Avoid The Exit Ramps

I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness and meditation in an attempt to be more present in the moment and bring some order to my scattered thoughts. My mind wanders a lot, so I find it useful to pick something to focus on. Sometimes it’s a sound, sometimes it’s my breath, and sometimes it’s a scripture. Earlier this week, it was this one:

Your word is a lamp to my feet,
and a light for my path.

Psalm 119:105, WEB

It’s a short verse, but not nearly as simple as it seems on first glance. If you need a lamp for your feet and a light for your path, that implies the world around you is dark. A light’s going to keep you from stumbling over obstacles or straying off-track. It’ll let you see where you’re going. If the path branches, a light’s going to give you clarity in figuring out which way to go. That’s what God’s word does for us. It helps us avoid going off the one Way that leads to eternal life. It provides clear vision in a dark world that offers many branching paths.

Just One Path to Life

Our life with God is often described as a “walk” or a “race” that follows a specific way/path. That path is surrounded by many others that the world offers us, and it’s not the easiest of the paths to spot. Alternative paths–which all lead to death since they’re not heading toward God–are often eye-catching, wide enough to see easily, and broad enough to fit many people. In contrast, the way of the Lord is one that’s easily overlooked.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14, NET

Jesus’s sacrifice opened the way to salvation for all people. He and the Father want everyone to be saved and choose eternal life. At the same time, They also tell us that only a few people find this path. We’re also warned that once They open our eyes to see where and how we should walk, we need to do our part to stay on the straight and narrow.

I chose the title “Avoid The Exit Ramps” for this post because once we’re on this path, God intends for us to stay there. We might veer off into one ditch or another, but when we turn to Him with repentance and ask for help He puts us back on track. He also promises that no one who follows Him will be snatched away by some outside force (John 6:37; 10:28-29; Phil. 1:6). The only way for us to get off this path is by our own doing; we can choose to take an exit ramp and reject what God started in our lives (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:25).

Not to the Right or Left

One of the instructions given to ancient Israel over and over again was not to turn from God’s way to the right nor to the left (Deut. 5:32; 28:13-15). It’s something Moses warned them they needed to be careful about and Joshua echoed that instruction again near the end of his life after Israel entered the promised land.

Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you not turn away from it to the right hand or to the left; that you not come among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow down yourselves to them; but hold fast to Yahweh your God, as you have done to this day.

Joshua 23:6-8, WEB

Wavering, doubt, exploring other paths–all of that is dangerous and God’s people should avoid it. That same warning applies to judges, leaders, and kings (Deut. 17:11,18-20; Josh. 1:7). Everyone, small and great, is expected to follow God’s straight and narrow path. We’re supposed to be like the righteous king Josiah, who “did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, and walked in all the way of David his father, and didn’t turn away to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2, WEB).

When we look at the paths we have opportunity to walk down, it looks like we have a lot of different options. There’s really only two, though: “the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6, NET). The adversary gives us lots of options, but God keeps things simple and only gives us one. “Walk with me,” He says. “Follow me.” (Matt. 16:24; John 10:27; 12:26; Rev. 3:4).

Image of a man's and little boy's feet walking down a path, with text from John 8:12, NET version: “Then Jesus spoke out again, ‘I am the light of the world! The one who follows me will never walk in 
darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

Mercy and Guidance When We’re Confused

You might already be thinking of all the times when you have turned away from God’s laws, veering off the path into some ditch or another. It might have been a mistake or a result of ignorance. Sometimes we’re like the people of Nineveh who realized they were doing something wrong only after God told them He planned to destroy them. That city was given a reprieve when God chose mercy for those “who can’t discern between their right hand and their left hand” (Jonah 4:10-11). We live in a confusing world, and sometimes its hard to know what to do. There are also times when we just might not have the understanding or the facts needed to make a correct decision.

