Getting Out of the Rut

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Photo credit to 4-wheeling-in-western-australia.com

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  Luke 3:4b

Imagine going out into the wilderness to hear this man dressed in camel’s hair, with a belt of animal skin around his hip, who ate locusts and wild honey.  Today, that would be really unusual, but even back in Jesus’ day, that was unusual.  Even the most basic Jew would have worn a tunic, this “simple, one-piece robe, usually belted at the waist, with a hole for the head and two holes for the arms.” (Msgr. Charles Pope)  Most people wore both an inner tunic and an outer tunic.   The inner tunic only, was not a very respectable thing to wear by itself.  It was like a loose T-shirt dress coming to the knees, made of linen, cotton, or soft wool. Over the inner tunic, an outer tunic was worn, that often had tassles on the corner called Tzittzit.  If you were feeling penitential, like John or a prophet or the people of Ninevah, you might have worn sackcloth or camel hair.  That means that this John the Baptist guy, preaching in the wilderness was quite a site in his camel hair paired with the message he was preaching.   Here was a man demonstrating great humility in all areas of his life, calling everyone to humble repentance.  Could John’s message be so important that he would choose to humble himself before God and the people to declare it?

What was John’s message?  He was preaching the need for “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (verse 3)  John was preaching the need.  He was telling us all that without repentance, without turning from our sin, we can not be delivered from it, forgiven of it.  But it doesn’t just take repentance.  It takes the baptism of repentance.  I could repent on my own.  I could be sorry and turn myself around.  But that wouldn’t be the baptism of repentance. 

John’s baptism was a picture.  He dipped people in the waters of the Jordan River or where ever.  But in truth, the Jordan River can’t take away our sins.  So John was preaching something more powerful, but using a baptism that we could see to help prepare us for understanding how much we needed the baptism of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ to do the job for real, to do the job that we could not.

This baptiser was a voice in the wilderness crying out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (verse 4-6; Isaiah 40:3-5)  So, John’s “job” was to prepare people for Jesus.  His job was to make Jesus’ path straight.  What does that mean?

I don’t know exactly.  But it makes me stop and think.  Jesus didn’t need the earth leveled out to walk on it, so this is a word picture.  What is the picture that God is trying to paint for me?  How do you prepare the way for the Lord to enter?  Enter what?  Enter the earth?  Or enter a man’s heart and life and mind?  What if people need to be prepared to be able to look straight at Jesus and see him for who he really is and ourselves for who we really are?  That word for path is like a worn rut, you know, like where the cows go back and forth every day, or a lion paces back and forth in his zoo cage.  It makes a rut.

Then there’s that word “straight.”  It can also mean level.  And I’m thinking that’s it here.  Why?  Because we have ourselves in ruts in our lives.  A rut isn’t level; it’s a depression in the soil.  And then we come to the next word.  We hear valleys being filled, mountains and hills being leveled, winding roads straightened, and rough ways made smooth.  And when all this happens, boom, the salvation of God!

This is the call to repentance.  We are called out of our ruts.  We are called to get off our mountains and our high hills.  We are called to walk away from perversity and crookedness.  We are called to smooth out our rough and jagged edges.  But then again, we can’t do that on our own.  We need someone who can do this in our lives.  We need someone who has the power to make the path straight, to fill and level the valley, to bring down the mountains of pride, to overcome perversity and crookedness in our lives, to smooth out our rough and rocky edges, to make us able to know our God and His salvation.

Who warns us to flee from the wrath to come, to flee from the anger of God?  Who warns us to come to Him, to draw near to Jesus, to find refuge and forgiveness and power in Him?  Unless it’s God working in us, it’s not real.  The reality of God working in us and calling us unto Himself through His Son Jesus, works in us the fruit of real repentance.  I will know that I can’t do any of this on my own.  I will know that I need Him.  I will know that I am lost without Him and He is my only hope for life, now and forever. 

What shall I do, then, Lord?  If you would hew down those who don’t bring forth good fruit, how can I be one who bears good fruit?  If I can’t set the path straight on my own, how can I at all?  Is it enough if I give one of my coats to someone in need?  Is it enough if I am honest in my affairs with others?  Is it enough if I refrain from violence, don’t accuse others falsely, and am content?  No, that is not enough, but those things are the fruits of repentance, the fruits of one who is being humbled and humbling oneself.  These are the fruits of one whose way is being prepared for the Lord.

John was not the Lord.  But he was helping people be prepared.  Jesus was coming.  Jesus would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Which we will be baptised with depends on if we let Him level our “playing ground” by humbling ourselves before him or if we refuse to let him.  We can choose to hold onto our mountains of pride, our valleys of self-pity, our crooked ways of perversion, our habitual ruts.  Or we can allow Jesus to lay them all out straight and flat so that they aren’t obstructions to our following His will any more, so that they are not obstructions to us knowing and following Him.

It’s my choice.  I can humble myself before the One who humbled Himself on my behalf and gave His life a ransom for mine.  He took the fiery punishment I should take so I wouldn’t have to.  Why wouldn’t I humble myself to His love and His power and His ways?  Why wouldn’t I submit to letting You, Lord, straighten me out and level me out so that You shine as the Highest of highests in my life?  Why would I refuse, and bear the fiery punishment instead?

The truth is that all flesh, all people, shall see the salvation of God.  “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)  It doesn’t matter who you are or who I am.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve allowed the Lord to humble you or if you have stood firm as the mountain against Him.  The truth is, God will reveal His glory; we shall both see it.  The only difference is that one of us will run to Him as our refuge, our God, our Father, our Saviour, because we are humbly covered by the blood of the Lamb, even as imperfect as we are.  But the other, will be cast away, cringing in terror and eternal loss.  Because as the Lord stands there before us both, purging the floor before him, fanning the wheat and the chaff, who will you be?  The wheat he collects, but the chaff, He will burn with unquenchable fire.

