Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Heart Transplant

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations. Not for your sake do I do this,” says the Lord GOD, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!”

‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken it, and I will do it.” (Ezekiel 26:22-36, NKJV)

* * * * * * * *
It occurs to me that when I focus on myself and my own plans (or more accurately schemes), I harden my heart of stone and end up breaking God’s heart. Yet if I will lay aside my desires and truly seek God, He has promised to perform a heart transplant and give me a heart fashioned after His. I take this to mean not only will I desire what He desires, but I will put myself in the position of making my heart “breakable” as well.

And here’s the rub … I really don’t like my heart being in a breakable state. You see, my baseline self is pretty angry. And I’m especially angry when the way I envision things doesn’t pan out or somebody else won’t follow my lead when clearly it is the best option out there (or not). I struggle with a perfectionist nature and find myself leaning on my own strength and intellect to make things happen. In other words, I like my “unbreakable” stone heart.
But God doesn’t like it. In fact, when I act out of a stone heart, I tend to grieve His heart and break it. Somewhere in my mind I know what He wants is complete surrender and I know I’ve been happier the times I’ve done that. Yes, that ends up making my “God heart” vulnerable, but if I am to reflect His image to a lost and dying world, wouldn’t it be better if my heart were breakable, especially if it breaks over the things that grieve God?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that once you commit to Christ, He transforms you and you are completely and permanently adopted. But this world is still severely tainted with sin and we are subject to that environment continually. Our mandate is to pitch our hearts toward God continually and put away (Paul says “mortify” or kill) the sin that would try to enslave us.

As His part, God has promised a heart transplant for us. He will remove our stone heart and give us one like His own. Our new heart will beat for Him and our relationship will move toward restoration. God will have perfection once again because that is who He is and what He does. He will live in our new hearts and cause us to walk with Him and for Him once again. On that day when He calls my name for the final time, He will shatter this stone heart once and for all. At that point, my new heart won’t even be breakable anymore, because God’s heart and mine will be joined for all eternity.
So as I continue to walk on this Crooked Path, I can rest assured that God is more than willing to do my heart transplant and move me toward perfection. It will happen on His terms, but He will see it done. And there is a complete restoration in store for me ahead. I really can stop trying to do it myself because His way is much better. It’s even worth that temporarily breakable heart instead of my cold stone one.
* * * * * * * *
  1. So, what is your heart made of … stone or flesh? If it is made of stone, are you ready for your transplant?
  2. Are you in tune with your “stone heart” choices grieving God and breaking His heart? Do you have a tendency to try and run things your own way?
  3. Have you given up your own version of perfection for God’s process that leads to true perfection? Are you longing for the day when He will shatter your stone heart once and for all?

NKJV - Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Distorted Images

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need ... During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-10, NIV)

* * * * * * * *
If you study the Old Testament, particularly the book of Leviticus, you learn of the original pattern God set down for His people, the children of Israel. Leviticus lays out the specifics for feasts and offerings, worship and sacrifice, service to God, and responsibility to man. It is a model of precision and, if followed, was not only a structure with a promise of blessing, but a picture of what was to come for Israel and, ultimately, for us.

The Aaronic priesthood played a major role in all of this. God had anointed Aaron, his sons, and specifically the tribal clan of Levi to serve Him by leading the people in their daily worship, their sacrifice and offerings, and the appointed festivals and celebrations. Each one of these acts, as originally prescribed by God, was a picture of what was to come and of the promised Messiah. It would have worked well for everyone, except for one small detail.

The men serving as priests, dedicated though they may be, were sinful themselves. The sacrifices, the offerings, and the feasts were merely a reflection of who God truly is … and they were a distorted image at that. Over time, the people would go through the motions and rituals just because that is what they were accustomed to doing, and they lost much of the connection (cloudy as it was) to the magnanimous nature of the Eternal God. They came to see them as the “real deal” rather than just reflections designed to point them forward.

As I listened to Hebrews a while back and heard chapters 4 and 5, it began to dawn on my that God’s provision of the Aaronic priesthood and all the festivals, offerings, and feasts was never meant to replace the image of Jesus as our ultimate high priest. It struck me that Jesus is called a high priest “in the order of Melchizedek” and not identified with Aaron. Then again, Jesus wasn’t a Levite either. I reflected on the limited Biblical account of Melchizedek … a man with no recorded beginning or end. And then it made sense … Jesus is not only our High Priest, but our King as well, just like Melchizedek. God gave us all the rest the images to point us to the One, True, and Perfect Revelation of His character and being. We cannot substitute what we see for what we are promised because the images are intentionally clouded with the trappings of this fallen world. Only Jesus will break the final veil between us and God and bring perfection.

C.S. Lewis said it best in his final Chronicle of Narnia. We live our lives in the “shadowlands” and we must always remember that. What we see and experience is not permanent and is not, in fact, reality for us. The problems come when we begin to view what we have as the answer and end up missing God’s Answer. And I don’t say this as some kind of fatalist either. It is the harsh reality of life in our fallen world.
But, even though the pain and distortion of the crooked path is all around us, we have a Great High Priest who has also walked where we walk. He has already broken through to the other side and is making it ready for us. He will (and one day soon) call out to us to leave the shadowlands and, along with Aslan’s character in Narnia, lead us on calling out “Farther up and further in!” Knowing that, I can endure for a little longer on this current crooked path.
* * * * * * * *
  1. Have you come to view the current “images” around you as the real thing, rather than as mere reflections of something better?
  2. Do you find it hard to comprehend that Jesus experienced life in this world fully and completely, so that He can understand everything that you struggle with?
  3. Are you ready to look beyond the “shadowlands” and reach out to the One True High Priest who is like no other we have ever known? What in this world can possibly hold you back?

