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“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7

After over five decades of living, nobody has to tell me that I am imperfect — that fact is glaringly obvious!  In fact, I am far too aware of my own inability to change myself and of my fallible humanity.   I have noticed, however, that our “progressive” American culture seems to work overtime to keep us focused on the state of our earthen vessels.   We can never be thin enough, muscular enough, smart enough, talented enough, fashionable enough, cool enough, articulate enough, or beautiful enough to meet the ever-rising standard of the public image of perfection.   The bar is continually shifted, if not raised.   Suddenly, my workout plan is not the newest, my clothes are not the latest, and my speech not the hippest.   My inadequacies are most evident to ME.   I am painfully aware of them.

It is my conviction that, as believers, we should instead concentrate more on the nature of the TREASURE we carry than on the brokenness of our vessels!   Yes, I have this treasure in an earthen vessel, but I have this TREASURE!   The power of God literally lives in me by His Spirit!  God Himself has breathed His very own life into me.   His living water flows in and through me.   At times I think I have been so preoccupied with myself, my vessel, that I have failed to recognized His very Presence in me, which is powerful, glorious, and mighty!   Because of Christ in me, I may be hard-pressed on every side, but I am not crushed.   Because of Him, I may be perplexed, but I am not in despair.   I may endure persecution, but I will never be forsaken.   I may even be struck down, but I will not be destroyed, because I always carry about “in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested” in my body (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).   Father, forgive me for focusing on my own cracks and imperfections and forgetting that You not only live in me, but are able to flow gloriously through those cracks by Your Life and Presence in me!   Breathe on me afresh, Lord, and have your way in and through me! (John 7:38)

Marketing Jesus: Does Anyone Really Want What I Have?

It seems to me that we Christians have done more damage to our cause than we realize.   I grieve when I remember the self-righteous arguments I have used on occasion to defend the opinions I was sure were correct!  I find myself wincing when the press portrays us all as Bible-thumping, angry, vindictive hate-mongers.  I realize, of course, that the press is capable of putting an unfavorable slant on the most well-intentioned behavior, but I also know that we often unwittingly contribute to our own bad press.

Do I want to be known just for the things I dislike — or do I want to be known for the things I applaud?   Do I want to be remembered only for the truth I proclaim, or also for the way I proclaim it?  John 1:14 describes Jesus as full of grace AND truth, not just one or the other.   My heart yearns to have grace, forgiveness, and compassion for people who do not share my convictions, even as that same heart longs to speak the truth to those same people.  This challenge is daunting, but not impossible.  The key is to ask the Holy Spirit how to say what we say, and to be quick to ask forgiveness when we say it wrong.   It is, in fact, possible to say the right thing the wrong way.

I have learned the hard way that loving people is more important than proving to them that I am right.   If I really, really, really DO know THE truth (who, by the way, the Bible says is actually a person — Jesus Himself; see John 14:6), then the truth will ultimately become evident.  God is perfectly capable of defending Himself.  I am not proposing that we never should speak about Jesus when challenged by others to defend our faith; I am merely suggesting that we ask God HOW we should express ourselves in order to demonstrate genuine love for others as we speak that truth.   I want people to WANT what they see in me,  instead of being repelled by my behavior.  I do not want anyone to reject Jesus because of the way I behave.

I am certainly imperfect, but I believe God is capable of revealing Himself in and through me to others whom He longs to draw to Himself.   He wants to do it HIS way, not my way,  and He doesn’t need me to condemn people when HIS plan is to save them!

I have also noticed that God doesn’t need me to dress Him up, make Him look cute, and market Him to other people like some kind of hip guy who caters to their every whim.   Unfortunately, there is far too much packaging and marketing of Jesus in our seeker-friendly American Christian culture.  We seem to get mired in one extreme or the other: either we blast people with condemnation and judgment, or we try to trick them into thinking Jesus is their cool personal guru who will help them get everything they want, when they want it.   Neither position is particularly attractive to unbelievers.   Our attempts to point out unrighteousness come across as self-important, and tricking people into swallowing a sugar-coated Jesus pill does not allow them to meet the actual Savior of their souls.

God help the Church in America!   Pray for us!   I desperately want people to know the God I serve.  I want people to see the real Jesus in me!  My heart longs for unbelievers to be thirsty for what I have — living water, springing up to eternal life (John 7:37-38).  I want to conduct myself in such a way that others will desire to experience for themselves that great mystery that has become (I hope!) evident in me:  Christ in me, the hope of glory!   (Colossians 1:27)  God help me, and God help us all in this regard.   May people actually want what we have!

The Person in the Mirror

When most of us look at ourselves in the mirror, we are quick to spot our flaws and take pains to conceal them.  In fact, in our makeover-obsessed society, I often feel that my outward appearance is hopelessly flawed, despite my best efforts to make myself presentable!  My recognition of my physical flaws is analogous to God’s view of my spiritual condition prior to redemption:  “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,..” (Romans 3:23).

The analogy, however, ends there, for what I lack in physical beauty can never be fully redeemed here on earth, not even by the most highly skilled plastic surgeons (so I have not even bothered with that!).  However, my flawed human nature, full of sin and inadequacies, CAN be redeemed and HAS been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  That very fact CHANGES me and thereby changes the person I see in the mirror!  God PROMISES to transform me!

Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:49:  “And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.”  That means that we will look like Jesus, that we will reflect the likeness, character, and nature of God Himself, in Whose image we were made (Genesis 1:27). As we cultivate our relationship with the Lover of our souls, He transforms us into the image of Himself and reveals His personality and character in and through us.  II Corinthians 3:18 describes this process beautifully: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

What amazing news!  What a promise!  Lord Jesus, transform me so completely that I will reflect Your glory to all around me.  Help me to fix my eyes on YOU rather than on my physical reflection in the mirror.  Help me to see YOU rather than myself.   Help me to bear the image of You, the heavenly Man.  Amen!

The Serpent’s Venom = The Sting of Sin

386515eyelash-viper-snake-costa-rica-posters“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”  Numbers 21:8-9 (NKJV)

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:14-15 (NKJV)

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV)

I always wondered why God allowed the Israelites in the wilderness to be healed by looking at a serpent on a pole.  After all, isn’t a serpent a symbol for Satan?  Moreover, what does that have to do with Jesus, and why does God compare the crucifixion to the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness?  The verse from Second Corinthians answers these questions!  The serpent is a symbol for Satan and for sin.  When the Israelites looked at the serpent on the pole, they were healed from the serpent’s venom.  The Bible does not say that the serpent on the pole healed them; it simply states that “they lived.”  The serpent was crucified. When the people acknowledged that fact by looking at the serpent, God healed them.  Just as the serpent was lifted up on the pole in the wilderness, Jesus became sin for us on the cross.   When He was crucified, His blood conquered sin for all time and eternity.  When we acknowledge His sacrifice on our behalf, God heals us from the poison of sin.  Sin was crucified when Jesus went to the cross.  The power of sin and its toxic effects in our lives was conquered forever.  Hallelujah!

The Truth in Us

“Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.”  Psalm 51:6  NASB

lie detector test

lie detector test

Years ago, I had to pass a polygraph (lie detector) test in order to be cleared for employment.   It was actually rather frightening to be connected to multiple electrical sensors that recorded every physiological parameter.  The examiner did his best to make me comfortable, and I had no intention of lying, but I was very nervous nonetheless!  I wanted to be very certain that I answered each question as accurately and factually as possible.

God has a different view of truth;  for Him, truth is more than simply a set of factual information or accurately-reported data.  In David’s celebrated psalm of repentance, he affirms the fact that God’s desire is for truth to RESIDE in our innermost being.  When we remember that Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ, this verse takes on fresh significance.  In John 14:6 (NASB), Jesus declares, “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'”  The truth is indeed not a set of facts, but the Person of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) in all His fullness.  God’s desire is to dwell in our inmost being.  What an amazing, mind-boggling concept!  Jesus IS Emmanuel, God with us, in us, the hope of glory (see Matthew 1:23; Colossians1:27).   The cry of David’s heart and his recognition of God’s desire for truth in our innermost being was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  David was truly expressing prophetic Truth!  God dwells in us by His Spirit and transforms us from the inside out!  He promises that we will KNOW the TRUTH, and that the TRUTH will set us free (John 8:32).  We don’t have to rely on external indicators, piles of factual information, or electrodes to verify the truth — we have the truth resident IN us!  Praise God for His Truth, His Presence, and His resurrection Life IN US!  May the Truth accomplish His perfect work in me!

Isaiah 54:11-12 God’s Glory and Beauty in You

gemstones-5O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted.  Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires.  I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones.”  Isaiah 54:11-12

These verses promise us that God will transform our tempest into His treasure.  He will give us beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3).  He will rebuild our walls.  He promises that our ruins will be rebuilt, our desolations raised up, and our ruined cities repaired — even desolations of many generations (Isaiah 61:4).  In fact, He also promises to fill our empty places, as He declares that the desolate cities will be inhabited (Isaiah 54:3).  God declares in Isaiah 60:18 that violence will “no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.”  These verses demonstrate that Jesus Christ Himself will be our Foundation and our Walls, for He is the chief Cornerstone (Psalm 118:22) and our Foundation (“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  I Cor. 3:11).  He promises to establish HImself in us and restore our broken places such that we radiate His glory and beauty.  We are individually, in miniature, a foretaste to the world of what the heavenly Jerusalem will be like at the consummation of the ages.  In Revelation 21, verses 10-27, John gives a magnificent description of the City of God.  “The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.  The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones, the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.  The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each individual gate was of one pearl.  And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.  But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it.  The Lamb is its light.” (Rev. 21:18-23)  This same beauty and glory has been promised to us, as God’s holy habitation.  His Holy Spirit dwells in us from the moment we make Jesus our Lord.  He is the foundation of our life, the source of our very breath.  He will replace our devastated places with qualities of inestimable value that reflect His nature, the DNA of God Himself.  We are to become a house from which His beauty and glory shine forth.  He uses everything precious and valuable to build us according to His pleasure; in fact, He uses His very own self, sacrificed for us.  We can trust Him to transform us!