Lord, I want to be Your wheat.  I want to be humble and humbled.  I want to see You as You are and other things as they truly are.  I want my path made straight in You.  And I want to be faithful like John and help prepare others to find your path, because there aren’t many paths.  You have made one path for all.  May I follow that as I follow Your leading, and may I be an instrument to draw others to Your path of You as well.

From Pondering to Pain to Power

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“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”  Luke 2:34,35

I can’t help reading these words of Luke and not thinking about his choice of words with her.  What words?  “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  And then, those words happen again a little later, “And he [the child Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.  And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”  (Luke 2:51) And why is that significant to me?  Because, Simeon, the prophet who has been waiting for God to reveal His Messiah, declares that this Jesus, this 40 day old baby is the One.  But it’s not just that.  It’s the way he talks about the sword piercing through Mary’s soul and that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.

Will Mary’s heart be pierced through because her son is crucified?  Or is it an even worse piercing?  For Mary, will it take the crucifiying of her son and his resurrection for her to fully understand that even though he was her son, He is not her son?  He is more.  He is God’s Son first and foremost.  And she must submit to Him just as she submits to God.  She needs Jesus more than He needs her.  Jesus is her salvation.  Is it a rude awakening when we realize our absolute need for You, Lord?  That I’m not the one who holds things together, but You are?  That even though I was chosen to bear You in my body, You didn’t just die for me, You died for all mankind? 

What of Mary’s heart on the day that she and the family came for Jesus.  And someone in the crowd announced they were there.  “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He asked.  “And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:48-50, Mark 3:33-35, Luke 8:19-21)    Now tell me that hearing that was not painful!

Imagine that you have birthed this child.  You’ve been told who He will be.  But you don’t totally understand how it will all play out.  Along the way, there are little glimpses of His glory, but most of the time, He’s just a kid, your kid.  At eight days old, he is circumcised just like all the other boys, and given his name, Jesus, as the angel had declared.  I bet things were uneventful up until his 40th day when they went, according to custom to dedicate Him to the Lord during the purification of Mary.  All the Jewish mothers went through the purification.  If they gave birth to a girl, there was a purification process, and another if they gave birth to a boy.  For the first born males, there was a special dedication where they were called “holy to the Lord.”  This was normal tradition.  But it wasn’t just normal tradition for Jesus.

For Jesus, this was the true fulfilment of what the “traditions” were set up to point to.  This was no longer symbolic.  Jesus was the first born Son of God.  He was truly holy to the Lord.  This was fulfilment of God’s will.  This was fulfilment of Scripture.  This was God bringing to light the Truth, no longer just pointing to the Truth by pictures and shadowy images.  This was the Daystar lighting up the Truth for us to see.

And the truth is that coming to the Truth hurts.  Why?  Because I have to be changed.  I have to let go of things I have always believed about me, about the world, about God, and take hold of the Truth instead.  I have to let go of things being mine or being my way.  I have to let go of control and hand it over to God.  I have to let go of my children and hand them over to God.  I have to stop hiding things inside and let them out and turn them over to God.  I have to stop putting things into my perspective and allow God to put them into His perspective for me.  I must be willing to lose what I thought was mine to gain what God has for me, like the truth in Jesus’ words when He tells us, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) 

Has this same sword ever pierced through my own soul?  Have you ever shown the real thoughts of my own heart?  Have I ever layed down all of who I thought I was, to let You make me all of who You created me to be in You?  Has the Truth ever hurt?  Or am I still to busy turning a blind eye?  Am I still just pondering in my heart?  Have I never let You give my heart understanding?  Have I never let You take the veil off my face, or remove the scales from my eyes?  I can’t change myself.  It will never happen.  But that’s ok, because You alone can change me.  So help me to lose my self so that I can find myself in You, empowered by You and alive in You.

The Only Thing That Can Hold Me Back is What I Believe

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“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and…”  Luke 1:41 (and a tiny bit of 42 as a teaser.)

Part 3

Wisdom isn’t the only thing the Holy Spirit brings to us.  Of course, if the main part of that wisdom wasn’t the ability to know God and understand and love and desire His ways, that would be very empty and pointless wisdom.  But the knowledge of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, is the reality of the wisdom from the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit is a gift of God, placed within us upon our believing in, or rather placing our trust in the completed work of Jesus on the cross.  It’s not just some intellectual decision.  The intellectual grasps the truth of our needed redemption and our whole person surrenders to our need for Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.  I surrender my life and my intellect and my being to Him.  In so doing, God adds Himself to my life, intellect, and being by the person of the Holy Spirit. 

When I was a 5 year old, I wanted so badly to walk with Jesus.  If I could have gone back in time to His day, I would have.  If I could have gotten God to let Him be born again in my day, I would have.  I just wanted to walk with Him and know Him and be with Him that much.  I still do.  But that’s not how it happens.  But Jesus and God had already made a way for us to walk with Him, and it was even more intimate than how the disciples walked with Jesus upon the earth.  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is that better way.

Let’s listen to Jesus’ own words about why the Holy Spirit is better for us than walking with Him.  “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth [Holy Spirit] comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-15)

In the Old Testament, and even while Jesus walked upon the earth, the Holy Spirit was only given to select individuals.  He could be given and He could be taken away.  Why?  Could it be that in the past, the Holy Spirit was given as a “taste” of what was to come in Christ?  How could the Old Testament believers be filled with what they couldn’t fully understand yet?  They knew the Messiah was coming and they were trusting in that promise.  But they didn’t understand it yet?  How can you expect to be filled with what You have no understanding of?  So for most people, it wasn’t the right timing yet.  God gave them the pictures in the “rituals and festivals” to help them understand.  After all, how can we understand what we can’t see yet? We still live by faith in what God shows us and He gave glimpses of the power and purpose and working of the Holy Spirit.  But His dispensation or time had not become full yet.  After Christ had fulfilled His purpose, after His sacrifice and resurrection, the time was here, the time was ripe and full for the Holy Spirit.

