The Blessing of our Differences

In preaching an advent sermon in 1 Samuel 1, I had a chance to consider what it would mean for Hinson to be a church for troubled people like Hannah. There is no such thing as “normal” and “not normal” in the body of Christ, but in Christ, all people, single, barren, foreign, old, young, etc… belong every bit as much as the other. As I reflected on this question, it became clear that we come to know God’s goodness as He brings people with all kinds of differing life experiences, backgrounds, and even sufferings into one body. Here are a few ways that this happens:

  • Thankfulness – The parents who are overwhelmed by the task of parenting are reminded of God’s blessing in giving them children as they walk with couples who are childless. The Americans who hear stories of all that the refugee went through to come to America are reminded of the kindness of God in their freedoms and prosperity. And as the childless and refugee share their stories, they see the unique opportunities that they have in the body.
  • Stewardship – As those who have been given much walk alongside those who have been given little, they grow in their sense of their stewardship of what God has given them. These blessings are given not merely for their own enjoyment, but in order that others may share in them. And in their faith and prayers, those who have little also have a role to play in encouraging the body and modeling hope.
  • Witness – A diverse congregation will reach a diverse world. The single person, the foreigner, the ones who have experienced tragic loss, they will reach a community that the “average” person in the church will never reach. As the church comes together in our differences, we realize that those differences are strategic gifts for gospel witness.
  • Humility – It’s always a gift to be able to see ourselves as others see us. The church provides a place where those who are different from us can lovingly point out our blind spots, within the security of the gospel. In our comfort and in our suffering, our differing perspectives guard the community against pride.
  • Worship – When we see the greatness and reality of the gospel in bringing hope to the barren, the outcast, the grieving, the celibate, and all the rest of God’s people, we worship. We praise God for his all-sufficient grace.

What else would you add?

An Advent Parable

How should God come to the one He loves? Humanity in all her shame and pain and fear could not bear to receive Him as He is. But He will find a way.

An Advent Monologue by Walter Wangerin Jr. (Ragman: And Other Cries of Faith (1987) © Walter Wangerin Jr.)

I love a child.

But she is afraid of me.

I want to help this child, so terribly in need of help. For she is hungry; her cheeks are sunken to the bone; but she knows little of food, less of nutrition. I know both these things. She is cold, and she is dirty; she lives at the end of a tattered hallway, three flights up in a tenement whose landlord long forgot the human bodies huddled in that place. But I know how to build a fire; and I know how to wash a face.

She is retarded, if the truth be told, thick in her tongue, slow in her mind, yet aware of her infirmity and embarrassed by it. But here am I, well-traveled throughout the universe, and wise, and willing to share my wisdom.

She is lonely all the day long. She sits in a chair with her back to the door, her knees tucked tight against her breasts, her arms around these, her head down. And I can see how her hair hangs to her ankles; but I cannot see her face. She’s hiding. If I could but see her face and kiss it, why I could draw the loneliness out of her.

She sings a sort of song to pass the time, a childish melody, though she is a woman in her body by its shape, a swelling at her belly. She sings, “Puss, puss.” I know the truth, that she is singing of no cat at all, but of her face, sadly, calling it ugly. And I know the truth, that she is right. But I am mightily persuasive myself, and I could make it lovely by my love alone.

I love the child.

But she is afraid of me.

~

Then how can I come to her, to feed and to heal her by my love? Knock on the door? Enter the common way?

No. She holds her breath at a gentle tap, pretending that she is not home; she feels unworthy of polite society. And loud, imperious bangings would only send her into shivering tears, for police and bill collectors have troubled her in the past.

And should I break down the door? Or should I show my face at the window? Oh, what terrors I’d cause then. These have happened before. She’s suffered the rapings of kindless men, and therefore she hangs her head, and therefore she sings, “Puss.”

I am none of these, to be sure. But if I came the way that they have come, she would not know me different. She would not receive my love, but might likely die of a failed heart.

I’ve called from the hall. I’ve sung her name through cracks in the plaster. But I have a bright trumpet of a voice, and she covers her ears and weeps. She thinks each word an accusation.

I could, of course, ignore the doors and walls and windows, simply appearing before her as I am. I have that capability. But she hasn’t the strength to see it and would die. She is, you see, her own deepest hiding place, and fear and death are the truest doors against me.

