Location Means Everything

Sometimes the prophets just confuse me. We just started reading through Ezekiel and already I feel lost. Ezekiel gets this amazing vision of the glory of the Lord. He describes it in detail and says there are living creatures, some sort of wheels, and above it all, God’s throne. What does all this mean? Frankly, I have no idea.

However, I think if we focus too much on what all the symbols and images mean or represent we miss the point of the passage. Just as in real estate, location means everything. Ezekiel doesn’t get this vision in the temple. He doesn’t get it in Jerusalem. He doesn’t even get it in Israel. The text says he sees it, “as I was among the exiles by the Chebar Canal…in the land of the Chaldeans…” (Ez. 1:1-3). Ezekiel is sitting in a godless nation with the remnant of God’s people who are being punished for their sin…not exactly a holy place.

However, I think that’s the point. Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord in the last place he would have expected. God is not constrained by location or even by the presence of sin in the lives of his people. His glory and his grace cannot be held down. Where He wants to work, he will work. He can reach his people at the farthest reaches of the globe in the depth of their sin.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Ps. 139:7-12)

It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’ve done. God’s Spirit is there. It can be terrifying to think that we cannot outrun God. But, his omnipresence should also bring us incredible comfort. It means we can also never outrun His grace. His presence will never leave us no matter where we are or how far we’ve fallen. His grace has no bounds. He will bring his children home.

 

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Dead Men to Living Souls

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)

At the end of the day, what does it mean to be a Christian? Is it how you act? Is it what church you go to? Is it a way you talk or a way you dress? What does it mean to be a true follower of Jesus. The message of Colossians is something truly radical. To be a Christian is to be a dead man raised to life.

This sounds very strange to us because all we know how to think of the Christian life is in moral terms. When someone asks us whether we are a Christian or not, our response is “Well…I’m trying.” This misses the entire message of the gospel. God did not come to earth to make people better. He came to make dead men alive. We are dead men and women who have been raised to life once more.

And so, we must intentionally live not as people who are alive. I know in my head when I am tempted to sin, I can easily dismiss the sin in question to be compatible with the Christian life. However, that simply is not the case. The sins I am tempted to accommodate into my life are the deeds of a dead man.

As living souls, we now do not have to look to sex, money, or relationships to fulfill our lives. We look to the author of life, the one who has raised us up. He is our satisfaction. He is our goal. He is our eternal reward. He is the one we treasure above all else because only Jesus can truly satisfy.

As you look at and reflect upon the sin in your life and in your heart, you have to ask yourself, Am I really living as a man or woman brought from death to life? Never let your sin blind you. It wants your soul for ruin and destruction. Jesus  though wants your soul to be a new creation after the image of God.

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The Transforming Presence of God

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:4-13)

When reading a book (or in this case, a letter), it is always good to reflect on the context of the author. Paul is writing a letter to the church of Phillipi from prison. It’s essentially a support-raising letter of gratitude to a church that Paul had ministered to and had in turn sent him a gift while in prison. It is personal and joyful in tone. But I think the key part to remember for us is  that Paul is writing from prison with a joyful tone. This is a posture that I don’t think I would be holding if I were writing a letter from prison.

If Paul, the gospel loving Christ follower from the New Testament, were to write a letter to Imago Dei Church after we sent him a gift, what would that letter look like? Although we may never know, I am grateful to read Philippians 4 and resonate with the early church. How do we rejoice in our suffering? Are we really trusting in God’s presence to remain steadfast as life swirls on around us? How does anxiety take hold of our heart in this tech-driven culture? How do we shape our thoughts around what is true and noble, believing God’s promised peace will be upon us? Are we truly content with our circumstances when our finances are at their highest and lowest? Although culturally different, these passages are bursting with Christ-centered truth and wisdom that we at Imago Dei church can learn from 2,000+ years later.

