I was listening to a podcast from Ravi Zacharias today and something near the end struck a chord with me. It was nothing that I haven’t heard before, but it resonated with me in a way that it never had. I thought I might paraphrase it in a more direct manner:

“People can argue against your answers when proclaiming Christ, but live in such a way that they cannot argue against your life.”

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“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’re such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That we’re a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life,

My all.”

When I Survey – Isaac Watts, 1707

From Isaiah 1:16-17 (NKJ):

16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
17 Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.”

This scripture provides a very interesting contrast between good and evil. It describes good as something that we have to learn to do against a naturally evil behavior. Good is something that we must fight for, not just outwardly at the injustices in the world, but inwardly, within ourselves. We must wage war within our very being. It is only then that good can prevail in our lives by the grace and power of Christ.

My favorite bat-cat in his natural state of couch-potato.

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Oh Christians enchanted by the world,
Mindless in the Siren’s song,
Release the cords of thorn that curl
around one’s heart, making slumber strong.

Oh Christians caught in culture’s tide,
Who find relevance in many lies,
Turn to Him whose word provides
Truth for the soul and sight to the blind.

Oh Christians living private lives,
Sheltered inside walls of flesh,
With a light meant to shine outside
That points men to blood’s redress.

Oh Christians traveling in darkness way,
Formed from the shadow of evil deeds,
Repent and join the righteous fray,
And work to sow salvation seed.

The time for sleep has ended; our light must shine anew,
Gird yourself for battle, make haste for night is soon.

One aspect of God that we must realize is that He is a God of planning (Jeremiah 29:11). He has plans and designs for our lives and the world. We too, being made in God’s likeness, make plans of our own. It’s part of our nature; however, here is where we generally begin to have problems. For many, we see our lives as being nice and ordered, and we see God’s plans as interference to our ordered life.

At least that is the case as long as our lives stay in the order we prescribe. When times of trouble arise, you can see a mass outreach for God, an outreach that is often short-lived as normality returns to life. God, though, doesn’t want us to turn to Him only when the world turns our life topsy-turvy. Unless we turn full control of our lives over to Him, nothing will ever be completely fixed. We’ll just find temporary patches to keep the machine running.

God wants more for us than temporary patches. He wants to turn life upside-down. You might even say that he wants to break the old machine and replace it with a new one. God did just that by breaking into the world through Jesus. In a profound act, God pierces creation and inserts His plan directly in our midst through the person of Jesus – the Son of Man, God made flesh.

God’s plan, though, started thousands of years before the incarnation of Jesus. God singled out a man, Abraham, and his descendants to be His people. God called the Israelites out of Egypt, and on Mt. Sinai, He made a covenant with them. He was calling them to be a peculiar people set apart for Him. He set down rules that would govern their society, and they were to keep these rules as part of the covenant. God implemented sacrifices that were to be made for peace and for atonement for sins.

But while the sacrifices were necessary, they were not what God wanted. He wanted righteousness, justice, and the love of His people (see Hosea 6:6, Proverbs 21:3, and Deuteronomy 6:5). Time and time again the Israelites failed to realize that God’s desire for more than their willingness to atone. He wanted their purity and the desire of their hearts.

Through Jesus, God made a definitive change to the covenant. “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28 NKJV).” Jesus instituted a new covenant. No longer would man have to continually make atonement for sins as God with His own blood made atonement. No longer could the focus be on sacrifice, for Christ made the final sacrifice. We are saved by grace through faith and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). In this new covenant, God has removed the requirement for us to atone allowing our attention to focus on our devotion to Him.

But, the coming to faith in Christ and the entrance of the Holy Spirit is only the beginning of the upheaval in the life of a believer. This is the new foundation of God’s plan in our lives. Now comes the arduous task of rebuilding or lives according to God’s design. Old, insufficient parts of our lives must be torn down so a more glorious structure can be built, one that is fit to house the Holy Spirit.

But even with the Spirit’s work in us, we are perfectly adept in ignoring God’s plan and continuing with our own. In the end, though, however we choose to direct our lives is mere straw and stubble compared to the materials God uses (1 Corinthians 3:11-17). When we finally realize that our plan is once again leading to a pitiful building, and we turn to the Carpenter to lead, he has to once again tear down our shoddy work and replace it with His workmanship. This is why God’s work in our lives is often so painful yet so…refreshing. Once we allow God to work in our lives, we can start to see the work of a master builder creating something beautiful out of us. Yes, it may seem that God wants to turn our world upside-down, but it only seems that way because we’re upside down to begin with. Once righted, we can see the beauty of His plan, and our continual submission will allow the work He started in us to be carried through to completion (Philippians 1:6).

Sometimes I wonder if our search for inner peace doesn’t occasionally lead us down the wrong path.  It’s easy to pray and read the Bible looking for God to grant us peace, but I know many times as I read God’s word that, instead of peace, I feel a little bit discontented.  I’ll read a passage that seems odd to me and my first though is usually, “Is that right?”  While this can be caused by a misunderstanding of a scripture, more often then not, it is not an error in understanding but an error in me that God is trying to correct through the Bible.

