Good Expectations

As I lied there in bed, I unintentionally began reflecting on my life, wondering again if I had made a big mistake traveling so much, having all of these short-term stints across the world as a missionary. What if I had committed to a single community? Would I have found more fulfillment? Would I have found more meaning in life?

One night this past week I had a restless sleep and a disturbing dream that woke me up at 1am. Great, I thought, I have slept for two hours and I am now wide awake.

As I lied there in bed, I unintentionally began reflecting on my life, wondering again if I had made a big mistake traveling so much, having all of these short-term stints across the world as a missionary. What if I had committed to a single community? Would I have found more fulfillment? Would I have found more meaning in life?

This time, there was no precious reminder from God of this Biblical truth that had helped me through these thoughts before:

And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19:29

Instead, I was just left with these uncomfortable feelings of doubt and regret.

So this led me to the swift decision to either commit to the community I had in Hainichen, Germany, or to the one I had back home in Virginia, in my own effort to wipe away these feelings and fix my problem.

As soon as I had made up my mind, however, Jesus came in like the AWESOME SAVIOR THAT HE IS to give His perspective.

He showed me in my spirit that He is the only One who can bring me meaning. He is the realest thing. Yes, people and creation have life and are real, too, but none but Him are constant in all the changes and so He has become the most real thing in my life.

I was flooded with peace and comfort again as I understood the redemption of my ever-shifting circumstances: I have come to rely on Jesus alone for security and not necessarily the security that physical stability can bring.

Not to say that commitment to a single community/job is a bad thing, I think it is very honorable and good and would like that for myself, too.

But Jesus answered my self-condemning thoughts by showing me just one of the eternal benefits of following Him around the world. I didn’t even realize it, but all of this traveling and changing circumstances has helped me find stability within, where Jesus lives.

Through all the different experiences and times of immense fear, God never left me. This truth, I believe, is one of the most important truths for everyone to discover for themselves.

I love that Jesus wants to answer our doubt and doesn’t always require “more faith” in the written word. Of course what is written in the Bible is good and enables us to find peace and hope in periods of darkness and silence, and often God wants us to simply trust these words without seeing the results beforehand (since that is faith).

But there are times when God wants to reveal to us as individuals and as His beloved children how these Biblical truths are actual realities played out in our lives on earth. It’s the place where our faith becomes sight, and gives us the necessary encouragement to keep trusting Him.

I believe that the Bible shows us reality, and that the further we walk in faithfulness and intimacy with God, the more the Biblical truths turn from being “nice, but-not-my reality,” to actual life experiences.

And when this happens, I believe our expectations in life become more realistic and in line with God’s truth – they are neither fantastical and over-excited and idealistic, nor pessimistic and doubting and cynical. 

And this is another nugget of salvation Jesus has been giving me: to finally come into agreement with His expectations over me and for life rather than others’ or my own. False imaginations, fears and fantasies really cause us to stumble and taste bitterness and disappointment.

I also had to deal with this, to deal with my own expectations being false and having to reconcile God’s goodness in spite of many disappointments. With help from friends as well as getting over my own pride, I have been able to trust God again and see that He really is good. It was my own unrealistic expectations as well as lack of revelation of God’s love in the middle of pain that caused my mistrust in Him, not just the difficult circumstances themselves.

I believe it is a worthwhile question to reflect upon and solve: what disappointment(s) is causing bitterness and mistrust to spring up? How can I overcome this, even if the disappointment is tragic and therefore seems to justify the bitterness?

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12:14,15

Very recently, my repentance over putting my hope in a false reality has led me to experience His perfect acceptance over me in a way I had never felt before. I realized, for perhaps the tenth time in my life that, this is what I actually want, not my own imagined idealized circumstances (they are simply false illusions), but the deep knowledge of Jesus Christ, who is for me in every imaginable way.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

For you have delivered me from death
    and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life

Psalm 56:13

So as I figure out my future plans, I will continue to do my best to trust Him in the process, though I might occasionally have those moments of, “WHAT THE HECK AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?!”, and grow in the deep knowledge of His intimate, every-day love for me.

