Christianity’s Gift to the World

thinkingI’m currently reading a book by Steve Brown titles What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All. Brown’s books are wonderful. Like me, he is a conservative Christian who believes in the inspiration of Scripture. Doctrinally, I think we are fairly similar. Yet, his writing takes you to new levels of reflection. The first time I read anything by Brown I remember thinking to myself that he was either a heretic or a genius – and it took me a while to figure out which. I’ve settled on genius. Brown writes in a way that is provocative. It’s like he is intentionally picking on the scabs conservative Christians walk around with. What he says makes you angry until you slowly start to realize it’s not Brown that is angering you, but rather God’s Word. And faced with that realization, there is nothing left to do but repent.

Basically, Brown makes me think. I’m sure some people find him annoying – some may have even settled on heretical – but I appreciate him. Here’s a quote from What Was I Thinking? that I currently can’t get out of my mind:

“Our gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation. Our gift to the world is to find where the Holy Spirit is creating beauty, speaking truth, and manifesting goodness—and when we find it, to identify it, enjoy it, affirm it, and get involved in it” (p. 64)

It’s that’s first sentence that has stuck with me … “Our [Christians] gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation.” Too often, that’s the face we present to world around us – anger, judgment, and condemnation. When, in reality, the Church should be an extension of God’s gift to the world – grace, mercy, and salvation through His Son.

Brown makes the further point that because of our anger and disgust with the world around us, Christians often retreat to the Church. We take safe haven in our churches and our Christian subculture because we are convinced that’s where the Holy Spirit is. We do it because it makes us feel safe yet our safety comes at the expense of the culture around us. We create a divide between the sacred and the secular and then refuse to cross it for fear of sacrificing our own righteousness. But it’s important to understand that this divide is man made. From God’s perspective there is no “secular”. The gospel of John makes that clear:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

All things came into being through Him. It’s this fact that gives God the authority to speak into the hearts of every man and into the core of every situation. It’s that fact that gives Jesus the authority to forgive our sins. It’s that fact that gives God the right to determine that salvation must be accomplished according to His plan rather than our own. It’s that fact that is the foundation of grace. And when we retreat in disgust from the world around us and take refuge in our Christian subculture we are failing to take that gift of grace to the very people that need it the most. Jesus understood this. That’s why He hung out with sinners. That’s why He said,“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Even the Great Commission, our marching orders from Christ, instruct us to take His message of grace to the world, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

When Christian present nothing to the world but anger, judgment, and condemnation and then retreat back to the safety of our own Christian subculture, we are forfeiting the one gift we have to give the world. It is imperative that Christians refuse to forfeit our input and voice to the culture we live in. Music, arts, literature, science … all of these things stand to benefit from the input of Christians.

If we want to deliver Christ’s grace to the world, we must be engaged in the world. Jesus once prayed for His disciples, “14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus didn’t pray for His disciples to be taken out of the world; rather, He prayed that they be kept safe from the evil one as they engaged the world for Him. 

Christ’s prayer should be the strategy of the Church. Rather than withdrawing from the world and drawing imaginary lines between the secular and the sacred, we should engage the world. We should deliver Christ’s gospel to the sic and refuse to sacrifice our voice while tending to our own safety.

Genius.

Lessons from Genesis: Prayers of Intercession

sodom-and-gomorrah-painting
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, an 1852 oil on canvas painting done by John Martin

My study this morning included God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The wickedness of these cities had reached such a pinnacle that God’s wrath was imminent, but He used the moment as a tool to reveal His very nature to Abraham. Before destroying the two cities, God visits Abraham and reveals His plans. This visit leads to an incredible exchange between Abraham and God:

23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 26 So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” 27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.” 30 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” 32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten” (Genesis 18:23-32). 

I must admit this passage used to confuse me. I couldn’t quite figure out why God needed Abraham to remind Him of His own just nature. Quite frankly, the thought that Abraham had to negotiate for the lives of the righteous upset me. However, my confusion was born out of misinterpretation; what’s happening in this passage isn’t a negotiation – it’s intercession.

God is just. He knew exactly what He was doing when it came to Sodom and Gomorrah; but by allowing Abraham to intercede on their behalf, he revealed His gracious nature to Abraham. Yes God demands justice for sin, but in doing so He never sacrifices His own grace. God allowed Abraham to intercede for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and by doing so, He allowed Abraham to become a channel though which God’s grace flowed.

