They even rip apart a roof top to lower him into the room because it’s the only way they can get him near Jesus.  So Jesus, You proceed to forgive his sins.  But the Pharisees say that’s blasphemy because only God can do that.  So You tell the man, “Arise, and take up your bed, and go your way to your house.”  “And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw it on this fashion.'”  That was a good work that glorified Your Father in heaven.  No man could do that on his own.

Now here’s a twist.  In Luke 2 we jump back to when You were 12 years old, Jesus.  And You’ve remained back in the temple, while your parents were heading home.  And there You were in the temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”  That’s that same word, existemi, because the spiritual insight You had was so intense for a young boy that all they could say was, “This must be from God!”  That was a good work that glorified Your Father in heaven.  No man, or boy, could do that on his own.

You go to a house of a little girl who has died from a fever.  You say, “She’s just sleeping.”  Everyone laughs because they know she’s dead.  But You take her parents and Peter, James, and John into her room and close the door.  You take her by the hand and say, “Maid, arise.” And she does!  “And her parents were amazed (existemi)…”  That was a good work that glorified Your Father in heaven.  No man could do that on his own.

Later in Luke, there were women standing outside Your tomb.  And they amazed the disciples with news that Your tomb was empty.  The women were bearers of that God news.  That was news of a good work that glorified Your Father in heaven.  No man could do that on his own.

Jumping ahead to Acts 2 we find the believers gathered together on the day of Pentecost, all in one accord, in one place.  “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  And those that were gathered around them that day, “were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, ‘Behold…we hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God’.  And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?'”  And then Peter told them what it meant.  See, this was a good work that glorified their Father in heaven.  No man could do that on his own.

But let’s not miss something here.  Scripture also tells me that I can focus on the wrong amazement.  My existemi can be be wrongly focused and when it is, my works will not glorify my Father in heaven.  Why?  Because I can do it on my own.  Or because it focuses on other power.  See, there was this certain man named Simon, and he was a sorceror.  Acts 8:9 says that he bewitched the people of Samaria and posed that he himself was a great one.  He astounded people with his works, his magic, his ways.  That word translated as bewitched is our word existemi.  And all the people paid attention to him and said, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”  Scripture continues, “And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.” But then Philip came to Samaria and pointed them to the Good News and they believed in Jesus.  Even Simon believed.  And Simon himself, as he walked life out with Philip and saw God working through Philip in signs and miracles, was amazed.  Simon became so focussed on the miracles, since that had been his focus before, that one day when Peter and John prayed and layed hands on some believers and they received the Holy Spirit, Simon wanted that power and wanted to pay money to receive it.   

Listen to part of Peter’s response.  “For I percieve that you are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”   Noah Webster says that phrase, the gall of bitterness, means that Simon was in a state of extreme impiety or enmity to God.  He was standing in the door of apostasy.  His attitude towards the works of God through the hands of man was ungodly, and irreverent toward God.  His attitude actually showed comtempt to God’s character and authority.  He was implying that man can control the acts of God.  Poor guy.  It’s so easy to fall into our old ways.  That’s the bond of iniquity.

See, our sin wants to draw us back.  You, Lord, want to take us forward.  Before trusting in You, we controlled our own lives, our own destinies, or at least we felt we did.  And if I’m not careful, it’s so easy for me fall back into controlling things again.  What Simon did was wrong.  If he didn’t handle that root of “bitterness” it would lead to him not letting God be in control, not letting You be You.  But what makes me any different than Simon?  Are there areas of my life that I try to control?  If I’m so busy fundraising, am I really letting God show Himself to be my provider?  Is there a point I need to step back and let God be God and let Him do the work?  Am I busy manipulating people to get what I want God to do?  Do I need to step back and let God move in people’s hearts, and stop thinking that the power is mine?

Yes, I think, as I sit and examine myself, I have to be very cautious to not be caught in the gall of bitterness myself.  I’ve been sent to let God be in control, to let Your light shine, and not mine.  I need to learn to do that and I can only do that as I learn to fully surrender to You.  I’m not there yet Lord, but I’m so glad that You don’t give up on me, that this work that You began in me, You will continue until the day of Christ.  You sent me to be a light and not just any light.  You sent me to be a light for You.  Teach me to let You outshine me.  Teach me to just absorb Your light and reflect You to others.  Guard me against my own selfish ambitions and desires.