Then what is left? How can I come to my beloved? Where’s the entrance that will not frighten nor kill her? By what door can love arrive after all, truly to nurture her, to take the loneliness away, to make her beautiful, as lovely as my moon at night, my sun come morning?

~

I know what I will do.

I’ll make the woman herself my door-and by her body enter in her life.

Ah, I like that. I like that. However could she be afraid of her own flesh, of something lowly underneath her ribs?

I’ll be the baby waking in her womb. Hush: she’ll have the time, this way, to know my coming first before I come. Hush: time to get ready, to touch her tummy, touching the promise alone, as it were. When she hangs her head, she shall be looking at me, thinking of me, loving me while I gather in the deepest place of her being. It is an excellent plan! Hush.

And then, when I come, my voice shall be so dear to her. It shall call the tenderness out of her soul and loveliness into her face. And when I take milk at her breast, she’ll sigh and sing another song, a sweet Magnificat, for she shall feel important then, and worthy, seeing that another life depends on hers. My need shall make her rich!

Then what of her loneliness? Gone. Gone in the bond between us, though I shall not have said a word yet. And for my sake she shall wash her face, for she shall have a reason then.

And the sins that she suffered, the hurts at the hands of men, shall be transfigured by my being: I make good come out of evil; I am the good come out of evil.

I am her Lord, who loves this woman.

And for a while I’ll let her mother me. But then I’ll grow. And I will take my trumpet voice again, which once would kill her. And I’ll take her, too, into my arms. And out of that little room, that filthy tenement, I’ll bear my mother, my child, alive forever.

I love a child.

But she will not fear me for long, now.

Look! Look, it is almost happening. I am doing a new thing- and don’t you perceive it? I am coming among you, a baby.

And my name shall be Emmanuel.

Ragman: And Other Cries of Faith (1987) © Walter Wangerin Jr.

Confession: Making Light of Sin

Prayer of Confession – Hinson Baptist Church – Morning Worship – Nov. 01, 2015 – Reflecting on Numbers 25:1-13

Heavenly Father, when we read Your Word, when we see how You respond to sin… Lord we have to confess that far too often, we do not view sin the way You do.  Oh Lord, You are holy. You see and hate sin for what it is.  Wicked.  Destructive.  And most of all, an affront to Your goodness and glory.

And so Lord, it grieves us to think how lightly we view sin.  Forgive us for how desensitized we’ve become to the heinousness of sin.

Oh Lord, forgive us for the way we find humor in sin and laugh at sin.

Forgive us for the ways in which we entertain ourselves with sinful thoughts and activities.

Oh Lord, forgive us for how pragmatic we can be, caring more about results than righteousness, fearing people more than You.

Forgive us for how so often, we try to serve two masters, thinking minimizing Your authority in our lives

Forgive us for how easily we presume on Your grace, taking Your forgiveness and mercy for granted.

Forgive us for having a category for respectable sins… sins which are clearly wrong from Your Word, but we think are no big deal.

Forgive us for how easily we can grieve the consequences of our sin, more than the sin itself.

Forgive us for how easily we compare ourselves to others in order to minimize and excuse our sin, thinking that at least we’re not like them.

Forgive us for how we can get angrier when sin is done against us, than when sin is done against You.

Forgive us for caring way more about other people’s sins than about our own sin.

And even when we do recognize our sin, forgive us for the ways in which we try to fix it with effort and rules, rather than turning to the salvation You have provided.

Oh Lord, in all these ways, we confess that we have failed to see the truth about our sin. We have minimized our sin, we have downplayed our sin.  And therefore our repentance has so often been shallow and insincere.  Even in our repentance, we have sinned.  Oh God, have mercy on us.  Forgive us for our sin.  Make us as zealous as You are for Your honor in our lives.  Do this, because we belong to You.  And open our eyes to the reality of Your holiness.  We pray this in Christ’s Name, Amen.