Other times, though, we’re more like stubborn ancient Israel. Sometimes individuals and even whole church groups become “a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear Yahweh’s law; who tell the seers, ‘Don’t see!’ and the prophets, ‘Don’t prophesy to us right things. Tell us pleasant things. Prophesy deceits. Get out of the way. Turn away from the path. Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us’” (Isaiah 30:10-11, WEB). God has a plan for fixing that, too. If we keep reading in Isaiah 30, we find this:

For thus said the Lord Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, “You will be saved in returning and rest. Your strength will be in quietness and in confidence.” You refused, but you said, “No, for we will flee on horses;” therefore you will flee; and, “We will ride on the swift;” therefore those who pursue you will be swift. One thousand will flee at the threat of one. At the threat of five, you will flee until you are left like a beacon on the top of a mountain, and like a banner on a hill.

Therefore Yahweh will wait, that he may be gracious to you; and therefore he will be exalted, that he may have mercy on you, for Yahweh is a God of justice. Blessed are all those who wait for him. For the people will dwell in Zion at Jerusalem. You will weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the voice of your cry. When he hears you, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers won’t be hidden any more, but your eyes will see your teachers; and when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.”

Isaiah 30: 15-21, WEB

If you catch yourself going off track, stop. Return to God and rest in Him. Find strength in quietness and confidence that the Lord will help you walk in His ways and His word will light up the right path. We might not be there yet, but someday we’ll be teachers who can guide others (Heb.5:11-6:3), nudging them gently as we point out “This is the way. Walk in it.” And if we pay careful attention, we can feel God’s spirit nudging us like that now. Sometimes we’ll even hear it in advice from a fellow believer, a song on the radio, or a still small voice whispering into our heart as we pray.

We’re just a few short weeks away from Passover. This is traditionally a time of self-examination as we continue to grow and become more like Jesus. As we examine ourselves and work on becoming more like God, let’s keep coming back to God’s word for illumination and keep moving forward in the path that Jesus trailblazed for us (Heb. 2:10).

Featured image by Tabeajaichhalt from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “Thy Word” by Amy Grant

Continuing to Grow and Change for Jesus our Passover

We’re getting closer and closer to Passover. Based on Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians, these months leading up to Passover (Pesach) and the Day of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot) are a time of self-examination for New Covenant Christians. We spend time in prayer and study, asking God to share what He sees in us and help us grow and change to become more like Him. We take time to try and figure out what things in us still don’t look like God, repent of them, and seek His aid in changing our lives to align more and more with His ways.

A couple weeks ago, I kept ending up in Ephesians 5 as I read my daily devotional and worked through a month-long scripture writing study on deception (you can find similar scripture writing plans by clicking here). There’s a lot to think about in this chapter. It comes near the end of a fairly long letter where Paul writes to believers about the blessings and spiritual inheritance that we have through Christ, and says he gives thanks for the faith and love they’re already showing (Eph. 1). Paul reminds them of their transgressions/offenses and sins which God and Christ saved them from when He took those who were once outside God’s family and made them wholly part of His people (Eph. 2). As the letter goes on, Paul implores his readers to value the great and wonderful mysteries God grants us, not to lose heart when some of us suffer, and to fully commit to our relationship with Jesus Christ (Eph. 3). Based on all this, Paul calls his readers to unity with their fellow believers and insists they live holy, spiritual lives (Eph. 4).

Throughout the letter, Paul makes some brutal statements about our spiritual condition before we entered a relationship with God. “You were dead in your offenses and sins” and “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3, NET). In our lives before meeting Jesus, we were “corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires” (4:22). Paul even says, “you were at one time darkness” (5:8). This sinful state is where we all started out, desperately in need of Jesus to save us. We want to move on from that as quickly as possible and embrace all the good things God tells us about our new identities in Him. And while it is good and right to fully embrace who we are in God, we also need to remember how bad things were without Him. If we don’t keep that perspective, then it’ll be easy to slip back into worldly things because we don’t think of them as being “that bad.”

Image of a man studying the Bible, with text from Ephesians 4:22-24, NET version: “You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with 
deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image—in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.”
Image by Matt Vasquez from Lightstock

Slipping Back is Idolatry

Humans have a tendency for self-justification. Even when we’re beating ourselves up about something, we might also be making excuses for ourselves. Or maybe we read through the Bible and see our conduct in some of the things God says not to do, then tell ourselves that it’s not really all that bad. We make mistakes, but we’re human. No big deal.

