Oaks of Righteousness

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
   he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.[c]::
Isaiah 61:1-3

There is good news for those who follow Christ: life, gladness, praise and righteousness.  But to so many in the Church, the only Good News that is ever received is salvation and that is where they stay.  Now don’t get me wrong. I’m so thankful for the salvation that comes through Christ!

Just don’t stop there!

To stop at salvation is to stop before our healing can be revealed, before our hearts can be liberated, before our mourning can become gladness.  All of those things are offered immediately by the Spirit of God through Christ, but if we stop at forgiveness, if we stop at that golden ticket to Heaven, we deny ourselves the fullness of Christ’s salvation.  

17 Now the Lord[d] is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,[e] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.[f] For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

We are in the process of being transformed!  By God’s power we go from dead acorns to mighty oaks, so that we can proclaim the Good News!  How else can we bind up the broken hearted? How else can we praise God in the midst of trial and persecution?

The Spirit is with us, but it is not an instantaneous transformation.  It is learned and honed through practice and experience. Why else would we still suffer trials of many kinds?  A mighty oak doesn’t grow up in a day! It takes years and years to be made strong.

As we grow, nurtured and refined by the furnace of affliction, we testify to the power of God within us.  Our constant growth and transformation make us perfect ambassadors of God’s power and glory. Only then is God glorified.

The justice of God becomes Good News for all who know Christ.  It is the Good News of recompense for the wicked and the freedom from those consequences that we have received through Jesus.  Jesus paid the price for our wickedness as the wrath of God was poured out on Him for our sake. Justice became Good News.

Proclaim the year of God’s favor!  It is time to have our broken hearts bound up.  It is time to praise God with singing and laughter, instead of mourning our broken condition. We who were dead are no alive!

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] 4 But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:1-10

Is this the news of Heaven alone, after years of suffering and torment in an evil world? Or is the news of freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from the temporal and perishable in order to walk in life and celebration!?

Will suffering still happen? Yes.  Will sorrow afflict us? Yes. Will death mock us? Yes. Will we be broken and tormented and depressed at times? Yes.  But we do not need to lose heart in these things. In fact we can rejoice in these momentary afflictions!  The rejoicing sheds light on what Jesus has made us: the oak of righteousness that is our body. And that is so God may be glorified through us.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 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 4:16-18

The unseen can be seen through us!  God’s glory will shine through His people to bring Good News to the poor!  Oh, mighty Oaks of Righteousness, glorify the Risen Lord that all may know His rich love and mercy!

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
   my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
   to sprout up before all the nations.
Isaiah 61:10-11

 

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Dying to Self

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

It’s hard to imagine that dying to self could be a pleasant experience.  It goes against all reason and sense. Dying is bad, right? Dying hurts.  Dying is the end. But not to God.

Each day I am dying to myself.  I am letting all that I am, all that I have, and all that I want be broken down into death so that it can be resurrected by Christ for His glory.  

To God, dying brought life and light to the world.  Jesus conquered death so that it no longer had to hold me with its fear and power.  Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus rose other people from the dead! Jesus brings life from death in all of His creation!  The seed that dies and is buried springs for life. Every 24 hours, the day itself dies in a glow of majestic color and beauty only to succumb quickly to darkness, and then be reborn again the following morning.  

So I guess death isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.  Nihilists make death the end. Not Jesus. Jesus proclaims death to self for us, so that we might live:  not on our own, with our sinful brokenness and decay, but with Christ who lives within us, magnified, glorified and free.

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of freedom.  The evil in this world sickens me. It sickens most of us.  We hate it and we wonder why God would let it happen. But God has offered us a free solution if we want it.  And the solution is to let God make us alive through Jesus Christ. When we submit to Him and die to our own desires, we receive the fullness of life that God always intended.  