Philip wasn’t busy doing good works.  That wasn’t his focus.  Philip was all about going everywhere and preaching the word.  That doesn’t mean he was going everywhere giving sermons.  Preaching, euaggelizo, means to announce the good news, and in this case it’s the Good News about Jesus, the Gospel.  And when you start sharing the Good News for real because you’ve come to know the Good News, it effects more than your words.  The Good News comes alive in your life.  The Words shine forth in truth.  That’s what Simon was missing.  The relationship is so much more important than the stuff, but if the relationship is right, then the glorious stuff of the relationship will just naturally flow, not because we’re focussed on the “stuff” but because we’re living understanding and doing and walking in and sharing the will of our God.

It’s not just about announcing the Good News with our voices.  If I am Your workmanship, if my whole being and my body are Your temple, then all of me must publicly declare Your goodness.  I’ve got wonderfully blinding glad tidings to tell.  I’ve got wonderful news of a coming kingdom of God and wonderful tidings of a glorious salvation in You, Jesus, because of Your death, burial, and resurrection.

Father, You sent Jesus into the world to be the Light of the world so that the people which sat in darkness would see a great light, and so that those which sat in the region and shadow of death , light is sprung up. (Matthew 4:16)  Jesus, You said, “as the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.”  It’s true.  You said, “What I tell you in darkness, that speak in light: and what you hear in the ear, that preach upon the housetops.”  (Matthew 10:27)  This time, that word preach, is kerusso, like the faith-based T-shirt company.  I’m to proclaim, to herald, like a public crier, Your divine truth, the Gospel.  And for me, to herald that, is to let You shine Your ways from my life.  My life ought to speak louder than any “Christian” T-shirt ever could.  See, I can do something a T-shirt can’t.  I can love like You love.  I can forgive like You forgive.  I can let You demonstrate Yourself through me in every situation as I remain surrendered and dependent upon You.  Lord, in the same way as You, by listening to my Shepherds voice, by letting You have Your way in me, teach me and make me to be a true light for You in this dark world. That is a good work that glorifies my Father in heaven.  No man can do that on his own.

Of Mystery and Purpose

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“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He that is born King of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.'”  Matthew 2:1-2

This is such good news.  Actually this is Good News!  This is worthy of celebration.  And it’s good news in more than one way.  I’ll start with one way.  Paul expresses it in Ephesians 1:9, when he says, “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.”  Get it?  God revealed the secret, the mystery of Himself, in Jesus, this God, born as a man baby.  Redemption just entered this fallen world and people not even of His tribe understood.  He truly was a light to the Gentiles even as a baby, even before He was born.  See, that star was a herald announcing God’s birth.  It wasn’t just overhead that night.  It guided those wise men over a period of time.  There was a grand purpose and intent to everything that You, Lord, were orchestrating.  There always has been and there always will be.

You, Lord, planned this birth for milennia.  It was planned before the fall.  You always knew.  It was what Adam and Eve were trusting in at that first sacrifice.  We read about it prophetically over and over again in Scripture.  Men and Satan tried to defeat the plan, but You are unstoppable.  And You designed it at just the right moment in time.

Yes, God did it all Himself.  It is over and done with.  No one can add anything to it.  This was the eternal plan, for Jesus to be born, to live obediently, to die sacrificially, and to rise again.  It’s finished.  The plan was accomplished.  And here’s the importance of that for us.  I’m going to share it in Skip Moen’s words, “But did you notice the implication?  Paul intends us to realize that God fully expects us to understand the mystery of His will.  God’s intentions for the redemption of creation and for your part in that redemption, are no longer a mystery.    Jesus Himself told us that He has revealed everything that the Father told Him to unveil.  Not only is God’s cosmic plan displayed for all to see, all that you need to know to participate in His will is also deliberately disclosed.  That is the real Christmas present.  You have been given access to the mind of God.  The Gospel story is your guarantee that God reveals His plans.  And if He reveals the plan for the redemption of all creation, how much simpler to reveal to you precisely your part?”

And that’s the part that rang out to me as I was meditating in Your Word today, Lord.  As I thought about Your words again, “As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you.”  See, I’m sent with a purpose, I’m part of a plan just like You because that’s how You were sent.  And Skip couldn’t have had it more right and I’m glad that in my searching it out after You laid that truth on my heart that You took me to Skip’s meditations on that truth.  Because this means everything to me and to every believer.  Knowing that You reveal not only Your general plan to Your children but Your specific plan for each one of us, changes how I look at everything.  Because just as it was for Jesus, I know You are arranging things in my life.  And man and Satan can try to thwart Your plans in me, but You’ve already trumped them and Your plans, even in and for me, will come to pass because You are God and You are my God.