Ephesians: God is Sufficient

Apparently there’s a debate as to which church this letter was intended for, something that I haven’t necessarily come to a final conclusion about yet. Many scholars believe that the Book of Ephesians wasn’t solely meant for the church at Ephesus but rather the whole of Asia Minor. This is mainly because the word “Ephesus” wasn’t in the first verse in the original transcript of the letter. It is also strange that Paul seemed to be quite impersonal and unspecific, whereas in his other letters, like to the church at Corinth, he wrote with deep affections and addressed particular problems they were having. Paul probably would have done the same if he was writing to the church at Ephesus since he founded the church and spent three years with the Ephesians according to the Book of Acts.

This makes me favor what most scholars have concluded that the letter was a “circular letter” intended to go around all the churches across the Asia Minor. This, however, is only the opinion of a group of scholars, while others scholars maintain that Paul did in fact write to the church at Ephesus, as this is was virtually left undisputed in the early church (except for the heretical Marcion who argued the letter was written to the Laodiceans).

Whether Paul wrote specifically to Ephesus or to the believers across the Asia Minor, Paul seems to be addressing the false worldview that was compromising the believers’ faith across the peninsula. In the first century, the practice of magic and astrological religions was common. There were also many local cults and followers of the goddesses Cybele and Artemis.

In addition, pre-Gnostic ideas began to emerge (although full blown Gnosticism didn’t rise until after the time of the apostles). Pre-Gnosticism

Camping at Death Valley October 2013
Camping at Death Valley October 2013

beliefs may have influenced the Christians at the time to trust in knowledge as the source of salvation (the Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis). Knowledge, in the form of mysteries, was the answer to everything. Mystery religions developed around these beliefs. Because their rituals and rites were kept private to outsiders, there isn’t much information regarding these secret practices.

Additionally, because of the rise of “cosmic dualism,” people believed that their bodies were evil and that only the human spirit was good, and were therefore disconnected from each other. This led people into either asceticism (where the denial of worldly pleasures and punishment of the body was encouraged) or libertinism (where overindulgence without restraint was encouraged since the body was bad).

All of these different cults and various forms of religious practices led people on the whole to fear evil spirits and the “cosmic powers.” So the question for the believers in Asia Minor, what was the way to salvation? Where did Jesus stand in comparison to the authority of these evil spirits? What exactly did Jesus accomplish on the cross?

Paul makes it very clear that in the first part of the book that everything that the believers ever needed was found completely in Jesus:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…

Ephesians 1:3

The believers didn’t have to worry or fear that the evil spirits might take their salvation away. They were saved once and for all as soon as they believed and Jesus maintained all authority:

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…

Ephesians 1:13

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church…

Ephesians 1:20-22

Their need for spiritual wisdom and understanding was also found in God, not in secret religions and rituals:

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.

Ephesians 1:8,9

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him…

Ephesians 1:17

And perhaps best of all, their need for eternal salvation was met in Christ. They didn’t need to become more spiritual to obtain this. They could rest in the knowledge that His grace was enough:

All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

Ephesians 2:3-6

This letter is beautiful. It proves that mankind can rely fully on God for all of their needs. We are needy human beings, and God knows what we need and when we need it.

Because He is true to fulfill our needs (for wholeness, peace, joy, love, wisdom, comfort etc), this should encourage all of us to learn how to trust in

My dad, whose through faithful provision to me over the years has helped me trust God's perfect provision
My dad, whose through faithful provision to me over the years has helped me trust God’s perfect provision

Him him fully.

This can only come through experiencing His provision in a personal relationship with Him. It’s a process of learning how to get our needs med in Him, but He will teach us and show us if we continue to seek it.

