Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Gift and a Rejected Gift-Giver

The speaker described how he endured a most horrific plane crash and fire. His burns were so serious that portions of his skin were hanging free. After three years, he is still recuperating. However, he regards the entire experience as a great “blessing,” which he  would not exchange for anything. Through it, he perceived the beauty of life – “gratefulness, forgiveness, and grace.”

Meanwhile, he has returned to teaching and to the meditation center, which he manages. After his talk, I approached him:

  • You’ve learned some valuable lessons. You’ve learned about grace, gratitude, and forgiveness. As a Christian, I cannot help seeing my Savior in what you have described and learned. Do you feel that you’ve had an encounter with Deity?
He smiled and acknowledged that it’s possible. However, he then added something that really surprised me. He gently and graciously explained that it didn’t matter how he interpreted his experience. Instead, the important thing was the experience and the lessons he took away from it.

In my mind, it was like receiving a beautiful gift with a card, which he discarded, as if it didn’t matter from whom the gift came. Would he have said, “The gift is the important thing and not the card or the giver?” Of course not, but this was what he was saying about the gift he had just received.

I shared this with him and suggested that he needed to explore the origins of his gift - who sent it to him. He asked, “How would I do that?” I told him that he needed to pray about it and quoted Jesus’ words:

  • "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
I felt that such advice was appropriate, but I also felt the curtain going down on our conversation. He had no intention of praying or seeking the identity of his Benefactor. But why wouldn’t he? Perhaps he intuitively knew that the answer might place restrictions on his life. Would he be able to continue with his own philosophy of life? His meditation center? His friends? His respect within his community? Who wants such restrictions placed on their lives! No one!

Who could blame him? I couldn’t! Besides, it wouldn’t do any good. Nevertheless, before God, he remains blameworthy. God had called his name, “blessed” him, shook him out of life’s stupor, but he refused to come into the light. Instead, he chose darkness – a refusal to see beyond the gift that had God’s name written all over it. I can only pray for him.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Prayer is more than just Words, Gimmicks, and Formulas

Prayer is not primarily about words. Ultimately, it’s about a genuine and honest relationship. Reciting a prayer formula is of little value. Formula is not the substance of relationship. Jesus warned that a mere repetition of words will not incline the Father to hear our prayers (Matthew 6:7). Then, what will? Instead, prayer must arise from a heart aligned with the Lord.

Consequently, the very nature of the person has a great bearing on whether or not God will respond. Proverbs teaches us that “the LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him” (Proverbs 15:8), and that “if anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable” (Proverbs 28:9). No prayer formulas would overcome this liability.

In contrast, Jesus was in perfect communication with His Father. At the rising of Lazarus, He prayed:

  • "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me…” (John 11:41-42)
Why did the Father always hear the Son? It had much to do with the nature of their relationship than with words:

  • During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7) 
Instead of “reverent submission,” the King James Version translates “was heard in that he feared.” What does it mean to “fear” God? In either case, it means to put His will and Word above everything else (Mat. 6:33; John 14:21-24; Luke 22:42; Psalm 130:4; 34:11-14; Prov. 8:13; 29:25; 23:17-18; 10:27; 14:26-27), embracing and identifying with those things that the Father embraces.

We shouldn’t think of the “fear of God” as oppressive. Instead, for the Messiah, it was a “delight” (Isaiah 11:2-3) and a service of love:

  • The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (John 14:31) 
His joy was a matter of serving the Father:

  • "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:34) 
How did Jesus do this? By abiding in His Word! All the testing that He endured involved one question - whether or not He would submit to the Word of the Father. When the Devil tempted Him to break ranks with the Father’s plan and change the stone into bread, Jesus responded:

  • "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)
God, the Son, could have answered with His own words. Instead, He submitted to the Words of the Father by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. In doing so, He acknowledged that Scripture is God’s very Words and that life depended upon living according to these Words. Because life depended on “every word,” there could be no picking-and-choosing. Jesus didn’t place Himself above the Father’s Words but submitted to them all! Had He instead chosen the words He liked and rejected those He didn’t like, He would have made Himself lord over the Words of the Father. This wouldn’t have been “reverent submission” or the “fear of the Lord.” Instead, He would have been like Frank Sinatra – the captain of his own ship!