It is true that God can remove our sins and He has abundant mercy for our mistakes. But it’s not because they’re “no big deal.” Sin results in death, and the reason God can forgive us so freely is because Jesus died in our place. That’s a really big deal. We need to understand the magnitude of what Jesus did for us, and the level of offense we cause if we turn back to wicked ways and brush it off as something that doesn’t really matter. In his one-year Worship the King devotional, Chris Tiegreen sums it up like this:

“we were idolaters. False worshipers. People who gave glory and honor to things that were not worthy, while neglecting the glory and honor that should go to the One who is. That hurts.

“It’s a brutal assessment, but we have to own up to it. We don’t like to think of our flirtation with impurity or materialism as idol worship, but it is.”

Chris Tiegreen, Worship the King, p. 51

Going back to Ephesians, Paul says that flirting with things like “sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed … vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting” is “not fitting for the saints” and “out of character” for those saying they want to imitate Jesus’s way of life (Eph. 5:1-4, NET). If we tell ourselves that things God calls sins are okay for us, then it turns into idolatry. We’re putting our desires for sinful things higher than our desire for God and saying our ideas of morality are more accurate than His.

Image of a man studying the Bible, with text from Ephesians 5:1-2, 5, NET version: “Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a
 sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. ... you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Image by Anggie from Lightstock

Moving Into the Light

Emphasizing our need to change and grow as we follow Jesus Christ does not downplay God’s mercy or grace in any way. Grace is something we can’t do anything to earn, but once we accept God’s grace we enter a covenant with Him and agree to live in a spiritual way. He expects certain things of people who promise to follow Him, including that we won’t run off after things which have nothing to do with godliness.

For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be sharers with them, for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live like children of light—for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Eph. 5:5-10, NET

God’s connection with Light is something we’ve explored in other Bible study posts. We’re supposed to shine with Jesus’s light in our lives, to be like lamps burning with bright fire as we imitate the Light of our Messiah. There’s a sharp divide in the world that’s been there since the fall of mankind. On the one hand, there is darkness and death. On the other, there is light and life. Jesus calling us out of darkness gives us the option to choose light. It’s an incredible gift. And unless we don’t really value that gift of Light, we’ll be doing our best to “live like children of light.”

Living With Wisdom

Therefore consider carefully how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-21, NET

Because of everything Paul talked about before–particularly the way our dark pasts contrast with the light we’re supposed to live in now–he urges us to “consider carefully how you live.” We ought to do this careful consideration throughout the year, but Passover is a particularly fitting time for a check-in. How wise are we in how we live our lives? Are we letting God fill us with His spirit, then letting that pour out through our lips as praise, worship, and thanks? Do we demonstrate our reverence for Christ by submitting to each other in love?

I doubt we can fully answer “yes” to all these questions (I know I can’t), and this isn’t even a full list of everything we’re supposed to do as we imitate Christ. But remember that as long as you’re on the path toward perfection, God treats you as if you’re already perfect. When we trust Him and do our best to follow His example of holiness, He’ll keep filling us with His spirit and light. We’ll be able to stay on track following Him instead of slipping back into idolatry. He’ll empower us to grow and change, becoming more and more like Him each year.

Featured image by Corey David Robinson from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Immanuel” by Joshua Aaron

Our Daily Bread

We recently observed Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot). I suppose studying what the Bible has to say about bread is an obvious topic after that, but it’s been a more interesting study than I’d expected for something that seems so basic. Even the Lord’s model prayer that so many of us memorize talks about bread, and it has more to say on that topic than I’d assumed. Bread also acts as a spiritual symbol in scripture–Jesus calls Himself the “Bread of Life” and Paul talks about what kind of bread we’re supposed to be.

Bread for Each Day

So pray this way:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13, NET

The phrase “our daily bread” involves a curious word. In Greek, “daily” is epiousios (G1967) and it’s only used here and in Luke’s account of this same prayer. It’s not even used outside of the Bible anywhere but other “early Christian literature,” which makes the meaning hard to figure out (NET footnote). “Daily” is just a best-guess for the translation. Other suggestions include “the coming day,” “for existence” (NET footnote), “the bread of our necessity,” and “the bread that suffices for each day” (Thayer’s dictionary).