Walking on Water

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

  • Jesus has just fed the 5,000 and now he’s about to go walking on the water. And yet sandwiched between those two astonishing miracles is his private, devotional prayer life with his heavenly Father. As much as we might be amazed by these miracles, could it be that we underestimate the significance of our own prayer life?
  • Matthew, the former tax collector, records this historical event matter-of-factly: “Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.” This happened.
  • Of course, the disciples weren’t expecting this. They didn’t have a category for what they were seeing so they naturally assume that this is something out of fiction or the demonic world. But Jesus reassures them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus would have to reassure them that he was no ghost.
  • Peter believes that it’s Jesus. The “if” is not so much an expression of doubt, but of faith. If he’s going to go out on the water, it will only be because Jesus has commanded. Because if Jesus has commanded you to do something, no matter how impossible it may seem, then he will enable you to obey.
  • Peter’s goal is not to walk on water, primarily. Peter’s desire is to be with Jesus: “tell me to come to you.”
  • While Peter’s gaze is fixed on Christ, he has a proper perspective on the wind and waves, namely, they are nothing compared to Jesus’ power. But as soon as he loses sight of Christ, he loses a proper perspective and begins to sink. What difference would it make if we viewed our troubles and fears rightly in comparison to Jesus?
  • Here’s the gospel: the story does not end with the twelve disciples dancing on the water victoriously. No, they are cowering in the boat while Peter is about to drown. And Jesus reaches out his hand and catches Peter, and then he calms the storm. He is truly the Son of God who saves those who are drowning, and yet who cry out to him, “Lord, save me!” These are imperfect disciples whom Jesus loved and saved. This is a picture of us.
  • As an old man, did Peter ever brag to his friends about the time he walked on the water? Or, did he talk about the time his faith faltered and yet Jesus reached out and saved him?

Reflections on diversity in the local church

Diversity in the church is hard. And yet it is the very means by which the wisdom of God in the gospel is displayed (Eph. 3:7-11). I had the opportunity this past spring to speak at Hinson about the experience of Chinese Americans, including my own background. I concluded the talk with the following five reflections on diversity in the local church (you can read the rest of the talk here):

The Gospel alone brings unity in the midst of diversity – I wonder if you’re ever tempted to think about the “good ol’ days”? Some time in history or some moment in your life where things were as it should be? Friends, realize that no such thing ever existed. When we consider these stories of incredible hardship and suffering by Chinese immigrants, we are reminded that actually, in every age, there has been incredible hardship and suffering. At some other point in world history, the Chinese were oppressing other people around them. In a fallen world, so often, even as one group enjoys prosperity and justice, there are many other groups that are being oppressed and denied justice.

As those who refuse to place our hope in some golden past, or the promise of some secular utopia, we understand that our greatest need has been met in Jesus Christ, the one who left His heavenly kingdom, to enter our fallen world, to give his life for sinners, in order that we might be reconciled to God. And as those who have been reconciled to God, we are now freed to be reconciled to one another, through the safety of the Gospel.

Throughout American history, people have talked about this nation both as a melting pot and as a salad bowl. And of course, taken by itself, each image could become extreme. A complete melting pot means no cultural distinctiveness. Complete diversity means no unified identity. But through the Gospel, we have a solution to that tension.

Because in the Gospel, by the Holy Spirit, we have all come under the Lordship of Christ. We all share our common understanding of God’s authority, the wickedness of our sin, the grace of Jesus Christ in the gospel, and our persevering in repentance and faith. As Paul writes in Col. 3:

“here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all”

And yet in the church, there isn’t an erasing or ignoring of cultural distinctions, but rather a reconciliation and love of those who are different. Which is why, in the Gospel, we’re commanded to:

– consider others better than yourselves.
– look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others
– to practice hospitality
– to speak the truth in love
– Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God
– to do everything in the church for edification

In the midst of all the different ways that God has called us, we are called to engage with one another. Not demanding our own rights, not dominating others, but humbly and lovingly working for edification.

Diversity means complexity – As humans, we have two problems. On the one hand, we’re finite. We don’t understand everything. But on the other hand, we’re proud. We think we understand everything. Put that together, and you get stereotypes.

Rather than doing the hard work of understanding one another in all of our nuances and differences and complexities, instead we much prefer to assume we understand where others are coming from, what they’re like, where they’ve got it right or wrong. Friends, beware of stereotypes. Be careful even of doing this positively. “You’re Asian, so you must be smart!” “Asian people are so quiet and humble.” Well, maybe… but maybe not. Asians struggle with pride just as much as anyone. And does that mean if I speak up, you might look at me differently?

What about the Asians whose gifts are not in academics, but in service, or in other areas? Sure there will be characteristics arising out of cultural or ethnic backgrounds, but at the end of the day, Scripture and humility should guide how we interact with one another.