So, thinking about my Savior’s birth as a baby and the wise men searching Him out brought me to these words of Yours, Lord.  Here You are, speaking to Israel, but these words are true for any of Your children.  “‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ says the Lord, ‘thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.'” (Jeremiah 29:11)  See, that Hebrew word for thought there means “intention, plan, purpose.”  Your thoughts, God, are never just vain imaginings.  Your thoughts come to be.  Your thoughts become reality.  Just like Your thoughts about the world and all creation.  You just think it, and it becomes.  Your thoughts are not like man’s.  And I can depend 100% on that!

So these aren’t thoughts of peace some day.  Because Your thoughts are a done deal.  You have shared the mystery of True Peace, Shalom, with us in Jesus.  Shalom can be mine continually in You.  You are not evasive; You have made Yourself known and able to be experienced.  And I can share You with others.

You sent Jesus for a purpose.  And here’s the beauty of it in Jeremiah, to give us an expected end.  That Hebrew word for expected comes from a cord, as an attachment.  Think of that image.  You planned and purposed for us to be re-attached to You, the God of eternity.  We are attached to You, to Hope Himself, to Life Himself, to everything that we long for which is in You.  That’s why Jesus was sent, to attach us back to You.  And that’s why He sends us, to draw others to be attached to You.  This is the Good News.  It’s all over Scripture.  And it ought to be all over our lives if we are Yours.  Because what is truly attached to You, what is really fulfilling Your purpose, well, it overflows of You.  Because You can’t be contained.  And You can’t be stopped.  Yes, Your will is beautifully being accomplished every moment regardless of the circumstances and all I have to do is look back at Your Word to be reminded.

So as I look to Your Word, carry me forward in Your truth, knowing that Your intentions for me are just as secure as those for Jesus because I am trusting in You.  Jesus has become my Shalom, He is my Good, and He is my Expected End.  I am forever bound to the One whose purpose is sure and true.  I am forever bound to the One whose plans are being and will forever be accomplished.  And that means everything to the confidence with which I can walk forward every moment despite the circumstances around me.

How About Rest Today?

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“…for Good News has also been proclaimed to us, just as it was to them.  But the message they heard didn’t do them any good, because those who heard it did not combine it with trust.  For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest….”  (Hebrews 4: 2, 3a)

Wow!  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  Who doesn’t want to hear Good News and who doesn’t want it to pertain to them?  And especially now, in these days, doesn’t rest seem promising in this ever-so-fast-paced world?  But this joyful hope is actually wedged between some not so joyful thoughts.  This is actually wedged in a warning.

What’s the warning?  Well, in chapter 3, Paul was reminding everyone of the attitude of the Israelites in the desert with Moses.  How they had the promise and presence of God and yet they didn’t trust Him.  They kept wanting things their own way, or the old way, and they kept complaining and grumbling against Him.  They had this kingdom planned for them, this rest that You, God, had prepared for them right around the corner, really, but because of disobedience and unbelief, they had to wander in a wilderness for 40 years!  And most of them never got to experience the rest that You, God, wanted them to enter from the start. You hadn’t wanted them to wait 40 years for it.  And it wasn’t that they didn’t know about it.  They knew everything that was required to enter that rest, but they disregarded it all.  They exempted themselves.

So Paul warns us about exempting ourselves.  Verse 4:1 starts with “Therefore, let us be terrified of the possibility that, even though the promise of entering His rest remains, any one of you might be judged to have fallen short of it.”  Ooooh!  That hurts!  Because it’s not just about having the Gospel preached in my hearing.  It’s not just about the hearing of the Truth.  Because so many Jews in the wilderness heard, but they didn’t respond rightly.  They heard, but it didn’t do them any good.  Why?  Because if we don’t hear and combine it with trust, it’s just words.  When I take Your words, Lord, and I combine them with trust, it becomes power.  Because then I become an instrument of Your power.

Think about it.  Twelve men went to spy the promised land.  Ten came back telling stories of the giants and how they would be defeated because the “power” of the people there was so great.  Two men came back and said, “God is bigger!  He can defeat giants!  This is no problem for Him!”  Ten men trusted in their own strength and the strength of other men.  Two men combined what they had already learned of You, Lord, and Your promises, with trust.  And that brings another thought to mind.

What thought is that, you might ask?  That I think that Joshua and Caleb, our two spies who trusted You, Lord, had already begun entering Your rest.  Wait a minute!  They didn’t get to enter the promised land until 40 years later!  Maybe not physically, but I think that when you see giants and you can say, “No problem.  No worries.  God is going to handle this for us,” then I think that’s a state of rest in itself.  I’d call that resting in the Lord, and it only comes with a committed trust in His every word and every part of His being.