I wonder if, in using a word that indicated sufficient, needed bread for each day, Jesus might have been thinking about Proverbs 30. Here, Agur asks for two things from God: “Remove falsehood and lies far from me; do not give me poverty or riches” (Prov. 30:7-8, NET). This last one might seem an odd request–who wouldn’t want to be rich?–and Agur provides further details.

feed me with my allotted portion of bread,
lest I become satisfied and act deceptively
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I become poor and steal
and demean the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9, NET

It seems there’s as much of a danger in feeling as if you are “rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing” (to quote the Laodiceans from Revelation 3) as there is in being so poverty stricken that you’re in danger of starving. Neither extreme is healthy, and so balance in prosperity is a prayer worth praying. We need balance–both in the physical things like Agur is talking about and in the spiritual things that Jesus is talking about in the letter to Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22).

I usually think of the request in the model prayer as asking for provision of needs, with bread standing in for all the things like food and clothing that Jesus tells us we don’t need to worry about just a little later in this same sermon (Matt. 6:25-34). I recently heard someone point out, though, that the focus of this prayer isn’t on physical things. It’s about honoring God’s name, praying for His will and His kingdom, and asking for forgiveness and deliverance. There’s no reason not to assume physical provision is included, but it’s likely that Jesus also intended for us to think about spiritual bread. He is, after all, the bread of life.

Living Bread from Heaven

After one of the loaves and fishes miracles (recorded in John 6), Jesus crossed over to the other side of a lake and the whole multitude followed Him. There, He told them they’d followed Him not because they believed He was the Messiah or because they saw miracles, but because they’d eaten a free meal. He advised them, “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life” (John 6:27, NET). To work for this eternal food, they must do “the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent” (6:29). Then, these same people who’d just seen Jesus turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for more than 5,000 people with 12 baskets full of leftovers, actually asked Him, “what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you?” They even brought up the manna in the wilderness miracle, showing full well that they knew they’d seen one bread miracle and were asking for another (John 6:30-31).

Jesus and His Father weren’t focused on delivering physical bread this time, though. There wasn’t going to be a repeat of free food on the ground every morning when the Israelites woke up (Ex. 16:4-36). Rather, they’d planned a far more enduring way to satisfy a deeper, spiritual hunger. Yes, Jesus fed the people when they were hungry but the plan was to go far beyond providing for physical needs. Just as Jesus was here on earth to take the Law and the Covenants to a deeper, higher, fuller level, He did the same thing with the miracle of bread from heaven.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

John 6:48-51, 54-55, NET

This brings us right back to where we started this post: Passover and Unleavened Bread. Jesus’s flesh is symbolized by the bread and His blood by the wine that form the core symbols of the New Covenant Passover (Matt. 26:26-30; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). The invitation for us to eat this bread from heaven is also an invitation to be part of His covenant community and be sustained by God.

Our Unleavened Lives

Grace and salvation through Jesus Christ are gifts that we can do nothing to earn. Once we accept those gifts, though, we enter a reciprocal covenant relationship with God. We are supposed to respond a certain way after we’ve received grace. In other words, it is because of the Bread of Life that we ourselves can take on the characteristics of a very particular kind of bread.

Purge out the old yeast, that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place. Therefore let’s keep the feast, not with old yeast, neither with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Cor. 5:7-8, WEB

Because we “eat” the Bread of Life, we become “unleavened” bread. Symbolically during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, leaven represents sin. Eating unleavened bread for that seven-day festival pictures us putting sin out of our lives and replacing it with His character. During the remaining days of the year, though we are free to eat yeasted and otherwise leavened breads, the importance of turning to God to fill all our needs (including our need to daily take-in Jesus Christ) remains the same.

God is concerned about our physical needs. He appreciates it when we choose not to fret about where we’ll get our physical daily bread and instead ask Him to provide (as Jesus did in His model prayer), trusting that He can and will take care of us. Even more than that, though, He is concerned about supplying our spiritual needs because that has eternal ramifications. We also ought to pray for God to “give us today our daily Bread of Life,” trusting that He will satisfy our spiritual hunger.

Featured image by FotoshopTofs from Pixabay

Looking for Jesus in All the Right Places

When Jesus was 12 years old, he and His “parents went to Jerusalem … for the Feast of the Passover,” as they did every year in obedience to the instructions in God’s law (Luke 2:41-42). After the Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot), his parents went a whole day’s journey home before realizing Jesus wasn’t with the traveling group and they’d lost the Son of God in Jerusalem. They went back, and searched for three days before finding Him in the temple. When Mary chided Him for making them so anxious, Jesus said they should have been able to figure out where He was.