In the church, we want to cultivate humility in our relationships and follow James’ command to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

Diversity exists not for comparison, but thankfulness – This point is perhaps the greatest harm, in my mind, that the Model Minority stereotype creates. Not only does it stereotypes an entire group of people, allowing injustices being done to those people to be overlooked (“you guys are so successful, what do you have to complain about?”), but then it sets that group of people against other groups. So throughout Chinese American history, we see the ways that Model Minority idea was utilized against African Americans, against Irish Americans, against Japanese Americans. It’s no wonder that even as black-white tensions exist, Asian-Americans find themselves caught in the middle. Sometimes resented and even hated by other minority groups, and other times feeling used for another the majority group’s agenda, all while not really having a voice in the matter.

Friends, this is how the world treats diversity. Not as something to be appreciated, but as something to utilized for comparison and competition, ultimately for our own selfish ends. But that’s not how it should be in the church. In the church, we understand that diversity exists as God’s good gift, for God’s glory. Like a Body, made up of many different parts, our response should not be to compare and to envy or to degrade the other, but to realize that God has created and ordered all things and it’s our joy to discover the wonders of all our differences. So we give thanks that some cultures are more thoughtful, while other cultures are more expressive. Some cultures promote hard-work, while other cultures promote creativity. Some culture show more caution, while others show more initiative. Whatever it is, there’s no need to pit one against another. Realize, that God has created these various characteristics all in his wisdom… that in the Church, through the Gospel, they are being shaped and redeemed for God’s glory. In thankfulness, we seek to learn from one another.

Diversity is not to be ignored, but valued – This is something the Vergil Brown shared last fall, but it bears repeating. For many white Americans, race is an issue they don’t have to think about on a day-to-day basis, but for many who come from the minority experience, they don’t have the choice to ignore their race. When we read the history of Chinese-Americans, race shaped every aspect of their lives. They couldn’t work or marry or travel without being reminded of their Chinese-ness. For many people, that sense of “otherness” continues today… life in America is this experience of being Forever Foreign. It’s like the time when American Tara Lipinski beat American Michelle Kwan in the Women’s Olympic Figure Skating Championships, and MSNBC ran the headline: “American Beats Kwan”.

Have I ever experienced my foreign-ness? Sure, I can tell stories. I remember walking into an empty barbershop in a small town, and being looked at funny, and told that the wait was one hour and I should put my name on the waiting list. Except there was nobody on that list. And no one in the barbershop. And after sitting for 10 minutes, I decided to leave. I don’t know if there were other appointments that were on their way, and they were running late. But I was reminded that day… oh yeah, out here, I’m different.

Which means in our present context, there’s probably no place for racial jokes. TO the majority group, they seem benign, light hearted, but often for the minority, they are just yet another reminder of their “other-ness.” That’s not to say that jokes can’t be used in the right way and that we should always be on edge. But given how racial jokes are becoming increasingly taboo, we should just recognize that they do not commend the gospel.

The goal for the church is not to be color-blind, to simply say, “We don’t see race here… Let’s ignore our differences,” because what can come across is, “Let’s ignore your particular struggles” and “Let’s just do things as normal, i.e. in my culture.”

Rather, as we want to do the hard work of understanding one another, of hearing the challenges that we face… because it’s only as we do so, that we can begin to fulfill what the NT commands for us.

At the end of the day, there’s no way for the church to achieve some kind of perfect cultural equilibrium, as if all the cultures all get perfect and equal representation. That’s not the model that the NT gives us. Rather, the model we’re given is the Gospel, one of sacrifice, humility and love. So every church will have a majority culture, expressed in the teaching, in the music, in the culture, in the events of the church. So if you’re part of the Majority, realize that you have brothers and sisters who are willingly sacrificing their own preferred forms and styles and cultures, because of their love of Christ and of you. Don’t ignore that sacrifice, but be thankful for them. Come to understand them. Appreciate them. Look for ways to serve them. And if you’re a part of the Minority, realize that in your sacrifice, in your willingness to lay down your preferences, you’re showing to your community, and to the whole world, that Christ is more valuable than anything else. And yet, don’t allow those differences to keep you from pursuing real relationships with others… when there are opportunities to allow those cultural differences to shine through, by all means, do so.

The Gospel calls us to pursue those different from us – God is worthy of worship from people who are not just like us. Christians in America have been involved with ministry to Chinese immigrants since the beginning. As missionaries found doors closed to them overseas, they turned their attention to those who were arriving on their shores. And as you can imagine the opportunities were many. Sharlatells her story of being descended the Chinese women who were rescued by Christian missionaries in San Francisco from a life of prostitution. I’m so grateful for those Baptists who reached out to international Chinese students in Houston, including my uncle, and who eventually planted that Chinese church. By God’s mercy, so many Chinese came to America looking for wealth, and instead they and their children and their children’s children have found the far greater Treasure of the Gospel.

