Posts Tagged death to self

The Path to Freedom

Think about it.

Each of us, like the Jewish people of old, can point to idolatry in our lives.  We have made idols of our bodies.  We have made idols of money and possessions.  We have made idols of family, friends, time and entertainment.  We have even turned our own religion into an idol.  All of us have those things to which we turn for fulfillment or validation that exist outside of God and His will for us.

And because of our idolatry, like Israel, we are surrounded by Babylon.  The Babylonian king was a tool used by God to punish His people and break them from their idolatry.  And, like Nebuchadnezzar, the pressures of this life are used by God to bring an end to our idolatry.

Maybe we have idolized a lifestyle we cannot afford, and God is using financial crisis to turn our heart back to Him.  Perhaps we’ve made an idol of food or substances , and God is using health problems to call us away from our dependence and back to a place of health.  A failed relationship, a lost job, or any number of things could be that Nebuchadnezzar besieging our lives, putting pressure on us to give that area over to God.

I understand this is not always the case.  I’m not saying all sickness or financial trouble is a result of sin in our lives.  Jesus made that clear in Luke 13. Sometimes things happen for reasons we do not understand, and we cannot walk in a constant state of guilt, like we have brought all our own problems on ourselves.

But what if it is?

What if it is our fault?  What if God is using our own private Nebuchadnezzar to bring us back to where we need to be?  Isn’t it worth exploring?  If so, we would be wise to listen to Jeremiah’s advice to the people of Judah,

Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him.  For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the LORD. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”

God has laid out that same choice to you and I as well.  If you stay entrenched in your idolatry and worldliness, you will die.  Failed marriages, broken lives, lost opportunities, and addictions are but a few examples of the death that comes from refusing to let go of our idols. Our churches and families are littered with the destruction that comes from Christian people refusing to lay down their idols.

But if you humble yourself and accept the destruction of your false gods, you will live.  Accept His correction and repent of our idolatry, and watch as His healing power begins to transform our lives.  I’m not saying we are guaranteed all our problems will disappear when we submit to God (in fact, they most likely will not.)  But I am saying the path to spiritual and emotional healing begins with giving in to God’s call to forsake ourselves and follow Him completely.

Like Israel, it might take 70 years of captivity.

It might be humiliating and uncomfortable to confess our idolatry.  It will be scary to let go of the gods to which we have clung so tightly in false security. To lay down our arms and stop fighting God will take incredible faith and trust in a loving Father who ultimately is using crisis to prove His love for us.  Think about that for a minute.  God ultimately allowed Israel to be destroyed because He loved His people enough to not allow them to continue in their wayward state.  Are we willing to trust that same love in our lives as well?

In the end, do we have a choice?

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Too Many Masters

Numbers 33:4 “…also on their gods the Lord had executed judgment.”

God did more than just send random plagues on Egypt.  He was accomplishing more than just trying to make the Egyptians miserable enough to release the Israelites from slavery.  He could have accomplished that in one plague instead of ten.

God was executing judgment on the gods and on the pride of Egypt.  He was proving their gods to be false, to be subject to His will, and to be powerless to save them.  God was exposing the gods of Egypt for the false gods they were.  Egypt considered the Nile River to be a god, so it turned to blood.  They considered the calf to be a god, so the cattle died.  He attacked the pride of their civilization and culture by sending flies, lice and frogs.  He judged their fertility gods by destroying the crops with locust and fiery hail.

In Exodus 18, when they met up in the wilderness after the Red Sea crossing, Moses father-in-law said to him, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.”  God proved to Egypt the utter futility of trusting in any god besides Himself.

This changes our view of trials.

Perhaps, when God allows plagues or hardship to come into our lives, it is not just to make us miserable.  He is not just punishing us for being bad.  Perhaps, like the Egyptians, God is destroying and rendering powerless those gods in which we have placed our trust.

Isaiah 26:13 says, “…masters besides You have had dominion over us…”  It is these masters that God wants to destroy.  Not because He is mad at us, but because He knows it is for our benefit that we have no other masters.  Look at the prior verse in Isaiah 26, “Lord, You will establish peace for us…”  This is His plan.  This is His purpose.  He wants to show us the utter powerlessness of those other gods in whom we have placed our trust.

Like Israel, God wants to deliver us from bondage.

Like Israel, God knows He must judge the gods of this world before they will release us.  So instead of complaining about the plagues, let us instead turn our eyes to the God who is bringing us deliverance for that bondage.  Instead of running from hardship, let us instead see the masters other than God who have had dominion over us.

And let us rejoice in the judgment of these masters, that we might live in the freedom of belonging only to our loving Father.