Now here’s the other sandwich end of Paul’s words for us today.  “For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest.”  I’m stopping here for a minute because as I read that, it’s not telling me that we who have trusted will one day enter the rest.  It’s telling me that we enter it.  When I knock on a friend’s door and they open it and invite me in and I step inside, I enter their house.  I don’t wait ten minutes or ten years before I enter.  It’s something I do now.

I’m going to jump back to Matthew and share something that You, said, Jesus.  You were talking to a young man who asked how he could have eternal life.  But You refocused his thinking and ours by Your response.  Here’s what You said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good?  There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  (Matthew 19:17  NASB)  First, You focussed on entering into life, not even looking ahead to eternal life.  And this entering is a verb form that is something that has already been started.  And another word You choose to use is this particular word for wish.

Oh, let me go into a little more detail here.  This wish is “thelo” in Greek,  It’s a desire or wish.  So is the word “boule.”  They both mean to desire and wish something and to plan.  But there is a great difference.  “Thelo” makes sure it happens; “boule” does not make sure it is accomplished.  Sounds like You are pointing this young man and us to a faith that acts upon what it knows.  Faith isn’t just wishing I would be a better wife or a better husband or wishing I would have greater faith.  Faith is applying what I know so that it is coming to pass in my life.

But that’s not all.  There’s that word “eiserchomai” for entering in.  And the young man wants to enter into eternal life one day in the future.  But Jesus is using this verb tense that’s saying that life has already been entered.  What?  You mean I’m supposed to be concerned with how I live now?  This is the life I’m to be living for You?  Is it really my desire to live and bring about life?  Really?  Well, I’m are already in it?  What am I doing with it?  Am I livingYou out in it?  Is my life a portrayal of Your words?  You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Is that what my life looks like?  I‘ve got all the words I need.  Am I living them out in obedience, in faith?  Because to live in You, to live in Your words, that’s what life is all about.

And so I come to the rest of verse 3.  “It is just as He said, ‘And in my anger, I swore that they would not enter my rest.’  He swore this even though His works have been in existence since the founding of the universe.”  But I can’t stop here because I need to go on to verse 6 and 7.  Listen, Heart.  “Therefore, since it still remains for some to enter it, and those who received the Good News earlier did not enter, He again fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David, so long afterwards, in the text already given, ‘Today, if you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your hearts.'”

What does all this mean, Lord?  Maybe, that believing is living it out in life right now.  What if I was so concerned with living every moment for You that I really didn’t even have time to dwell on Heaven?  Would that really be so bad?  I mean, what if I was living out Your word in my life moment by every moment?  What if I was seeing giant after giant all around me and it wasn’t phasing me because I trusted Your words to me so much, I knew that You would defeat every one as long as I committed my ways to You and followed Your leading?  I mean, I have so many giants surrounding me right now but I’m going to choose to trust You and go on waiting for that moment when You will defeat them.  You know, I don’t have this down pat, Lord.  But I’m learning to turn from my ways and trust in You more and more every moment.

Lord, I’m not the only one who needs to live in Your rest now.  We all need it.  And we can’t wait until heaven.  And I’m so glad that You don’t intend for us to wait that long to rest in You.  You are our rest.  You established Yourself as our rest when You created the universe.  Your works and Your rest have existed for us since then.  Today I can enter into that rest.  But that today actually started so long ago.  How many days will I choose to pass up on Your rest?  I don’t want to pass up on any more.  And I pray that no matter the situation going on in my life or anyone else’s out there, that no matter how big the giant or how many, that we would live in Your rest by faith in action.  May Your word and You live through us and may we give You and Your word every opportunity through faith.  I’m so glad Your today started before mine and that I get to live in Your today forever!

The Foolishness of Preaching

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“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  1 Corinthians 1:21

There is a wisdom of God and there is a wisdom of the world.  They are not the same.  Isn’t it sad that God can lay His wisdom out for all to see and to know and to experience but we can refuse it?  We can choose our own wisdom as better.  But the truth of the matter is that our wisdom is not better.  It never will be.  Our wisdom is shallow and empty.  And this is what we choose?  I don’t want to choose that shallow wisdom.

How can I come to understand Your wisdom God?  Paul tells me in Romans 10:17  that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  And I think that’s what Paul is trying to get across here in 1 Corinthians.  But it’s not just about getting the word out.  It’s not just about proclaiming the word.  It’s about proclaiming the word as we live it out, as we let You live it out through us.  It’s the “foolishness of preaching” that You, Lord, use to save those who will come to believe.  So what does that mean?  What is the foolishness of preaching?