Abraham’s intercession for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is a reflection of Christ’s intercession for those who call Him Savior:

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6) 

Just as Abraham interceded on behalf of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus Christ intercedes on my behalf. With his prayers of intercession, Abraham was displaying a particular kind of Christ-likeness that I far too often fail to display. My prayers tend to be selfish, “God bless me!” – when a proper prayer of intercession should read, “God bless them!” 

My goal is pray less selfishly. I want to pray more for others. God knows exactly what He’s doing when it comes to His justice and His grace, but when I pray a prayer of intercession it shapes my heart to resemble the heart of Christ who prayed the most famous of all intercessory prayers …

“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

[View all posts in the Lessons from Genesis Series] 

Lessons from Genesis: A Talking Snake? Really?

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”2The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Gen 3:1-6, NASB)

This passage from Genesis records one of the most pivotal moments in the history of mankind and our relationship with God. There’s no doubt that the tempter in this passage is none other than Satan who the apostle John refers to in the New Testament as “the serpent of old” (Rev 20:2). However, as the story unfolds, the reader realizes that Satan apparently manifested himself in the guise of a snake. Not surprisingly, this causes many students of the Bible to take pause. A snake? Really? Are we expected to believe that a snake actually talked to Eve? How dense was she anyway? Let’s face it, if a snake slithers up to one of us on the street and starts talking, we’re going to know immediately that we shouldn’t trust it. Why? Because snakes don’t talk!

But let’s put ourselves in Eve’s shoes for a second … well, not her shoes for she was naked for the time being, but hang with me anyway – Eve was a relatively new creation at this point. It was Adam that God presented all the animals to so they could be named in Genesis 2:20; Eve wasn’t created until Genesis 2:22 – she had probably never seen a snake in her short life at that point. In her naivety, Eve was a perfect target for Satan’s ruse. And she fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

So are we to believe that Satan literally spoke to Eve through a snake? I believe we are. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) and Peter adds that Satan prowls about like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8) so we should expect Satan to go to great lengths to fool us! But allow me to put this question into perspective just a bit. We can get so caught up in the question of rather this is a literal snake or not that we miss the principle that should be derived from the scene.

Satan, the father of lies, fooled Eve and he is still trying to fool us today. To see this in action, take a look at Acts 5:1-3:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” 

Satan conspired with the inclination of Ananias and Sapphira’s hearts to cause them to sin. Peter immediately discerned this and asked, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Satan baited their hook and they fell for it. And he is baiting your hook right now.

“You surely will not die!”

 Whatever sin your heart is inclined toward, Satan is trying to bait your hook with opportunity and reassure you with the lie that you won’t die. It’s all going to be okay. But Scripture reveals the truth. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and we are all called to respond to Jesus’s plea “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Satan may not be appearing to you as a snake, but he is appearing to you in some fashion. It may be in the form of alcohol, drugs, pornography, a relationship that’s bad for you … there are countless ways he may disguise himself … but his  whispered lie remains the same, “You surely will not die.”

The challenge for all of us to hear Jesus’ voice above the whispers of Satan, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Related Posts: God Delights in Blessing Mankind, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

What Makes the Prayers of a Christian Different?

prayerhands
image found on xeon24.com

This subject came up in a class I was teaching at my church last night and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’m convinced that, given the right incentive, everyone prays. You could put the staunchest of atheists in a foxhole and they will call out for help once the bullets start whizzing. The Bible says that God has set eternity in the hearts of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We all know there’s something, we just don’t always know what that Something is. So when the chips are down, we have a tendency to pray … even if we’re not Christians.

So I asked this question, “What makes the prayers of a Christian different?

The most striking characteristic of a Christian’s prayers is the One to whom we pray to. We are praying to the God that has been revealed to us in the pages of Scripture. He is a God that we can know. When a non-believer prays, it’s like throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks. Because their prayers aren’t specifically addressed to our Living God, they aren’t heard. A Christian’s prayers are voiced to a specific, living God that has made Himself known to us. Scripture says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). In fact, it is through Jesus that we are allowed access into God’s presence. God is holy, and mankind isn’t (Romans 3:23). Christ accepted our fate on the cross (Romans 6:23) … we deserved death and He took our punishment. It was that sacrifice that tore the veil between sinful man and a Holy God (Matthew 27:50-51). Adam and Eve were expelled from God’s presence because of their sin (Genesis 3:23) and Christ’s sacrifice on cross allows us to step back into His presence.

When a Christian falls on bended knee, they are in the presence of God Almighty. And that makes their prayers different from those of the unbeliever.