Then the Devil tested Jesus again. He quoted Psalm 91 and twisted it to suit his purposes:

  • "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" (Matthew 4:6)
And once again, Jesus quoted the Father’s Words against the Devil:

  • Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matthew 4:7, quoting Deut. 6:16)
Had Jesus thrown Himself from the mountain to prove that He is the Son of God, He would have sinned by forcing the hand of His Father. Instead, He demonstrated that His entire life was to be lived for the glory of His Father and not His own. This is love! And when we draw near the Father in this manner, He draws near us (James 4:8). Therefore, it is about the heart and not merely a recitation of words.

When the Devil offered Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world if He would worship Him, Jesus again answered with the Words of the Father:

  • "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Matthew 4:10, quoting Deut. 6:13) 
Jesus didn’t have to limit Himself to the Words of the Father. However, this demonstrated His “reverent submission” – what was in His heart. These quotations didn’t represent an attempt to manipulate the Father in order to get what He wanted. Instead, these words represented what Jesus is all about in the core of His Being. It was also the love for the Father that drove Him to the Cross to seek His glory (John 13:31-32):

  • I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world [Satan] is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:30-31)
When we too have humbled ourselves to our Savior to seek His will above everything else, we too will be heard for our “reverent submission” as opposed to mere lip-service:

  • But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. (Matthew 6:33-34) 
Let me guess what you are thinking:

  • I am just not capable of this kind of “submission.” I guess then that I can’t expect that my prayers will be answered.
 None of us are capable of this! Instead, our Lord will draw us near:

  • When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. (Psalm 65:3-4) 
Without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). He must do the heavy lifting. However, we must pray. We “have not because we ask not” (James 4:2). We have to cry out to Him (Psalm 62:8). Of course, this process is very painful. There is no way around it. How did Jesus learn “reverent submission?”

  • During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:7-8) 
According to Scripture, there is no way around suffering. If we want to be like Jesus, we have to suffer like Jesus:

  • We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:10-11)
In order to enjoy a more intimate relationship with the Savior, we have to become more like Him, and this will not happen without suffering. If Jesus had to learn obedience through the things He suffered, how can we expect otherwise!

What will suffering accomplish? Many things! For one thing, it will cause us to despair of the self. Only by learning to distrust ourselves can we begin to learn to trust in God – the most unnatural thing in the world. The Apostle Paul also needed to learn this lesson:

  • We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) 
When given the choice, we will always choose self-trust. It’s just too comfortable – the ultimate drug! Therefore, the addiction to self-trust has to be burnt out of us. This can only happen through the most painful process – despair of self!

However, when we are humbled in this manner, prayer becomes more vital. It is no longer a necessary obligation. It becomes a life-line – our only hope. We can only become fervent in prayer when we see that prayer is our only hope.

Through suffering and the resulting self-despair, we learn that feeding on Scripture is a necessity. When we find that all of our thinking is wrong and sin-stained, we long for the pure milk of the Word so that we can grow.

Suffering is also like refining steel. The fire must melt the iron ore so that the impurities rise to the surface. There, they are skimmed off. The more refinement, the more the impurities rise to the surface! When this happens, we begin to see our impurities, the things we have hidden from sight, even from ourselves:

  • Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7) 
How can suffering produce praise? Suffering humbles us. The ugliness and unworthiness within comes to the surface, and we are appalled. We cry, “How can God love someone like me? I am totally unworthy of Him!” In desperation, we are driven to the Word to see if offers us anything that we can cling to in hope. Our Savior begins to show us that He is far more gracious than we had ever thought. Now that we understand that we need His mercy more than ever, we find that it is available and unlimited - that He has died for us, procuring for us a gift that we could never deserve or earn. He must first humble us so that He can exalt us.

This produces a gratefulness we would never had learned had we not been confronted with our utter unworthiness and His overwhelming love (Eph. 3:16-19). This is how suffering produces praise and gratefulness.

Only those who have humbled – even broken – by the sight of their unworthiness are ready to be exalted by the pure knowledge of the Gospel. We must first be humbled before we can be exalted, lest we boast (Eph. 2:9; 1 Cor. 1:29).

Joseph’s brother first had to be humbled before they too could be exalted. Joseph first had to test them to see if they were ready to receive the incredible blessings that he wanted to give them.

Out of jealousy, they had hated Joseph. Their father Jacob loved Joseph more than they and had given him a stunning robe of many colors. However, instead of killing him, they agree to sell him as a slave to a caravan heading into Egypt and lied to their father, claiming that Joseph had been killed by wild animals.