But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49, NET

I wonder how many times when we’re running around anxiously wondering, “Where’s God when I need Him?” that we’re also looking in the wrong places. The “right place” isn’t a physical location, though; there isn’t an easy-to-find landmark spot for us to start our search like the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph found Jesus. For us, the task of looking for Jesus is both much simpler (because He is available anywhere) and also in some ways more challenging (since it’s not just about going to a certain place and doing a certain thing).

Seeking the Father and Son

A more literal translation of Jesus’s words to His parents would be, “Didn’t you know that I must be about the things of my Father?” (TLV). The “verse involves an idiom that probably refers to the necessity of Jesus being involved in the instruction about God” (NET footnote), which I suspect is why the Complete Jewish Bible opts for the translation, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be concerning myself with my Father’s affairs?” The reason that so many modern translations say, “in my Father’s house” is because “the most widely held view today takes” the idiom used here “as a reference to the temple as the Father’s house” (NET footnote).

Whichever translation we think is correct, the basic meaning is the same. Jesus could be found associated with the things God was doing in the location where people who follow God gather. Even today, it is true that if we want to connect with God that is often easiest to do when associating ourselves with other believers. That’s not the only thing that’s involved in searching for Jesus or the Father, though.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 6:44, NET

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6, NET

We need the Father to open our eyes and invite us into the family if we want to get to Jesus, and then it’s through Jesus that we’re given access to God the Father at a level of intimacy that people who lived before Christ came in the flesh never had and relatively few people have today. Jesus and the Father are welcoming us into their oneness (John 17) and when we faithfully follow the Son, we have a relationship with the Father as well (1 John 2:22-24). We must seek Them both together.

The Temple of God Today

Back when 12-year-old Jesus went missing, He could be found at the temple. However, “the God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands” (Acts 17:24, NET), especially now that the veil separating the holy places of God and regular people is done away through Christ (Matt. 27:50-51; Eph. 2:13-19). Now, we are the temple of God.

For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

2 Corinthians 6:16, NET quoting Lev.26:11-12

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16, NET

These verses tell us two things. One: if we are called by God to be part of His church and we’ve accepted that invitation, we are part of God’s temple and His spirit lives in each of us. Two: all the believers together make up God’s temple today (“you” is plural in Greek; “temple” is singular). If we’re seeking Jesus, we need to seek Him on both an individual and a cooperative level. The Lord wants to live in the midst of His people (Zec. 2:10-13), and being able to build each other up as we seek the Lord together is one of the most important reasons for God’s people to gather as a community of faith (Heb. 10:19-25). That community could be just “two or three assembled” in the Lord’s name (Matt. 18:20), or it could be a church group of hundreds.

Invited to be with the Lord

When Jesus was here on earth, He issued invitations to come to Him, seek Him, and become His friends. They’re not the first invitations from the Lord either; Jesus was making God more widely accessible, but God has always wanted relationships. Those same invitations are still open today, echoing down through thousands of years.

Pay attention and come to me.
Listen, so you can live.
Then I will make [an eternal covenant with] you,
just like the reliable covenantal promises I made to David.

Seek the Lord while he makes himself available;
call to him while he is nearby!

Isaiah 55:3, 6, NET (with footnote translation for v. 3)
Looking for Jesus in All the Right Places | LikeAnAnchor.com
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Most of the Lord’s instructions for seeking Him involve “how” not “where.” We’re told to seek “diligently” (Prov. 8:17), with “prayer and worship” (Jer. 29:13), and “with all your heart and soul” (Deut. 4:29; 1 Chr. 28:9). And we ought to do this persistently and repeatedly, too–ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking (Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-10). But no matter how persistent you are, you’re also going to have trouble finding Him if you’re not looking in the right places.