Sometimes I use other versions of the Bible to share Your word in easier “English” than the King James Version.  But we need to be careful with sticking as closely to the original intent as we can if we want to understand Your intent.  So I have to ask myself, is there a difference between “preaching”  and “what we preach”, or between “preaching” and “the message preached”?

In Hebrew thought there was not a division between hearing and doing.  If you said you heard something, then the evidence was in your doing what you heard.  This is faith.  I hear God, therefore I do what He says.  Preaching carries that same connotation.  Preaching is an action.  It’s not about a set of beliefs.  It’s about living out those sets of beliefs.  It’s all about living what You are teaching.  Preaching isn’t about my words as much as it is about my life.  Both actually go hand in hand.  It’s not just about the message.  It’s about the power of the wisdom of God being evidenced in my life.  Yes, I am announcing through words the truth of the whole Gospel, the Good News about everything that You, Jesus, have done, from start to finish and how we actively and participantly live in that truth, but it can never be separated from my life, from my living.

Preaching is not about propositions.  The Greek word here is “kerugma.”  It’s a noun that means “message or proclamation.”  But it can signify the content and the act.  If we go back to the Hebrew equivalent, “qol,” it’s more about the action of “calling aloud.”  So what does that imply?

Maybe the implication here is that the foolishness that You, Lord, are using isn’t just Your word that we are proclaiming.  Maybe the foolishness is what we are showing with our lives and actions.  It’s one thing to say a thing, it’s another to show we really live it out in truth.  It’s one thing to say we forgive, but it’s actually counter-cultural to forgive the horrendous.  Like, what about a child molestor?  I don’t ever excuse their actions but can I really forgive them?  I mean, what if it were my own child?  Could I live out forgiveness? What if it’s more about putting Your word into action in my life so that the Gospel I preach is being lived out in living colors in my life?  What if it’s not allowing room for hypocrisy because my actions speak everything my words do?  And now, what people hear becomes something they have to see demonstrated right in front of their very eyes.  And it’s not like what they are used too.

If I want people to believe the words I preach, there cannot be a discrepancy between the words and my life.  I can’t be a fraud.  How can I profess to have the truth, if I live another way?  If my actions don’t back my words, then I am a liar.  God, You are not a liar.  I must be like You if I am Yours.  My life actions and my message must be intertwined.

And it’s not my message and it’s not about my preaching.  It’s all about me lining myself up with Your preaching and letting You bring it to life in my life.  It’s about true religion and desperate relationship entwined together.  And if I have this religion and this relationship in You, it carries over into my other relationships.

So what is the foolishness of preaching?  What if the whole idea of the divinity and death of You, Lord, looks like foolishness?  What if the whole idea of someone bigger and better than us seems silly to someone who has been so busy leading their own way, taking care of themselves, and handling things on their own?  Why do I need a God?  Why would a God have to die?  But isn’t that where wisdom actually starts?  When we finally realize that God is God.  You are in charge.  You are holy and I am not.  I need You to change me because I can’t.  I need a Savior to pay the penalty for my sins.  So, what is the most beautiful truth in the whole universe, seems like foolishness until my eyes are opened.  The Jews thought it a scandal and refused to obey.  We think it foolishness and refuse to acknowledge Your deity and the value of Jesus’ death.

In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul instructs Timothy to “preach the word.”  It’s not just about going out to tell the Good News.  Paul was always taking the Good News deeper.  James stated in Acts 15:20, “For in every city from ancient generations Moses has those preaching him, having been read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”  So, what’s the point?  Maybe we understand our salvation better the deeper we are brought into a deeper understanding of all of Scripture.  Somehow, I tend to want to go back to living like the first through third century believers.   Even with the persecution.  I think there was a closeness like real family, they met in homes, sometimes secretly, they had to watch carefully and be alert to the hearts of the people around them.  They had to be genuine.  You either acted like Jesus or you weren’t one of His.  It reminds me of believers in persecuted areas now.  A Bible is a treasure to weep over and hide it’s words in your heart.  There is true passion for the Lord and for others.  They are unlike the world around them.  They are free to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Look at this list of words that were part of the life of the early believers as they met in homes and lived out what they believed and shared that with others.  “Suffering, Repentance, Restitution, Dependence, Confession, Intercession, Obedience, Teaching, Devotion, Prayer, Petition, More dependence, Relinquishing, Joy, Purity, Compassion” (Skip Moen)  Am I living, breathing, and acting out these words, these characteristics of You, Lord, in my life?  Because I’ve been called unto You and unto the power of this Gospel so that it’s not foolishness to me or a stumblingblock, but Your power and wisdom in me and through me.  So what is my calling?

