Whenever faith tries to base itself on good living, whether the focus be on external morality or on inner spiritual purity, the result is the most sophisticated of all pagan religions. Though it claims belief in God, in practice such religion places no trust in the Lord Himself but only in its own theology. As thoroughly orthodox and as Biblical as this theology may be, it does not represent faith in the living God but in faith itself. Heaven help this religion of good works when it falls on hard times. … True faith depends not at all upon itself, nor upon its own system of piety, but rather upon the Lord alone and His faithfulness. … To have faith is to trust in the faithfulness of our God, knowing that faithfulness is first and foremost not a human but a divine attribute. … Genuine faith is not the faith to do anything at all, expcept to fall to the ground and die. …Consider the roots of a plant. Do the roots worry, or think at all, about producing flowers or fruit? No; they never see what happens above the ground. They never even see the sun or the sky. All they see is the dark womb of the earth, and their only job is to soak up moisture and nourishment from it, to feed in the dark underground of faith. … Paul describes as “taking pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (2 Cor. 5:12). Assuming that the opposite of sin is virtue, they conclude that a righteous life is one that will always be producing the visible fruit that is its own reward. Yet in the vocabulary of the gospel, the opposite of sin is not simply virtue but grace. As Paul puts it in Romans 5:20-21, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Live a life of love. It almost sounds easy. It offers a warm and inviting, harmonious fix to our relational problems.
Why then would I want to live my life more selfishly? Real life loving requires strength that I don’t have, if I am honest.
Am I really taking to heart the life of Jesus and the instructions to imitate His life of love? He lived love. If our wonderful Lord Jesus gave up his “rights” to reconcile me back to God, someone that did not deserve such mercy, why wouldn’t I want to be transformed to have this same sacrificial mind and heart? Christ Jesus is the maker of all things; nothing exists without Him. He is the Son of God, and He alone stands preeminent above every other power or authority. And, yet, Jesus did not choose to live for Himself or grasp at the “God” rights. His love was a giving, extravagant kind of love.
The very sad reason I chafe at living a sacrificial life of love is that I default easily to loving myself more, more than Jesus, and more than the people around me. I want easy comfort. I don’t like relational messiness. I don’t want to give sacrificially and extravagantly like Jesus did for me. I often set standards that must be met before I will love freely. I live like love should have to be earned. But, I don’t know any of these perfect people. Life can get really messy. The person I want to love has weaknesses and failures. I am ashamed that often I demand so much from others, which seems especially terribly when I have been given the truest love generously and without a price tag. I have this ongoing need to have these self-centric desires removed and to return again and again to my first love, Jesus–every single day. So, that out of the joy of His love for me, the comfort of never being abandoned by Him ever, the confidence of every spiritual gift given to me to fulfill His purposes for me, and the resurrection power of His living Spirit working in me, I will have a quiet heart to do His will and live a life of love to Christ first above all, as well as in my relationships. I am dependent on Jesus to love like He loves. When it is easy and also when it is hard, my strength will come from Him as I live in Him and for Him. I could never live a life of love without the presence and power of Christ living in me, and gloriously that is exactly what is offered through His triumphant and generous grace.
I have been thinking a lot about “home” lately. If the hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) which I have been diagnosed with does not go into remission, my pulmonologist believes that it would be wise for my husband and I to move from Oregon where everything stays wet and creates a prime habitat for my HP triggers to grow (aspergillus and aureobasidium pullulans.) I was surprised at how sad his medical advice made me. Of course, I don’t want to move away from my sons who currently attend college here. But, I also don’t want to leave my beautiful new home or my beloved church family, either. My husband has worked for a biomedical company for twenty years, and it has been a good fit for him; so, moving would mean starting over with a new company. Only a few years from retirement, this doesn’t really sound like fun. I realized, though, that “home” to me actually represented relationships, security, and easy comfort. My heart is being tested to see if I will trust my good Father God to orchestrate my life with perfect wisdom and then to happily rest in His faithful goodness come what may. I am thankful that God has renewed my heart making it ready to release these lower loves if asked. My eyes are fixed on Jesus and my desire is to steadfastly love Jesus more than all other lower loves, even the ones that are considered worthy ones.
Jesus is the joy of my heart’s desiring; and the more I know Him, the quieter my heart becomes in His sweet love — He is my “heart home.”