We no longer live by an external set of rules to exhibit faith in God.  When we place our trust in Him, He seals us as His own by the Holy Spirit and enables us by the same spirit that He places in us.  He doesn’t just walk with us, compelling us from the outside.  He walks in us, transforming us from the inside out.  We are not just conformed, but transformed.  He moves us, speaks to us, compels us, holds us back, gives us understanding. 

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit for a moment and shared truths that the Spirit shared from God Himself.  But we as believers, are sealed and filled with the Holy Spirit forever.  So what can I expect?

I can expect the Spirit to give me the words of God to speak in the midst of trials, or whenever and wherever needed. (Mark 13:11)  John Knox portrayed the Holy Spirit as “the power and entity that holds all things together since the creation of the world.” (A. J. Swoboda) I can expect the Holy Spirit to allow “the power of the Most High” to overshadow me.  I don’t have to be a Mary birthing Jesus; I just have to be a believer letting God have His way through His Holy Spirit by the blood of Jesus Christ. 

That overshadowed thing when Mary became the mother of Jesus by no help of Joseph (Luke 1:35), is the same word used when the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters, the emptiness and darkness that existed, the chaos.  He hovers over the chaos and divinely sorts out the chaos to bring it to order.  That’s what we still need.  In the Old Testament, the Spirit overshadowed the people of God, overshadowed the temple, and even overshadowed Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus.  God’s overshadowing is the means of our understanding as He brings the chaos in our minds and the life around us into His ordered perspective.  Now, the Holy Spirit is invested within us to influence us to understand the chaos around us in the light of what God is doing.

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit allows us to understand so that we might teach, or helps us to put together the chaos around us to understand it in light of the scriptures, like Zechariah when he prophesied.  (Luke 1:67)  That’s also how Simeon new that the baby in Mary’s arm was Jesus, the Messiah.  (Luke 2:26)  In the midst of the chaos of life, He identifies what is His.  Remember when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and the voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”? (Luke 3:22)  How would the people know, unless the Holy Spirit identified Jesus for them?  We are actually identified by Him (Ephesians 1:13) and are sealed by Him. The Holy Spirit is the sign that we belong to God.

He leads us (Luke 4:1); He reveals God’s truths, spiritual truths to us (Luke 10:21); He works forgiveness in us (Luke 12:10); teaches us what to say (Luke 12:10); identifies Jesus for us (John 1:33); brings His words to our remembrance (John 14:26); gives us power from God to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8); helps us to see the fulfilment of scripture (Acts 1:16); enables us through the spiritual gifts (Acts 2:4); leads us to pray and fills us with boldness in speaking the Word (Acts 4:31); makes us witnesses and helps us obey beyond believing (Acts 5:32); walks hand in hand with the increasing of our faith (Acts 6:5); reveals the glory of God to us (Acts 7:55); allows us to share Himself with others (Acts 8:17); gives peace, builds us up, teaches us to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of Himself (Acts 9:31); calls us and sets us apart for God’s purposes (Acts 13:2); sends us (Acts 13:4); fills us with joy (Acts 13:52); sometimes forbids us or holds us back from a thing (Acts 16:6); tells me of things to come (Acts 20:23); makes us our “brother’s keepers,” so to speak (Acts 20:28); pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5); bears witness with our conscience (Romans 9:1); brings righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17); fills us with joy and peace in believing, so we can abound in hope (Romans 15:13); makes the offering of our lives acceptable and sanctified (Romans 15:16);  makes our body a holy temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19); declares Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3); brings us into fellowship with God and Jesus (2 Cor. 13:14);  makes known the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:5); allows us to share the gospel in word, power, and with full conviction (1Thessalonians 1:5);  helps us guard what God has entrusted within us (2 Timothy 1;14); washes us through regeneration and renewal (Titus 3:5); bears witness in us by signs and wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:4); enables us to hear God’s voice (Hebrews 3:7);  helps us preach the good news (1 Peter 1:12); is the voice of prophecy and the spoken word of God (2 Peter 1:21); and guides us to be built up in the Lord, to pray, and keep ourselves in the love of God. (Jude 1:20,21)

Elizabeth isn’t the only one who can be filled with the Holy Spirit and…This is available to everyone who believes.  It’s not who we are that sets us apart; it’s Who we believe in.  Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)  That’s what this  “and…” is talking about.  That’s what we’ve been reading about in the Holy Spirit.  Do we want these rivers of living water?  Then we need to follow Elizabeth and Mary’s example and believe.  Then we need to let God throw our world upside down so it can be made right side up in Him.  If you aren’t sure if it’s worth it, go back and read the chapters and books these references came from in the Word of God.  I’m sold.  I believe it’s worth it.  I want to live and die with rivers of living water flowing from me.  The only thing that can hold me back is what I believe.  I want to believe every word of God and live in it so that His Word is what flows with life from me

No Matter the Circumstances

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“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and…”  Luke 1:41 (and a tiny bit of 42 as a teaser.)

In all the Marvel Avenger movies, we sit and wait at the very end for the teasers or tag to come up while the credits are rolling.  We sat and waited and waited in the last Avenger’s movie, until one of the staff cleaning up asked, “What are you waiting for?”  “Isn’t there a teaser coming?”  “Nope.”  “Oh.”  How disappointing!

Well, today’s Scripture, does not leave us without a teaser.  And I think that today, the Lord is “teasing” me to look not just at Elizabeth, or John the Baptist, or Mary, or the birth of Jesus, but to look beyond those things at Him.  So here I am, with Elizabeth, who, when she is greeted by Mary, and maybe she hadn’t even seen Mary yet, but only heard her voice, but that was all it took, for the Holy Spirit to cause her baby to leap inside for joy, and for Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And if I keep on reading, I see that Elizabeth, upon being filled with the Holy Spirit, well, something happened in her and to her and through her.  She said stuff and knew stuff that didn’t just come from her. 