 

2 Corinthians: Genuine Love Deserves Trust

In 2 Corinthians (I wrote a bit about the church’s historical background in my previous post), Paul basically wrote to defend his ministry (and also to encourage the Corinthians to give generously).The church in Corinth had begun to mistrust Paul because they had been listening to some false “super apostles” who were teaching them lies and pointing toward themselves and their false doctrine:

…I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you.

2 Corinthians 11:2-6

So Paul spends almost the entire letter showing the Corinthians that his proven godly character, faith, and heart toward them made him worthy of their pure devotion to the gospel he had preached:

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

2 Corinthians 4:5

We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.

2 Corinthians 5:12

Unlike the false apostles, Paul wasn’t trying to point toward himself, but always to Christ.

Another reason why the Corinthians should trust Paul was because he was willing to suffer for them, just like Jesus:

We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…

2 Corinthians 6:3-5

Additionally, the false apostles couldn’t give the Corinthians anything that was good for them. But Paul led them to receive the Holy Spirit, which brought them life.

…and you show yourselves that you are a letter of Christ; prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God…Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:2-6

The Corinthians themselves were proof that Paul was worthy of their affection.

This pleading and reminders of Paul’s faithfulness reminds me of how God often reminded His people in the Old Testament of His proven love for them so that they would be obedient to Him:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,Hosea
    the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
    and offering incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    I took them up in my arms;
    but they did not know that I healed them.
 I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with bands of love.
I was to them like those
    who lift infants to their cheeks.
    I bent down to them and fed them.

Hosea 11:1-4

To me, Paul is an incredible guy because of his great love for people! Even though Paul was super mature in the faith and deeply spiritual, he did not use that as a reason to “lord it over them” in the same way God did not “lord it over” His people. Paul, like God, always wanted to meet people wherever they were at, whether struggling with sin or super spiritual, for the pure purpose of relationship:

I do not mean to imply that we lord it over your faith; rather, we are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in the faith.

2 Corinthians 1:24

Paul’s humility is so evident in all of his letters especially this one to the Corinthians. He viewed the Corinthians, who were still very immature in their walks according to 1 Corinthians 3:1, through Christ’s eyes. He didn’t see them for their weaknesses or failures and use that as a reason to put walls up in his heart out of protection or some superiority complex.

On the contrary, Paul remained vulnerable and open to them. It was the Corinthians, however, who had hardened their hearts toward God and Paul:

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13

Studying Paul’s character and heart has showed me that he really isn’t the prideful, arrogant and abrupt guy I initially thought he was when I first read his letters a few years ago. He truly exemplifies the type of love that Christ had (and still has) for people. Everything he did, he did out of love. This is the kind of deep love and humility I aspire to!

Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. 

2 Corinthians 12:19

1&2 Thessalonians

The church at Thessalonica was founded by Paul on his second missionary journey in about 49 AD. He most likely wrote this letter in about 50 or 51 AD, meaning the church (the newly converted believers) was relatively young. Their background was mainly pagan Gentiles (although there were some believing Jews included in the original reader). There were several religious cults in the region that practiced sexual perversion in their worship, which might have left these believers weak in the area of sexual morality.

Paul addresses this issue when he exhorted them to abstain from sexual immorality:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God…

1 Thess 4:3

If you yourself were faced with a bunch of believers having sex outside of marriage, or persistent in some kind of obvious sin, how would you respond?

After studying Paul’s epistles and his ministry in Acts, I’ve noticed that he really knows how to address his audience’s struggles with sin. Sometimes he responds with a harsh rebuke (like when the church in Galatia had started following a different gospel):

As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Galatians 1:9

Paul is serious about false teaching concerning the gospel of grace through faith. But Paul wasn’t harsh with the Thessalonians, and I think that’s for several reasons.