Scripture commands the believer to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). An ongoing conversation with God, along with a familiarity with His Word, allows a believer to discern His Will through prayer. So our prayers become less about us and more about Him. When we approach God in prayer we are to ask for His will to be done with confidence (Matthew 6:10), because His will is always what’s best our lives.

The prayers of a believer are sincere, earnest, specific, obedient and unselfish. These characteristics should set the believer’s prayers apart from the prayers of a non-believer. A Christian can approach God in prayer through faith … and that makes all the difference. Hebrews 11:6 seems an appropriate place to end this post:

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Thank you Jesus for allowing my prayers to be heard.

How Can we Remain Faithful to God in a Faithless World?

 

“How can an individual remain faithful to God in a faithless world?[1]

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. 17 “They will be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” 18 So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (Malachi 3:16-18)

Through the Prophet Malachi’s ministry to the Israelites, we learn three tips for developing a lifestyle of faithfulness:

  • Vow to be faithful to God, even if those around you are not: Consider writing your own ‘scroll of remembrance.’ In our family, we keep a Journal of Blessings. In it we write down all the ways God has blessed and answered our prayers. Occasionally, we pull it out and look at it when we need a reminder of His faithfulness and presence in our life. It’s amazing how fast that journal can get filled up!
  • Surround yourself with a group of likeminded individuals for encouragement: This group ‘talked with each other’ (Mal. 3:16) as they encouraged each other to remain faithful (see Heb. 10:25). Join a church and get plugged into a small group Bible study!
  • Remember that God’s day of reckoning will come someday: Sometimes we mistake God’s patience as inaction. We need to keep a long-range perspective and know that His day of judgment is coming! (2 Peter 3:8-10)

 

[1] Sourced and adapted from Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 841

Ezra's Burden

ezra-prayerEzra was born to be the spiritual leader of his people. He was the descendent of Aaron, Israel’s first Chief Priest, so he was a man of good reputation and status (Ezra 7:1-5). He didn’t, however, simply live off his reputation. Rather, Ezra spent his life studying God’s Law. He was described as being a “scribe skilled in the law of Moses” who enjoyed “the hand of the Lord upon him” (Ezra 7:6). In other words, Ezra was a scribe and priest skilled in the art of studying God’s Word, communicating God’s Word, and teaching God’s Word. He also enjoyed certain divine blessings, protection, and enablement that contributed to his ability to serve his people.

In 538 BC, Persian King Cyrus, having been stirred up by God (Ezra 1:1), issued a decree that allowed Zerubabbel to lead a wave of Jews out of captivity in Babylon back to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple. Almost 60 years later, with the endorsement of King Artaxerxes, Ezra led a second wave of Jews out of exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s people spiritually (Ezra 7). This had to be Ezra’s dream job. It was what God had prepared him for all his life. All of his reputation and skills were geared towards this place in time.

Ezra led approximately 40,000 of his people out of Babylon on the 4 month journey to Jerusalem. Imagine his dismay when he arrived to discover that the Jews living in Jerusalem had begun falling back into the sinful practices that led to their captivity in the first place! Chapter 9 of Ezra reveals that God’s people had once again been taking wives from the pagan nations around them and having children (9:1-2). This wasn’t a matter of simple racism, rather, God had expressly forbidden the practice in his Law (Exodus 34:11-16, Deut. 7:1-5). The practice exposed the hearts of God’s people as disobedient, ungrateful, and faithless. It represented not just the intermingling of peoples but rather the intermingling of pagan religions with the worship of the One True God. Such intermingling with pagan religions had led to dire consequences in the past (1 Kings 11:1-8) and Ezra was stunned to learn his people had fallen back into it.

His reaction is a lesson for all of us.

Ezra is so distraught by what he has learned that he appalled. He begins tearing at his clothes and pulling hair from his head and beard. He is genuinely broken over the sin of his people (Ezra 9:1-4). He then begins to pray. Falling to his knees and stretching out his hands before God, Ezra pours out his heart.

Dr. Thomas Constable writes that Ezra’s prayer contains four primary elements: solidarity, confession, readiness to change, and faith in God’s mercy. I fear that too often, when we respond to the sins of our people, our prayers contain only one element – condemnation. We could learn from Ezra’s example.