It’s not in her first words.  Anyone could have said that out of excitement to see someone.  No, actually, it IS even in her first words.  It’s all over everything she says and knows.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  How did she know that there was something different and special above other women, above the natural going on inside Mary’s womb?  No one sent a letter.  Mary hadn’t talked to her earlier.  Who just told her?  The Holy Spirit.

“And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Do you hear that?  How did she know that Mary was carrying the Lord inside of her womb?  This baby was Elizabeth’s Lord.  He was a baby and yet, he was already Elizabeth’s authority, and she was already submitted under Him?  How did she know?  Who told her?  The Holy Spirit.

“For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  How did she know it wasn’t a gas pain or the normal movement of a baby inside a mother’s womb?  Because you can tell when the Holy Spirit is moving.  There is a knowing, that you can’t explain, but you know.  And it was at the sound of Mary’s greeting, when Elizabeth heard her voice.  She didn’t need to see Mary to know she was pregnant, or to know she was pregnant with the Messiah.  She heard her greeting and she knew, and John, inside her womb, still developing, knew.  How?  How did she know?  The Holy Spirit.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  How did Elizabeth know that the Lord had spoken to Mary?  How did Elizabeth know that Mary had responded with belief?  And how can Elizabeth call her blessed because she believed in God’s fulfilment of His words.  Is she just blessed because she gets to be the mother of Jesus?  How does Elizabeth know what she’s saying?  How does she even say this?  The Holy Spirit.

I have to stop here before I get where I thought I was going today, about where the Holy Spirit takes us in the Lord and how He enables us in the Lord to do God things instead of people things.  But then I came to this word “blessed.”  Elizabeth isn’t saying that Mary was given a special opportunity and that good fortune will come from that.  She wasn’t saying that Mary had reached a stage of happiness and contentment and there would be no misfortune or hardship in her life.  Mary wouldn’t avoid death and pain.  What was she saying?

Elizabeth was declaring that Mary had claimed the objective reality of what God had done through a divine act in her.  She wasn’t basing her life on subjective feelings.  She was basing her life on the word of God as being true and accomplished as it was spoken.  When she heard the word of God spoken to her, even though it was impossible by man’s standards that she could become impregnated without the performance of a man upon his part, she trusted in the power and word of God and the working of His Holy Spirit.  She took seriously the word of God.  It wasn’t just a teaching or a recommendation or a command.  It was truth.  It was life.  It was Jesus, the Son of God, inside of her. 

She was blessed by the Lord.  She heard it from the angel and from Elizabeth.  That didn’t give her some warm fuzzy feeling inside.  It was serious stuff.  It was the stuff of surrendering your life to whatever God required.  It was trust.  She couldn’t remain passive.  She had to act “in accord with the coming kingdom,” (Bored-this is who wrote those word in quotes) with God’s will.  It wasn’t just a description of a girl that God was happy with.  It was a girl that the Lord was using and including to bring into reality His kingdom.  To be blessed is to be a blessing, because it’s only for insiders, for those who are inside God and He is in them. 

Mary was blessed because she was joined in fulfilling God’s “prophetic pronouncement.”  She knew it was more than words; that it was reality coming into being.  She knew the truth based on the authority of the One who spoke it.  She didn’t need to investigate it, or confirm it, or check it out.  She knew it was true because it was of God.  Her ideas or thoughts had no bearing on His truth.  Hers was just to take a stand with regard to God, who had spoken.  To have only shared the content of his speaking would not be to be blessed.  The blessing is in the doing, because in the doing is the being and believing, and in being and believing in God’s words, is the part of being included in His performance of those words.  That’s the only place the blessing is. 

Mary was blessed, not because she was chosen, but because she trusted the words of God.  She surrendered her life to believing those words and allowing them to take hold of her and become her way of life.  It changed life as she knew it.  It turned her world upside down, and not hers alone.  Because she joined with God and adopted His words as her way, her truth, her life, then what blessed her life in Him, turned the whole world upside down.  Her virtue exists because God’s word was her virtue.  She understood who God was and she believed.  Why?  For the mere fact that God said so. 

Can I say that?  Can I say, “Because God said so, I believe, and I will live that out in my life?”  Can I really say that?  Do I say that and follow through like Mary?  God says, “Be angry but sin not.”  Do I believe the truth of His word and then surrender my life to them?  God says, “Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”   How about that?  What God calls sin, do I call sin and live my life in that truth?  Is God’s word my truth or do I make my own?  Am I more hungry for the temporary “blessings” of this world than I am for the blessing of God? 

I want to be like Mary.  I want to care more about the blessing of God, not what He will give me, but that I am in Him and He in me.  I want to care more about His honor than mine, about His kingdom than mine.  Because the blessing of God isn’t about what God gives me, but about all that He is when I live in Him.  The blessing of God is being in Him, looking forward to the final completion of all His promises, and remaining in Him to be there when He has completed all His promises and I am there in Him to enjoy the fullness of His presence and the ultimate everything he has for us in His perfect kingdom.  I want to be in You now Lord, so that I will be in You then.  Help me to understand the value of Your blessing every day of my life.  I believe, like Mary, that Your word will do what it says, and that Your word has the power to do what it says.  I want to live in that power every day of my life, no matter the circumstances.

God is God Through It All

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Picture credit goes to Bryce.

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’  And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

These are the words spoken of by a girl by our modern standards.  By Jewish tradition then, a girl could be betrothed at the age of 12.  Most Biblical scholars believe that Mary was 15 or 16 at this time.  This is a pretty foreign and scary concept for us, but it was life then.  And once we get over the fact of her age, can we see beyond that to see the maturity of her response?