You chose each believer to “confound the wise.”  What?  You want me to shame people?  No, that’s not it at all.  My life and message are to bring people to the point where they see themselves as they truly are before You and see You for who You truly are.  You bring us to shame by nature of who You are when we come to the truth.  And You have called us, the ones the world sees as weak, by our dependence on You, to put the ideas of the world about You to shame.  Even the mighty ideas puffed up against You won’t be able to stand up against what they see in our lives when we start really living out our preaching.

And I love the next verse.  1 Corinthians 1:28 continues, “And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are…”   Do you know that base things based on the word “agenes” means “without kin, ignoble”?  So what?  Well, it makes me think of You, Jesus.  I know You were not illegitimate because I know who Your Father is.  But the world thought You were.  They didn’t recognize Your kin.  You were despised.  But You were the Chosen One above all.  And You have chosen us to be Your examples in the world.  You take what the world sees as nothing and make everything of it in You.  And that’s the Gospel, that’s what we are preaching.  Our glory is in You.  And You are made in us and through us and for us and unto us the wisdom of God, His righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption.  It’s not just the Gospel I preach, it’s the Gospel I live.

So who’s the foolish one?  Is it the one who lives in the truth or is it the one who lives out the lie?  Call me what you will but what’s it worth?  I know Who is worthy of glory, and He’s the one I’ll listen to.  He’s the one I’ll follow and exemplify.  He’s the one who has become my kin.   I’m just wondering what your kin can actually do for you.  Because my Kin controls everything. And I am more than content to be under His control.

Lord, make my words and my life a mirror image of each other.  I want to live You out in my life.  I want Your word to be the essence of who I am.  Have Your way in me no matter the cost.  May I be wholly committed to You in word and deed.  May Your word and Your ways and You be so written on my heart that it effects every stitch of blood that pumps through my veins.  In my weakness be my strength.

A Hope That Never Changes

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  Romans 15:13

The Good News.  Hmm.  Everyone wants to hear good news.  I think we have a tendency to only want our good news to be good.  But God’s Good News is different than our good news.  God’s Good News is the ONLY truly GOOD news.  Scripture says, “Only God is good.”  Look it up.  It’s there.  It’s true.

Let me try a little logic here.  God is good.  Jesus is God.  Therefore, Jesus is good.  If only God is good and Jesus is God, then Jesus must therefore be good.  God and Jesus are one.  Why is that important?  Because it matters to my idea of understanding the true Good News.  Is living in the Good News of Jesus Christ about everything in my life being “honky dory”?  Is it about living the good life?  The Greek word for Gospel is “euaggelion” which means a good message.  What is the Good Message?  Is it just the words I want to hear or is it the words and actions I need to hear?

What does the world think “good” means?  Let’s check out Webster and see.  Oh my, it has over 40 variations of meanings!  It can imply strength adequate to its support, valid, complete or sufficiently perfect in its kind, having moral qualities best adapted to its design and use, virtuous, proper, conducive to happiness, uncorrupted, wholesome, beneficial, suited to strengthen or assist the healthful functions, pleasant to the taste, full, valuable, competent, favorable, able, ready, kind, faithful, promoting happiness, prosperous, honorable, cheerful, great or considerable, polite, real, benevolent, gracious, commendable, festive, companionable, brave, of respect, fervent zeal to benevolence, handsome, and humane.  But I forgot to point out that Noah Webster was a man of God and he even defined many of his words based on their use in Scripture.  So, I think if we honestly narrowed down the definition of “good” as most of us think about it, I could narrow it down to that which promotes happiness .  In other words, thinking like the world I would say that those things or thoughts that make me happy are good.  If it doesn’t make me happy, it’s not good.

But God’s goodness is not based on happiness.  Look back at the verse that led into this, Romans 15:13.  God is a God of hope.  Does a happy person need hope?  What does this God of hope want to do?  He wants to fill us with all joy and peace in believing.  Well, if I’m so happy already, why would I need joy and peace?  And this being filled with joy and peace leads to my overflowing with hope.  Is hope different than happiness?  Because this is implying that there was a point I had no hope, then hope came, and then hope filled me to overflowing.  And this hope, which sounds like more than happiness, wasn’t attainable on my own.  It only came to me supernaturally through the power of the Holy Ghost, by the power of God, through Christ in me.

Can you imagine the elation of thinking that someone is dead and then finding out they are alive!  Would there have been the same elation if that had not been experienced?  Isn’t there a greater appreciation for life when we realize the frailty of it?  You, Lord, want us to have that kind of realization.  Before I can realize what hope is, I need to know Who Hope is.

