Reflecting God Well

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“As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
as I have done to Samaria and her images?”

When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.

Isaiah 10:10-12 (ESV)

Unbelievers have always existed. Instead of believing in gods, they believe in man. Instead of humility before the will and power of a transcendent being, they are boastful and arrogant about what they can do in their own strength. They see nothing from a supernatural perspective. Only naturalism exists for them. They see no future beyond what their mind or hand can achieve. And no hope beyond what their heart can dream. Reality is limited to only what they can sense, and the only power they know that can protect them from suffering is the accumulation of wealth and the conquering of/ruling over others.

Nothing has changed much since Isaiah wrote this 2500+ years ago.

But man still is not God (despite Satans’s misconstrued promise). Though he ignores the Lord, he cannot erase Him. He can attribute the work of God to something or someone else; he can pretend he is like God in power and sovereignty or wisdom, but he cannot eliminate God. Nor can man surpass Him. Man can only imitate (or reflect) Him.

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What Do You Proclaim?

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For Jerusalem has stumbled,

and Judah has fallen,

because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord,

defying his glorious presence.

For the look on their faces bears witness against them;

they proclaim their sin like Sodom;

they do not hide it.

Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.

Isaiah 3:8-9

It could not be clearer. God’s people fall because their speech and deeds are against the Lord.

As Christians, we are taught that we are grafted in among the natural branches so that we might share in the nourishing root of God (Romans 11:17) and we are to be set apart so that others may accurately see God making His appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20). This means (partially) that morality is not about self-control, self-image, or self-improvement. It is about using our speech and deeds to continually align with and “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9)

But people do not only proclaim the goodness of God.

People also proclaim their sins. They do not hide it.

And in doing so they bring judgment and wrath upon themselves. They have no shame for their words or deeds because they have told themselves that they have done no wrong. They are proud of their choices and say in their heart (and with their mouth) “There is no God!” This makes them a law unto themselves. Any attempt to tell them they are wrong is an affront to them for it challenges both their love of individualism and autonomy and exposes their unconscious desire to be their god.

They proclaim their sin because all gods desire to receive worship. All gods desire praise for their holiness and perfection. And all gods want others to know their ways and follow them. Sinners, therefore, are not only proud but also shameless. In their eyes, they do not need to change. There is no Moral Authority to whom they must yield. They are the ones to whom the knee must be bowed. They are the ones who must receive approval. They are the ones whose actions must be tolerated. They are the ones who must be loved. And they are the ones who act without moral impunity because they have defined Right and Wrong to conveniently fit their words and deeds.

But woe to them! The result of their choices is a perverse, depraved, twisted, unrecognizable, and dysfunctional version of what God designed them to be. And unless redeemed, unless they are made whole and made new by God Himself through the work of Jesus Christ, the consequences of their choices will continue to contort their lives in turbulence and turmoil, making it impossible for them to unravel this Gordian knot of a soul.

They do not realize that although they make themselves out to be gods they have unknowingly yielded themselves to the cosmic powers over this present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12) They have chosen which side of the war to fight for and when God shows Himself victorious, they will suffer the fate of the fallen and the defeated. Cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, where the worm does not die and the fire is never quenched (Matt. 13:41-42; Mark 9:48)

Examine your words and deeds. Who do they exalt? Whose glory do they defy?

“For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:37) And “‘As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matt. 25:45-46)

All Hallow’s Eve and the Front-Line Christian

On October 31, 1517, a young monk approached the church in Wittenberg, Germany, and hung a document on the wooden door entitled “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” It was intended as an invitation to an academic discussion that he was organizing, but the two core beliefs of the Bible being the sole religious authority (not the Pope) and that salvation can only be attained by faith, not by deeds, set off the firestorm that is now known as The Protestant Reformation.

With this simple act, Martin Luther reminds us every All Hallow’s Eve that there really is no such thing as a “back row” Christian.

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What are You Bringing Forth?

