Monday, September 26, 2016

The Light of Invasive Grace

I don't know about you, but I've never thought much about the details of where Jesus first began His ministry.  Where?  Why there?  What happened?  These details matter and set the tone for Who He is and what He is about.

In Matthew 4:12-17, we find that Jesus went to Capernaum, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.  To us, that probably means nothing; so let's dig a little.  Isaiah prophesied about the land of Zebulun and Naphtali!  He said that one day, there would be no more gloom for those in that land.  He said that those who walk in darkness will see a great light!

Before Zebulun and Naphtali were "lands," they were two of the twelve sons of Israel/Jacob.  Their territory of land was in the northern most part of Israel. They were the furthest away from the Temple. They were highly vulnerable to foreign invasion, and in fact, were invaded by the Assyrians.  The Assyrian culture must have mixed in, because their own Israelite brothers rejected them, thinking them unclean. Through the prophet Isaiah, God acknowledges their anguish.  He knows they have walked in darkness and yet He gives a promise of hope...of light.

Enter Jesus. He begins right there, with the people of Zebulun and Naphtali.  The downcast.  Those that have been in the ruins and remains of invasion.  The forsaken.  The rejects. "The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned."  Matthew 4:16

When Jesus started his ministry, the first thing we see is light in the darkness.

So, we see a glimpse into why Jesus picked the area of Zebulun and Naphtali to start His ministry.  But, what happened here?  What did he preach first?

REPENT, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (Mt. 4:17)

Before Jesus did any public miracles...
Before Jesus called any disciples...
Before Jesus instructed us to love God and love others...

Before any of this, the very first word we get is:  repent.

A gospel without repentance is not the gospel.  There is no good news or truth without the light that shows our need for repentance, nor without the repentance that invasive grace demands.

Repent in Greek here is "metanoeo" which means to think differently.  "It is to repent with regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God.  It signifies a change of mind consequent to the after knowledge indicating regret of the course pursued and resulting in a wiser view of the past and future."  (lexical aids)

This is awesome you guys... to know is "noeo" and after is "meta."

The light has to shine in the darkness in order for us to see as He does.  After He shows us the light, we have the ability to think differently on an issue and turn towards God's heart on the matter...whether it be the initial redemption or the daily sanctification.

When I see the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali in the future, I will remember the Light clothed in invasive grace, beckoning all to repentance.

Lord, we praise You for not leaving us in the darkness. We invite you to shine your light into hidden pockets of darkness, so that we might know and turn away from ourselves and into Your heart of wisdom. It is You we long for.  Only You.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pack Your Bags; We Are Heading into the Wilderness

A dream...

I was at a party, surrounded by Christian friends.  We had all filled our glasses and were about to take big gulps. I looked over at the pretty clear container that held the party punch and knew instantly it was urine.  I awoke. 

Believers in America, we look like the world.  We have filled our cups to the brim with worldliness and are laughing and having ourselves a merry little time.  We have forgotten that Living Water is ours for the taking.  We could be filling our bodies and spirits with life, but instead we are choosing things that bring death.  Jeremiah 17:13 says "O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame.  Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water."

When we compromise on Scripture and flow with culture, we are turning our noses up at the Living Water, the only thing that will bring true sustenance. We are opening ourselves up to deceit, temptation, and discipline.  There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins....we must cling to this fountain that produces life! 

For this reason...well, for a million reasons, the lack of repentance in our land being #1, I believe we are entering the Wilderness.

God is jealous over those that belong to him.  For those of us that are playing the harlot, He is going to intervene. Why?  Because God loves His unfaithful people immensely. Do you think harlot is a strong term?  Read this by John Piper:   " God's eyes, everyone who forsakes the Lord is a whore. There are no religious singles in God's eyes. Everyone is either faithfully married to God or is a prostitute. God made you (not just Israel) for himself. If you get your kicks from somewhere else, you commit great harlotry against God."

We should examine ourselves and ask these questions:  Do we love God more than anything or anyone?  Do we favor Him and delight in Him and put Him above all others?

Hosea was the last prophet God raised up in order to try to get Israel to repent.  God did something unique with this man.  God called him to marry a prostitute. "His marriage is an acted-out parable of God's relation to Israel."  (Piper) Hosea obeyed and the parable unfolded.  Sadly, (like Hosea's wife, Gomer,) Israel refused the love.  Her love affair with sin brought anguishing consequences. Unfaithfulness always brings about God's judgment, even though God longs for something else entirely.

There are some verses in the book of Hosea that I think are possibly the most tender in the whole Bible.  It tells us who God is and how He loves deeply.  He is calling out to His unfaithful wife.  Instead of discarding her or forsaking her, he beckons:

Hosea 2:14-16 (NIV)
14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.

15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor[a] a door of hope.
There she will respond[b] as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
16 “In that day,” declares the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.
I thought about trying to put the below into my own words, but I can't do it justice.  Read and be blessed by John Piper.

