Diverse Together

While listening to Nancy Leigh DeMoss this morning (I highly recommend her current series on the Wonder of His Name) I became intrigued with the fact that our Lord is so diverse, such a study in contrasts.  We hear that He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, and I tend to think of that in relation to time, but even in the Now, Jesus is diversity personified.

One of the elders said to me, “Don’t cry. Look, the Lion of the tribe of Y’hudah, the Root of David, has won the right to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw standing there with the throne and the four living beings, in the circle of the elders, a Lamb that appeared to have been slaughtered. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the sevenfold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth.
Rev 5:5-6  CJB

I don’t know how I managed to read that passage so many times without realizing how very surprising it is.  John is told, “Behold the Lion,” and he looks up to see…a Lamb.  If you were to happen on that passage by accident, you would assume that either there was a typo or the writer was really confused.  Was it a lion or a lamb?  A lion who had won or a lamb that had been slaughtered?  There’s a pretty big difference!

But, as Nancy pointed out, He is both.  And that’s what makes our God so amazing. 

How can the most powerful Being ever, the one who created the entire universe, completely surrender—actually allow himself to be killed by His own creation?  How can the one who is beaten and slain by His adversaries come out victorious?  How can He be both meek and mighty at the same time?

And then I remember that we are being changed into His image.

So all of us, with faces unveiled, see as in a mirror the glory of the Lord; and we are being changed into his very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by Adonai the Spirit.  2 Cor 3:18  CJB

 But that makes it even more confusing.  Am I to be changed into a lion or into a lamb?  Are lamb and lion different degrees of glory?  Is there one time to be a lion and another time when I should be a lamb?  But no, I don’t think so.  Jesus is completely a roaring, powerful, majestic Lion, but at the exact same time, He is absolutely the meek, harmless, gentle Lamb.  It’s another of those conundrums that I simply can’t fold my mind around.  He can be both at the same time, because He is God.

Notice in the 2 Corinthians passage above that all of us are being changed into His image.  It’s not just me who is being changed into his image; it’s all of his children!

Dear friends, we are God’s children now; and it has not yet been made clear what we will become. We do know that when he appears, we will be like him; because we will see him as he really is.   1 John 3:2 CJB

And suddenly, it makes sense that WE—the entire body of believers—will be like Him.  I cannot be like Christ on my own.  I am not big enough to encompass such a huge spectrum of perfection.  But His plan is that all His people, together, will be like Him.

When I think of how very diverse my Lord is, how many facets there are to His nature, I realize that we, the body of Christ, will never be just alike.  We won’t look alike, act alike, or think alike.  Some will be lions, some will be lambs, some will be starters, some will be finishers, some are peacemakers, and some are warriors.  Our God doesn’t want cookie-cutter Christians.  Look at the amazingly diverse people He has used throughout time to accomplish His plan—a king, a harlot, a fisherman, a blind man, a lunatic, an adulteress, a shepherd, a businesswoman, a soldier.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Romans 12:1-5  NASB

Just as a machine has many and varied parts,
so does the body of Christ.  The parts are shaped
differently and function in a variety
of ways,
but all work together to fulfill the end result.

One bolt that anchors the unit is just as important as the most complex gear, and a motherboard cannot function without that one tiny dot of solder.  Every part, however small, is vital.

And what a miracle that it all works together, this body of believers.  All those different shapes, different personalities, different gifts coming together to express the fullness, the all-encompassing, perfectly complete nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are changed into his image…from one degree of glory to the next.

And we are Diverse.  Together.

 

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Broken

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
a broken and a contrite heart, O God,
thou wilt not despise.
Ps. 51:17  KJV

We are to bring our broken hearts and broken spirits, sacrifice them to the Lord.  He doesn’t want us to remain broken.

 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.      Psalm 34:17-18  ESV

What I sometimes forget is that God also breaks.  He does not allow uncleanness and waywardness among His beloved people.  We are all like bones that have healed crookedly, and we need to be broken and straightened.

O God, You have rejected us. You have broken us;
You have been angry; O, restore us.
That Your beloved may be delivered,
Save with Your right hand, and answer us!       Ps 60:1, 5  NASB

And He listens.  He wants to restore us.  We give Him our brokenness, we are sorry for our sin, and He gives us wholeness.  He creates an entirely new heart, one that is turned toward Him.

Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.   Ps 51:8-10 ESV

God breaks those things which displease Him, but when we are truly repentant, when we return to Him begging for His favor, He gives it.

 He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.    Ps 147:3

With those who do not see the foolishness of their ways, however, that’s not the case.