Whether she was 12 or 15 when the angel spoke to her, we know that she was “highly favored” (Luke 1:28) of God.  There was something special about this girl’s heart and thoughts toward God.  He noticed.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t afraid when the angel appeared.  She was.  That’s a normal response.  But she controls her fear and listens openly to radical stuff that’s going to change her life as she knows it and change the world.  Talk about world rocking news, her life would never be the same.  And it wasn’t going to be easy for her.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Come on now, that’s wild stuff to hear.  She could have asked, “What sign will you give me so I know this is true?”  “How will I know this is true.  The conditions aren’t quite right.”  But that wasn’t the way she asked.

She didn’t ask “How will I know this will be?” or “How will I know this is true?”  She demonstrated “pure faith and obedience.”  “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  That’s like saying, “How will you do this, considering I am a virgin?”  She didn’t doubt God.  She asked to understand.  And God grants understanding to those who want to know so they can obey.  So the angel explained God’s plan for her.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”  God will do it, in His power, His way, by His Holy Spirit, so what is done and who is formed is holy—the Son of God.

And because she believed already, because she asked for direction and to be included in His plan, God let the Angel give her extra encouragement by sharing a sign to confirm.  “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  This is crazy stuff to a man’s mind.  But this is glorious stuff to a man’s mind set on God.  And for this girl, this was glorious God stuff, because she knew that nothing was impossible for God.  This wasn’t new news for her, his ability to do wonders.

So here is this young girl who doesn’t shed any doubt on the situation like Zechariah.   She doesn’t lay out a fleece, again and again, like Gideon.  She believes and obeys.  She answers, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:35-38)  Later, when she greets Elizabeth and sings her praise to the Lord, her song is full of probably “10 quotations of and allusions to the Old Testament.” (GotQuestions.org)  This girl knew scripture.  This girl knew what to expect because she was waiting for what God had promised.  And she wasn’t only waiting for it, she was walking in those promises, living in them and for them, and she was only a girl.  I’m an adult, is my walk, is my faith like that?

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”(ESV)  “For no word from God will ever fail…” (NIV)  “Every sentence of the Lord’s Word is full of power (Luke 1:37).  Not only in creation or in salvation, but also in war, whatever He says is accomplished.” (Watchman Nee)  Do I believe that like Mary?  Do I believe that every sentence of the Lord’s Word is full of power so that whether in birth or death, joy or disaster, I believe and can rejoice in God being God through it all.  Mary was a girl with her head on her shoulders firmly.  She knew that this news was not easy news, but it was God news.  She didn’t know all of the ramifications, but she knew those that mattered most.  This was God’s promise coming true and He was including her as part of it.  If that was true of me, would I be busy worrying about the rest or would the joy of that fact overwhelm my heart with joy at the thought?

The miracle in Mary was a different miracle than that in Elizabeth.  The miracle in Elizabeth was God’s miracle using “human essence” and filling John the Baptist with His Holy Spirit by His divine power.  John was still a mere man, but filled with the Holy Spirit of God.  The miracle in Mary was different.  “The conception of the Savior was God’s incarnation (John 1:14), constituted not only by the divine power, but also of the divine essence added to the human essence, hence producing the God-man of two natures—divinity and humanity.  Through this, God joined Himself to humanity that He might be manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) and might be a Man-Savior. (Luke 2:11)” (Witness Lee)

What was being done in Mary was something never done before.  And she didn’t argue it.   She said, “Lord, do with me as You please.”  It’s like making stew.  You add all the ingredients together and it becomes stew.  Stew is different than soup or spaghetti.  It’s stew.  But the ingredients in stew are still distinguishable.  The potato remains potato; the meat remains meat.  But they are stew.  And this is what God was doing in Jesus, mingling the human essence of Mary and the divine essence of God together in one God-man.  Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines “mingle” as “to combine or join (one thing with another, or two or more things together), especially so that the original elements are distinguishable in the combination.”  The original elements are still distinguishable.

Mary didn’t have to understand everything.  She just needed to trust in God’s Word, and she did.  She didn’t understand everything that God was doing in Jesus, but she trusted that He was doing whatever He had to inside of her, and she let Him.  I don’t know if she thought about how Jesus had her essence and how Jesus had God’s essence at the same time; that He was both human and divine at the same time.  I don’t know if she thought about how  “Jesus was a mingling of God and man.” (Witness Lee)  This was the beginning of her journey to understanding the God—man, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. 

But she couldn’t have understood if she didn’t believe and if she didn’t follow that belief with obedience.  Oh, that I would so readily believe the Word of God, even if it took me into uncomfortable situations.  Oh, that I would follow that belief with obedience, no matter the cost, because the blessing of being in the will of God, of knowing and belonging to God in the God-man Jesus, of knowing and being known by Him, outweighs everything else.  Oh, that my maturity in You and Your Word would bring forth that kind of response, over and over that I would be a lifetime witness to Your miracles of life and faith.

Don’t Be Caught With Your Pants Down!

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“But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory now and to the day of eternity.  Amen.”  2 Peter 3:18

There is a day approaching and it will come on us like a thief breaking in a house.  Some of us will be prepared, and some of us…well…this will be a day like no other.  Oh, there are terrible natural disasters.  We’ve seen them.  Some of us have lived through them.  But on this day, it’s been promised that “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”  (2 Peter 3:10) 

It’s not like Peter was pulling some crazy idea out of nowhere.  This is sound Biblical truth.  Take it as a promise from God.  We can find it shared by John in Revelation. Jesus told us in Matthew, Luke, and Mark.  Paul warns us.  Isaiah, Nahum, Malachi, Amos, Joel, and Micah warned us.  The Psalmist warns us and Jude warns us.  With all those warnings, what will I do about it?  How will I prepare?  How am I to prepare?

Hasn’t Peter already been preparing us?  But just in case we missed it, Peter asks, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…”  (2 Peter 3:11,12a)   Actually, he’s not asking a question.  He’s telling us the kind of people we ought to be busy being.  In other words, the sort of being you ought to be in your life is holy and godly, like one looking forward to and awaiting His coming. 