Bishop Group 1
Our entire school at a little retreat to a lovely mountain town called Bishop

First of all, they were newly-converted Christians still trying to develop renewed thinking toward sexual morality within a culture that had no reverence to God and His way for mankind’s sexuality. Second, Paul probably saw the genuineness of their faith proven through their perseverance in spite of persecution. Third, though they were struggling with sin, their hearts were sold out for the Lord, and so Paul wasn’t as concerned about coming down on a behavioral issue, understanding that the Spirit was still taking them through the process of sanctification.

In another words, they were young Christians trying their best. Paul probably acknowledged that, leading him to react with graciousness. He didn’t let them off the hook, but wrapped his rebuke between so much encouragement and love, which, I can only imagine, led to a favorable and effective response from the Thessalonians:

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thess 1:2,3

 

For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God…

1 Thess 1:9

 

So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us…

1 Thess 2:8

IMG_1059
Exploring a cave at Bishop

So even though the Thessalonians weren’t perfect in every area of their lives (like sexual immorality), Paul called out their strengths and wasn’t afraid of their struggle. I think that if Paul had allowed his human nature to take over, he might have come down on them harshly in judgment, reacting fearfully to their sin, which might have actually done the Thessalonians more harm than good.

Paul also probably knew how to best react to the Thessalonians through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. If God had wanted him to speak more harshly, I think that God would have led Paul do that, just like when Paul spoke boldly to the Galatians in the above example or the Roman believers below:

Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God.

Romans 15:15

God gave grace to Paul when speaking to people boldly and harshly, showing me that God also probably led Paul in his graciousness toward the Thessalonians. In other words, Paul responded to the Thessalonians in fear of the Lord.

I love that, because I know that God also wants to gives us guidance, grace, wisdom and strength in confronting people with hard truth as well, not systematically, but in His grace by His Spirit.

In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he mainly addresses their belief that Jesus is coming back soon and their idleness that resulted:

Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

2 Thess 3:11,12

The Thessalonians were unwilling to work, meaning they had become lazy. Paul attempted to correct this mentality by showing them that the willingness to work was actually what was right and pleasing in God’s eyes. This was true even if Jesus’ return was imminent.

2 Thessalonians also refers to end time events. The “lawless one” is mentioned in 2 Thess 2 but in no other book of the Bible. The “lawless one” could also mean “son of destruction” or “man of sin.”

Some view the “lawless one” as a future Antichrist linked to the prophecies given in the Book of Daniel regarding the nation of Israel. Some have viewed the lawless one as the Roman Catholic Church. Some say that this was the Roman military commander Titus who ordered the destruction of the temple in 70 AD after the Jews rebelled in 66 AD. This view, to me, makes the most immediate sense, although I haven’t studied enough to come to any conclusion.

A Life Transformed in the Holy Spirit

After studying the Old Testament for six months, jumping into the Acts of Apostles was like jumping into an overflowing pool of color and life (I really don’t know how else to describe this) because of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. But the same Spirit did work and move in the Old Testament narratives and prophecies.

For instance, Joshua received the Spirit and ended up miraculously leading the Israelites to conquer much of the Promised Land. God also gave it to those who brought deliverance to the Israelites in the period of judges, and to those who rebuilt the temple:

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:9

Then the spirit of the Lord rushed on [Samson], and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle.

Judges 14:19

And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God…

Haggai 1:14

God gave His spirit to Saul, Israel’s first king, and David, their second king:

And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.

1 Samuel 11:6

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.

1 Samuel 16:13

God also put His Spirit in the priests and prophets:

Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has also forsaken you.”

2 Chronicles 24:20

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.

Micah 3:8

The Spirit was always given in the Old Testament to do the impossible. In the New Testament, the Spirit was given to any who believed in Jesus as Lord.

Belief in the Lord Jesus didn’t end there, but was always accompanied with being filled with the Holy Spirit. If it wasn’t, then the apostles had to make sure that the people did receive the Holy Spirit:

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus).