In Egypt, Joseph suffered many disappointments and years in jail. Finally, Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, elevated Joseph to his right-hand. God then revealed to Joseph a future seven year famine, and so Joseph made great preparations to store grain for the famine.

After enduring the famine for several years, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to procure grain. It had been so many years, that the brothers didn’t recognize Joseph, and Joseph didn’t disclose himself to them. Instead, he imprisoned them, falsely accusing them of being spies. They protested that they weren’t, explaining that the father remained behind in Canaan with his now favorite and youngest son, Benjamin.

After three days, Joseph released them, keeping one brother in jail, and told them that if they didn’t return with their youngest brother - the one other son of Rachel, Jacob’s deceased beloved - they would never see Simeon again.

They returned to their father with the life-saving grain and explained that they would never be able to return for more without Benjamin. However, this famine persisted and Jacob relented, allowing Benjamin to accompany them. However, he warned that if Benjamin failed to return with them, he would surely die.

When they returned to Egypt, Joseph – his identity still remaining hidden – threw them a great banquet, while he remained distant from them. However, he purposely tried to incur their jealousy by giving Benjamin five times what he had given the brothers.

After they left with their packs filled with grain, Joseph’s servants caught up with them, accusing them of stealing Joseph’s silver goblet. They searched and found it in Benjamin’s pack. The servants therefore brought the brothers back before Joseph:

  • Joseph said to them, "What is this you have done? Don't you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?"    "What can we say to my lord?" Judah replied. "What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants' guilt. We are now my lord's slaves-- we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup."  But Joseph said, "Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace." (Genesis 44:15-17) 
However, they knew that they couldn’t return home to their father without Benjamin. It would kill their father! Therefore, Judah pleaded:

  • "Please let your servant remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father." (Genesis 44:33-34) 
How different from the way they had treated Joseph many years before! They now were willing to sacrifice themselves for the favored son, Benjamin!

  • Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh's household heard about it. (Genesis 45:1-2) 
Why hadn’t Joseph revealed himself earlier? He had wanted to. He had also wept on their first visit. He loved them and wanted to bring the entire family under his protection, but were they ready for receive such a blessing? Would they instead be consumed with jealousy as they had been before? If they weren’t ready, such a blessing would have been counter-productive. It would have enflamed their jealousy even more as they watched their beloved father fawning over Joseph.

However, they had now grown. They had learned “reverent submission” unto their father. Joseph had tried to inflame their jealousy over the favoritism he showed to Benjamin. However, this ploy failed to prevail over their devotion to their father.

When Joseph saw this, be broke down and revealed himself. However, he first had to send the Egyptians out of the room. They were not ready for such a revelation. Even then, the brothers were terrified.

Ask our Lord to provide for you a “reverent submission,” and He will grant it! It is His will to conform us into the image of His beloved Son. Just keep on asking!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Things that Prayer cannot Change

There are things that are unchangeable – things that we simply must accept. James and John requested that Jesus would appoint them to reign at either side of Him once He came into His “glory.” However, He could not grant this request:

  • To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared." (Mark 10:40)
There are many other things that cannot be granted to even our most fervent prayers. The length of our lives has also been determined:

  • Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)
This can be very discouraging, especially when this pertains to the death our young children, or even miscarriages that God allows in the face of fervent prayer. However, the Psalmist took comfort in the fact that there are certain things that God has written in stone, His pre-ordained stone. Therefore, he continued:

  • How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:17) 
We find it so comforting to know that our Lord has a precise plan for our lives. This mitigates the worry and the second-guessing – should I have done this or that or… However, this assurance does little to help us accept the loss of our infant. It staggers our understanding, and we grope to find meaning.

Is there a divine wisdom in loss? What sense did it make to Peter when the Lord informed him that he would have to be martyred?

  • I [Jesus] tell you [Peter] the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" (John 21:18-19)
Why instead didn’t Jesus tell Peter to pray about this as He had about the trials that preceded His crucifixion? Why could not Peter escape martyrdom? Why would not prayer prevail in this instance? Instead, Peter would have to glorify God in this manner. His fate was set.

Likewise, the Spirit informed the church at Smyrna that they too would have to die horrifically:

  • Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Once again, there was no mention of a prayer technique that could reverse this horror. Instead, these martyrs would have to prepare themselves for their pre-ordained fate.