How can I look forward to a coming like that with so much utter destruction?  Because I know the truth.  According to God’s promise, it doesn’t end with destruction for those who believe, for the child of God.  We are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells 24-7.  That’s God’s promise.  That is what He is bringing in after He cleanses away the brokenness and sin.

It’s not like waiting for a dentist or doctor appointment or punishment from Dad, where you wait and cringe and don’t look forward to it at all.  Of course we don’t look forward to the destruction, but then we look beyond the destruction, don’t we.  Isn’t that hope?  Isn’t that trust?   Isn’t that faith?  We wait for the final promise, the new heavens, the new earth, righteousness everywhere because God is the light of everything and Jesus is the heart of everything.  And if I know this, then don’t I want to live so that I’m ready for the presence of God?  Don’t I want to live diligently in You?  Don’t I want to be faithful at allowing You, Your way in my life, of surrendering all to You now so that I’ll be ready to be whatever You want me to be in You throughout eternity?  Don’t I want to live my life preparing for that?

When You come back, because You are, it’s a promise, how will I be found?  What will I be doing?  Will I be ready?  Or will I be “caught with my pants down”?  That would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it?  How am I preparing now?  Am I diligent?  Am I quick to obey You?  Do I make every effort to know Your will more and more every day and to do it?  Am I prompt with what I learn?  Am I earnest?  Do I follow through with action and life change or do I just store it up in my brain?  Is it a labour of love to seek Your will through Your word and time spent meditating upon it and in prayer with You?  Do I labour to obey, to walk it out in my life, to let You have Your way in me?  Do I really study to show myself “approved unto God, a workman not needing to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”?

Lord, help me to be diligent to grow in grace and in knowing, really knowing Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, knowing His will, so that I know Your will, and do it, because it has become my joy to glorify You now and forever.  My goodness, if I can’t find joy in glorifying You now in my body and life, how do I expect to find joy in You in eternity?  My joy can’t wait; it has to start now, because now is when I know You.  To not have joy is to not know You, and one can’t have hope in someone they don’t know, can they?  May I bring You glory now and into eternity. 

The “Gentleness” of Jesus’ Correction

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Picture credit to lifeplusreality.worpress.com

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”  Hebrews 12: 11-13

I’ve changed topics today but I couldn’t help it.  I just wanted to think about correction.  Because sometimes, it’s hard to take correction.  Sometimes, some of us take it even harder than others.  There are some of us who want all our correction “candy coated,” you know, kind and gentle and sweet, without pain, I guess.  There are some of us who are just not going to listen no matter what, because we’ve been so hurt in the past, we just block it out, because we take it as an affront, and offense to who we are a person.  There are those of us who hear but then shrug it off because we just don’t take it seriously; our thoughts are elsewhere.  And sometimes, maybe sometimes, we listen and take it to heart and let it change us.

On the other hand, there are those who feel someone needs correction.  There are the outright abusive correctors who attack the person and their character, beating people down with their words.  There are those who are so gentle in correction, that they affirm the character they want to correct.  There are those who are direct and to the point on the issue at hand.  And there are those who can correct, like Samuel with David, indirectly but it takes it home directly in a receptive heart.  How are we supposed to correct?  Are we supposed to correct?  Can we just let people continue on a path that hurts them in their spiritual walk and life walk?  What was Jesus’ correction like?  I wanted to think about that, especially if You, Lord, are to be my example.

As I read it, and you can read and see it too, I’m sure, Jesus was direct and to the unmistakeable point, even in his parables.  I just looked through the book of Matthew alone to see how he responded to people.  And the first place I came to was Matthew 3 where Jesus is approaching John at the Jordan to be baptised by him.  And John would have stopped him.  Why?  “I need to be baptized of you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, that’s a good idea.  Sure.  I’ll do that.”  He answered, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  And John consented.  Well, that’s not so rough for correction, is it?  But maybe that’s like Jesus telling John, “Remember, you don’t get to decide what righteousness is.  God does.  And don’t forget who I am.  If I say it’s righteous, it’s righteous.  Just do it so we are one in righteousness, you, me, and God before all the people.  Is that what You were implying, Lord.  Because right after the baptism, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”  If John saw that, I think he stood corrected in his prior thinking.  No matter what, I am to listen to this guy!”

You even corrected Satan as You resisted him in the wilderness, always correcting him according to the word of God, and that is how You resisted him, despite Your weakened state.  Again, God blessed You and affirmed Your approach at obedience, which included the correction of others.  “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (Matthew 4)

You didn’t run to John the Baptist when he was imprisoned.  You didn’t rescue him.  The only encouraging words that You sent were the accounts of what was happening, which John should have known agreed with Scripture and prophecy.  Maybe those things should have reminded John of that day at the Jordan?  He was a mature believer, right?  After all, he was a prophet with special insights.  Why didn’t You go to him?  Was he being corrected, given a time to learn that “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not see,” (Hebrews 11:1) even when you know you are going to be beheaded?  That’s a hard lesson, isn’t it?  But isn’t it also the lesson we need to learn?  Will avoiding losing our head get us there?  What if, sometimes, losing our head is what it takes to learn faith like that?

When Jesus began his ministry, what was his first message?  “I love you guys.  Mwuah.”?  No.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4)  That’s like saying, “Change now because God is here and actively bringing things to a close.  You can’t stay the way you are.  Prepare for Him or miss Him.

He did not conjole or persuade.  He commanded and promised God’s will to be fulfilled in the lives of those who obeyed.  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  (Matthew 4:19)

His goal was not to heal people of their sickness and oppressions and seizures and paralysis.  His goal was to restore their relationship with God, to direct them to repentance.  The miracles enforced who He was.  If He had the power to heal like this, then surely He had the power to forgive sin as well.  But miracles were not the focus, ever.  They were only proof that Jesus was given the power of God to forgive and restore us and be the propitiation for our sin, the problem.