We learn about God primarily through His word and His spirit, so it’s important to seek Him in the pages of the Bible and ask for understanding. There’s no substitute for reading God’s words (or listening ; I know several people who learn best from audio Bibles). We also learn about Him, and how to be like Him, though interactions with other believers. We are each part of God’s temple, but we’re not the only part and if at all possible it’s vital that we stay in contact with other Christians. So the next time you feel yourself wondering, “Where is God?” try looking in His word, seeking Him in prayer, and/or talking with a fellow believer. It may feel like it takes a while before He responds, but if we seek Him the way He tells us to in the places where He says He can be found, God will not fail to let us find Him.

Featured image by Jantanee via Lightstock

The Beginning of Being Like God

As we draw closer to the Passover and continue examining ourselves (as I talked about in last week’s post) I keep thinking about how vital our understanding of God is to understanding ourselves. Paul tells us to examine, evaluate, and discern ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28-32), but in order to do that we need the help of God’s spirit, as Paul talks about earlier in 1 Corinthians. To see ourselves clearly and know what needs to change (and how to make that change), we need a wisdom that we can only get by understanding God.

Understanding, Wisdom, and Fear

I like to study 1 Corinthians at this time of year because (as I wrote about in more detail a couple years ago), this epistle references the Exodus story, Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread over and over. Before Paul begins talking directly about Passover, he expands on the idea that the wisdom of God is very different than what human beings speak of as wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-31, quoting Jer. 9:23-24). Knowing and understanding the Lord is far more important than having wealth, power, or worldly wisdom. Echoing a sentiment expressed throughout scripture, Paul tells us a proper perspective on God is where true wisdom begins.

The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord,
and acknowledging the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10, NET

The idea that we ought to fear a God of love seems odd to many of us, mostly because we think of fear in the sense of being terrified of something scary, dangerous, or bad. But I think the more we learn about God, the more we realize that our love for Him must also be mixed with awe, reverence, and even fear. A devotional book that I’ve been reading puts it this way:

when we approach the Holy One with casual familiarity, we do not take Him as seriously as we ought, and we do not take our sin as seriously as we ought. Fear–not of punishment but of the overwhelming greatness of God–sees Him correctly. When this fear grips us, we begin to understand the enormity of the gospel and of our God. That understanding begins to rearrange our lives. And that is what wisdom is all about.

CHRIS TIEGREEN, 365 POCKET DEVOTIONS, DAY 40

Understanding God leads to wisdom, which leads to us changing our lives. The more we know Him, the more we’ll want to be like Him, and the more clearly we’ll see what we need to keep working on in order to move closer to that goal. Wisdom begins with fearing the Lord, and change happens as we start to become wise.

Knowing God through His Spirit

After Paul explains that God’s people don’t often seem wise in the world’s eyes (and if they do, they’re not supposed to glory/boast about it), he starts to talk about “the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery.” God has decided to share with us deep, wonderful things that other people haven’t even imagined, and he has “revealed these to us by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:7-10, NET).

For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. … we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:11-13, 16, NET

This is where we get wisdom–from God’s spirit working inside us and making our minds like Christ’s mind. The closer we draw to God the more we understand Him, and the more we understand Him the more in awe we are. And the more all of that comes together as we grow and change and learn, the more we become like God.

Wisdom Can Change Us

Real, godly wisdom is an incredible thing. Last year, I spent months studying and writing about wisdom in a series of 10 posts. We could write whole books about Godly wisdom, but a quick summary of the things God reveals about His wisdom can be found in James’s epistle.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings. … the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace.

James 3:13, 16-18, NET

A proper perspective on God is the starting place for this kind of wisdom. And much like fear is the beginning of wisdom, I think we can also say that wisdom is a beginning to being like God. Notice how much of this description of godly wisdom involves character traits we can develop and/or actions that we can take. If we want to examine ourselves, this is an excellent place to start. As we consider God’s goodness and greatness, learning more and more about who He is and how we can be like Him, we ought to meditate on the characteristics of His wisdom. Every aspect of “the wisdom from above” is a part of God; are they also a part of us?

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Examining Ourselves by Examining God

Every year before Passover, Christian and Messianic Jewish believers who follow Jesus’s instruction to keep this day “in remembrance of me” also follow Paul’s instruction to examine ourselves. Before we eat the unleavened bread and drink the wine as Jesus did “on the night in which he was betrayed,” we must examine ourselves. It’s a serious matter, for “the one who eats and drinks in an unworthy way eats and drinks judgment to himself if he doesn’t discern the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:23-31. WEB).