Hope is not some blind idea of happiness.  It’s not some looking forward to this great pie in the sky and floating on clouds with harps.  Hope is about the person of God.  It’s about You, Lord.  It’s about every one of Your rights as Creator of all things.  It’s understanding the awe of You being You, that everything else pales and shakes in fear in comparison.  It’s about this great, almighty being that is You who always does what is right and pure and true.  It’s about realizing that my Creator has every right over me.  You have EVERY right over me.

You God took nothing and made everything.  I can’t do that.  The most brilliant scientist can’t do that.  He needs something to make something.  But not You.  You are God.  Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”  Keep reading Psalm 19 on your own.  Paul, in Romans 1:20 declares, “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”  And he ends that by saying that people have no excuse for not believing You, Lord.  I mean all we have to do is go outside on a starlit night and open our eyes or hold a newborn baby in our hands and our hearts cry out that there is Something more.

The Biblical account tells of the creation of the world, of light, sea, land, moon, sun, and stars, birds, fish, animals, and then Your “piece de resistance,” man and woman.  ” Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’   So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  (Genesis 1:26,27)  The point here is that God created the world and God created you and me.  That means I was created with purpose and for a purpose and that I have a responsibility.  I’m not autonomous.  I don’t have the right to make up my own independent government because I’m not independent and I don’t have that right.  In being created, in being made, Someone else, which is You, Lord, have that right over me, over what You created.  Face it.  We are owned by God, the One who created us.

Does that make you happy to know?  Because that’s the beginning of the Good News, of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ.  This is where it all starts.  We can’t really know the Good News until we start understanding this truth about who You are Lord and who we are in realtionship to You.  The Good News comes with knowing the truth about You and about me.  And part of that truth is knowing that You are in charge and I am not.  God, You know what’s best for me.  You knew what was best for Adam and Eve and even though You gave them authority over all in the garden they were under Your authority.  And in love, You set boundaries of what was best for them because You knew.  You created it all.

But I think that having it my way will bring happiness and fulfillment.  That’s the lie.  It’s not about happiness, it’s about pure goodness that satisfies.  Adam and Eve bought into that lie that pleasure was found in our experiences of things rather than in our experiencing the goodness in You God and Your protection and provision.  So, where is my hope and do I really have it in the first place?  Does happinness really cut it?  Actually, it ruined it for Adam and Eve.  Sometimes the Good News hurts, well at least when we leave it or when we need to find our way back.

But this word good, it describes God’s character.  It’s Your character, Lord, part of it.  Scripture tells us You alone are good.  So what are You like, then Lord, as a good God?  “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  (Exodus 34:6-7)  Oh, thank goodness.  I’m glad that You as a good God feel that way.  That’s a relief.  But wait.  I haven’t finished verse 7 actually.  “Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.”  Well, that’s o.k.  That’s not me.  I’m not guilty.  I mean not really guilty because there are lots of people more guilty than me.  Is that how You look at it, God?

Habakkuk 1:13 says, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong.”  If sin is anything and everything that stands in opposition to You and Your ways, whether it be thoughts or actions,  what sins will You allow into Your presence?  You are without sin.  To be Yours I must be like You.  But what if I have sin, even some sin?  Because You say all have sinned and fall short of Your perfect righteousness, Your perfect holiness, Your perfect sinlessness.

Am I starting to see the reason I need hope?  Am I starting to see something that has crept into my life and thinking that can rob me of this joy and peace You can bring if I only knew what I needed to believe about You and believe in You?  What if I don’t see the danger of my own death coming?  What if I don’t see the danger of the way I think leading me into eternal separation from You?  But the Good News, the news that is honestly GOOD, is telling me Who You really are, why I really need You, what my problem really is, where true satisfaction and purpose are really found.

We’ve all, by our human natures, rebelled against this God, You, who has absolute right to our lives.  You created us, every one of us.  You know what’s best for us.  But we chose to do it our own way, to look for our own righteousness, our own way, our own rightness, no matter how wrong.  I walk away from the One who knows good, and want to make my own good.  And it doesn’t work, because there is only one Good.  And I can’t be that without Your supernatural work.

It’s so needed that You sent Jesus to be made sin for me, even though He never sinned, so I could become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Now, I don’t happen to like lying.  1 John 1:8 knows our tendency though.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  Deception is all around us.  Advertisements are deceptions.  They make us want what we don’t need and didn’t want in the first place.  Isn’t that what happened to Adam and Eve?  Make them want something else so they forget what the truth of God and His pleasure really is.  Focus them on lesser “pleasures.”  Draw them away from the truth.  Make them forget.