Therefore his [the wicked person’s] calamity will come suddenly;
Instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing.   Prov 6:15    NASB

No healing.  If there is no repentance, God is not going to fix it.  Praise God that He is patient.  He is always listening, waiting for us to realize that we need Him.  He is here, and He offers the perfect solution.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 
Isaiah 61:1  and confirmed by Jesus in Luke 4:18

He is ready and waiting to give the cure, but I must ask for it.  I must first be broken, and know that I am broken, so that I can ask for His mercy, and He will heal me.

Ultimately, it all comes down to how one responds to being broken.  If being broken leads me to repentance and sorrow for my sin, then God is faithful to bring healing.  If no repentance occurs, the end is disastrous.

And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces;
but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.   
Matthew 21:44 and Luke 20:18

Let me fall on You, Jesus, my Rock, the Cornerstone of all creation.
Break me, yes, but create in me a new heart, a new spirit—one that is fit to dwell with You.
Make me perfectly, completely Yours, so that I will never need to be broken again.

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Jesus Is My Now

Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,  and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”  She *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
  John 11:21-27

Martha knew that Jesus could have cured the illness.  Lazarus could have been healed.  Jesus had done it before.  She also knew that the righteous would live again someday.  But she grieved the loss of her brother, because she knew that death was final.  It was over.  Lazarus was dead.

Like Martha, we may believe that Jesus will come again and raise us from the dead…some sweet day.  And that He created us…once upon a time.  But do I believe that He can give me new life Now?  Today?  Do I believe that He can take away my fear, my addiction, my lack of self control… this very minute?   I should believe it, because Jesus is not only the beginning and the end.  He is also the Now.

Why is it so easy to believe that miracles and amazing events have happened or that they will happen, but so much harder to trust that He IS here with me and working in me right now?  That my Jesus can change my circumstances–can change ME!–in the twinkling of an eye?

It’s because we are trusting in our feelings.  I don’t FEEL anything happening within me, so how can Jesus be in control?  I often feel pretty weak, so I think that surely my all-powerful God is hanging out somewhere else today.

Does God tell us to trust our feelings?  Are we to put our faith only in what we can see and touch?  We tend to believe that sometimes it’s just too late, but God doesn’t see things that way at all!  When Thomas heard that Jesus was alive, he was skeptical.  Who wouldn’t be?  We know that dead means DEAD.  But Jesus was alive!  And our Lord gave Thomas a gentle rebuke, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”  He doesn’t want us to depend on our own eyes and our own hands; He wants us to trust.

Martha wanted to believe.  In v. 22 she says, “I know that even now, whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  She was trying to talk herself into believing in Jesus in the Now.  But when it came right down to it, she didn’t.  In v. 39, when Jesus told them to take away the stone, she protested– It’s been four days!  By now he stinks.  She knew what happened to dead bodies—they decayed.  She certainly had no desire to see (and smell) that!

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept.  So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
John 11:32-37

Did you ever wonder why Jesus wept? 

He surely wasn’t mourning Lazarus–Jesus knew that Lazarus was not gone forever. But He saw the despair around Him.  The people were sorrowing, they wished He had gotten there…in time.   They believed it was too late.  Perhaps Jesus wept for us…for our unbelief.  He wants us to be like Him, trusting completely and resting in the Father, but He also knows how hard it is.  And He wept.

He feels our sorrows.  He understands our grief.  He realizes what it is like to want to believe, to almost trust completely, to tell ourselves that we believe wholeheartedly, while still retaining, somewhere in the depths of our humanness, that little pocket of unbelief.

I think Jesus wept for our uncertainty, for all the pain it causes us.  He bore our pain, He knows all about it.  And with His tears, He says, “Father, forgive them.”

He feels my pain and fear.  Right this minute.
He begs forgiveness for me.  Today.  Right now.
He can change me in a moment.  This instant.

Jesus is my Now.

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TRUTH: God Does Not Exist to Solve My Problems

God is more concerned about changing me and about glorifying Himself than about solving my problems.  

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son ………..                      Romans 8:29

When we have problems, our natural instinct is to demand solutions.  But the Truth is…God does not exist to solve my problems.  It’s not that He doesn’t care; He does care very much.  But His goal is to do whatever is necessary to conform me to His image.  Some of the problems that challenge me the most are carefully designed to draw me closer to His purpose in my life.  To demand a solution or an escape may actually be to forfeit the beautiful change He is trying to bring about in me.

Condensed and adapted from:
Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free
by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Chapter 11, Truth #19

How often do I seethe and beat my head against my challenges?  Do I scream at the skies that this is Stupid, that I Can’t Stand this, and it Needs To Stop?  When circumstances pile up against me like ice along the shore, do I struggle against my limitations and ask Why, Why, Why?

