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Hope Amidst Iniquity

Have you ever been so far down in sin that you wondered if the Lord could or would forgive you? Have you ever wondered if you could ever get past something awful you did in the past? Are you dealing with the consequences of such a sin and you’ve seen those who called your friend or family fall away? Have you ever been this bad?

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

– Isaiah 1:2-3, ESV

The good news is that God’s grace and forgiveness are simply unbelievable. The ox is not known for its intelligence. Neither is the donkey. That’s why God, through Isaiah, compared Judah to the ox and the donkey. God’s people were acting so awful that they made an ox or a donkey look smart by comparison. Most of the rest of chapter 1 of Isaiah is a litany of what Judah had done wrong. It’s bad enough that most of us would say, “I’m bad, but I’m not that bad.”

The truth of the matter is that iniquity, any iniquity, is unacceptable to God. We may call it big or we may call it small, but God calls it sin and that’s not okay by Him. Yet even as He condemned Judah, here’s what He offered:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
– Isaiah 1:18-20, ESV

Simply amazing, isn’t it? Why does Judah deserve a second chance? It didn’t. None of us do. God’s standard is perfection and that was made clear in the Garden. Yet God repeatedly gives us chance after chance after chance. Why? God does it because He has chosen to do so. It’s not because of anything about us. It’s because He has chosen to offer grace.

This offer we see in verses 18-20 was made to the nation of Judah. However, forgiveness is presented to us as individuals time and time again. So while we can’t ascribe all the good things that God offered the nation, we can take the part about our sins being removed from us. Other passages of Scripture make that clear. God removes our iniquity from us and restores our fellowship with Him.

It doesn’t matter how bad your past is. It doesn’t matter what you’re involved in right now. If you’re willing to walk away from that iniquity, if you’re willing to put God first, He will cleanse you. Note the Scripture says, “Let us reason together.” God wants to talk about it. He’s not pushing away; He’s calling home. We don’t deserve it, but still He offers. If there’s something you’re struggling with, something you wonder if it can be forgiven, give God a chance. Answer His call. Come (back) to Him. Let Him restore you. Let Him remove that sin. Let Him present you with that full and abundant life the Son has promised if we would just seek after Him first. Let go, and let Him.

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How do I know I can trust God?

Is trusting God easy? In my experience, it hasn’t been. I realize that every person is different. Some folks have found it easier to trust God. I will say it is easier to trust God the more I experience Him at work. I know that as I experience God more, I grow closer to this perspective penned by King David:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;he will answer him from his holy heavenwith the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses,but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  – Psalm 20:6-7, ESV

David had seen God do the miraculous. David had seen God deliver him personally time and time again. David had witness God turn that which was intended for evil for the good. Based on when we first meet him in Scripture, David started with a strong belief and over time it became even stronger. Experiencing God at work changes us. It gives us the capacity to trust Him more.

However, it has to begin somewhere. For me, it began when I first trusted that He would save me as Scripture promises. That was a hard, hard thing for me to accept. I had drilled into my head for twenty years that if I were to succeed or fail, it was all up to me. That clashed with what Scripture presents: salvation wasn’t something I could do on my own. It wasn’t up to me. I was powerless.  This started a war in both my heart and my mind. Then, finally, I trusted. 

I can’t tell you to trust God and that be the end of it. I can ask you to trust God and point to experience after experience of other people who have trusted God and seen God deliver. They’ve seen God honor His promises. They’ve been part of God doing the “impossible.” Scripture is filled with such examples. So are our churches. I can askl you to trust God but then I have to leave the decision to you. That’s where it is: with you. Will you trust Him? 

One proviso: trust God in His promises. Scripture tells us when, where, and how we can trust God. Don’t trust God for something Scripture doesn’t state. For instance, don’t think, “I need a new sports car and I’m going to trust God for it.” That’s a want, not a need, and God didn’t make such a general, unqualified promise. However, if the situation lines up with the Bible, trust, trust, trust! Then watch as God works to expand your trust in Him by delivering over and over again.

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Follow God’s Urging

Jan's Land 30-5-2011After your heart has been broken encountering roadblocks in trying to respond to God’s call, it can be very difficult to get started once again. However, if God is urging you to push forward, to get going again, you must. Even if the circumstances look like they haven’t changed, God is at work.

At the same time Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them and spoke to them thus: “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?” They also asked them this: “What are the names of the men who are building this building?” But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it. – Ezra 5:3-5, ESV

In the first couple of verses of Ezra 5, we’re told that God reached out through his prophets and leaders to get the people started in the rebuilding of the Temple. So far as they were aware, there had been no change in the edict from Artaxerxes. In fact, there hadn’t been. Yes, there was a new king, Darius, but they had no indication that he favored their restarting the work. Yet they got started because God directed them. Then it happened again.

The adversaries arose including the head of the province, Tattenai. Those adversaries demanded to know who gave the Israelites permission to restart the work. Of course, the answer was no one did that Tattenai and his crew would accept, for it was God. What the adversaries did next was not surprising: they collected names. The folks who were working on the Temple were going to be reported.