However, I do think that some understanding is possible. In another perplexing verse, Paul writes:

  • Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24) 
Paul would have to face afflictions similar to that of his Master, and so also the other Apostles. This verse should not be understood to suggest that there was anything lacking in Christ’s atonement on the Cross. Instead, it points to the necessity of Apostolic martyrdom to advance the church, not atone for it. It is because they died the death of martyrs for what they believed that the Apostles are credible witnesses. This is also true for the martyrdom of many of the Church Fathers.

In direct contrast with these martyrs were the “Christian” Gnostics who evidently knew that they had nothing worth dying for. The Honorable Joseph Addison wrote”

  • I think it is very remarkable, that there was not a single Martyr among those many Hereticks, who disagreed with the Apostolical church, and introduced several wild and absurd notions into the doctrines of Christianity. They durst not stake their present and future happiness on their own chimerical operations, and did not only shun persecution, but affirmed that it was unnecessary for their followers to bear their religion through such fiery tryals. (The evidences of the Christian Religion)
With their death, the Apostles and the Fathers showed the world that they had something that was worth dying for. And it wasn’t just for a future hope, like the Jihadis who die for their unfounded faith. Instead, Christian martyrdom was also a powerful assertion that what the Apostles had recorded had actually happened!

Peter’s martyrdom would place a seal of truth open everything He had taught. He proved this by dying for the faith.

Certain prayers will not be answered the way we want. Jesus’ wasn’t! He prayed that He wouldn’t have to go to the Cross. However, He was willing to submit to the will of the Father:

  • "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Clearly, we cannot expect all of our prayers to be answered. However, how can we accept the death of an infant? What possible purpose could this have in God’s plan?

I cannot answer this with any satisfaction. However, associate professor at Biola University, Clay Jones, offers some suggestions. He and his wife suffered five miscarriages. Consequently, they have remained childless. Jones writes:

  • Many important spiritual lessons are learned from the suffering and/or death of children – courage, patience, compassion, selflessness, humility… we learn that we can never base our ultimate happiness on this world. The American Dream – that we can have our kids grow up, graduate, achieve successful careers, marry great spouses, and have wonderful children… - is forever in danger. There is nothing worldly that we can count on, including what most people love most: their children. Instead, we must look to God for our ultimate and eternal fulfillment. (Christian Research Journal, Volume 38, Number 01, 14)
Although there are still many unanswered questions, I can accept this because I accept my Lord. Presently, I am tormented by the reports of grave injustices, especially those committed by ISIS and Boko Haram – the slaughter, kidnapping, and sexual abuse of tens of thousands of Christians and other non-Muslims. Although I had been raised on the Holocaust, I could barely conceive of such horrors or that the “civilized” world would once again allow them.

I am not comfortable in the world. This is not my home. This is increasingly clear. I pray for the end of these horrors, but they continue. For my own sanity, I can do little else but to immerse myself in Scripture and cry out, “Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

I certainly haven’t abandoned prayer. If I had, I would have purchased an AK47 and a one-way ticket to Iraq. Instead, I continue to pray, knowing that our only hope is in our Savior, who strangely is allowing these horrid abominations to continue.

There is so much that I don’t understand, but I do know the Lord and know that He is faithful, whether in martyrdom or in mayhem.

Does God Love Me enough to Answer my Prayers?

We are highly sinful and unworthy of God, and we sense our unworthiness. Therefore, we tend to obsess and doubt:

  • Do I have enough faith to receive anything from the Lord? Many of my prayers haven’t been answered. Perhaps God didn’t answer my prayer about saving me?  Perhaps I doubt too much? Does He love me enough to answer my prayers?
 One young man wondered whether he had enough worthiness to be saved. Terrified at the prospect of going to hell, he took a radical step. He forfeited everything he had to become an Augustinian monk. He had been taught that this was the surest way to please God and to merit salvation. However, even after this radical move, he remained tortured by doubts and thoughts of hell.

He subjected himself to the most extreme deprivations along with four hours of daily confessions, but nothing relieved him. Finally, his vicar advised him:

  • Luther, all you need to do is to just love God!
To this, Martin Luther bellowed back, “Love Him? I hate Him!” He later wrote that He couldn’t love God, if he couldn’t be sure that God loved him back and would receive him into heaven. However, years later, while preparing a lesson on the Epistle to the Romans, Luther encountered a verse that would change his life: “And the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). He suddenly realized that he didn’t have to earn God’s love. Instead, it was there waiting for him. He just needed to take it on faith.