As I ponder the question of self-examination today, about 4 weeks before Passover, I’m struck by something Job says near the end of the book bearing his name. After all his trials, all the discussions with his friends, and all of God’s replies, Job says,

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I despise myself,
and I repent in dust and ashes!”

Job 42:5-6, NET

It’s easy to look at ourselves and think we’re doing okay unless something comes along to shake up that self-perception. Job thought he was a righteous man. He was even right about that, as God points out when He describes Job as “a blameless and upright man” at the beginning of the story (Job 1:8, NET). But Job still had room for improvement, and the more he learned about God the more fully he realized how much he still had to learn. The better we can see God, the less impressive we are to ourselves.

Heading Toward His Perfection

It is important to regularly “put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5, NET). We can’t accurately evaluate ourselves, though, unless we understand the standard we’re measuring ourselves by. In other words, if we don’t have some idea of what we are supposed to be we don’t know how well we’re doing.

See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure.

1 John 3:1-3, NET

God is calling us into His family and we are His children right now. We’re also growing and changing, becoming more and more like Him. At least, that’s what should be happening. And if we’re going to examine ourselves to see how much progress we’re making on becoming like God, we need to know what it means to be like Him. We won’t achieve perfection in this life, but we should be heading there. And if we want to know what perfection looks like, we just need to look to God for an example of how we’re supposed to be.

Glimpsing His Unsearchable Riches

I keep talking about the need to see and understand God as if that’s something we could actually do as human beings. While we are invited to know Him in an increasingly familiar way, part of knowing Him involves realizing that our minds can’t warp themselves around His fullness. His thoughts are not like our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9) and “the riches both of wisdom and the knowledge of God” are so deep we’ll never plumb them all (Rom. 11:33).

I find this an encouraging realization. We’re never going to hit a point where there’s nothing left to work on, no way to grow, or nothing more to learn. The more we follow God, the more we get to engage with Him in a dynamic, growing relationship.

But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10, NET

By God’s spirit inside us, we get an increasingly clear picture of what it means to be like God. We even get to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:6-16). The better we know Him, the better we understand who we are meant to be and what we are supposed to do on the way toward being that person. That’s why I say that if we want to examine ourselves, we need to “examine” God. Self-examination is vital, but that process isn’t all about us even though the word “self” is in there. It’s about becoming like God.

To Fix Ourselves or to Be Like God

Putting on God’s nature often goes against our ingrained impulses. We are so used to reacting in certain ways (like anger if someone shouts at us, or spite if we’re ill treated) that trying to fix our human nature might seem impossible. And it is if we try to do that on our own. Thankfully, we’re not on our own and we don’t have to start from scratch.

“We have two options: we can try to reform the sinful human nature, or we can ask God for His nature. The former approach has never in history proven successful. Our only remaining option is to ask God.”

Chris Tiegreen, 365 Pocket Devotions, Day 78

Trying to make ourselves like God without putting on His nature is a futile endeavor. We need a more drastic change than just trying to be good or nice people. It reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote, where he talks about the need to transform rather than just improve. Using the sort of agricultural analogy Jesus was so fond of in His parables, Lewis says,

“If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book IV chapter 8

Returning to the topic of self-examination, the goal of that is not to fix ourselves by our own efforts. It’s to look for evidence of Jesus Christ in us (2 Cor. 13:5). It’s to identify areas where we’re not yet like God and ask Him to change us. The focus should be on God–who He is and who He wants us to be in Him–as much (or even more) than on ourselves.

The more we learn about God and seek to know Him, the more clearly we see ourselves. When we turn away from the Lord, our minds can deceive us into thinking we’re something different than we are. But when we turn to the Lord, who can “probe into people’s minds” and “examine people’s hearts,” we can then see ourselves as He sees us (Jer. 17:5-10, NET). We may, like Job, abhor what we see and need to repent, but there are blessings that follow something like that because God responds so positively to sincere repentance. When we look at ourselves in light of God’s goodness and realize we still aren’t perfect, it leads to humility. And when we take that humble attitude to God and ask Him to share His mind and nature with us, He will respond to our self-examination by transforming us.

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