So, I choose to let myself be put to death so that I might find and enjoy life in Christ, because Christ Himself lives in me by His Spirit.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

In the Summer of 2016, while praying the verse above, I received the following vision:

On a plain pedestal rests a cracked and pitiful clay pot.  The pot is large. It is crazed with lines and imperfections.  It isn’t made to last. It isn’t even finished. It isn’t fired.  It’s fragile. Unpainted. Unadorned. But little beams of light stream out through the cracks and chips. The light inside the pot makes ornate patterns across the shell and beautiful pictures reflect on the walls of the room.  The pot is me.

Without warning a giant sledgehammer slams down on it.  The pot is annihilated. Dust and debris remain for a moment and then dissipate in the breeze. The light within the pot also explodes, but the light has form.  The light covers everything. It cannot be extinguished. The source of the light remains bright and strong. It throbs with power. It is joy and peace and love.  It is unquenchable. The light coats everything it touches with a thickness that spreads and grows. Little splatters become throbbing pulsing lights of their own.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

My earthen vessel, my jar of clay, has been shattered by the enemy, but the Lord’s hand is upon the hammer.  The Lord made the hammer and the jar. The Lord decides what the hammer can strike and what the outcome will be. The Lord will use the destruction of my body as an instrument to spread his enduring, powerful light, his love, his joy, his peace, to thousands upon thousands of people.  Even creation itself will be affected by the light that explodes out of me, and the light will never die. I will never die. The power of God will only spread and multiply.

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

 

Leftovers

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Thanksgiving in America has become a celebration of all matters of opulence.  We eat a huge turkey “stuffed” with bread. We engage in a feast of desserts and sweets and treats, before, during and after a grand meal.  Even our vegetables are celebrated in excess: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, creamed corn, salad upon salad.

We come together and drink wine and celebrate our huge families, or our huge amount of friends, or our huge amount of food and festivity.  We argue over politics and social justice and how the government should spend its copious amounts of cash.

And then we go shopping and celebrate our own cash hoards.  Huge sales, huge expenditures, huge tvs, huge toys, huge crowds, huge SUVs to put it all in.  It’s just more and more and more. All in celebration of our abundance.

Our God is the God of abundance.  He is a God of provision. Of leftovers.  Of fullness. But we’ve lost the plot in favor of celebrating ourselves and our own achievements, our own leftovers.  What if we stopped looking at ourselves and our great prosperity, and started to look to God for our fulfillment, our nourishment, and our joy?

God loves to take care of His children.  We’re often just so caught up with taking care of ourselves that we forget that God wants to be our provision, and give us leftovers besides!

Look what happened in Scripture with Elisha:

42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
2 Kings 4:42-44

The servant immediately looked to find provision among the worldly offering presented by the man from Baal-shalishah.  He looked at the food and instantly decided that there was no way that food would go all the way around. But Elisha doesn’t look at the food, he looks instead to the provider of the food: God, who made the food and brought it to them.

Elisha then proclaims the Lord’s provision, “they shall eat and have some left”.  Elisha knew that God is a God of leftovers. He didn’t doubt it, or look to himself.  He knew.

In the New Testament, the Disciples got the same opportunity to look to God for provision.  They knew the scriptures and the story of Elisha. They had learned these stories from history since their childhood.  But when the time came to proclaim the provision of the Lord, they looked instead to themselves.

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”
Matthew 14:15-17

The Disciples fell into the same trap we are all guilty of at times.  They looked at what they had instead of what God could provide. Jesus had given them the perfect chance to fall back into the grace and provision of the Father, and instead they panicked.  Their response to the people’s need for food, “send them away to take care of themselves!”

It had to break Jesus’ heart to have His beloved friends so quickly turn from trusting God in the invisible things, but not trusting Him in the physical things.  They looked to themselves instead of the promises of God. Even though they had the Holy Scriptures to know that God could provide for them.

Jesus is patient, though.  He would not waste the lesson He wanted to teach because of His friend’s lack of faith.  Instead, He spoke with authority and faith to His Disciples.