Acts 8:14-16

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied…

Acts 19:1-6

This tells me that repentance and belief in Jesus was just as important as

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receiving the Holy Spirit.  This is because it’s only through faith in the Spirit that mankind can do the impossible, just like it was only by God’s Spirit in the Old Testament that a human (Joshua) could drive out most of the nations from the Promised Land.

In Acts,the Spirit worked through the apostles powerfully to establish the foundation of the church:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition…

Acts 4:8,13-14

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31

Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles…Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women…

Acts 5:12,14

Even though today the foundation of the church has already been laid, the Spirit still has much work to do in us and through us that is impossible without Him. For instance, it is impossible to overcome our human nature without His help. How can we possibly love God with all of our strength without God’s Spirit inside of us?

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.

Luke 10:27

Now obviously through Jesus’ forgiveness, we are not obligated to keep the law, but just as Jesus came to fulfill the law and not abolish it (Matthew 5:17), so does God wants us to live by these truths through the transformation of our hearts.

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Marshmellow Man in Hollywood!

This transformation will only come from the inside out, not by focusing on the law, but by allowing God’s Spirit to work in us. The very purpose of the Spirit is so that we can actually follow Jesus’ example and live our lives in accordance to the law and His heart:

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:26,27

It is such a relief that the purpose of God’s Spirit’s is to transform me in areas I struggle in. If it wasn’t for the Spirit working in me, I would repeat the mistakes of my parents and their parents and their parent’s parents and things would just never get better. I would struggle with my own aggravating sins and weaknesses for the rest of my life without any hope of actually overcoming them and discovering true freedom that Jesus died for.

I committed my life to Jesus in 2008, but even though I had repented and was baptized, I could only change so much without knowing how to live by the Spirit. When I was first baptized, I had only accepted the Holy Spirit as an intellectual belief because of the theology I was taught. I thought to myself, “Oh I have the Holy Spirit,” but didn’t actually actually bear much fruit of a Spirit-filled life. I might have found some more joy here and there, but inside I felt almost the same: insecure, trapped, enslaved, powerless, selfish, greedy, etc.

It wasn’t until I decided to learn how to actually live and practice walking in the Spirit that true transformation came. I became open to experiencing the Spirit in a new way even though it seemed really weird and off-putting because of what I had been taught and what I had seen.

I know that many are turned off by this focus on the Spirit’s miraculous work because of preconceived notions and/or because of the individuals who have misrepresented what being filled with the Spirit actually looks like. But my prayer for everyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of power that brings life, joy and freedom is to desire and to ask God to teach them how to live by the Spirit. It is truly is an amazing gift from God:

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear…

Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Acts 2:33,38-39

Rainbows and Splendor – Ezekiel

Ezekiel might be one of the hardest prophets to study because it is highly interpreted and debated. For instance, in Ezekiel 40, God gives Ezekiel a very detailed vision of a new temple (the temple in Jerusalem had just been destroyed by the Babylonians). But this temple he saw wasn’t ever rebuilt according to the details of the vision. So is it yet to be fulfilled, or is there even a need for a physical temple anyway since the body of Christ is God’s temple, according to Revelation 21:22?  For me it doesn’t matter too much, but I would still like to come to an informed decision about it eventually.

To start off the book, God gives Ezekiel this amazing vision of His glory.

We learned about one possible and very interesting interpretation for this vision:

As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures.

This was their appearance: they were of human form. Each had four faces…As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle…Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies…Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went…

In the middle of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire…the fire was bright, and lightning issued from the fire…

Ezekiel 1:4-13

The creatures with the four faces could be interpreted as God’s servants with each of the creatures representing the strongest of their kind (man, eagle, ox and lion). Perhaps this can mean that the strongest are those who come under God to do His will and not the ones who do life without the fear of God.