NIV - Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Enough is Enought - I Quit

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:1-18, ESV)
* * * * * * * *
On August 9, 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton and 27 hand-selected men embarked on a trek to reach the South Pole. The men would travel half way around the globe only to end up stranded in an ice flow. They watched as their ship, stuck fast, was heaved and crushed. Through an amazing turn of events and a story worthy of their ship’s name, The Endurance, Shackleton and two of his team finally arrive at a whaling outpost on May 20, 1916 and initiate the final rescue of all of their comrades. Quitting, even in the midst of the direst circumstances, obviously never entered their minds.

We won’t likely face the extremes that Shackleton’s party did. However, to us, our problems will seem every bit as weighty and intense. We will examine and re-examine what has happened, what is happening, and project into the future what we think might happen. We will struggle, fall, weep, and get up only to struggle and fall again. This much is certain, the Crooked Path has much treacherous ground and we will have to cover it. Our Bible and our Lord declared we would have “much tribulation” in this world and we certainly can see the effects around us.

But Paul offers another promise. He exhorts us not to yell “I quit!” because these troubles that surround us are, as our passage states quite clearly, “light and momentary.” Yes, we are of frail bodies and weak minds, but that is only the temporal vessel of our eternal soul. And that eternal soul is what God considers to be of interest and value.

“But wait,” you counter, “these difficulties are FAR from insignificant to me.” And you go about citing political unrest, economic difficulty, war, and a host of other headlines from today’s news. Paul counters (in verses 5 and 6) that we still should not lose heart because our place is to proclaim Christ, and He conquers all things. This is exactly what the Master said to his disciples in John 14 when He exhorted them not to be troubled or afraid.

And, to be certain, this is a promise of enduring power. God is not attempting to pull some bait and switch on us. There is no secret formula we must labor to discover. He has not stopped paying attention to us or lost interest in our lives. He remains constant and sovereign above all else … and that must give us strength to endure what we must endure. It is in our weakness He shows Himself strong.
So, when the crooked path becomes too difficult and I want to scream “I Quit!” it is likely I’ve forgotten Who has ordained the path and Who walks it with me. If God calls these troubles “light and momentary” it is because He sees beyond them to the person I will become. He sees the unseen, and that is of great comfort. My part is to surrender, and that doesn’t mean to deny the pain or make light of it. And in surrendering, I grow to trust His goodness all over again … and the troubles seem a little less troublesome.
* * * * * * * *
  1. What difficulties are facing you right now? Is your vision of God big enough to view them as “light and momentary”?
  2. Are you in a position to trust God completely? Can you rest in his goodness even when “good” doesn’t look like you thought it should?
  3. Are you willing to endure and not be troubled? Is your relationship with God based on the seen or the unseen? Can you give it all over to Him and stop fretting about your “rescue”?

ESV - Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Illusion of Control

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. "Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life." The LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, "Death is better to me than life." Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death." Then the LORD said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 3:10 – 4:11, NASB)
* * * * * * * *
It was one of those moments where something dawns on you in a way that never happened before about that particular idea. I wasn’t directly thinking about it, but I did have thoughts of a friend in mind. The friend had expressed some frustration about a family situation (the particulars don’t really matter) and had made a statement about how difficult it was to give control over to God and just let Him have His way. Several days later, while driving and listening to an entirely different passage, these thoughts came pressing down on my mind.

Laying aside the standard lessons about rebellion and repentance and even turning the focus from the obvious imagery about the three days Jonah spent inside the great fish, I have come to believe that, for the modern Christian, the book of Jonah is presented to us to help demolish our illusion of control. And while I will continue to believe that God in His sovereignty has given us complete free will of choice, control is never part of that bargain. Jonah made that mistake multiple times and God consistently showed who was ultimately in control.

A quick reading of the book of Jonah finds at least six comparative references to Jonah making a choice and God intervening in the situation, showing that He is in control of all events and outcomes. Jonah chooses to flee … God hurls a great wind at the ship. Jonah convinces the sailors to throw him overboard … God appoints a fish to scoop him up. Jonah chooses to pray and repent … God causes the fish to vomit him up on the beach. Are you seeing the same pattern here as I see?

In the midst of our making choices and decisions, we all too often act like Jonah and think we can somehow manipulate God and wrest control from Him. We plot and plan and scheme to “make things happen” all the while causing God to either laugh or weep as He continues being Who He is and deftly controlling every outcome. His purpose will be done regardless of our participation, yet we seem to think we can overcome that by our own force of will.

How much less pain and how much more joy would we experience if we would actively seek God regarding our choices and give over our illusion of control? Jonah held on to his right to the bitter end and even wished to die based on his anger over a plant (one that God “appointed” to grow in the first place). While we see the choice of repentance from the people of Nineveh, we only see bitter remorse and regret from Jonah because he didn’t get his own way. And the truly sad thing is, if I will be honest enough to admit it, I am more often like Jonah … I like my illusion of control.
If you have seen the VeggieTales take on Jonah, you may resonate with the remark of the worm/caterpillar Khalil who, while he is leaving Jonah’s side, states, “You are pathetic!” Our illusion of control is definitely one that should be demolished so we don’t end up like Jonah. May God rescue us from our own choices and guide us to be comfortable with His control.
* * * * * * * *
  1. Are you struggling with your own illusion of control? What is it in your life that causes that struggle to continue?
  2. Do you truly believe you can make better choices without considering God’s plan and involving Him? As Dr. Phil would say “How’s that working for you?”
  3. How much of yourself do you see in Jonah? Are you struggling with an angry response to what God has done or is doing in your life and in the world around you? What will it take to shatter your illusion of control?

NASB - Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.