At this point, a lot of people would have decided it was time to get scarce. They would be afraid of the might of the government and they would try to flee and escape whatever punishment the government wanted to mete out. In this case, we’re told that the elders, and therefore the people under them, did not stop work and would not stop work until they got the response back from Darius. So not only did they restart after such heart break, but they continued the work under duress.

God would not disappoint. He would move Darius to order the work be completed and further that the adversaries in question help but not hinder. The adversaries were told to stay away but provide whatever the Israelites needed with respect to money, supplies, and offerings. He would actually use the prompting of the accusers against them. God would see His Temple rebuilt. That’s why, if God is directing us in a direction, we should go. Nothing might have changed to that point, but going forward God will ensure the right changes happen. This can be especially hard after heartbreak, to get started again, but God delivers on His promises. If He is prompting us to restart, He will provide the means to complete that which He has called us to do. The history recorded in Ezra is just one example. There are a multitude of examples in Scripture. It all boils down to us trusting Him to deliver. He will.

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Don’t Lose Hope

GriefOne of the most devastating experiences you can face is when things are going well after you’ve waited so long for something to happen and then you hit a major road block. Maybe it’s trying to start a family and after overcoming problem after problem, you finally get pregnant… only to lose the baby. Or it’s getting a new job after weeks or months of unemployment, only to find when you get there that there is no longer a spot for you.

It’s easy to lose hope in those cases. It’s very human to feel all that frustration very, very deeply. What makes things worse is if that roadblock is a long term one. You’ve just gotten started and then you’re shut down. And you have no idea if you’ll ever be able to get started again. It’s understandable if you feel like giving up.

Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?” – Ezra 4:21-22, ESV

The Israelites had made progress. The altar and the foundation for the Temple had been rebuilt. Then those who were opposed to the rebuilding of the Temple, adversaries of Judah, sent a message to the new king over Persia, Artaxerxes. They pointed out how Judah had risen up in the past. The adversaries naturally neglected to point out that Cyrus had commissioned the work in the first place. With their carefully crafted message, the adversaries succeeded in getting Artaxerxes on their side. He then issued a decree ordering all work to be stopped. I’m sure the news had to be devastating to those who had waited so long, who had returned so triumphantly, and who had poured their hearts into the rebuilding of the Temple.

Here’s where, from a human perspective, we’d probably say further progress was impossible and we’d give up. The wonderful thing about God is that He can do what we think is impossible. He didn’t send His people back to fail. He wanted His Temple rebuilt. It would take some time. Artaxerxes would pass from power and Darius would become the new guy in charge. God would call Nehemiah to go down and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and jump start the rebuilding. In the end, the Temple was completed. It was completed because God desired it so.

This is what we need to cling to as Christians when hard times come upon us. It’s what we grasp when we think we’re moving forward, only to be stopped once again. If what we are doing is God’s desire, He will bring it to pass. We have hope, Him, even when things look the bleakest. Don’t lose hope.

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Redemption Is Coming

HopelessEver been in a bad situation for more than a short time? How about a series of bad situations, all compounding on one another? Feel like giving up? Feel like there’s no point in hoping any more? The truth is, a lot of folks have been there. It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor you are. It doesn’t matter how many friends you do or don’t have. It doesn’t matter how famous you are or aren’t. We can all get down. We can all feel like hope is slipping away – or it’s already gone.

I’m sure quite a few of the Israelites in exile felt this way. As Judah they had withstood Assyria but fell to Babylonia. Babylonia had fallen to Persia. What hope was there? Return to Israel? Rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple? Those situations coming to pass probably felt far-fetched, despite the promises in Scripture. However, what God commits to, He delivers.

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4, ESV

Cyrus began his reign as king over the Persian Empire and in the first year of that reign, he decided to honor God and allow any of the Israelites to go back and rebuild the Temple. Ezra tells us in verse 1 that God made this happen to fulfill a promise He made to Jeremiah. It had been so many years in exile. It had been so many years without the Temple. We can’t blame any of the Israelites for losing hope, for feeling like it was never going to happen. We would be hard pressed to feel differently. Yet God brought Cyrus to the scene. Not only did Cyrus permit the Israelites to return, he also ordered that they be assisted in the effort. The promised redemption had begun.

God is this way with all of His children. When He promised redemption, He meant it. There is ultimate redemption, the saving of us from our sins. But there is also day-to-day redemption. God delivers His grace on us so often that we have grown very blind to it. We take things for granted. That’s why when we take a hit, when bad stuff happens, we can get down and we can even feel like there’s no hope. I’m sure Satan does us no favors and probably “heaps on” the hurt to drive us further down, to keep our heads lowered so we don’t raise them up and cast our eyes upon God.

Redemption is coming. Not only the final redemption, but redemption in earthly situations, too. Even in situations of our own causing, there is some sort of redemption. Situations of our own causing, where our sin must be brought to account, there is punishment but there is still redemption. Redemption doesn’t mean we escape earthly punishment. Redemption means that even in those situations God is still working on us. He’s still loving on us. He’s still guiding us and teaching us. He’s still changing us to be His people. Redemption is coming. It came for the Israelites and it will come for us. Let us not cast our eyes down but instead turn them up to our Lord.