"I see in Hosea 2:14–23 at least three things God does for us, his rebellious wife, to win us back; and I see one overriding thing that he wants from us. The first thing he does is woo us tenderly. Verse 14: "Behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her." We are all guilty of harlotry. We have loved other lovers more than God. We have gotten our kicks elsewhere. He has been at times an annoying deity. We, like Gomer, were enslaved to a paramour, the world, pleasure, ambition. But God has not cast us off. He promises to take us into the wilderness. He wants to be alone with us. Why? So that he can speak tenderly to us. Literally, the Hebrew says, so that he can speak "to her heart." And when he speaks, he will allure you. He will entice you and woo you. He will say what a lover says to his lady when they walk away from the party into the garden. God wants to talk that way with you. Go with him into the wilderness and listen with your heart. Do not think you are too ugly or too rotten. He knows that his wife is a harlot. That's the meaning of mercy: God is wooing a wife of harlotry.
The second thing God does is promise her hope and safety. Verse 15: "And there I will give her vineyards and make the valley of Achor a door of hope." The valley of Achor is where Israel was first unfaithful to the Lord in the promised land. Just after Israel entered the land, Achan kept the forbidden booty and caused the defeat at Ai. But now God promises that if his harlot will come home, Achor will no longer be a "valley of trouble" (Joshua 7:26), but a door of hope. She will come home to rich vineyards. Verse 18 spells out her hope in more detail: "I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground, and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety." If only his estranged wife will come home, she will find a paradise with her husband: he will make a pact even with the animals, lest they do harm; and he will remove all violence and conflict. These are no doubt the words God speaks into the heart of his wife in the lonely place. "It will be so good, so good! Put away your harlotry and come home."

The third thing God does is renew his wife's betrothal and consummate the marriage again in purity. Verses 19, 20: "And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord." Three times: I will betroth you; I will betroth you; I will betroth you. "We will go back to the days of our engagement. We will start over. Harlots can start over! We will lay a fresh foundation: righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness. Things will not only be good in the paradise around us. Things will also be right between us. These have always been my ways; but now they will be mutual." Yes, even a wife of harlotry can experience a new relationship of righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness with her divine husband.

But the most daring statement of all is the last one in verse 20: "And you shall know the Lord." To see what this means, recall the peculiar use of the word "know" in the Bible. For example, Genesis 4:1, "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain." And Matthew 1:25, "Joseph knew her [Mary] not until she had borne a son." In the context of a broken marriage being renewed with the fresh vows of betrothal, must not the words, "and you shall know the Lord" (v. 20), mean, you shall enjoy an intimacy like that of the purest sexual intercourse. When the wife of harlotry returns to her husband, he will withhold nothing. He will not keep her at a distance. The fellowship and communion and profoundest union he will give to his prodigal wife when she comes home broken and empty.
This is the gospel story in the Old Testament. This is the meaning of Christmas interpreted seven centuries before Christ. God comes to woo us tenderly to himself; he promises us fullest hope and safety; he starts over with any who will come, and offers us the most intimate and pleasure-filled relationship possible.

And what must we do to qualify? What does he want from us? Verse 16: "In that day, says the Lord, you will call me, 'My husband,' and no longer will you call me, 'My Baal.'" I think the word Baal here has a double meaning. As the next verse shows, it means one of the false gods of Israel's idolatry. So verse 16 means: "You will no longer include me as one of many gods, or many lovers; you will talk to me as your only true God and husband."

But there is another sense of the word Baal. Fifteen times in the Old Testament it simply means "husband," but husband in the sense of owner and lord. The Baals were Israel's hard masters as well as her lovers. In 7:14, for example, the people gashed themselves to try to get benefits from the Baals (just like the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:28). When Israel chose a Baal for her "significant other," she chose a cruel and merciless lord. So the other (and I think primary) meaning of Hosea 2:16 is: "Relate to me as a loving husband, not as a harsh master or owner. In that day, says the Lord, you will call me 'My husband,' and you will no longer call me 'My Baal.'"

The good news at the end of 1982 is that God wants you to love him warmly as your husband, not just serve him dutifully as your Lord. When you think of your failures in 1982—how little you have read his Word, how burdensome prayer has felt, how many other things of this world have given you more kicks than God—God wants you to remember that his desire to have you back is not based on a na├»ve estimation of your character. The point of Hosea is that God exalts his mercy by not giving up on his wife of harlotry. The good news of Hosea—and of the parable of the prodigal son, and of Christmas—is that God knows we have sold ourselves for a song in 1982, yet he is wooing us into the chambers of his love.

But, please take special notice of this, especially you who tend to keep God at arm's distance from your emotions. According to Hosea 2:16, God does not want you to return to him and say, "Yes, Sir," and set about your duties. He wants you to come into the wilderness, to listen to him speak tenderly, and to respond to him, "My husband." God wants your heart, not just your hands, because if he has your heart, he has everything."
God is about to woo His wife of harlotry. The wilderness is an unknown place, a barren land where it seems like God would never reside. He longs for our whole hearts and is willing to strip away anything that prevents us from freely giving it to Him. 