Do I ever pause to see what might be good about the trial?  Instead of seeing it as a barricade thrust in my path only to torment me, to make my life miserable, do I ever try to imagine how God can use this in a good way?  When I angrily protest against the obstruction, do I miss the point that it forces me to detour…and that in the course of that detour, I can learn new things, expand my horizons, perhaps even grow in character?  If I spend my time griping about the barrier, I may completely overlook the things that God intended for me to see along this new route.

It’s typical to grumble, to wish my situation were different, to struggle against my restraints, but what an effort that is, and how unpleasant!  It should be easier to let go, to allow God to show me the new path.  Why is it so hard?  The problem, of course, is self.  I must give up my own plans. I had intended to take the route that is barricaded—that’s the way I am familiar with, and I tend to resent the fact that I have to change.

But change is what it’s all about!  He wants to change me.  God is always stretching me—how else can I possibly become conformed to the image of His Son?  God’s purpose is not to find the shortest distance from Point A to Point B.  It is to follow the route that perfectly shapes me into His image. 


For His glory…not my convenience.

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If We Cannot Forgive

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and beganto choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground andbegan to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”       Matt 18: 21-35

The story of the servant that was forgiven, yet refused to forgive, is a sobering one.  At first, it seems a bit ridiculous.  The man owed an unimaginably large sum of money–probably several million dollars if it were converted to the modern equivalent.  There was, quite simply, no earthly way that the servant could ever earn enough to pay it off.  (One can’t help wondering why the king would have loaned him so much and what in the world he had spent it on, but I digress…)  The only possible way for that man to be free of the debt was by the gracious forgiveness of his master.

Yet for some reason, he found himself unable to enjoy that free gift, and began a campaign to raise money himself.  Rather than passing along the grace he was given, he redoubled his efforts to hold other debtors responsible.  We tend to look down on this man:  How could he be so mean when he had been given so much?  But his response was actually logical by human standards. He probably still felt indebted and wished to do his very best to repay his master.  Even though paying the entire debt was impossible, he could at least give his master a small part of what he owed.

If you are a child of God, you have been forgiven.  He has forgiven us an impossibly huge debt, one that we could never repay, no matter how hard we try.  But how many times do people do the same thing as the man in this story?  After receiving this amazing gift from God, they then become inflexible, expecting perfection and unwilling to overlook even the smallest fault.  Do we forget that we were once completely helpless, wallowing in our sins?  And can’t we see that, by trying to exact perfection in our lives and those around us, we are making a mockery of the incredible gift of forgiveness we were given?  The ways that we attempt to “pay back” our God are even more ludicrous and ineffective than the day’s wages the man in the story tried to collect.  No wonder Isaiah says that our own righteousnesses are as filthy rags!  We simply cannot come up with any repayment that begins to measure up.

It is not our job to purify the body of Christ–to keep it flawless and purge the imposters.  God will take care of that.  The task we are given is to worship and trust God and to forgive others and ourselves as we have been forgiven Matt 6:9-15

The Lord Jesus told this story as a response to Peter’s question about forgiveness.  How many times have you heard and quoted the line about “seventy times seven?”  But how many times have you truly forgiven someone even seven times, let alone 490 times?  It is easy to prate the platitudes about forgiveness, but much more difficult to put into practice.  Each time you are wronged, it becomes a bit harder to forgive.

Yet our almighty God, our perfect and sinless Father, forgives us countless times, promising to do so each time we confess.  In light of that, how can we ever withhold forgiveness from those around us?   Refusal to forgive is refusal to accept forgiveness.

If we cannot forgive…then we are not forgiven.

And what, then, was Christ’s life given for?

Do we even begin to comprehend the depth of the Father’s love for us?

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Life Brings Life

Scientists have performed thousands of experiments in laboratories in an attempt to determine the origin of life.  But over and over, they end up with the same conclusion:  Life comes from life.

In nature, many lives are very brief.  The beautiful moonflower blooms briefly at night and fades by sunrise.  What is the purpose of beauty gone so soon, and rarely even seen? 

 

The dazzling Cecropia moth never eats again after emerging from its cocoon.  It lives in its adult form only a few days, just long enough to lay eggs and continue the life cycle. 

Image

 

We often look at brief lives with sadness.  That something should be formed and die in such a short time can almost seem wasteful to those of us who live within the boundaries of time.  Such a perfect life, such joy, such beauty, gone so quickly.  We are at a loss, once again, because we cannot see the big picture.  We don’t understand how life begets life, how sometimes the process happens very quickly, and is finished before we realize it.  The grand purpose of life is to impart life. 