As someone who grew up in a Christian household but struggled with anxiety, Philippians 4:6 is a familiar golden ticket for “instant peace” to a young believer. I got the impression it was like a nice dose of Vitamin C to take on a cloudy day. It’s often served as a simple reminder to pray often, and do it with thanksgiving, and miraculously God’s peace would be with me.  We can often skip right to verse 6 though without proclaiming the resounding truth of verse 5: The Lord is near! This verse follows with a commandment, not a suggestion, to not be anxious but to present your requests before God. There are both individual and corporate lessons that we can soak in. We can rejoice in the Lord in the quiet places. We can rejoice in the Lord as a church body. Our gentleness comes from individually clinging to Christ, but it should be evident to others. We can present our prayer and petitions to God alone, and we can also do that with others.

Paul is reminding us that the Christian life is not exempt from suffering. But unlike those apart from Him, we have the promise of God’s presence providing peace. Do I live and act as though God is near at all times? If I did, I have to believe that my anxiety would look different. Am I truly clinging to good, noble thoughts always? What am I spending time watching, listening to, reading, scrolling past, and how is that shaping my relationship with the God of peace?

I read this passage today and am reminded of God’s refining presence. My journey of anxiety is not completely over, but God has transformed my heart and where I put my trust. God’s presence transforms. It can reshape the heart of a prisoner sitting next to Paul, and it can reshape us today as we face a culture filled with anxiety, depression, uncertainty, and loneliness.

If we truly trust God and his ways, our lives will reflect that. It will be evident in gentleness. We will be filled with peace. It will be evident in our thoughts. We will rejoice. We won’t fret in earthly circumstances. And lastly, we will rightly acknowledge where our strength comes from. When we are at peace, do we look to ourselves, sleep, our bank accounts, friendship, new clothes, technology, down time, a warm bath, a glass of wine, or beautiful scenery as our reasoning? I pray that God’s peace would guard our hearts and minds today, reminding us that his presence is where the ultimate source of peace comes from. May we remember that He is near, and may the manifestations of that truth continue to shape how we live, think, talk, act, and love.

 

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From Death to Life

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:1-7)

 

These words have been coming up a lot in my head. I’ve discovered in my life as a Christian that I get this constant sense of up and down. One moment I think I am the worst person imaginable. The next moment I think God should love me because I am so great. Sometimes I am the worst sinner and other times I am the greatest saint.

 

This passage though says that both of those things are true at the same time. On our own we are all “children of wrath.” Paul says we live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” and deep down we know that is the case. How often have we tried to put away anger, selfishness, and lust and seen it rear its ugly head time and time again. We live out of our passions regardless of how it hurts those around us. Paul gives a bleak picture. It doesn’t look good. We have no hope to be the people we know we should be.

 

“But God” These words are some of the most beautiful in all of Scripture because they reflect the radical change that can be brought about through God’s power. God, solely because his character and heart is to be merciful and gracious, “made us alive together with Christ.” (2:5) Paul doesn’t frame our new birth as a patient on the operating table coming awake. He says its more like someone being raised up from the grave. That is the kind of dramatic life that we now have in Christ.

 

So, are we sinners or are we saints? The answer is both. You and I are sinners because what is in us is dead and filled with sin. But, we have also been raised with Christ. Know that you are dead if it is not for the unmerited grace of God. So, why do you look to yourself for your identity? He is the one who has made you alive and he will transform you. Stop trying to do it on your own power. Cling to and meditate on the grace of Jesus. He is the one who makes dead things alive.

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The Lord is Our Righteousness

“Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land…And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:5)

As we have been reading through the book of Jeremiah, I can’t help but say…it’s a bit of a bummer. There is page after page of sin and judgement on God’s people. It extends all the way to the leaders or the “shepherds” as Jeremiah describes them. Instead of protecting and keeping the sheep they have scattered them and driven them away (23:2) But, God steps in and makes a promise of hope. He promises to set over His people new shepherds who will care for the sheep and, “they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing” (23:4). God is going to make things right.

But, there is a question that the rest of what we have been reading in Jeremiah keeps on bringing up. What about the people? The shepherds of the people rightly deserve blame and condemnation but the people beneath them are not innocent. They have followed other gods and oppressed one another also. So, how will God make everything right if the problem is with the shepherds and the sheep?