Luther later wrote that it felt as if the gates of heaven had opened for him. He was now enabled to trust that God loved him. Let me guess what you’re now thinking:

  • This assurance of God’s love is miles away from me. Sometimes I wonder whether this assurance is even possible for someone like me who doubts and questions. 
Certainly, there are many reasons to doubt and question. While the Bible gives us many assurances that God is love, there are also a number of verses that make it seem like His love is conditional and we have to fulfill a set of impossible conditions. Take, for instance, Hebrews 12:14:

  • Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 
This verse, among others, is a doubt-maker:

  • How holy must I be? It doesn’t seem that any of my thoughts, motives or deeds are entirely holy. They are all sin-infested. Is there a certain level of holiness that I must attain before I can be saved? Isn’t the Bible therefore a collection of contradictions? 
Can we truly be confident of the grace of God when these questions remain unanswered? Not entirely! Consequently, I think that we need to take a deeper look at Scripture.

Jesus’ actions didn’t often look like love. He continually criticized His own disciples. At times, it seemed that they couldn’t do anything right. He commended faith only twice in Scripture, and on both occasions it was the faith of Gentiles – the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28) and the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:10) – never of His disciples. He never told them anything like this:

  • You men are really first class. Choosing you was the best thing that I had ever done. You’re such quick learners and, oh, so spiritual!
Jesus never encouraged them – not exactly the way to win and sustain a following! Rather than building their confidence in their heavenly destiny, many of Jesus’ teaching served to undermine their confidence. However, after His final discourse with His disciples, Jesus prayed to the Father. This prayer illuminates a different perspective, a heavenly one! And this is as it should be, because Jesus is no longer addressing His disciples but His Father:

  • "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.” (John 17:6-8)
Perhaps you’ve read these verses too often to notice their transcendent perspective. These words do not represent Jesus’ usual words of censure like “get behind me Satan” or “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" (Matthew 26:40).

Instead, Jesus words are other-worldly. About His fumbling disciples Jesus prays, “they have obeyed your word…they accepted [the words You gave me]. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.”

These words are astounding and perplexing. From our earthly perspective, they didn’t even understand His Word, let alone obey His Word! Just to illustrate this point, I will quote each one of their five preceding statements. All of these words demonstrate their lack of understanding:

  • Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (John 14:5) 
  • Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8), unaware that they had already seen the Father in Jesus.
  • Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" (John 14:22)
  • Some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,' and 'Because I am going to the Father'?" They kept asking, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We don't understand what he is saying." (John 16:17-18)
  • Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God" (John 16:29-30), but they were just about ready to disown their faith
These ignorant statements weren’t unusual for the Apostles. They often seemed clueless about their Master, and Jesus wasn’t hesitant to let them know this. However, when Jesus talked to His Father, we perceive a different perspective. From these heights, we are invited to view an entirely different landscape, one through which we learn that the disciples “have kept Your Word!” This is the gracious heavenly reality.

You might think that this distinction between the earthly message and the heavenly one is just a weird anomaly. However, this same distinction is found throughout Scripture. Let me just take a few examples.

The prophet-for-hire Balaam had also been granted a view from this same mountain-top. He had been hired by the King of Moab, Balak, to curse Israel. However, God had warned Balaam to say only what He would reveal to him. God had opened his eyes so that he could penetrate the haze and see reality from the perspective of God. And this is what he saw:

  • The oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened: "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” (Numbers 24:4-5)
  • "He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them.” (Numbers 23:21)
There was probably little that was “beautiful” about Jacob’s tents, especially after wandering 40 years in the desert. Balaam was beholding a transcendent reality. Clearly, there was gross “iniquity in Jacob” and no shortage of “wickedness in Israel,” but this is not what God was seeing! He sees a different reality, a transcendent one. He sees the end from the beginning. Jesus also saw His Apostles in their glory, a glory where we are already seated in “the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephes. 2:6).

In the eyes of our Lord, our status is dramatically transformed when we repent of our sins. When we do so, we are transported into the kingdom of His beloved Son, where we sit “the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” We become His vessels of glory.

Job had made many rash indictments against God during his lengthy trial. However, God brought damning charges against Job’s three friends:

  • "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." (Job 42:7-8) 
This is peculiar for many reasons. For one thing, Job seemed to have talked far worse of God than had his three friends. Second of all, God, against the evidence to the contrary, said that Job had spoken correctly of Him! Clearly, this wasn’t accurate, or was it? From God’s heavenly perspective, Job had just repented twice of his rash words (Job 42:6; 40:4-5), and all had been forgiven. Job had also been cleansed of all his unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and that made all the difference in the world!