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” – Corrie ten Boom
“You will never know the fullness of Christ until you know the emptiness of everything but Christ.” – Spurgeon
God was wisely sovereign when I heard the words on my birthday, “Your chest x-ray is abnormal.” I had already been struggling with debilitating vision. Now, I was being told that my lungs were being damaged by an overactive immune system which was attacking this much needed organ for breathing. Over the last three years I have been struggling with unexpected and weird, even rare, health issues. And, yet, I am being cared for with a sovereign wisdom that is perfect. I don’t have to understand the why or know what will happen next; I just need to know my God, for then I will most happily trust and rest in His active care.
God’s ways are inscrutable, because, honestly, I cannot even come close to knowing what the right questions should be to ask. God surveys all time in one gaze. He knows and sees everything, all at once, all the time. I can’t even begin to go there. I remember some of my past. For, today, well, I am here in the moment. And I have no ability to tell you what is going to happen next, because I frankly don’t know; and even what I suspect might happen doesn’t necessarily mean it will. Not so with God. He is beyond time. He is present in all time. And He controls the minutiae of every day in the universe as well as the invisible world beyond that which we can perceive. There is so much I just don’t know! How can I even begin to control what I can’t understand?
Not only is God wisely sovereign over everything, but He is also dedicated to completing His work in me; so that I am made able to finish the works that He Himself ordained for me to do (Philippians 1:6). I am confident that I will not have one unfinished task, because of His divine promises to me, His faithful love over me and His power to accomplish what He says He will do. God is able and trustworthy, so I am assured that He will complete everything concerning me. When I actively believe these truths about my God, it makes me happy and at peace in and with my God, even smack dab in the middle of difficult days. God always acts in a way that is beautiful and above reproach, and He is laying up His goodness for those who trust in Him. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19). The apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica sharing how he prays for them, “…that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” Paul writes in another letter, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” So, if God is for me, then I am being held by the safest, strongest, and most worthy hands.
Who I am and whatever I possess originates with God. I didn’t create me. I didn’t decide when I wanted to be born, or where, or into which family. I have absolutely nothing to do with my existence. Which is kind of crazy to wrap your mind around, because when things go wrong in our lives it is common to feel that you deserve a bit better in your life. But, I don’t even exist on my own. The breath in my lungs doesn’t originate inside of me. God is generously giving you and me every breath. It is all from God. So, when I think about the good life plans ordained for me by God, and more specifically the tasks He has ordained for me to do, I must consider that none of which I was created do comes from me. Everything comes from God. It always starts and ends with God. Even when I do the things I was designed by God to do, I am only giving back to Him what belongs to Him anyway. God is not any richer by my giving to Him. God is not needing anything that I can do for Him. It is similar to a child giving a birthday present to their parent which they purchased with their parent’s money! My behavior and good gifts will never put God into my debt; everything always comes from Him! All glory, honor and power belongs to Him.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
(All images used are believed to be in the public domain.)
The ancient people of God were bound by the law. Daily, it screamed out their failures in unbiased, unrelenting terms. The law was perfect and pure. It revealed wisdom. Although the law was good in every part, the human heart defaulted to self reliance every time. And so the law was broken over and over again.
Heart proud, the people were distanced from what their heart needed most–God’s presence and power. (photo credit: ravenwhimsey)
Every day this constant need for reconciliation was met at an altar. Every day the heart was reminded, for each day brought a new need for reconciliation. Continually needy, the ancient Israeli priests would begin afresh the work of mediation between God and His people.
The High Priest
The rites of purification had been completed. The man’s wrinkled skin had been scrubbed clean in strict rituals. The old man had been a priest for many years, and the rules had remained constant and rigid, never changing at the break of dawn. The separation between God and the people remained fixed, for there was never enough soap to cleanse away their inherent disunion with complete holiness. The distance between the people and their God was so vast that there would not be a way to reach the other side at all had not God El Elyon (God Most High) become God Yahweh (a personal, covenant-making God) intiating a covenant with his people that provided access. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” Leviticus 17:11. Yahweh had made a way for His people to have a personal relationship with Himself through the blood of an atoning sacrifice. Their brokenness and bent toward sin made a daily sweet fragrance of sacrifice an ever-attending need; so, atonement, a perpetual sacrifice for their constant need, was a constant “must have” for the people of God.