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:34-37 (ESV)

Jesus asks how an evil person can speak good. The question is, of course, rhetorical for the answer is that he cannot. James 3:12 emphasizes this same point stating that what one is in his nature always correlates to what one is in his behavior. Fig trees, for instance, cannot bear olives nor can a salt pond produce fresh water. Similarly, an evil person cannot bring forth (or produce) good, for it would go against who he is in his nature. This does not mean that an evil man cannot do moral acts. To say such a thing would not only be naive, for every man makes choices that branch off the tree of his heart, but would also be foolish. But Jesus is not concerning Himself with the branches on the tree but with the fruit that dangles from them. Anyone can choose to be kind to their neighbor on occasion. But occasional watering or fertilizing of the heart does not change the nature of the heart itself. The evil person stores up evil in his heart and produces evil fruit, which is continuously displayed through his dispositions, habits, beliefs, and behaviors, regardless of the behavioral modification that he may do.

The terrifying thing about Jesus’ analogy is that fruit is never meant for the tree. It is produced for the consumption of others. “No man is an island,” said Donne, and of this, he could not be more right. We are social creatures by nature and the fruit we produce in our lives is presumably given to others for their betterment. But when what we produce is evil and our family and friends have glutted themselves on it, the more our fruit becomes a part of the sap in their tree. In this way, evil replicates itself until a cancerous orchard of pain, perversion, suffering, affliction, and death has infected all who take a bite. That is why the warning that Jesus gives us about storing up evil is not about us becoming evil. We have already accomplished that by ingesting evil continually. It is about how we bring forth evil into the world.

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No Weapon Forged Against You

A heritage is an inheritance, a gift given to the sons and daughters from the parents, something passed on from generation to generation. What is the heritage of God’s servants? 1) No weapon formed against you shall prosper and 2) you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.

Think about this. Satan is called “the accuser.” And He continually battles against God and His servants (Eph. 6:10-20). But here we have the promise that Satan’s weapons will not prosper against us nor will his accusations succeed. Here, in a nutshell, is the Gospel of Christ.

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I am the …

A long time ago, I wrote a post entitled “Two Question Christianity,” where I suggested that Christians need to explore scripture with two questions in mind: 1) What does this say about God? and 2) If this is who God says He is in His word, how should I respond to Him?

However, I did not explore or demonstrate what this would look like in practice. So, today I wanted to provide a devotional for you that helps you apply the principle in that article. Obviously, there are more than two questions below; however, the two questions in that article frame the rest of the questions here. They are intentionally broad questions to help encourage thinking and develop a closer relationship with God. If you would like space to write down your answers to these questions, you may download a copy to your computer as either a .docx file where you can enter your answers or as a .pdf file that you can print out to write down your answers.

If you find this helpful and would like more devotionals like this, please let me know in the comments.

Also, I welcome any insights you would like to share with me from your meditation on these questions.


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5 (ESV)

MEDITATION:

1. What does this passage say about who Jesus is? Who the Father is?

2. Taking these two things together what does this say about God?

3. Since this is who He is, how does the Bible instruct us to respond to Him?

4. The Greek word translated “abide” means “to stay, to be in a state that begins and continues, to remain as one, not to become different from one another.” How do you daily stay in Christ?

5. What evidence in your life points to the conclusion that, although you are your own self, you remain one with Him?

6. What evidence in your life shows you have drifted from Christ and have become different from Him?

7. What would you need to add or remove from your life so that you may continuously “abide” in Him?

8. Every life produces some type of result from their actions. What would you say is the result of your life’s actions so far?

9. Where do you receive the life for this fruit? The world? Social Media? Politics? Philosophy? Or Jesus? Take some time to identify the effects your life has produced and then identify the source that feeds these actions.

10. Jesus describes two types of branches: one does not bear fruit and is taken away, the other abides in Christ and suffers seasons of pruning that it may bear more fruit. Which one are you? Why do you think that?

11. When Jesus says “apart from me you can do nothing” is he referring to practical actions such as eating lunch, driving to work, or changing a diaper? Or is he referring to something more? What other characteristic of Himself could he be alluding to besides being the life-giving vine?

