Thursday, May 29, 2008

Choose death or choose life-- no middle ground.

Speaking of the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai, God says this through Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 20:15-20:

"15 Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the desert that I would not bring them into the land I had given them—a land flowing with milk and honey, most beautiful of all lands- 16 because they rejected my laws and did not follow my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths. For their hearts were devoted to their idols. 17 Yet I looked on them with pity and did not destroy them or put an end to them in the desert. 18 I said to their children in the desert, "Do not follow the statutes of your fathers or keep their laws or defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the LORD your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 20 Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.""

This is a really interesting passage for a couple reasons, but I'm only going to hit one in depth. It's very interesting that God says "Do not follow the statutes of your fathers or keep their laws." This is interesting because so many people, whether consciously or not, cringe when they hear about the law of God. "Oh no," they say, "a law is what restricts people! It will be composed of rules that restrict my freedom and compel me to avoid things I enjoy and to do things I dislike!" And so there is, whether consciously or not, a shrinking back from God. There's hesitation. (It's also really bad; see Hebrews 10:35-39)

This passage speaks about the law of God in verse 19: "...follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." But it doesn't say this in a vacuum; this is the continuation of verse 18, which speaks about the laws and decrees of their fathers. So what we see here isn't a juxtaposition of laws vs. freedom, but rather laws vs. another set of laws. It's just that one set of laws (the laws of their fathers) masquerade as freedom. Really this is just an attempt to redefine rebellion as freedom.

We know that the man who obeys God's laws will live by them (verse 11, 13 of this chapter). They will obey those laws and obtain life. The natural, though unstated counterpart, is that those who live by the laws of their fathers, the laws of sin, will die by them. They will obey them and obtain death. It's never a question of laws vs. freedom. It's simply a question of who you will obey and who you will disobey. Multitudes choose to obey the laws of their fathers, the laws of sin, and disobey the laws of God, the laws of life.

Now this equation is powerfully redefined in the New Testament. In particular, Romans 6:15-23 expounds on this topic with force:

"15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord."

This passage makes clear the two choices before all people: to be a slave to sin or to be a slave to God. Once again, freedom isn't part of the equation at all, it's simply a matter of choosing your obedience to one and disobedience to the other. It also shows that being a "slave to righteousness" is not a matter simply of following a set of rules and receiving a reward from God, but is a "gift of God". I won't go into detail (of which there's quite a bit), but the essence is that being a slave to righteousness is not a matter of following some set of rules, but of making a heart decision to follow God. Then God Himself gives you the power to follow His laws and decrees and you are enabled by God, the Holy Spirit, to live a life pleasing and acceptable to God. That's the essence of the grace of God. That's good stuff!!

Going back to the original Ezekiel passage, I think the references to the holy Sabbath is also very interesting. I think it's interesting how God calls it a "sign". That is, those who keep the Sabbath are essentially publicly announcing, "I am the Lord's, and the Lord is my God". By the Sabbath, it was made known that they were the people of God. It was their sign of consecration. Pretty interesting. :)

Another interesting, but painful, note is how it says that the hearts of the Israelites were "devoted to their idols." They rejected devotion to the Lord and devoted themselves to idols. Once again, it becomes clear that people only really have two choices: idols or the living God. What you behold is what you become, so devoting yourself to dead things will only transform you into the image of death. Beholding the living God by force transforms you into the image of life, and therefore you become a source of life. That's another big topic though, so I'm going to back off here.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Who is the one who is lonely?

There are many people who are lonely, so I will share some of my recent musings in the hope that one day someone will read this and be encouraged.

Whether you are Christian or not, whether you believe in God or not, the God of the Bible is deeply concerned about those who are lonely, because He Himself suffered from loneliness and separation from other people while He was alive on the earth.

Hebrews 13:11-14 says (NIV):

"The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come."

It's saying that Jesus suffered outside the city to make holy the people inside the city. He suffered isolation and loneliness that others, whom He was separated from, could be healed. If you ever feel alone and like nobody knows what you're suffering, know that God knows what you feel, and even more, He knows what it feels like because He suffered it Himself. In another famous passage, Matthew 27:46, Jesus says (NIV):

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

So again, Jesus is suffering the pain of separation, but even worse than we humans feel. In Matt 8, it says that "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head". He didn't have any place on earth that He could call home, the entire time He was alive and living in this world.

Furthermore, who has ever taken concern over the emotions of God's heart? I know many, many Christians who are glad they have the mercy of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, but I know very few Christians who realize how much pain it causes God when we rebel against Him and commit sin. I know many more non-Christians who walk totally oblivious to God and grieve His heart tremendously.

Through the midst of the whole human enterprise, who has ever concerned himself or herself for the pain, the joy, or any of the other emotions that God feels? Many people are encouraged by the goodness of God towards us, but very very few are concerned with how their actions affect God.

Now the reason I say all this isn't to condemn humanity for its callousness towards God. I have no right to do so, because it's a callousness that I long walked in before I discovered God's heart towards me. But why I say this is, God knows what it is to be lonely. He knows what it is to be taken for granted, to be ignored and belittled. Because of this, He has compassion on those who feel like this.

In Hebrews 4:15-16, it says (NIV):

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

The truth is that I wrote most of this for myself. I've been really lonely for the past year or so, because I've been separated from a bunch of cool friends I love after we all graduated from university. But praise God, I can rejoice in the knowledge that God knows what I'm feeling and what I've been going through, and He is the one who will be my help in my time of need.

Even greater is the promise that one day, just as it says above in Hebrews 13:14 that "we are looking for the city that is to come", I will be reunited with all my friends from school forever. No more separation, no more longing, no more ache within. Joy and happiness with many friends for time unbounded. It's the hope I live for, and will one day receive as a gift from the one who loves me and gave His life for me, Jesus my Lord and God. :)

If this post finds its way to you who are lonely, and you don't feel that you have anyone who cares for you, if you're separated from the people who you love, or maybe there isn't even anyone that you have ever been close to, there is yet one who cares about you: Jesus. Cast your cares upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Whether you believe in God or not, just ask Him to show you that He cares for you, and I believe He will. I believe this because of what I quoted above in Hebrews 13:11-14. Jesus suffered so that we, the people inside the city, could be healed. That means that the very reason He willingly endured separation from others and loneliness so that He could take away our loneliness, to any who will approach Him. Would He now, after suffering so much, refuse us the very reason that He suffered? He will not. As it says in Hebrews 4:16: "Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." If you ask God for help in your time of need, you can be confident that He will help you. Speaking is free, so why not?

May you find rest for your soul.