There is the heavenly perspective that transcends the temporal – all of our this-worldly failures and sins. God does not see as we do. While He is not blind to the earthly, He sees a high and eternal reality, one in which everything is wiped clean, where love and righteousness remove from sight everything that makes us cringe in shame.

Lot lived in Sodom and willingly partook in its life. When the two angels showed up to investigate Sodom’s sinfulness, Lot hurriedly rushed them off to his home, hoping to dispatch them early in the morning, without consequence to his town.

Every step of his life had been soiled by compromise. He even got drunk and had sex with his two daughters. However, this isn’t the final word about Lot. In the New Testament, we find that, in God’s eyes, Lot was regarded in an entirely different light, as “a righteous man” (2 Peter 2:7).

The Bible speaks of two distinct realities. According to the first reality, we have fallen short of God’s standards (Rom. 3:23) and deserve condemnation (Rom. 6:23). However, there is another reality that trumps the first one. It is a reality where “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” according to James 2:13. It is a reality where we are new creations in Christ – children of the light, where any who call upon God shall be saved (Rom. 10:13)!

From a human perspective, Abraham had been a spiritual failure. He continually doubted God’s promises. Even after Yahweh appeared to him and promised that Sarah would give birth to the promised son in the following year, Abraham once again wimped out and passed off his beloved as his sister.

Consequently, the unknowing king grabbed Sarah for his harem. However, before he could have sex with her, God struck the entire nation of Gerar down with a disease. He then appeared to the king in a dream and instructed him to return Sarah to her husband Abraham.

The shocked king then confronted Abraham about his deception. Abraham admitted his cowardice:

  • "I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.' …And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, "He is my brother." ' " (Genesis 20:11-13)
Abraham’s unfaithfulness had a long history. In spite of this, when God had appeared to the king in his dream, He uttered some of the most profound words in all Scripture:

  • Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die." (Genesis 20:7)
 Even after Abraham had disgraced God so thoroughly, God remained faithful. Despite his failings, Abraham remained His “prophet!” Besides this, the cowardly failure Abraham would have to pray for the king!

The king might have thought, “What kind of God is this that chooses such low-life as prophets!” However, God’s love and protection for his failing prophet did not falter. He is therefore esteemed by God in this incredibly gracious way:

  • Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be."  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21) 
God does not see as we see. He sees us through gracious and loving eyes. We often fear that we lack enough faith to be saved. However, Hebrews 11 – it’s know as the “hall of fame of faith” – gives us unbelievable portraits of exemplary faith. But if we read closely, we will be shocked at what we read.

Hebrews tells us that by faith “Abraham was enabled to become a father” (Heb. 11:11). However, it didn’t seem that he had much faith. We are also told that “By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger (Heb. 11:27). However, the original account tells us that Moses did fear!

My favorite example of faith regards the children of Israel:

  • By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. (Hebrews 11:29)
This is incredible! Israel was anything but a model of faith. The original Exodus account tells us that they rebelled against Moses after they heard the Egyptian chariots approaching!

From an earthly perspective, Israel was a sorry mess, but not from God’s gracious perspective! Here’s a glimpse into His thinking:

  • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:8-10) 
God’s logic is both illuminating and persuasive. If He was willing to pay the supreme price for us, when we were yet sinners – His enemies – wouldn’t He protect His investment now that we have been made His friends!

Perhaps an analogy might help. If you go to the junk-yard and purchase a rusted-out Model-T Ford for an exorbitant price, and then spend the next several years restoring it to its original form, would you then discard it? Certainly not! You would now treasure it and do whatever you could to preserve it!

Our Lord paid the highest price for all humanity. Consequently, any who come to Him, He will in no way cast out (John 6:37). Why would He? He’s already paid the price for us! He even pursues those who refuse Him.

He pursued David, His King. David deserved only the worst from God. God had given David everything, but this didn’t satisfy David. He saw a woman he wanted, and he took her, even though she was already married. If that wasn’t enough, he killed Bathsheba’s husband to cover up his sin.