The answer is that the shepherd God will put over his people isn’t just any shepherd. God declares that he will raise the “Branch” of David and he will bring about justice in his land. Moreover, he himself will be the righteousness that God’s wicked people desperately need. It is in his very name, “The Lord is our righteousness.” (23:6) Unlike Jeremiah, we know who this “Branch” is. We know that this king is Jesus.

You see, Jesus isn’t just a good example or teacher for us. He doesn’t just lead us on the way we should go. He actually goes where we, because of our sin and rebellion, could not go. He does what we were meant to do but never could. He then becomes our righteousness son our behalf.

How often have I prayed to God hoping he would hear me because of what I’ve done? Or, more often, how often have I prayed fearing he wouldn’t listen because of what I’ve done? But, that is not who our King is. “The Lord is our righteousness.” Praise God that I do not stand upon my own record. Like Israel of old, I know that wickedness is not outside me but inside my own heart. I need a righteous King who lives the life I never could. I don’t just need a king to lead me. I need a king to stand in my place.

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Reflecting God’s Generous Heart

Every morning while I get into my car, I have tried to remind myself that every breath I breathe is grace. It’s so easy to go about my day, not taking a moment to slow down to realize that I don’t deserve any of the countless blessings that God has generously given to me. Everything in this life is a gift that belongs to God. It is ultimately God’s grace through the gift of Jesus that should transform our hearts to then be generous to others.

 

Paul wrote to the church of Corinth in order to remind them of the grace they had been given and then encouraged them to give generously in response. He points out that the churches in Macedonia, whom have been greatly afflicted and tested, remain joyful and generous in their giving. Although they do not have much to give, the grace that they have received through Christ has transformed their hearts to love and give freely. (2 Corinthians 8:1-3)

 

I have been overwhelmed by the number of blessings God has given me in the past few months. Realizing where I was at spiritually even just a few months ago, I am fully aware of how undeserving I am of these gifts. It is also important to note that the biggest blessings have been through those who have loved and given to me so freely. They inspire me to do the same.

 

Paul goes on to encourage the church of Corinth to excel in the act of grace. He writes:

“I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” (2 Corinthians 8:8)

 

Reading this verse struck me. The grace I show to others is a reflection of my love for them. I am ultimately able to love others genuinely through the grace that has been given to me. Next, Paul says:

 

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

 

Jesus has taken on our sin and has given us his holiness in order that we might have a restored relationship with the living God. We are called to reflect this selflessness. We must realize that all we truly have is Christ. Everything is a gift of grace that belongs to God. We should be willing to love others by giving generously. How else are we capable of love? I have personally been challenged by this passage to be more giving of my time and to trust God through my tithing. I have been challenged, knowing that the Gospel calls me to love others and to give freely, just as Jesus has done for me.

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God Breaks the Second Law of Thermodynamics

In physics there is a law called the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The law states that the entropy of an isolated natural system tends to increase. In other words, every system, galaxy, and even the universe itself, continually moves toward a greater state of disorder rather than order. For a simple example of this, just look at a child’s room. When left to its own upon, it tends to become more and more messy rather than more orderly and clean.

This law of physics is also a law of human nature. It is the same for you, me, our family, and our community. We all are broken people moving towards disorder and and disillusionment because of the power of sin at work in us. But, we are not an isolated system. Something…or better yet someone has acted and brought order and life where there was disorder and death. Our God is a God of mercy. He has sent his son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins. From this good news, we see the Glory of God.

 “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4: 5-6)

This passage goes on to express how we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and yet not destroyed. (v. 8-9) We are not overcome because of the work of Jesus’ death on the cross. Although the world around us, and even our own bodies at times may feel like they are breaking down, we know that the Spirit is continually working to bring about life in us.

Moreover, it isn’t just us as individuals. Our community is of the same spirit of faith. (v. 13) We are not alone in the midst of our suffering and we will not be alone as the Spirit brings life out of suffering.

“Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” (v. 14)

We are told not to lose heart in the midst suffering because our Spirit is being renewed every day. All of these truths come together to give thanksgiving and glory to God. We know that the natural world is continually moving toward a state of disorder and death, but God has already begun the work of recreation right inside of us!

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