Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What have you got?

At some point in life, everyone laments what they don't have.  We all know what it is like to look at our friends and neighbors and all the good things God has given them and struggle with  envy.  But the truth is that God has given us all many good things, and on our better days, we know this.  And when our head is clear, we see the friends we have, our family, the work we have, the roof over our heads, and all the food on the table... and we are able to thank God and be content.   But if we stop there, as good as those things are, we are still not seeing the whole picture of what God has given us.  If that's all we see, we don't know what we have got.

Last week, one of the readings for the Daily Office included Psalm 16, and in this Psalm, David, the King of Israel and Judah, sings about God's goodness.  And through David's song we also see the good things we have in Christ.  Yes, this includes all the blessings I listed above: family, friends, food, and shelter, for every good gift is from God.  David says to God, "I have no good apart from you." (See also James 1:17).  God's gives many many people good things, and many who have such things are not followers of the One True God. (Matthew 4:45-48) If that's the case, what good is it to be a believer?  

David shows us the answer to this question: "The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup... in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more." (Psalm 16:6,11)  David, in these verses, is marveling in the promise from God that all who trust in Him will get the greatest gift possible:  God Himself.   David expresses this here as the "presence" of God. Likely, David is thinking about two things when he writes this:  About God's presence in the Tabernacle (the precursor to the Temple), and the hope of everlasting life with God.  David, like Abraham before him, believed God and was, by faith, declared righteous (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:6).  

For the Christian today, we have clearer and greater promises than even David had.  Here's just a few: 

  • "But all to all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..." (John 1:12)
  • "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
  • "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3) 
  • "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3-4) 

And only space limits me... there are many other verses I could post!  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, let me recommend you sit down right now and read Ephesians 1-3 and be reminded of all God has given you.  And keep in mind that the greatest gift is God Himself (Ephesians 1:13-14).  If you are not a follower of Jesus, let me tell you that Jesus is offering you more than can imagine, if you will turn to Him with all your heart.

So, if you find yourself reading this today, and you are struggling with envy towards what others have, keep in mind that in Christ you have something (if calling God a "thing" is proper!) that is greater than all the stuff you're envying combined!  And if, on the flip side, you find yourself content today with what God has given you, be thankful, but also remember that you have in Christ more than you know and even more than you are thankful for at this moment!

Truly, every Christian is blessed, in any circumstance.  

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How Can Any Good Come from the Church?

The Church is messed up, and Christians are messed up people.  Often we see the mess that is the Church and wonder, "How can we possibly be God's instrument of redemption in the world?" (Matt 5:13-16; Matt 28:18-20) When we look in our hearts and sin our own sin, we may wonder, "how can it be that the Holy Spirit is in me making me to be like Christ? I don't think I look much like him at all!!" (Phil 2:12-13; 2 Cor 3:14-17; 4:7ff).  When we see such darkness, what hope can we have? Can God really make good out of this?

I am slowly reading through the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament.  This week took me through Ezekiel 36-37.  Ezekiel 36 is one of the great promise chapters of the Bible.  It is where God promises to bring a new covenant to his people, a new agreement between God and man, to turn their stoney hearts into hearts of "flesh."  Another way to say it is that God promises in Ezekiel 36 to make his hard-hearted people into soft-hearted people, people who are receptive to God and his ways.  

This promise comes out of nowhere, and in the context of the whole Book of Ezekiel, is a bit of a surprise.  You see, if you ever sit down and just start reading through the book of Ezekiel, you'll see that it paints a rather grim picture of the state of God's people.  Chapters 25-35 are filled with prophecies of woe (go look up that word) and with predictions of the judgment of God on all sorts of evil people, including God's own people.  

Then suddenly, after all this evil and judgement, God promises to make it good.  And to me, even as I know that these passages in Ezekiel 36 apply to me as a follower of Christ, I had a hard time believing them.  It was the same old question:  "Can God really make this good, a soft heart that obeys him and loves good things, out of what I see in me?"  

Then I read the next chapter, Ezekiel 37.  It is the story of the valley of dry bones.  God shows Ezekiel a vision: it is a whole valley filled with human bones.  And God asks Ezekiel, "What do you think, Ezekiel, can these bones live?"  Now, imagine a fall filled with bleached sun-dried bones and skulls... and someone asking you that question.  What God does next is amazing:  He brings these bones to life!! He puts flesh on them, and these piles of bones become a vast army, very alive.  And how God does this is amazing:  he uses Ezekiel's prophesying to bring life to these bones.  

Now in this vision, God is telling us something amazing: Where things seem impossibly dead, God can make life.

When the Church worldwide seems impossibly broken: God can mend it.  

When our own hearts seem insurmountably dark: God can bring light.  

You are never too far gone for God.  And neither is anyone you know.  

Through the most mundane things, the teaching of the Bible, and through the work of the Sprit of God, new life can be made even in the greatest places of death and pain.