And so You taught.  You taught the Beatitudes, the life and spirit character that leads to joy in the Lord and relationship with Him.  But You also taught that if one refuses restoration, refuses to live in God’s blessings, there are severe consequences. 

He set tough standards.   “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)    “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22)  “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)  “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)  “But I say to you, ‘Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” (Matthew 5:34-35)  “But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…”  (Matthew 5:39)  “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’” (Matthew 5:44)  “You therefore must be perfect [complete in character], as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48)  This is what He set for us to measure up to.

For every encouragement Jesus gave, He also gave warnings.  “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, but beware, no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve god and money.”  (Paraphrased from Matthew 6: 19-24) 

He was direct and to the point.  If you were wrong, you were wrong and he was not afraid or amiss to point it out.  “Judge not that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1)  Then You go into more detail in case we say, “Oh, I don’t understand what you really mean by judging.”  I mean, when you say, “”Oh, let me take the speck out of your eye, friend,’ when there is a giant log in your own eye that you won’t take care of!’”  And it’s not just that You relate a parable or a helpful visual aid.  You call a hypocrite a hypocrite!  You imply that people are acting like dogs to their vomit, or like pigs having no regard for precious things, or that they are acting like vipers, poisonous snakes.

Correction can not always be gentle.  Sin is serious, deep stuff.  If left unchanged, if left intact, it will lead to death.  How gentle should one be?  So gentle, one is not nudged to face oneself?  So gentle, one is not urged to step off the fence in one direction or another?  Should I be so gentle that someone else would be eternally lost because their sin was not made much of?  Was Jesus that gentle with me?  If so, why did and does my sin bring me to tears?  If so gentle, why would a prostitute change her life?  If so gentle, why would any Pharisee be converted?  If so gentle, why was Paul knocked off his donkey, blinded, and left to dwell on it for a predetermined time by God?

If the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few, why are we looking for an easy, effortless way to God?  ((Matthew 7:14)  Correction is serious stuff, face it.  Accept it.  “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Matthew 7:19)  Don’t be one of those.  Be corrected.  Your are recognized by your fruit or lack of fruit.  Be corrected before you have to be thrown out!  Be corrected before Jesus has to say to you, “I never knew you; depart form me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)  Why was I lawless, because I refused to be corrected by God.  How?  Maybe I refused to accept correction from my parents or my spouse or my friend or my co-worker or my boss or my pastor or my teacher or my discipler or whoever God sent to correct me.  Maybe I refused to be corrected by His word.  I read it.  I agreed with it.  But that’s it.  I was on par with the demons who believe and take a step farther and tremble at what they know.  But I didn’t let Your word correct my life and behavior and thoughts and ways.  I didn’t apply it.  I didn’t live it.  I didn’t absorb it and let it flow out.

Come on, don’t be ignorant.  “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand…and great was the fall of it.”  (Matthew 7:26,27)  Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush with our sin.  You expect us to be corrected.  You expect us to be more than astonished at your teaching. 

When the Roman centurion asked for healing for his servant and told You that You didn’t need to come to heal him, all you needed to do was to speak the words and Your authority would take care of it. You were blunt with Your statement, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 8:10)  Tell me that the Jews, especially the leaders, being told that a Roman’s faith, a Gentile’s faith was greater than theirs, didn’t offend the hearers that day!!  Yes, sometimes the truth hurts but to withhold the truth is to allow us to live a dangerous lie.  Jesus loves us too much to let us live that lie to our own destruction.

Sometimes, Your correction came in the form of making us eat our words.  “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  “Really?” you think.  “Ok, then, come with me and sleep on the rocks because I don’t really have a home that I stay in all the time.”  What did that man do?  Did he stay?  Or did he go back home to his bed in a house?  Was he for real or not?  “Lord, I want to follow You, but first I need to take care of my inheritance.”  “If you really want to follow me, don’t worry about your inheritance from your dad; you have a greater inheritance to follow.”  Did he cling to his father’s inheritance or God’s?  Did Jesus leave them to think that “vice” was tolerable to God?  Was that thinking ok?  Was it permissable?  (Matthew 8:19-22)

When the disciples, those closest to You, were in the boat and the storm arose, and they woke you saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”  Did You answer them gently?  “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”  Would that sting?  Should that sting?  Should that stop me in my tracks and make me think about my choice, about my belief, about my God?  (Matthew 8:24-27)

When the paralytic was forgiven and the scribes whispered, “This man is blaspheming,” You knew their thoughts.  Did You handle gently, so as not to offend?  “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” was Your correction.  Tell me that didn’t sting.  (Matthew 9)  Continue and see Jesus at Matthew’s house with the other tax collectors and “notorious” sinners.  And when the Pharisees question why Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus answers, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”  Did You just tell the teachers to go learn like a student?  Tell me that did not offend them.  But why would You do that?  Because if they don’t learn, if they don’t accept correction, they will be lost and they won’t ever know God for real.

Jesus likened the people, right to their faces, to fickle children who couldn’t make up their minds.  (Matthew 11)  He denounced Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum for not repenting.  It was not gentle, but direct and honest and a warning.  (Matthew 11)  In Matthew 12 when You say to the Pharisees, “Have you not read…”, that was like saying, “You act as though you don’t know and understand this from the Scripture.” 

Do you think the parables were sweet stories?  The Jews understood the point that Jesus was making.  They heard what they wanted to hear and didn’t hear what they chose not to hear, but they knew when the parable was  pointing out correction they needed, only, instead of allowing correction, they took offense.  The disciples said to Jesus one day, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12)  But it’s not just the Pharisees who can take offense.  What about the disciples like Peter, when Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”(Matthew 14:31)  You can’t let it go.  Jesus said, “Let them alone; they are blind guides.  And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”  But You weren’t easier on Your disciples.  Peter asked, “Explain the parable to us.”  And You said, “Are you also still without understanding?”  That was not a pat on the back!