There were daily sacrifices, special one-time sacrifices, and then there was the special Day of Atonement. On that one day, a chosen high priest would enter behind the enormous veil that separated the people of God from their holy God to make atonement for the people’s sin. The high priest entered the Holy of Holies robed in priestly garments: bearing the weighty ephod of gold upon his shoulders representing the government of his people; the beautiful ephod, woven in blue linen threads, which covered his heart, bejeweled with precious gems, representing each of the tribes of Israel; the breastplate of judgment, the Urim and the Thummin, lay weighing against his heart representing the verdicts of acceptance or rejection; the sash girding his waist reminding him that he came to serve. The entire costume was both physically and symbolically heavy. The Law prescribed every detail; and access to God demanded a strict adherence to the code, every detail whispering that these were garments of holiness to be worn by the mediator.
Now it was time for the priest to enter behind the thick veil of the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the peoples’ sin. The priest’s heart trembled. The circle of high priest’s garments were adorned with embroidered blue, purple and scarlet pomegranates with little golden bells stitched between, and he purposefully listened for the tinkling bells circling the skirt of his robe as he walked toward the veil. The musical sounds would be the only indication to the rest of the people as they waited for him that God had kept His covenant with them when he sprinkled the blood on the Altar. Let the musical bells sound in worshipful praise; for if the blood did not provide acceptable access to God, the priest would die during the sprinkling of the blood offering.
Walking through the tabernacle courtyard, the old man’s eyes lifted to the flickering flame of the almond blossom cups branching off the hammered, pure gold lampstand. His heart was raised in hope knowing that this constant flame was a visual reminder to assure them of God’s presence among them. God had given them so many reminders. Each part of his day as a priest was filled with reminders of a God who desired to be known and loved by His people.
Born broken in sin, bent toward self-reliance, the priest marveled at the visual, repeated reminders of their need for God’s presence and power. Though ritualistically purified, the old man approached near to the bronze basin of water to cleanse his hands and feet yet once again. He watched as the water splashed from his hands; so many washings, yet he was never holy. God was so very separate from them, and God’s brilliant holiness was once again on the old man’s mind. The chasm between man and God was wider than any earthly canyon; and yet, he mused, God remembered his people and provided a way of access to Himself. Still, he trembled knowing that these offerings for atonement were continual, for none of the people, including himself, could ever stop sinning. The cavernous gulf between God and his people never closed, for their perpetual unrighteousness seperated them from the glorious, shining worthiness of a completely holy God.
He waited as the anointing oil was administered covering his body, again for purification. Again and again, the message was clear: I am holy; you are an unclean people. Everything was designed to remind them of their constant need for God’s presence and power, and their inability to gain it own their own.
The aroma of incense flowed upward filling his nostrils. The incense was also always perpetually burning reminding them of their constant need for intercession with God. The incense of the altar was never to go out; they were visually instructed as to how much the people desperately needed their God.
Constant need. Each step toward the Holy of Holies reminded him of how much he needed God to give him access. Every ritual reminded him of how he could not enjoy God’s presence without God making a way. He was still dirty and would keep being dirty. Only the acceptance of the atoning sacrifice would give him access to God and forgiveness of the transgressions against their holy and just God. Healing of their sins would require the spilling of blood from an unblemished sacrifice. His heart ached. How he longed for complete deliverance from this body of death. The sacrifices were never enough. The work of the priest was never done. No one was ever good enough.
“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take aways sins. Therefore, when He came into world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come-in the volume of the book it is written of Me-to do your will, O God.’ Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:4-10.
The ritualistic symbols and priestly duties were only a foreshadowing of God’s plan for a better mediator. No bleeding bull could take down a proud heart. No precious baby lamb, no matter how wonderfully unblemished, would forever change the bent of a rebellious heart. No the only way to sanctify the heart was to give the owner a new one! The only way to take away the hard rock heart and inscribe righteousness on a living, breathing heart was to give new life. The old covenant was made obsolete, because of the weakness of our flesh. The Law was good and without fault, but we were the messed up ones who could not keep it. A new covenant was offered that would abolish the old one. This time the offering would be a final propitiation for sin. However, it would be very, very different this time. The real body of a man would be offered, an earthly life lived just as we live, tempted, but never sinning. A life lived in complete obedience fulfilling all righteousness 24/7. The unthinkable would take place–this sinless life would be made to be sin—so that a final, forever atonement could be made and all of the holiness could be given to the sinner! There is only one man that could fulfill all of the requirements, and He is the Son of God. So, God, did the unthinkable. Yahweh kept covenant faithfulness and steadfast love with His people by sending His one and only perfect Son to reconcile us back to Himself through a new and living covenant of grace. God gave His Son; the Son gave His life; and the Holy Spirit was given as the seal of this new covenant of redemption. “It is finished!” cries powerfully of this unbelievable reconciliation accomplished by the death of the Son of God.