Ezra identifies with his people even though he himself isn’t guilty of their sins when he says, “I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You [God] for our iniquities have risen above our heads” (Ezra 9:6). He then confesses the sin of his people, “Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we … have been given into [captivity, plunder, and shame]” (Ezra 9:7). Ezra then acknowledges God’s grace and expresses a desire and readiness for his people to change, “… yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia” … “After all this has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve … shall we again break your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations?” (Ezra 9:9-14).

I am impressed by the passion of Ezra’s burden for his people. I am also shamed by it. I can not remember ever praying in such a manner for my own people. The church today is highly skilled at calling out the sinners in our culture (and I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t), however, rarely do I see my fellow Christians pouring out their hearts on behalf of the people around us. The Word says we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) so it shouldn’t be hard for us to feel compassion for the unsaved people around us. We should feel solidarity for those people around us because it was purely by the grace of God that we were saved! We should confess not only our own sins but the sins of our culture. We should express a readiness to change and to share our faith with those people who desperately need Jesus Christ as their Savior. And we should express our confidence in the faithfulness of the God who restored His people from exile and sent His Son to die on a cross for us though we were sinners.

Christians everywhere should learn from Ezra’s example. Perhaps, we should take a break from looking down our noses at the people around us and take the time to genuinely pour our hearts out to God on their behalf. Ezra’s prayer birthed a change in his people (Ezra 10). There is no reason our prayers can not birth a change in ours.

 

The Gospel of Rob Bell

RobBellRob Bell has been the focus of much discussion since the release of his book Love Wins in 2011. In the book, Bell famously questioned the existence of a literal hell along with the need to believe solely in Jesus Christ to avoid such fate. It was this book that led to Bell’s departure from Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan.

A recent article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey  reveals that Bell has stepped out of the pulpit (and out of organized church all together), however, his books are still on the shelves. In addition, he is currently developing a show for the Oprah Winfrey Network.

A show on the OWN Network will inevitably reach an audience far larger than the 10,000 seats available in Mars Hill Bible Church … so I think it’s fair to ask what message Bell will be offering his viewers. When asked if he still considered himself an evangelical by Bailey, Bell offered the following response:

“If we mean Jesus’ message of God’s revolutionary love for every person, and we can surrender and give our life to acts to loving kindness, then man, sign me up.”

Bell’s response encapsulates the gospel message he believes in and teaches. The problem, however, is that this isn’t the gospel message Jesus Christ Himself taught and believed in. Bell’s statement does contain a kernel of truth. God’s love for each and every person is revolutionary. So much so that He sent His one and only Son to die for our sins on the cross (John 3:16). However, we aren’t called to surrender and give our lives to acts of loving kindness, we are called to surrender and give our lives to Jesus Christ. Scripture records that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:22). Our sin separates us from our perfectly Holy God (Isaiah 59:2) and only a belief in Jesus Christ will make us right with Him again (Romans 3:22, 10:10). As Christians, we give our lives to Christ for salvation and then the acts of loving kindness (that Bell references) follow. Acts of love (or works) follow from our faith and serve to demonstrate our faith as being real (James 2) … but they are not the object of our faith – that is reserved for Jesus Christ.

And with all apologies to Rob Bell, Scripture teaches that a failure to place one’s faith in Christ results in an eternal Hell where there will be a separation from God, weeping, gnashing of teeth, and the experience of fire and punishment that is eternal (see Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:43, Revelation 14:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revelation 20:10, along with others).

Rob Bell promotes a gospel message that falls short of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as presented in Scripture. There is no doubt many believers and unbelievers alike will fall prey to this false gospel (Matthew 24:11), but if you choose to watch his show – please go into it with your eyes wide open. Be aware that his gospel is not the Gospel of Christ.

There is much media in the world today that offers to distract us from the Word of God. Movies such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings take nuggets of Biblical truth and wrap them in man-made fiction. In the same way, Bell’s gospel falls short of the real Gospel.

Christians, be careful in the world of media. Be careful not to quickly believe everything you see and hear. Test all things by Scripture (1 John 4:1).

"Come As You Are" by Crowder

Here’s the song that’s been stuck in my head for the past week. There’s no doubt that David Crowder can write a beautiful song when he wants to. Listen to these lyrics:

Lay down your burdens, lay down your shame
All who are broken, lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home, you’re not too far
So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart
And come as you are

Beautiful stuff. I was reminded of this song in Bible study Sunday morning when we were discussing Hebrews 9:13-14:

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God,cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Many of us feel we are too broken and damaged to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Crowder’s song echoes Hebrews 9:14 … the blood of Christ is capable of cleaning us from the inside out!