Don’t think that being a disciple excludes us from correction.  “O you of little faith; why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?  Do you not perceive?  Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?…”  (Matthew 16)  Oh, and THEN they understood.  Maybe sometimes, a lot of the time, we need to be woken up out of our stupour, out of our rest.

One day, Peter confesses Jesus as the the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Wow!  Does he get a pat on the back!  But, I imagine, maybe days later, Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him for telling of His coming death.  Were You gentle with Peter?  “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  (Matthew 16)  Whoa!  I wonder which Peter thought about more in that moment, the pat on the back or this reprimand?  Which stuck more?  I wonder if he was offended?  I wonder if he was hurt?  I wonder if he was more likely to have meditated and rehearsed his pat on the back, than this reprimand now?  I wonder if he just wanted to erase it from his mind, or if he was willing to think about it and meditate on it?

You know, sometimes Jesus doesn’t speak correction at the moment, like when Peter said at the transfiguration, “Lord, it is good that we are here…”  You had more important things to focus on other than Peter’s stupidity in that moment.  But God, He took care of it by His very voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  (Matthew 17)  It’s not good that Peter was there.  It was good that Jesus was there.  That’s the point.  Because Jesus was there, Peter could be, or else Peter would be dead.  Falling on your face and being terrified, though, is that gentle correction?

“Why did Moses allow divorce?” asked the Pharisees.  “Because of YOUR hardness of heart,” answered Jesus.  Ouch!  “I obey all the commandments,” said the rich young man.  “Great, show it.  Live it.  Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  (Matthew 19)  You overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons in the temple and said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21)  Gentle? 

You aren’t a push-over.  “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Why?  Because they weren’t seeking the truth anyways, just an argument.  If they wouldn’t admit the truth about John the Baptist, why would they admit the truth about You?  “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”  (Matthew 21)  No, instead, when they heard your correction and percieved it was directed at them, they dug in their heals more deeply and stubbornly and sought to arrest him, but in some way that wouldn’t offend the people.  Instead of being corrected, they plotted how to entangle You.  (Matthew 22)  Maybe we don’t do that.  Maybe we just justify and justify and justify our own actions.  But isn’t that just-as-bad?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…blind guides…blind fools!…blind men!…hypocrites!…blind guides…hypocrites!…blind Pharisee!…hypocrites!…You serpents, you brood of vipers.”  Gentle or direct?  Honest or not?  Urgent or passive?

When the disciples corrected the woman for pouring her alabaster flask of expensive ointment on You, Jesus, You corrected them.  “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”  (Matthew 26)  Well, that was an unexpected pat on the back for the woman, but not so for the disciples.  They stood corrected, in front of a woman on top of that! 

Jesus, You knew who would betray You.  You sat at dinner with him and said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  You were saying, “Don’t be fooled.  I know what You are doing.  I know who You are.”  Judas, who would betray him, answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so.’”  Did You baby him?  Were You gentle?  “”The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”  Does that seem awful?  Does it make me want to follow the same path or avoid it?

“I will not fall away, Lord!  I will be faithful to the end!  They may not be, but I will!”  That’s the kind of thing Peter said.  But Jesus didn’t pat him on the back for his encouraging thoughts.  “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”  (Matthew 26)  “No way!  Not me!” answered Peter.  But what happened?  Yes, way.  It was him. 

“Can’t you even watch and pray with me for one hour?!” (Matthew 26)  That’s not so gentle, but it wasn’t so harsh as to keep the disciples awake, was it?  Funny how we can be so insensitive to correction.

“I would kill for You!” and the disciple pulls out his sword when they come for Jesus.  “Put your sword back into its place.  For all who take the sword will perish by the sword…”  The crowds of guards and religious leaders have come to take him away, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?  Day after day I sat in the temple teaching; and you did not seize me.  But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”  Yeah, they were in the wrong and were being corrected, but they wouldn’t accept the correction.

Caiaphas and the council were corrected but wouldn’t have it.  Judas hung himself because he never accepted correction.  Pilate wouldn’t accept correction, he valued the favor of the people and Caesar more.  The soldiers woudn’t be corrected.  But here’s the beauty and glory of Christ.  Jesus, who did no wrong, suffered our correction for us, the ones who didn’t want to be corrected, the ones who didn’t deserve Jesus to stand in for us, and yet that’s exactly what You did.  For every time You corrected me and I refused to accept it, You bore the price on the cross.  It was the only way to win back to God an ungrateful, hard-necked, stubborn people, who don’t want to accept correction, but who need it desperately.

Maybe, in our heart we want to argue, “Oh, no.  That’s only for Jesus to correct like that.  After all, He says, “Be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)  But that’s not the kind of gentle this word means.  I mean, I owned doves, the small, white ring-necked doves like you see Noah holding in pictures.  They have no defense.  They really can’t fight.  Is that what this is?  No!  The word used for gentle implies unmixed and pure, like a mind or life that is free from evil, free from guilt, innocent and simple according to God.  It takes correction to be able to get there because none of us are naturally there at the start.  Paul said, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, [BUT] I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” (Romans 16:19)  We won’t learn this without correction.  What does God want in me?  “…[T]hat you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:15)

I don’t like correction.  It hurts.  But, I need correction desperately.  If left to my own, I would feed my own lusts.  That’s just the way we are.  Lord, I wan to learn to value correction immensely, no matter how much it hurts my ego.  Maybe, if I learn to be corrected, my ego would shrink and I’d be better off anyway.  I want to be like Paul who held Your word so fast, so tightly that he felt he could be proud in the day You return.  I want to be like Paul who isn’t afraid of being poured out like a drink offering for others. I want to be glad and rejoice when I am corrected because it allows me to become more like You and less like the old me.  I want to be trained by correction to be more like You, even if that correction is painful.  Wake me up out of my stupor, whatever it takes, so that I may be changed into Your image.