The fire in the center could represent God’s holiness that the creatures were guarding. It would have made since to the original readers since inside the temple before it was destroyed, God’s presence was in the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies, which was protected (even though truthfully God was/is everywhere). There were also cherubim on the veil that separated this room from the rest of the temple, which directly parallels the creatures protecting God’s holiness.

It would have also reminded the original readers of the cherubim that God placed in the Garden of Eden to protect the holy from the unholy. Therefore using creatures to protect His holiness would have made sense to them and would have reminded them of their original purpose.

As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them…Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels…

Over the heads of the living creatures there was something like a dome…And there came a voice from above the dome over their heads; when they stopped, they let down their wings…And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne…seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form…Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

Ezekiel 1:4-28 

The wheels that moved with the creatures could represent the unification of the creatures under God’s will. They never turned aside from their path (this was repeated twice in the vision, perhaps to emphasize the point of their dedication to God’s will). This was what God’s chosen people were to do – serve Him and His will without veering off the path. They also weren’t supposed to be territorial – they were meant to point toward God’s holiness to all the nations and not hoard His blessings to themselves.

The fact that the one who sat on the throne “seemed like a human form” would have confirmed the creation account given in Genesis (that man was created in His image) assuming God was this one in “human form” sitting upon the throne.

Here’s one interpreted Google image of Ezekiel’s vision:

Image

Although this is obviously just an interpretation, to me, it seems fair. From Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory, a certain worldview emerges:

  • All creation is under God
  • All creation was meant to serve God
  • God is purposeful in all that He does (the wheels and the creatures were determined to fulfill their task)
  • God is directly involved in His creation’s lives (He was above the creatures but directed their steps

Through studying the prophets, God keeps highlighting this idea of servant hood, and how serving Him no matter where doing no matter what is my highest calling. Where and what that looks like after CSBS is yet to be determined 🙂

Aside from the cool vision of God’s glory that I loved was the theme throughout His promises for restoration. He was going to restore them as a people by giving them His spirit. They had proved unable to do His will and believe the truth without His very spirit in them. So He promised them, if they turned to God, then that one act alone would mean the forgiveness of all their sins:

But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live.

Ezekiel 18:21,22

Reading this out of context you would think that God counts someone as “righteous” just by their good deeds, but later He reveals that the righteousness was actually just trusting God:

Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die…Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Ezekiel 18:28,31-32

All they had to do was repent and they would receive a new heart and spirit. That’s it. God would do the rest for them since He knew they were unable to do it for themselves. The only thing they were responsible for was to decide to trust God with their lives, but they didn’t have to try on their own to become righteous because that simply didn’t work. In fact, God warned against trusting their own righteousness:

Though I say to the righteous that they shall surely live, yet if they trust in their righteousness and commit iniquity, none of their righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that they have committed they shall die.

Ezekiel 33:13

Even believers have a hard time trusting God even if we do trust Him for eternal life. God wants us to trust Him with everything in this life, too.

The one thing we have to do though is truly repent from whatever it is that we’re worrying about, big or small, because God will always come through with a much better solution than ours. There are some things we just can’t do and figure out on our own, and this is where trusting God and sticking it out will help us experience God the way He wants us to. But we have to truly set our minds to trusting God and not looking at the problem in order to start trusting Him more and more, because otherwise it’s just a “nice idea” that doesn’t actually work in practice.

This has definitely been the biggest breakthrough for me over the past few months. Learning, through experience, that I can trust God with every single problem, concern or desire has been so life-changing!

Finding My Calling in the Book of Jeremiah

One of the coolest things about SBS is when God brings up an issue in my life and then confronts it with the truth that we study from the book(s) of the week.

Since I got here last September, I’ve been racking my brain with where I’d want to serve God after I graduated. I thought it would be nice to start a career again, maybe in an entirely different industry, or maybe get a job overseas, but then I thought about staffing a YWAM school or returning to Tahiti with the YWAM missionary team that is already there.