I hope as you consider the history of Chinese immigration that this encourages you not to give up, but to carry on that rich American tradition of reaching those who are around us with the truth of the Gospel. Regardless of what happens with immigration policy, today, we have so many immigrant and refugee communities throughout Portland of those who are coming from all parts of the world, who do not know Christ. Just as you have a Chinese-American pastor, and there are many Chinese-American churches throughout Portland today, wouldn’t it be wonderful if in 50 years, there were a vibrant movement of Syrian-American or Iraqi-American Christians and churches and pastors and missionaries, because of the faithfulness of Christians today?

Diversity is a good gift from God, but like all of God’s good gifts, in our sin, we make a mess of it. We ruin it and turn it into oppression and conflict and division. But in the Church, God is undoing the curse of sin, gathering together all the nations in Christ. I pray that our church would be reflection of God’s work more and more.

A story of sacrifice

Charles Spurgeon on the need for courage and sacrifice in the midst of theological controversy:

The well-known story of Arnold you Winkelried occurs to us as admirably illustrating our present position. The tale shall be told, and then we will append its moral. The Austrian duke, determined to make vassals of the Swiss cantons, had marched an army of well-armed knights and nobles to attack the city of Lucerne, against which the giant Swiss could only send into the field a few ill-accoutered warriors. Armor was scarce among the Swiss; some had only boards fastened on their arms by way of shields, some had halberts which had been used by their sires at the battle of Morgarten, and others wielded two-handed swords and battle-axes; they formed themselves into a wedge, and strove with useless valor to break the bristling line of spears presented by the Austrian knights, whose gay shields and polished impenetrable armor stood like a glittering wall quite out of the Switzer’s reach. Nothing availed against the Austrian phalanx, while death thinned the ranks of the patriots. It was a moment when some unusual deed was needed, and the deed was done. Winkelried saw at a glance the only means of saving his country, and promptly made himself a sacrifice to secure her liberties. Sir Walter Scott, in a worthy translation of the poem of Albert Tchudi, sings of the hero’s valiant self-sacrifice : —

“‘I have a virtuous wife at home,
A wife and infant son
I leave them to my country’s care,—
This field shall soon be won.

These nobles lay their spears right thick,
And keep full firm array,
Yet shall my charge their order break,
And make my brethren way.’

He rush’d against the Austrian band
In desperate career,
And with his body, breast, and hand,
Bore down each hostile spear.

Four lances splinter’d on his crest,
Six shiver’d in his side;
Still on the serried files he press’d —
He broke their ranks, and died.

This patriot’s self-devoted deed
First tamed the Lion’s mood,
And the four forest cantons freed
From thraldom by his blood.

Right where his charge had made a lane,
His valiant comrades burst,
With sword, and ax, and partisan,
And hack, and stab, and thrust.”

When fairly mingled in the fray, the unwieldy length of their weapons and cumbrous weight of their defensive armor rendered the Austrian men-at-arms a very unequal match for the valiant mountaineers, and the liberties of Switzerland were secured by the slaughter of her foes.

All great movements need the entire self-sacrifice of some one man who, careless of consequences, will throw himself upon the spears of the enemy. Providence has usually raised up such a one just when he was, needed, and we may look for such a person to come suddenly to the front now. Meanwhile, is there not a man of the sort to be found in our churches? We believe there are many, and to aid in identifying them we will sketch the man required. He must be simple-minded, outspoken, bold and fearless of consequences. To him courage must be instead of prudence, and faith instead of policy. He must be prepared to be apparently despised and really hated, because intensely dreaded. He must reckon upon having every sentence he utters distorted, and every action misrepresented, but in this he must rejoice so long as his blows tell and his utterances win a hearing. Ease, reputation, comfort, he must renounce, and be content so long as he lives to dwell without the world’s camp. Standing at the point of the wedge he must be ambitious to bury as many spears as possible in his own bosom that others may win the victory. Now who is the man who should naturally take up this position? Who in our churches is most called to it? Is it not the minister of Christ? Who should lead the van of the Lord’s host but the preacher of the Word? In our measure, such being our calling, we are willing so to act as the Lord may enable us, for such is well becoming in a soldier of Jesus Christ.