However, God was not going to be mocked. Sin would require a price. Despite David’s many prayers, God took Bathsheba’s newborn. However, she conceived again, and David named his child “Solomon,” in Hebrew, “Shlomo,” a form of “Shalom,” meaning peace. It seems that David was hoping that this child would spell peace between him and God. But how could David expect anything good from such a sin-stained relationship! However God had another name in mind:

  • Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah. (2 Samuel 12:24-25)
David hadn’t been hopeful enough. Instead of Solomon being a mere “peace” child, he was “Jedidiah” (“beloved of God,” in the Hebrew) in God’s eyes. From an earthly perspective, David and his new wife didn’t deserve anything but punishment from God. However, He heard David’s prayer, forgave his sin, and cleansed the entire relationship. On top of this, out of all David’s sons, God chose Solomon to become the next king of Israel. God can salvage the worst of lives and relationships!

Paul, having hardened his heart, was even His persecutor. Not only did he kill Christians, but He also forced them to blaspheme Jesus. I cannot think of anything worse. However, Paul explained:

  • Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:15-16) 
Paul served as an example of God’s readiness to extend His forgiveness to anyone – to the worst of sinners. If God was willing to forgive Paul, He was willing to forgive anyone who would come to Him!

King Manasseh was another example of God’s incredible mercy. He was the worst of the worst. He reigned for 55 years in Jerusalem and bathed the city with the blood of the righteous. Scripture informs us that he was worse than the Canaanites. However, even Manasseh found the mercy of God, when he repented of his sins (2 Chron. 33:10-13).

The meaning is clear. If God forgave and restored Manasseh, the worst of the worst, He would certainly respond favorably to any who would call upon His name!

Let me again guess what you are thinking:

  • Well, you make salvation seem as if it’s available to anyone who confesses their sins. But how about that verse you cited before which says “pursue holiness without which shall no one see God? I don’t think that I can be holy enough.”
Well, the Book of Hebrews illustrates what it means to pursue holiness through the example of Esau:

  • [See to it] lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it [the blessing] diligently with tears. (Hebrews 12:16-17; NKJV) 
Esau wasn’t rejected because of his sins – we are all sinners. He was rejected because he was unwilling to repent that he had sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, demonstrating that he did not esteem the things of God. Although he wept over loosing his father’s blessing, the things of God were foolishness to him.

How does God regard us? We lack the superlatives to answer this question. Paul wrote of the love of God this way:

  • I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephes. 3:17-19) 
God’s love for us is a love that “surpasses knowledge.” Why then can’t we see this? Why does our God obscure this glorious reality, causing us to walk in uncertainty? Perhaps we are not ready for the light. As Jesus told His disciples, there were certain truths that would not yet be good for them to see:

  • "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” (John 16:12)
We too cannot bear to behold the beauty of the tents of Israel and certainly not our own glory. I think that it was C.S. Lewis who said that if we could see our glory, we’d worship each other.

However, sometimes He does open our eyes to glimpse this transcendent reality. For example, Paul claims that for those who are being saved, “we are…the [sweet] aroma of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15). This is amazing to us! How can we, with all of our spiritual warts, manifest as the aroma of Christ!

However, we can’t handle this light in sustained doses. We lack the mental maturity to assimilate this light in a profitable way. In the midst of a life-threatening and bloody chain saw injury, I was lying in a pool of blood, thinking that this breath would be my last. Suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t alone. I was so overcome by the presence of God that I was in ecstasy. I knew that even if I died, God would be there with me, and that I was totally safe and loved by Him.

I was miraculously rescued and spent the next four days recuperating in the hospital. On the second day, my surgeon warned that I would have to exercise my half-cut-off wrist or lose its functionality. However, after my divine encounter, I was convinced that the God who had saved me was great enough to restore my hand without any exercises. Well, I didn’t exercise it, and it wasn’t restored as it might have been.

My theology – my understanding - did not measure up to what God had revealed to me. I had wrongly thought that since God is omnipotent, I didn’t have to do anything.  Now I understand that, although God is all-powerful, this doesn’t relieve me of my earthly responsibilities.

Perhaps even after imbibing all of these verses, you are still left with uncertainly about God’s love and your salvation. That’s certainly not unusual. Sometimes, even the knowledge of the Word will not take us everywhere we what to go, nor should it. God has not constructed our lives so that we would make ourselves self-sufficient through wisdom. Instead, we are always to depend upon lowly humble prayer – an acknowledgement that we and our wisdom are not enough. We need His intervention.

And He will intervene! When we ask our Lord for assurance about His love and our salvation, we ask according to His will and, therefore, can be confident that He will answer.