A human life begins with one sperm cell and one egg.  Those two things exist for one purpose and only one purpose:  to give life.  Once produced, they live for only a few days, and then die. 

We think of people who have lived long and full lives and have passed on a rich heritage to many, and we are satisfied.  What we struggle to comprehend is that a very brief lifespan can also be perfectly complete.  And though the death of a young person is hard to comprehend and achingly difficult to accept, we know that God’s plan for each person is different.  Just as each cell in the body has its own job to do and its own particular lifespan, so do people.  Each of us, in our own way, imparts life to others.  Whether we actually become parents or not, we all have the opportunity to pass along life by showing God’s truth.  We receive that truth not only from the Holy Spirit, but also from each other and from nature.  Even a perfectly helpless infant can teach the lessons of patience and gentleness and overflowing joy.  We learn from animals, from plants, and from the stars.  All of God’s creation reveals the wonder of His power and grace.

I have heard that in God’s economy, nothing is wasted.  No faded petal that falls to the ground has failed to do its part.  Perhaps its pollen was carried by bees to produce fruit.  Perhaps it became part of a half-wilted bouquet, a gift from a little girl to her grandmother, or maybe it was simply plucked off by a careless hand and discarded in the dirt beneath the plant, where it decomposed and nourished the soil.  I am sure that is true of His children as well.  God never wastes a life.  Some lives become well-known; some are barely known at all, yet each imparts somehow, to someone, new life. 

On the cross, our Lord said, “It is finished.”  I am sure that His disciples did not understand or believe that it was finished at all.  They mourned His passing intensely. It seemed much too soon; there was so much to be done!  We feel the same when we see life pass quickly…so much left unfinished, so many plans incomplete.  And yet, the echo comes back:  It is finished.  His thirty-three years on this earth accomplished all that was ever needed in order to impart life to us. 

And like the moonflower, a short earthly life seems even more precious and mysterious because of its brevity.  We hug the memories to us and try to preserve them, thinking they are all we have left.  But in truth, there is all of eternity.  Though another has made that transition to infinity earlier than I, the time we are apart is nothing but a hiccup.  Someday time will cease to exist, and then we will have perfect life. 

With the One who imparted His life to us in the very beginning.

 

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Lion in the Garden, Mouse in the Courtyard

Click here to read John 18:1-27

When the officers confronted Jesus in the garden, Peter was full of courageHe saw the men fall backward when Jesus spoke, and he was not afraid.  The Master he served was obviously more powerful than these interlopers.  He drew his sword and took a swipe at one of the men.  Perhaps he assumed that at last they were entering the battle that he had been waiting for.  Surely Jesus would finally show them who was boss and enter into his rightful place as ruler of the kingdom.

Imagine Peter’s confusion at the events of the next few hours. Instead of engaging in battle and rallying His supporters, Jesus meekly submitted to arrest.  Peter followed at a distance, anxious and probably in shock.  This was not at all what he had expected.  He was watching his leader be humiliated, and suddenly his plans were crumbling around him. The cause to which he had devoted his life for the past few years seemed lost.  He had been ready and willing to fight, but the dream had unraveled.

In the courtyard a bit later, when Peter was questioned about his relationship with the accused man, imagine his panic.  Here he was in the midst of the enemy, and he certainly didn’t want to be arrested himself.  He reacted by denying that he knew Jesus.  He was afraid, and tried not to draw attention to himself.

What changed here?  Peter the lion, charging to the forefront and standing to fight for his King, is suddenly changed to a fearful mouse, scuttling around in the shadows and not daring to admit who he really is.  He is reduced from fearless to fearful.  Why?

In the garden, his peers surrounded him.
In the courtyard, he felt alone among his foes.

In the garden, he stood ready to fight in the way he understood.
In the courtyard, there was no chance of winning a battle.

In the garden, he trusted the power of his Leader.
In the courtyard, that power seemed to be gone.

It’s easy to be brave when we are part of a strong group, when we have people around us to support and encourage.  It’s not so easy when the people around us look skeptical or sneer at our efforts.

It’s easy to be brave when we are facing the challenges that we anticipate and have trained for.  It’s tougher when events take a completely unexpected turn and we are suddenly in a situation we simply don’t know how to handle.

But most of all, it’s much harder to be brave if you don’t completely trust in the one who created and sustains you.  If you know perfectly well that He is with you, there is nothing that can harm you.  But when you are unsure, there is nothing to anchor your courage.  We need to understand that even when things seem desperate, as they did to Peter, our Lord has not left us alone and unprotected.  Even when we can’t see Him, He is here.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.  Joshua 1:9

Wherever you go
in the garden, or in the courtyard,
be a Lion!
He has your back.

 

 

 

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