It’s the only way we get to the Promised Land.

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I’m Burning for You

In the Old Testament, the Jewish people had a system of sacrifices – set in place by God – as a way of gaining forgiveness for their sins.  Twice a day the priests would offer an a lamb as a burnt offering for the sins of the people.  We see in Christ the fulfillment of this system as He became the final sacrifice.  Once and for all Jesus satiated God’s need for justice by offering Himself as the permanent sacrifice for our sins.

But there is another sacrifice.

One that we do not like to talk about as much.  One we don’t even like to think about because it costs us something.  It’s the sacrifice of ourselves.  You know, like Romans 12:1

And so, dear brothers and sisters,I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. (NLT)

God has offered His own Son for me as a sacrifice, and now He calls me to climb on the altar for Him.  In gratitude for all He has given me, I am now called to give all to Him.

Check this out, I just noticed this the other night as I was reading about the regulations for sacrifices in Leviticus 6,

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the burnt offering. The burnt offering must be left on top of the altar until the next morning, and the fire on the altar must be kept burning all night…the fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must never go out. Each morning the priest will add fresh wood to the fire and arrange the burnt offering on it….Remember, the fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times. It must never go out.

Three times the Lord tells Moses to remember that the fire must burn all night, that the flame must never go out.  The offering is to sit on the fire all day and all night, until it is reduced to ash.

Put these images together and think about it.  God calls me to offer myself as a “living sacrifice” to Him.  That sacrifice is to burn until it is completely consumed.  The fire is to never be extinguished.  I’m supposed to sit on that altar, allowing God to burn everything away, until there is nothing left but Him.  The refining fire of the Holy Spirit is to be constantly applied to my life.

How many of us are truly willing to burn until we are consumed?

Most Christians today prayed a prayer, gave up some bad habits, and went on with life as usual.  We do our duties – attend church, tithe, or teach Sunday School – and get on with our lives.  We thank Jesus for dying on the cross for us, never thinking that He might call us to hang there with Him.  We sing songs about His sacrifice for us, and it never crosses our mind that He might want us to lay on that altar as a sacrifice for Him.

Are you willing to burn?  Are you willing to have the fire of the Holy Spirit kindled beneath you until there is nothing left?  Are you willing to have the refiner lay waste to all your impurities and until the world’s enticements mean nothing?

What if that purifying process takes the rest of your life? 

It might mean giving up things we hold dear.  It might mean giving up our entertainment.  It might mean losing everything.  It might mean a change of career or a change of life.  It most definitely will mean a change of heart.

How many will join me in climbing up on the altar and allowing God to apply the heat?  Sure, there will be times we are tempted to climb down and cool off.  It goes against our nature to burn.  But it’s the only way to become who He truly wants us to be.

He became a sacrifice for us.  Are we willing to become a sacrifice for Him?

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A chip off the old block

Lately I have been reading Exodus.  In particular, I have been reading the beginning of Exodus and the plagues God sent on Egypt as punishment for Pharaoh’s refusal to let His people go.

Have you ever wondered what Pharaoh was thinking?  How could he not have gotten a clue?  If I were Pharaoh, I would have given in after the first two or three plagues.  I never would have made it through the lice, let alone fiery hail falling from the sky.  How could he have stubbornly held on so long and lost so much?  Even Pharaoh’s own advisors came to him and urged him to let the Israelites leave.  “Our whole country is destroyed,” they pleaded.

In his own pride, Pharaoh thought he could outlast God.  In his own fear of losing his slaves he was willing to hold on at all costs.  In his own stubbornness he was willing to hang on to the destructive status quo, even when it was obvious things were about to change.

I’m thinking there’s a little Pharaoh in all of us.

How many times have I clung to that which God has told me to release?  How much pain and suffering must I bear until I am ready to let go?  I stubbornly hold on to those secret sins.  I refuse to let go of the fears that have held me back.  I run in the other direction from His call when it threatens my status quo.  He tells me to take care of the poor, yet I spend far too much on myself.  He tells me to be holy just like Him, yet I keep messing around with the world.  He tells me to walk by faith, yet I continue to hold on to my security for dear life.

I don’t want to be like Pharaoh.  I don’t want to foolishly hold on at the expense of my own destruction.  I want to let go and become who God wants me to be.  Sure, releasing those things to which I have clung so tightly is scary.  Giving up my preconceptions, my comfort zone and my convenient excuses requires dying to myself, and death is frightening.  But it’s something I must do if I’m going to be obedient to God and really follow Him.

Some might think God’s grace releases me from this responsibility.  I believe His grace is what makes it possible.

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