Whatever we have sold ourselves to, He is wooing us away from.  I've been in the wilderness twice in my life.  In each situation, God wooed the deepest parts of my soul until He had my whole heart...until I could honestly say I desired Him above all else. 
There is coming a time when we will be stripped bare in this land. God will remove every comfortable thing in order to lead us by the hand into the wilderness in order to know Him fully and accurately.  When we long to kick and scream, shaking from the withdrawals of our false gods, we need to remember that God is a good Husband.  He refuses to give up on His unfaithful Bride.  He longs to make her completely and only His.
He takes her out of Egypt.  He strips the yoke of slavery from her wrists, but He doesn't stop there.  He continues to peel off layer by layer of customs that He refuses to be known by.  He takes her by the hand and leads her into the wilderness, where the distractions will be few and where He will have to be enough.

She writhes under His touch.  Her spirit is still angry that He had to do things this way.  Sure, she wanted to know Him, but it was supposed to be on her terms, which meant choice foods and comfortable shelter.  She had dreamed of the day of her rescue, but now that it has come, she mocks Him and tells Him that He could have done things differently.

She doesn't understand that she has entered into a place of intimacy that will be shared with the very One who courts her soul.  It is a honeymoon of sorts, where He will allow her to see the real Him.  He will gently teach her how to love Him.  Adore Him.  Trust Him.

Despite her anger, she starts to see His beauty.  He has provided for her.  He hasn't left her to herself in the ravaged landscape.  There hasn't been a day where she has been discarded or forgotten.  She starts to peer into His heart and she discovers mercy instead of wrath.  But, she is still wary of His chisel, the one that chips away at her stone-hard heart.

Her heart is a mixture of love and distrust.  How can both reside in her innermost frame?  She warily trusts Him enough to allow the chisel once again, and over time, He chips away the layers of her dead heart.  The pain is excruciating, but the sense of relief and wholeness that she feels afterwards makes it worthwhile. 

The Carpenter keeps hacking away at the awkwardly shaped heart of stone until one day, He finds what He was looking for...the innermost and purest part of His one true love.  He gently cradles it in His hands, breathes on it, and laughs out loud when rays of light start to bind up the jagged edges marked by His refiner's tool.

She is blinded by the light.  Could it be?  Beauty starts to emanate from every crevice.  Glory!  Does someone hear her?  Know her?  Love her?

The wilderness has allowed her to trust.  Her heart softens when His voice (that she has so desperately and shockingly started to crave) speaks.  She starts to recognize that she was created for this one love Him and be loved by Him.

She gazes into His pure eyes and tells Him she will go wherever He leads.  The mere thought of even momentarily being out of His embrace is enough to undo her.

So He takes her by the hand.

And she follows, this time with joyful and complete abandon.
{For the whole (Very Amazing) sermon by John Piper,
please click HERE.}

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Psalm for September

I don't usually post just scripture without adding some commentary, but I felt led to do so.  I was praying a few days ago about the month of September and was led to this Psalm.  This morning, I thought verse 7 was interesting, with the earthquake in the center of our nation.  Perhaps these are words we should cling to this month.

Psalm 18  English Standard Version (ESV)

The Lord Is My Rock and My Fortress

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:

18 I love you, O Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies.
The cords of death encompassed me;
    the torrents of destruction assailed me;[a]
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears.
Then the earth reeled and rocked;
    the foundations also of the mountains trembled
    and quaked, because he was angry.

Smoke went up from his nostrils,[b]
    and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.

He bowed the heavens and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.

10 He rode on a cherub and flew;
    he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.

11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
    thick clouds dark with water.

12 Out of the brightness before him
    hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
    and the Most High uttered his voice,
    hailstones and coals of fire.

14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
    he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.

15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
    and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
    at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16 He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.

17 He rescued me from my strong enemy
    and from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.

18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.

19 He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
20 The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.

21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.

22 For all his rules[c] were before me,
    and his statutes I did not put away from me.

23 I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from my guilt.

24 So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
25 With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
26 with the purified you show yourself pure;
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

27 For you save a humble people,
    but the haughty eyes you bring down.

28 For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

29 For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.

30 This God—his way is perfect;[d]
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?—
32 the God who equipped me with strength
    and made my way blameless.

33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.

34 He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your right hand supported me,
    and your gentleness made me great.

36 You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet did not slip.

37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
    and did not turn back till they were consumed.

38 I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise;
    they fell under my feet.

39 For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
    you made those who rise against me sink under me.

40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me,[e]
    and those who hated me I destroyed.

41 They cried for help, but there was none to save;
    they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.

42 I beat them fine as dust before the wind;
    I cast them out like the mire of the streets.
43 You delivered me from strife with the people;
    you made me the head of the nations;
    people whom I had not known served me.

44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me;
    foreigners came cringing to me.

45 Foreigners lost heart
    and came trembling out of their fortresses.
46 The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
    and exalted be the God of my salvation—
47 the God who gave me vengeance
    and subdued peoples under me,
48 who delivered me from my enemies;
    yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me;
    you rescued me from the man of violence.
49 For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
    and sing to your name.

50 Great salvation he brings to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his offspring forever.