12. How does this passage, and especially verse 5, relate to 1st Corinthians 10:31, which says: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”?

PRAY:

Take time to reflect on who God has revealed Himself to be to you through this passage.

  • Start your prayer by addressing God with that characteristic. For example, “God, you are ____” or “I come to my holy ____”.
  • Praise Him for being this in general and in your own life.
  • Look back at question #6 and ask God to forgive you for the things you listed.
  • Ask Him, in accordance with who He is, to make you like Himself and to abide daily in Him.
  • Humble yourself and tell God why you want this and why you need this.
  • Commit to Him to stay in Him but also ask Him for the strength to do so.
  • Ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If My People…

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

Heavenly Father, my heart is breaking for this country. Our nation has become a people who have embraced the rewards of wealth over the rewards of righteousness. We have elevated choice above truth and have found an infinite number of creative and clever ways to repeat the sin of pride so that we might justify our pleasures and redefine evil as good and good as evil.

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The Emergent Change

 My soul longs for your salvation;
    I hope in your word.
My eyes long for your promise;
    I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
    yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
How long must your servant endure?[a]
    When will you judge those who persecute me?
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
    they do not live according to your law.
All your commandments are sure;
    they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
They have almost made an end of me on earth,
    but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your steadfast love give me life,
    that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.

Psalm 119:81-88

When suffering comes it is easy to lose sight of God. His timing often seems slow and His promises (though they are surely coming) seem far off. Meanwhile, our enemies continue to barrage us with blow after blow, making us cry out to God, “How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?”

It is in those darkest times that we forget that God is not only in the business of saving. He is also in the business of sanctifying. He does not just write the ending, changing us from unholy to holy. He also develops us into the heroes and heroines He wants us to be. Most people only focus on the last two or three dominos that fall at the end of a story so that they can understand if the story’s main conflict is decided for or against the protagonist. But God does not want to only create the three final causal changes within us. He desires to create systemic, or emergent, changes within us as well.

In His sovereignty, God orchestrates our life story so that a chain reaction of events, choices, and circumstances push us out of our normal world and into an adventure that contrasts God’s principles, promises, and precepts against the razor edges of life. This creates an emergent change within the whole system of ourselves. It does not change only one part of us. It changes multiple parts simultaneously until we reach a climactic moment where the deepest questions about ourselves are answered within the character of God:

Am I lovable, despite my trauma?

Can I let go of that addiction to porn?

Can I overcome my pride and be selfless?

Can I ignore those temptations at work and be faithful to my spouse? And if not, can I work diligently to restore my marriage?

In other words, it is not enough for God to just open the Red Sea and save us. To become His holy people we must walk through the wilderness too.

So, we keep moving forward.

Not because our willpower is stronger nor because our wisdom is brighter nor even because our therapy is better. Rather, we continue pressing onward because the God-ordained result of all our struggles is that “when he appears we shall be like him.” (1 John 3:2). This is the promise that we have been given and that God will see to the end: That “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Php. 1:6) This is the emergent result of all of our experiences, all of our choices, and all of God’s sovereign will being exercised throughout our lives. Until then, even in the darkest moments of life, we continue to pray, “In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.”

The Interplay of Two Wills

Put false ways far from me

    and graciously teach me your law!

Psalm 119:29

Here is an interesting interplay between God’s sovereign will and man’s choice.

First, we see that David understands that without God he will always walk in false ways. His heart is desperately sick and deceitful above all things and though his ways may appear right to him, without God’s intervention the end of all his choices is the way of death. (Jer. 17:9; Pr. 14:12). Therefore, he begs God to act against the natural inclination of his will and put false ways “far from him.”

This is not something he could do on his own. He needs a new nature from God (2 Cor. 5:17) and a new law to follow, one that is not bound to sin and death (Rom. 8:2). Thus, he entreats the Lord to “graciously teach me your law!” David wants freedom from his wicked self and knows his only help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Ps. 121:2).

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