 

Ezekiel's Vision

bibleScripture Reading: Ezekiel 1

“As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking” (Ezekiel 1:28, NASB).

The vision Ezekiel experiences in the first chapter of the book that bears his name is incredible. It’s not hard to see the prophet struggling to put it all into words. It all begins with a storm cloud coming out of the north. The cloud comes complete with fire flashing from it, bright lights, and something that appears like glowing metal from the midst of the fire (v. 4). God’s abode was often described as coming from the north (see Psalm 48:2, Isaiah 14:13) and the implication was God was staging an invasion from the north just as the Babylonians had done.

Within the cloud were four beings – each with four wings and four faces – named Cherubim (see Ezekiel 10:15). The creatures had four sides, each with a wing, a human hand, and a face. This allowed for maximum mobility and awareness. They could move in any direction without turning. Their faces represented what were traditionally the four most impressive of God’s creations; man – chief over all, lion – chief over wild animals, bull – chief over domesticated animals, and the eagle – chief over all the birds. These faces may have been meant to demonstrate the strength, intelligence, majesty, and speed of the Cherubim along with the notion that God is the Lord over all creation.

These Cherubim were led by the Holy Spirit (v. 12) and beside each of them, Ezekiel saw a wheel of sorts (v. 15). These wheels were skillfully made and each had another wheel inside of them (v. 16) and they could move in any of the four directions without turning (v. 17) like spherical casters. All four of the wheels had eyes all the way around their rim (v. 18) and they moved in sequence with the Cherubim (v. 19). It is possible the eyes represent God’s omniscience for He “sees anything” while the ease of motion represented God’s omnipresence. Meanwhile the elevated presence of the Cherubim represent God’s omnipotence.

Over the heads of the Cherubim and supported by their wings was a large platform or expanse (v. 22). Many scholars believe that Ezekiel was describing God’s chariot because above the platform was a throne made of precious materials. And sitting on the throne was a “figure with the appearance of a man” who radiated like hot metal (v. 26-27).

Ezekiel was seeing firsthand the “likeness of the glory of the Lord” (v. 28)! His immediate response was to fall on his face. He was seeing a representation of God Almighty and what I believe was the preincarnate Christ and “all the prophet could do to show his awe was to fall on his face in the dust before his God[1]”.

How has God demonstrated Himself in your life? How did you respond? Today’s reading suggests there is one appropriate response to being in God’s presence … falling prostrate before Him in awe of His glory! We should be humbled and awed when God reveals Himself to us. Too often, however, I fear we ignore His majesty … may we all gain a sense of the emotion Ezekiel must have felt!

[1] From John B. Taylor’s commentary.

Take Control Over Your Thoughts

Philippians 4:1-9 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. I urge Euodia and urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brethren, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Have you ever struggled with your thought life? I must confess that my thoughts have often ruled over me. I struggle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. There are moments when my thoughts seem to take on a life of their own. If I’m not careful, I can find myself obsessing over the most inane things. Today’s passage from Philippians speaks directly to my condition.

Thoughts of temptation, discouragement, and worry are apt to attack all of us from time to time. If we’re lucky, such thoughts are fleeting; however, if we’re not careful, they can take up permanent residence in our mind. If we allow this to happen, Scripture suggests our very lives may be shortened, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27).

In today’s reading, Paul offers a program for us to take control of our thought life:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always (v. 4:4). This isn’t an unrealistic command. Paul isn’t suggesting that we should never be sad; after all, even Jesus wept (John 11:35). Rather, Paul is advocating that we focus on the blessing we have in Christ and develop a pattern of rejoicing in our lives.
  2. Do not be anxious; rather, present your requests to God in prayer (v. 4:6). Prayer needs to replace worry in the life of a Christian. However, I must admit that this is easier said than done. When we give our worries to God in prayer we are essentially giving control of our circumstances to Him. It may take practice, but if we learn to do this, Paul promises the “peace of God … will guard our hearts and minds” (v. 4:7).
  3. Dwell on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (v. 4:8). We have control over what we fill our minds with and what we fill it with will eventually become the focus of our thought life. We can make a conscious decision to contemplate good things. This has been the biggest step I’ve taken to control my obsessive thoughts. Since I know I have an obsessive personality, I choose to obsess over those things that edify me. God’s Word, praise and worship music, or the blessings God has gifted me with – some thoughts are certainly more beneficial than others!

If you find yourself struggling with your thought life, try putting these steps into practice.