The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 5-7 is a great example of scripture that can and does challenge our preconceived notions.  Anger for a brother is murder.  Lust for another is adultery.  One particular teaching from Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-10 on divorce can be particularly difficult.  In these passages, Jesus says that if a man and woman divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality and then remarry, they (meaning the formerly married couple) commit adultery as do those whom marry the divorcees.   It is a teaching that even greatly troubled those that heard it in Jesus’ day (see Matthew 19).

When we encounter difficult scriptures, such as these, that cause unrest in our spirits, there are two paths that we must choose between.  The first path leads down the road of moral relativism as we try to explain the scriptures away.  For example, people say things like, “The scripture is antiquated and doesn’t apply today,” “It’s out of touch with society,” or, “This scripture was just used to control people and is irrelevant with the freedom we have.”  We can even take a scripture and completely misrepresent the teaching to suit our own desires.  Nothing, though, along this path leads us to the truth.

The other path, instead of judging scriptures based on our own personal bias and beliefs, takes us to a place where, “The word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV).”   Along this path, we allow the scripture to enter our lives and change us – our beliefs, our bias, and our understanding of God and the world. 

We gain an understanding that, “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV).”  If we want holiness and righteousness, we must approach the Bible with an open heart.  We must allow God to speak through His word that we may, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may approve what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2 NKJV).”

What then of peace?  If we truly want peace, peace with God that allows peace to grow in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, we must allow His word to abide in us.  We must put away notions that His word is antiquated, for God does not change.  We must also resist the urge to ignore scriptures that challenge us; for in doing so, we deny the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives calling us toward conviction.  It is only when we allow His work in us that peace can grow through the aligning of our lives to the will of God.

What is a voice?

The empty, hollow reverberation of air passing through vocal chords?

the cry of a baby in the middle of the night
the laughter of a child at play
the tender words of affection from a man to the woman he loves
the pleas of a mother for her sick child
the desperation of a prisoner begging for mercy
the cry of Christ for the forgiveness of those for whom He is dying

What is a voice but the groaning of a heart crying, pleading, reaching out for love.

I’ve never really had a knack for gardening.  I remember when on one particular occasion my parents asked me to go and, “hoe out the onions.”  I, being the logical person that I am, took that to mean that I should take a hoe, traverse to the garden, and proceed to hoe the onions out of the garden.  Little did I know that to hoe out the onions actually meant to remove the grass and thorns from the onions.  What I do know about gardening, and what this story humorously points out, is if you want a plant to grow and be productive, you have to remove any weeds that could hinder it.  When a plant is surrounded by weeds, the weeds steal important nutrients that help the plant grow and produce fruit.

Our spiritual life works much the same way, and Jesus makes such comparison in a parable.  In Matthew 13:3-9, Jesus compares the word of God to seeds that are being sown into different types of soil.  Some of the seeds are sown into soil that is inundated with thorns.  Spiritually, these thorns represent, “The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches “.  They choke the life out of the word and keep it from bearing spiritual fruit in a person’s life.

These spiritual thorns, though, are much more dastardly than normal thorns.  Normal thorns are generally ugly, nasty plants that are an eyesore.   However, our spiritual thorns are often pretty little things that we tend to with the utmost of care.   Often, they aren’t even things that we would consider bad, but regardless of the nature of the thorn, they perform their job more efficiently than any natural weed could.   They thoroughly hinder the growth of the word in our lives and make us unfruitful Christians.   I’m currently in the process of removing a thorn from my garden that I’ve let run wild for far too long – video games.  Games have consumed much of my life, and while there is nothing wrong with some games, they took up a lot of time and energy that could have been better spent serving God.

This brings up a key point, once we’ve realized that something in life is a thorn, we have to determine what to do about it.  Some weeds are actually good plants that are beneficial when under control of the Holy Spirit.  It’s when these plants become an obsession that they turn into thorns, and instead of allowing them to be brought under control of the Holy Spirit, they supplant God as our main focus and rob our lives of producing spiritual fruit.  

When a good thing turns into an obsession, you have a much bigger problem on your hands.  As with me and video games, a much more drastic solution is necessary – complete eradication.  Some weeds have such a strangle-hold on our lives that there is no choice but to remove them.   We could try to carve out a nice space for them, but they have such an impression on our psyche that they grow like wild fire when any attention is given to them.  They are consuming and uncontrollable, and our only hope if we want God’s word and the Holy Spirit to reign in our lives is to clear these thorns out. 

So, all that’s left is to decide, “How far are we willing to go?”  Are we willing to sacrifice so that the word of God might grow?  Are we willing to let these weeds die that our lives might bear fruit for the kingdom of God?  If we truly want to live for God and truly desire His word to flourish in our lives then removing these thorns isn’t just a good idea or mere sentiment.  It’s a mandatory action that requires all of our effort.  It’s time to decide whether we want to keep trudging along or if we want to run this race with nothing holding us back (Hebrews 12:1).

I draw the line here and now
Fast and hard against the crowd
I will not waver, I will not fall
I will stand strong for the call

Of Him who bled and died for me
Up on Golgotha’s lonely tree
Who rose again, my Lord on high
And reigns in heaven’s glorious light

I am His hands, His mouth, His feet
To carry His love for all to see
I will not fail lest I profane
His holy, blessed, precious name

My stand I make, I won’t back down
I draw the line here and now

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