But then this past Monday, I felt as though God was showing me that I wasn’t trusting Him with this part of my life. I just recalled my life last year after I got home from Tahiti where I had a seven-month window until this bible school started here in LA. I only ended up working two of those seven months, which ended up being a really nice season of rest and immense spiritual growth, but deep down I didn’t want to be unemployed again or at least involved in full-time volunteer work of some kind. Basically, I wasn’t trusting that God would guide me or that He had awesome plans for me. So I decided to trust God and lay that part of my heart before Him.

As soon as I did that, an hour later the leader of my school confronted me about it because I had briefly written about this struggle in one of my assignments. She encouraged me that even though it may not seem like it, I am serving God right now. At first, I couldn’t see how I could be serving God by studying the Bible in this “Christian bubble.” In my head, my idea of service to God looked different.

And then we started studying the book of Jeremiah. I didn’t realize how amazing this book was!

Seeing the call of Jeremiah and how God gave him everything he needed to fulfill his destiny made me trust that God really does care about each one of our lives and is truly guiding us day by day. I’ve been able to get past this fear that I would ever get stagnant in life, even in the “slower” seasons of life.
 
God created Jeremiah for the very purpose of ministering to the people of Judah and the nations were going to be judged:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Jeremiah 1:4,5
Jeremiah - pic 4
George, my classmate, reenacting the ministry of Jeremiah with soiled underwear.

Even though Jeremiah felt inadequate, God promised to give him everything he needed to complete the task. God’s only requirement was that Jeremiah not back down in the fear of man. God would give him all the words to speak and the protection he needed to get through the persecution he would endure:

But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.

Jeremiah 1:7,8

Jeremiah’s calling wasn’t the easiest. Can you imagine a calling where you would see absolutely no fruit or reward for your work? I only studied this book once, so I may have missed it, but I don’t recall seeing one person respond to Jeremiah’s call to repentance.

Jeremiah often wondered where God was since the people he was ministering to were showing no signs of change:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?”
(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?”)
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Jeremiah 8:18-21

But God felt the pain of His people’s rejection too, not because he needed

Reenacting the prophet Jeremiah from the time in Judah before their exile
Reenacting the prophet Jeremiah from the time in Judah before their exile

His people to feel complete, but because He just had to watch His people make bad choices and suffer the consequences when He had a much better way for them. Jeremiah’s service to God was to bear God’s heart for his people, which was mainly just grief:

My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city.

Lamentations 2:11

Jeremiah (who also most likely wrote Lamentations) did not always think that his ministry was a blessing because of the grief he felt for his people, but God assured him that it was the best calling for his life:

The Lord said: Surely I have intervened in your life for good, surely I have imposed enemies on you in a time of trouble and in a time of distress…

Jeremiah 15:11

God even reassured Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch. Baruch wondered why his calling wasn’t as “great” as he imagined it to be. But God was showing Baruch that he truly was blessed! If he had chosen not to serve Jeremiah and God, he would have just perished away with all the other people:

And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh, says the Lord; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in every place to which you may go.

Jeremiah 45:5

I saw myself in Baruch, seeking great things in my life but totally missing out on the fact that wherever I am is the greatest place for me to be. This “calling” that I had been looking forward to is actually today. And since I’m submitted to God, I can trust that He’s guiding me, and I can live and serve in the moment. In sum, this book has helped me start trusting God with my life and have a renewed attitude into what true service looks like.

Another thing God confronted me about during this book was the issue of self-importance. No matter where I’m at, God is using me, and I can serve Him and His people to the best of my abilities without thinking it’s “up to

Poor Jason got thrown in the "cistern" like Jeremiah did.
Poor Jason got thrown in the “cistern.”

me” to get people to change. I can just live to love God and love others, and trust the “fruit” into God’s hands just like Jeremiah had to. What a relief that is! We actually don’t have to take ourselves so seriously because God alone is sovereign and in control. We can serve with excellence in complete joy in the freedom that Christ gives!