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The Miracles of Jesus (30/35)

Today’s miracle is the resurrection of Lazarus, which is typically well-known and oft looked at. I’m going to take a slightly different slant on it to hopefully bring a fresh, but still very Biblical view about this miracle.

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” – John 11:38-44, ESV

We know from the setup that Jesus could have arrived earlier, while Lazarus was still sick, and healed him. Jesus chose not to. We also know that when Jesus arrived, he was so moved by the grief of Mary and Martha that Jesus Himself wept. We know that through this Jesus once again showed He had the power over death. But one thing I hope you see is how Jesus showed His power over sin and how through His grace we are transformed from what sin has done to us to something that is pleasing to God. Only God can accomplish this. Despite our best efforts, we cannot overcome sin. We cannot redeem ourselves from sin. And we cannot make ourselves into anything that is pleasing to God. It requires Christ and Christ alone. Only He has the power to transform us in this way. And transformation is what we need.

Lazarus was dead. We too are dead in our sins. Our sins cause a foul stench in the nose of God. Notice that Martha protests Jesus asking for the stone to be moved away because she knows that a body laid to rest for four days should have an odor. It has begun decaying. That’s what sin does to us. It causes us to decay spiritually. It destroys us slowly but surely. Sin also binds us up, just as Lazarus was bound in linen strips, a traditional burial for that time period. And it locks us in the dark, not allowing us to see the light that is Christ, much as Lazarus was locked up in a sealed tomb. The parallels to what sin does to us are uncanny in this event. But there’s even more for us to see.

Only Christ can break the hold of sin in our lives. Only He can restore us to life. He restored Lazarus to life and then commanded that he be unbound. This is what Christ does for us through His redemption on the Cross. He removes the binding sin has completely wrapped us in. He restores life to where there was only death. Not only that, but when He restores us, we go from being a foul odor to God, an unholy and unacceptable stench, to one that is pleasing to the Father. So, too, must this have happened with Lazarus when Jesus brought him back to life.

Now here’s where it gets really good. Jesus turned to Martha and said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” She did. Her brother was brought back from the dead. He was alive. But do you realize that if we live the life we are called to, the life that we can only live because Jesus has removed the bindings of sin from us, that those around us can see the glory of God just like Martha did? They will see the life we have through Christ’s redemptive act. They will see a changed person. Lazarus was changed from dead and decaying to alive and advancing. This is what folks should see in our lives, too. We aren’t dead, but alive. Alive in Christ. Alive for the Kingdom of God. Alive and filled with joy and hope. Advancing the Kingdom. Advancing in our growing faith. Advancing in our knowledge and relationship with the Living God. We are Lazarus! Or we can be if we show the life our Christ has given to us.

Are you alive in the Lord? Does His glory shine through you? Or are you still kicking it around with folks from the old neighborhood, death and sin? If you are surrendered to Christ, if you are one of His, the choice is yours. You can be the Lazarus for the folks you come in contact with. You can show what a life lived in Christ is really like. You can be the instrument which He uses to shine His glory and further His Kingdom. Or you can be something else. But for the One who said to you, “Live!” why would you want to be?

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In God’s Timing

It’s so easy to be face-to-face with the problems of today that we feel overwhelmed. Yesterday we looked at the fact that because God is, there is always hope. Remembering that means taking a long term view. It means looking past today’s troubles and understanding that God will work things out according to His will in His Own timing. And that’s something to consider for today. For instance:

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. – Luke 1:5-7, NASB

and

Then they arose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned again to their house in Ramah And Elkanah had relations with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. It came about in due time, after Hannah had conceived, that she gave birth to a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked him of the LORD.” – 1 Samuel 1:19-20, NASB

and

Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. – Genesis 21:1-2, NASB

All three situations are cases where a woman of faith was not able to have a child. In Elizabeth and Sarah’s case we know both were well past the expected child bearing years (Sarah was 90) when God blessed them with their children. In Hannah’s case, it had been many years, so we don’t know how old she was, but we know that this heartbreak had gone on for many years. Another example, which I didn’t cite the Scriptures for, is Rachel, but there may have been extenuating circumstances there due to the lack of affection towards Leah by Jacob. In any case, it is likely that Sarah and Elizabeth had given up hope. Hannah was probably pretty close. They had waited for years and God had not answered their prayers.

But God did. It was in His timing, but He did answer all three in powerful ways. So powerfully, in fact, that they are recorded in Scripture as examples for us to remember. They say, “The Lord is faithful and He will accomplish all He has promised. Wait on the Lord.” Current circumstances may seem unmanageable. But they are if we remember that God is ultimately in control. There is nothing that happens that He doesn’t permit. This isn’t to say He condones. But it means that He knows what you’re going through. You’re going through it for a reason. You may not understand it, but He does. If there’s not a sin issue present, trust in God. If it is something in keeping with His will, you will see or hear his answer in a mighty way. But that means we’ve got to trust that He has the timing right. Don’t give up hope. Don’t seek to “make things happen” if He’s not directing you to do so. Wait on the Lord. Wait on His timing. It’ll be worth it.

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