It is the new covenant of Christ’s own blood that washes me, so that I am no longer defiled. I will not get dirty again. No more washings. When I come before God, I confess my sins. I claim my unworthiness, attesting to the fact that I will never, never be “good enough.” All of my sins, past, current, and those I will still wrongfully do are covered by the atoning blood of Christ. The judgment of God rejected Jesus on the cross blackening the sky, and the Lamb of God took all of my rightful condemnation and bled out; and yet God saw the righteous blood and was pleased to accept atonement in full. We know this because death was not the final word. The thick veil covering the Holy of Holies was dramatically torn from top to bottom opening the way to God’s presence. Death did not hold the Son of God, but He had the authority over death and was raised the third day just as He proclaimed it would be. I am now clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and every time I choose to enter into his Presence and Power, I have the victory of resurrection grace. There is a way across that cavernous gulf between God and his people. Because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, nothing can separate His people from His love or from the glorious, shining worthiness of a completely holy God. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice, our perfect mediator, forever interceding on our account; and now there is no need for anything more. “But Christ, because he lives for ever, possessses a priesthood that needs no successor. This means that he can save fully and completely those who approach God through him, for he is always living to interced on their behalf. Here is the High Priest we need. A man who is holy, faultless, unstained, beyond the very reach of sin and lifted to the very Heavens. There is no need for him, like the High Priest we know, to offer up sacrifice, first for our own sins and then for the people’s. He made one sacrifice, once for all, when he offered himself.” Hebrews 7:24-27.
Once for all, the constant need for a clean heart has been satisfied. Our hearts are no longer distanced from what the heart needs most–God’s presence and power. Hang onto this sure hope, “…since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22). Our hearts are happy and we bring a daily sacrifice of praise to Jesus, for there is no more distance between us.
Our constant need has been satisfied once and forever in Christ’s life.
“Humility is like the lead in the net, which keeps the soul down when it is rising through passion; and contentment is like the cork which keeps the heart up when it is sinking through discouragement. ”
This morning the spring winds were especially blustery. As unseen winds pushed up against my house, eerie howls encircled the windows of my home leaking in creepy noises. I heard strange thumps and groaning creaks as the house bemoaned the gusty punches. In our front yard, a large limb from our street tree snapped under the pressure and fell hard to the ground. My neighbor’s children were playing basketball outside next to it when it happened. I am extremely grateful that none of those precious kiddoes were harmed! I am writing with a grateful heart this morning and have an unexpected desire to hug those little people. But, it also reminds me that the breaking of the limb evidences the strength of the wind, that though unseen, it still can damage what is not strong enough to endure the persistent pressure.
In the same way, the persistent pressure from life’s turbulent stresses can cause us to bend and even break, to fall hard, and to realize real damage to our souls. If I don’t have a strong root in truth, my weaknesses will succumb to the blustery beatings. On those difficult days, what can I hang onto? What is the truth that cannot be shaken?
In one of his letters, Paul addresses the problems of life and how to continue faithfully through them. Here is what he wrote:
Okay, when I am experiencing the strong winds of difficulty, what is the truth that firmly holds and keeps me unmoved? What can I rely on? I need to know and understand God’s heart toward me, so I have taken the same Pauline words and re-written them using my own words striving to understand how this applies to my everyday real life. God’s Word tells me that I can know and believe that I will experience trials and testings that are common to the human experience. None of my trials are a special exception, but are just normal like everyone else’s. But, I need to know this, my God is faithful; so, I can trust Him. My God sovereignly rules and will impose boundaries on my trials, so that I will not be tested above and beyond what is right (even though it may not feel like it, this is the still the truth.) I also need to know that God promises to provide a way out of the trial with His help, so that I am able to walk in faithful obedience while enduring the stormy, gale-force pressures and difficulties I will encounter again and again.
This is truth that cannot be shaken no matter how fierce the winds blow! Matt Chandler speaks about the good news of the gospel applied to trials in this way:
The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is regardless of our circumstances, we get God, and he’ll be enough. On the day of trouble, we’ll cry out, and we will hear, “Here I am.” When marriage is difficult, and we cry out, we will hear, “Here I am.” On the day the doctor says, “Can you come in? We need to talk,” we will hear as we cry out to God, “Here I am.”