8 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

God is the God of leftovers.  Isn’t it time we celebrated Him instead of ourselves?

give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Luke 6:38

 

Unfaltering Faith: All is Well

Unfaltering faith.  It is a gift God offers us on a daily basis.  Do we have the faith to trust Him with our provision?  Do we have the faith to walk in submission to Him? Do we have the faith to even believe He is real, moment by moment, day by day?  Faith can be a bit of a sticky mess when we start to think about it.

We get caught up in our circumstance.  There isn’t enough money in the bank to pay the bills.  There’s been a horrible diagnosis from the doctor. Someone needs prayer, and we can’t even muster the faith to pray for ourselves.  And then enemy uses shame or fear or sorrow to come in and steal whatever he can of the little faith we have left.

But God isn’t content to let our faith be stolen.  We all know that He promises He will work all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Though, when we’re in the faltering moment, it can be hard to remember that.  Faith needs to come from God through hope: hope that God is who He says He is.

8 One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way.10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
2 Kings 4:8-10

This wealthy woman takes it upon herself to honor a man of God.  Her hope isn’t in the man, but in the God the man serves. She wants to serve this man of God and give him her best because of her blind hope in God.  She shows a faith she may not even be aware of, all because of hope.

God honors her hope and builds her faith further by offering a blessing through Elisha, His servant.  

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”
2 Kings 4:11-13

The woman asks for nothing in return for her provision for Elisha.  She never looked at her hospitality as a way to earn anything from God or His servant.  She gave from what she had. I don’t think she thought anything more about it, but that it was right to honor God’s servant. She was content with the blessing of being able to serve God as she had.

Elisha, though, is prompted to do more for her.  He wants to show her God’s blessing. God’s blessings can be a reward for faith.

16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
2 Kings 4:16-17

God offers her something miraculous.  The gift of a son wasn’t even on her radar, and that’s what He offers her.  God uses her faith to foreshadow the coming Messiah: a son born of miraculous circumstances.  The woman is startled and uncertain, but she receives her son.

And then he dies.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died.
2 Kings 4:18-20

Wow. The son she was given dies. How could that be a blessing?  How could that be good? Why would God punish her for serving Elisha with such a cruel joke? It’s hard not to think these things.  People do it all the time. Something goes wrong in the moment and the response is to go right to the source and question God.

But not this gal.  Nope.  She’s resolute.  She’s unfaltering.  Her faith is solidly built on the hope of God’s reality.  Like Abraham, she decided to persist in her faith, even though her son was dead.  Even Abraham didn’t have to go that far! He got provided with a ram for sacrifice before having to kill his son. (Genesis Ch. 22)

Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
2 Kings 4:22-25

Her response?  “All is well.”  Wow.  What a powerful testimony.  Unfaltering faith in action! She knows all will be well because of her faith and hope in God. With expediency she sets out to receive her son’s life back.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.”
2 Kings 4:25-27

Again, as she approaches Elisha and he asks her what is going on, she responds with “All is well.”  Wow, again! Though she is in the midst of “bitter distress” she clings to the hope of God with the steadfast truth that “all is well.” In her heart, God would and could give her son life.  

The foreshadowing of Christ returns again!  When Jesus died on the cross, all was still well, even in the distress and pain and fear of that moment.  His friends and family were distraught. But all was well. Jesus would be resurrected! The Promise was not defeated.  The Promise was victorious. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead!

Life would also be given to the Shunammite woman’s son.  But not before a testing and trying of faith and hope. What happens if nothing happens?  

28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

It’s hard to keep ahold of hope when nothing happens.

But something does happen.  Elisha contends for the woman’s son.  He doesn’t give up. He stands in faith with the woman that God will act.  They partnered in faith and stubbornly waited for God.

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.
2 Kings 4:32-37

A partnership of unfaltering faith between the woman, her husband, the servant Gehazi, and Elisha, brought life.  Partnership strengthened faith. Hope in God strengthened faith. And unfaltering faith brought life.

So, as we look to Jesus and his death, burial, and resurrection, may we join together with unfaltering faith, knowing that the Lord will be true to His promises for us.  All is well.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10