We’ll all face temptation.  The world and even our own hearts want us to believe a particular set of “truths” about You God.  But there is a real truth, the real You.  And we each have to live on guard for our own desires that want to lure us to believe what will make us happy.  Only happiness is fleeting.  Happiness lures, it entices.  Happiness deludes.  Because there is something deeper than happiness.  There is something better, something really GOOD.  There is Something that fills us with joy and peace even in the midst of tragedy.  There is something that causes us to overflow with hope not just for ourselves but for others.  And it all starts with understanding the bad part of the Good News.

I must die to self to understand the joy of life.  It’s not about my physical death.  It’s about first understanding that I absolutely need the authority of You, God in my life.   It’s about painfully, at first, coming to understand that I must relinquish my life to You because it belongs to You in the first place and I owe everything to You and You have it all under control.  And I must realize that You have every right to end my life today, to judge me guilty for even the smallest sin, because You are without sin.  And I can’t ask You to act against Your character, any part of it.  I’m created, I’m Yours, I’m guilty, and You tell me the penalty is death and separation from You.  This is not good news.  But this is where hope comes in.

You made a way for the price of my sin to be paid.  And it must be paid for.  I must realize that I am guilty and the penalty must be paid.  And this is where You sent Jesus to pay the price for my sin penalty 2000 years ago when He died on the cross.  He bore the wrath that You intended for me because You are a righteous judge.  You couldn’t just turn Your back on my sin.  So Jesus experienced that wrath for me and every sinner of all time.  He forgave me.  He paid the price for me.  He purchased me back.  That makes me double Yours by legal standards.  First You created me, therefore I am Yours.  Then Jesus redeemed me, therefore I am rightfully Yours.  But what will I do with this knowledge?  Will I surrender myself back to You and return Your rights over me to You?  This is the Good News.  But does it hurt?

Does it hurt to be given hope that the truth that was stolen from us can be returned?  Does it hurt to know that the relationship that was taken from us through deception can be restored?  Is it really bad news to realize that surrendering to You as Lord and Savior of my life fills me with everything I have really been longing for?

I don’t know about You, but this has been the most treasured decision of my life.  It was really scary when I started to realize who You really are, Lord.  When I started to realize that maybe I wasn’t good enough for Your standards, and I might miss out on You, that was too much for me.  You were my happy thought.  And even though it hurt to see myself as a sinner, it gave me a new freedom.  It gave me this beautiful freedom to surrender my life to You, to submit to Your authority over my life.  I could leave You in control.  And I could know that You would be in control every day for eternity.

I suppose I have a choice just like every person.  I can fill myself with stuff and ideas or I can be filled by the God of hope with immeasurable hope.    I can fill myself with the world’s ideas of happiness or I can let You fill me with joy and peace in knowing You and seeing Your word being brought to life as I believe and trust in Your ways.  My life hasn’t gotten easier since I trusted in You.  And the more I live by faith in Your word, the tougher things seem to get.  But for all the opposition, all the tough times, they have been the most beautiful times, filled with the greatest sense of joy and peace.  I am happiest when I experience You most and closest in my life.  And that’s the really good part of the Good News.  That when I turn to You and live a life of trust and belief in You, Your hope overflows in me and Your living power is demonstrated in my life and as I experience You through Your Holy Spirit.  Yes, this hope, this joy, this peace, way surpasses happiness.

Lord, I am so grateful for the hard to learn things You teach me about You.  I want to know You for who You really are.  I don’t want You to be some god I or the world has created to fit our standards or beliefs.  I want and I need a god who is God.  And You are that God.  You are God alone.  You alone are Good.  And in Your Goodness, and in Your almighty power, and in Your judgement, You still made a way for me to come to You and be made into Your image again.  What a precious treasure.  But I guess it means most to those who have come to see that somewhere along the line, we weren’t so precious looking or acting to start off with.  I guess it means most, Lord, when I see my need for my Creator to remold me, when I see that I’m scarred and not so beautiful on my own.  But thank goodness that You saw beauty in me simply by the fact that You created me.  And You saw me valuable enough to give the life of Your own precious Son in order to purchase me back.  And You have the power through His resurrection to bring me back into the hope of that relationship with You that existed in the beginning of creation.  Well, I’m grateful beyond words to have a Creator, and one that is like You are.  And I know I’m a messed up piece of work.  I need You.  And to others, that may seem like weakness, but I’m O.K. with that because I know by experience, Lord, that You alone are my strength.  I believe.  And I will choose to live in that belief.  And I love living in hope and joy and peace no matter what is going on around me, because my circumstances may change, but my HOPE never does.