He will not abandon. He will not quit, and he will not cut out his children. He is ever present, ever chasing, ever hoping, ever putting his Holy Spirit’s power into us to sustain us and hold us up regardless of life’s circumstances. This is how he blesses those who are saturated in grace. He is present. He is enough.
So, when the difficult days come-and they will-remember the faithfulness of our Father and the ever present nearness of our wonderful Jesus, and the resurrection grace and power granted to us by our Helper, the Holy Spirit, and do not be shaken. Let the Word of truth be a deep root to secure your faith in Christ.
What is a “right” that belongs to you? What comes to mind? We joke and jab, “Oh, you just feel like you’re so entitled.” In particular, I think Americans seem to have a general belief that as individuals we have a claim on certain “rights.” I don’t whole-heartedly believe this myself, but this attitude permeates our culture subtly affecting our personal views. Interestingly, I have observed that it irks us when someone uses a benefit they did not earn or have a right to access. Then there is the millineum generation who recoils at the frequent accusations against them for having an attitude that one is inherently deserving of privileges. Sometimes, we feel entitled to a benefit because we believe we have rightly earned it. Either way, we grapple with how to claim our expected advantage. The need to claim a benefit reveals a dependence on the other party. The rights of entitlement necessitates a relationship between two parties exists where there is an expectation that when necessary one has the right to ask for help.
This idea of entitlement came to mind as I read the Psalms this morning. In Psalm 70, David is very urgent in his requests before God, to the point it almost sounds demanding, “God, deliver me. Hurry to help me, LORD! …I am afflicted and needy; hurry to me God. You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay.” David insistently asks for God to help him. In his relationship with God, the Psalmist believes he has a right to speak to Him in this way. How does he know that it is okay to be that aggressive in his prayers?
The very next Psalm gives an insight into the writer’s thoughts, “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” Here, the Psalmist reveals his foundations for coming so boldly in prayer. He argues, “I have a relationship with you that involves covenantal promises. You agreed to save me. You agreed to be my protection. Because of your word and promise to me, I have the right to come and ask for the benefit of your help. Not only that, you initiated relationship with me, and I have put all my trust in you. I know you are righteous and will only do good, so I know you will do good toward me. You have the power to change my situation, so I am asking you to advocate for me. I want to you to be my safe place continually.” The Psalmist takes a stance of sweet assurance based on his covenantal relationship with God. He is not in alliance with another god to be his resource; it is to His own God, a very personal God, that he turns to for help.
Earlier today, with crumpled blankets pulled to my chin, I snuggled in the quiet dark of the morning not wanting to face another hard day. My husband laid close beside me, his hand holding mine. He listened patiently as I shared the struggles of living with a chronic disease. I did not call up my friend’s husband to pour out my heart to; or turn to any other man, but my own (this suggestion sounds ridiculous, I know.) My point is that I did not feel that it was inappropriate to talk like this to my husband, exactly because he is my husband. I am in heart union with this guy. Years ago, we made solemn vows to each other, to be there for one another, no matter what. The marital promises were strict and binding “…till death do us part.” Now, I was laying claim to those promises without any shame. It did not seem weird to me to be talking about the ugly bits of life, like trying to get up each morning when I really don’t feel well. I am entitled to that privilege based on my relationship to my husband and the promises we made to each other. Best of all, I know he loves me, no matter what.
In the same way, the Psalmist does not feel weird to go to God with his desperate cries for attention. God had made a promise to help him. God has a heart of tender love toward his needy child. God is good and will do good. The LORD God is powerful and has the ability to bless and benefit those who belong to him, and this is on a daily basis! God’s faithfulness to all of his promises prompts intense prayers of reliance, and his love assures the heart in hope for He truly cares. Come. Come again and again. God has given the command to save, and his righteous help will never disappoint.
So, today, I will go to my God,
who is faithful, good, powerful and true,
and ask for His righteous help,
because I know His everlasting love to me,
because I trust His never failing promises.
The desire of God’s heart of grace isn’t just to make us pretty externally, but to create new & authentic beauty from the ashy, charred, deep parts of the soul. Physical health, material wealth, & personal happiness are nice, but not what I need most. My heart being changed by His loving heart of grace is what matters most.