From The Sword and the Trowel, August 1866.

When God’s Word seems boring or irrelevant

So much of the labor of ministry is pastoral correspondence. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “I am immersed to the chin in letters.” Under the load of correspondence he would say, “I am only a poor clerk, driving the pen hour after hour; here is another whole morning gone, and nothing done but letters! letters! letters! “I am so pressed that I can only give a brief space to one person, and a rigid economy of time can alone allow even of this.” Without the benefit of technology, this was a time-consuming and exhausting aspect of Spurgeon’s already full ministry.

And yet out of this toil, came the sweet fruit of pastoral wisdom and biblical reflection. I’m grateful for those who have worked to bring together collections of Spurgeon’s letters. I commend these to you for your spiritual encouragement.

Inspired by Spurgeon’s example, I find myself often with the opportunity to respond to emails with theological questions, spiritual challenges, etc… and I see these as an important part of my ministry. I plan to share some of that correspondence here in the hope that this might prove useful for others.

Not too long ago, I received an email asking about the challenge of reading the Bible out of guilt and how it often doesn’t seem to speak to the specific challenges that we’re facing. Here was my response (edited to preserve anonymity):

Hey Max,

Sorry for taking so long to respond to this. It’s been sitting in my inbox and I wanted to make sure I devoted enough time for it.

I have several thoughts, but let me try to summarize. I’d be glad for us to grab lunch again sometime and discuss these things in more detail.

  • I agree with guilt-motivated Bible reading is seldom fruitful. If we’re trying to please God out of duty, we’ve misunderstood who God is. It’s not as if he needs our duty or is somehow beholden to us if we read our Bibles.
  • At the same time, God’s Word is powerful, and in spite of our messed up motivations, He can still work through His Word (thank God!)
  • As far as your question: “Does the Bible really teach you how to cope with life or just give you guidelines to follow?” – The Bible does give us guidelines to follow, but you’re right that we are often powerless to follow those guidelines, those laws. Whether it’s the desire to lie, or turning to TV for emotional support, or whatever, we are surrounded by temptations and so often, we feel powerless to live out what we see in Scripture. What we desperately need is transformation. This is why God gives us His Spirit. By His Spirit, God has begun a work in you. He has caused you to repent of your sins, to place your faith in Christ as your only Savior… this is not of yourself! This is a gift of God. And we need that continuing, sanctifying work in our lives.But here’s where God’s Word comes into play. The Spirit always works in concert with the Word, as it works in our lives. I think of Paul’s words in Romans 12:

    1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

    Our goal is not so much to follow rules that are laid out in the Bible, but rather, to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Wouldn’t be wonderful if Kathy was so transformed by the Spirit that she began to see for herself the foolishness of gossip? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were so transformed in the renewing of our minds that we no longer wanted to turn to worldly things for emotional support, but looked to Christ first? It is as we are sanctified from the inside that we are able to test and approve God’s perfect will for our lives. And this transforming work happens by God’s Spirit, particularly as we give ourselves to knowing the will of God in His Word.

  • Which means that reading God’s Word is not primarily about knowing the guidelines God has given us. Nor is it approaching God’s Word like a charm book, hoping that our problems are solved. Rather, we realize that in the Word, we commune with the living God. It is through the Word that we fellowship with God and relate with Him and get to know Him. I was struck by that as I listened to these recent sermons in Ezekiel. I was struck by the thought, “This fierce, jealous, wrathful God is what God is like… and yet, He is the same God who also holds out hope for those who turn to Him. This is the God I worship.” We read with a heart of faith, personalizing our reading of God’s Word, understanding that this is the God, the Christ, who has given Himself for me.
  • That doesn’t mean all of our problems are immediately solved. But as we encounter God in His Word, we bring those struggles to him. We ask for His help. We walk day by day, relying on His grace. Brother, I’m not saying that if you do this, you will immediately overcome your struggles. You might have to wrestle with this for the rest of your life. We will struggle with some sins until the day Christ makes us new. But as we walk with God in His Word, He will allow us to live in dependence on Him, and we will know His grace anew.

These are just a few brief thoughts. Like I said, I’d be glad to talk more in person. But I hope this encourages you to approach God’s Word once again with hope, that perhaps God might be so kind as to reveal Himself to you and give you greater knowledge of Him. That is far more precious than any earthly consequence we might hope for.

Blessings,