The Bottom Line

Wrapped up Ezekiel this morning. Have read it every year for the past dozen years or so. There’s a lot there. The thought that comes to mind is that it’s an epic. While not a poem per se, it is a long, glorious, often complex, story telling the history of a chosen nation.

From jaw-dropping visions of the glory of God descending upon the earth to heartbreaking scenes of the glory of God departing from the temple, through His prophet God calls out to a rebellious people. As a spurned lover, the heart of God is crushed as He recounts His brides unimaginable, unprecedented unfaithfulness. As a jealous husband, He rebukes the propensities of His beloved’s idolatrous heart and remains determined to share His glory with no one.

And so, there is judgment. Judgment of a wayward people by the sword of the nations around them. And judgment of the nations around them, as their refusal to acknowledge the God of heaven is also weighed in the balance.

But it is also a tale of unfathomable restoration. The promises of God ever in play as God in His faithfulness, mercy, and abounding grace works to redeem, regenerate, and revitalize a people who essentially had become dry bones piled in a dead land.

The ancient covenant revived through a new pledge of a new work. Their hearts would be purged of idol desire. Once hearts of stone, they would be replaced with a new heart, a heart of flesh. Transplanted through an encounter of the divine kind. God’s power itself at work in them through His Spirit given to them. Cleansed from the filth of unfaithfulness. Capable of walking victoriously in His ways. Called afresh to be His people.

Like I said, a lot going on in this epic tale of God’s pursuit of a messed up a people. More than I really get. Likely more than I’ll ever get.

But what grabs me this morning as I wrap up Ezekiel’s prophecy is that, while there are many things I do not understand about this amazing book, there is, in the last words of the last verse of the last chapter, a bottom line that rings out loud and clear.

The circumference of the city shall be 18,000 cubits. And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The LORD Is There.

(Ezekiel 48:35 ESV)

A lot I don’t get about Ezekiel, but this one thing I do get: when all is said and done, the bottom line is that there is a promised dwelling place for God’s people and it will be called Jehovah Shammah, The LORD Is There.

In a sense, that’s all I really need to get, Jehovah Shammah.

One day I will be in a place and The LORD Is There. And even today, whatever place I am in, The LORD Is There.

Because I am His, redeemed with the blood of His Son.

And because He is faithful.

The work He has begun, He will finish. The promises He has made, they will be kept. The hope I cling to, one day–perhaps soon and very soon–surely to be realized.

All because Jehovah Shammah, The LORD Is There.

That’s the bottom line.

By His grace. For His glory.

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What the Therefore Might be There For

Last couple of readings in John 11 I’ve been identifying with Martha. This morning, as I hover over my reading in John 12, longing to be more like Mary. Have seen the Savior’s patience in taking Martha’s deep faith even deeper. But a bit in wonder as I meditate on the Savior’s acceptance of Mary’s extravagant worship as a precursor to His burial.

In wonder, in part, because of a single word that I don’t think I’ve every stopped to really noodle on before. A word that every bible teacher who has ever taught me about how to read the bible says I need to take note of. So that, when I see the “therefore”, I ask what it’s there for?

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for Him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at the table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

(John 12:1-3 ESV)

Only the ESV and Young’s Literal Translation translate the word as “therefore.” All my other translations use the English word “then.” As in, “Then Mary took . . . and anointed the feet of Jesus.” Giving it more a sense of chronology than causality. Martha served, Lazarus reclined, then Mary anointed.

But what if the better translation really is “therefore”? Then, I should spend a bit of time chewing on what it’s there for?

What if accordingly Mary anointed the feet of Jesus? What if consequently she seized the opportunity to worship extravagantly? What if, because these things were so–her sister serving as she had always done, her brother breathing as he had mostly done, except for those horrific 4 days–what if, because of looking about and recognizing these somewhat mundane realities, she broke the bank and filled the house with an undeniable fragrance of her love for the Master?

If it’s really a “therefore” and not a “then”, and if that’s what it’s there for, then what am I to take from it?

Perhaps something about worshiping in the moment. Something about responding to the mundane and normal, even when recent events have been anything but normal, and what will be is just as unpredictable.

Mary’s recently been through a lot. Not just a near death experience, but a death experience. One that played out unimaginably well, but who could have imagined her brother’s death in the first place? And then, a dead guy walking has incited the high priest of the Jews to put out a hit on the One who brought her brother back from life, her much loved Lord (11:49-54). What’s more, in just a few more verses, they’re going to put out a contract on her brother as well “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:11).

But for right now, for this moment, Martha is serving, Lazarus is reclining, and THEREFORE Mary worships. Places herself in that sweet spot she’s known before, at the feet of Jesus. Breaks open the bottle of precious perfume she had saved a year for (12:5). Pours it on Jesus’ feet. Then wipes His feet with her hair in an act of unreserved humility and adoration.

Worshiping in a way that would be spoken of for centuries, if only because all was so very right in that moment. Her sister serving, her brother reclining, and she worshiping at Jesus’ feet.

I’m thinking that’s what the “therefore” might be there for.

Extravagant worship in response to the reminder of  “mundane” grace. All for God’s eternal glory.

Amen?

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The Stench of Faith

Lazarus was the one who had died. But initially at least, Jesus was focused on making Martha more alive.

While the Master would get around to dealing with the brother’s cold body, He focused at first on continuing to fan into flame the sister’s coming-alive soul. While the main event would eventually occur publicly at the tomb, before that miracle, Jesus was working secretly in the heart of His beloved daughter. But it would stink.

Before Jesus even arrived, Martha believed that, had He been there while Lazarus was sick, He could have healed her brother. In fact, she believed that whatever Jesus asked of God, God would give Him. But Jesus sought to deepen her faith. And so He talked not only of Lazarus’ resurrection someday, but said that He Himself was the very source of that resurrection and of life eternal. Would she believe that? And her faith grew as she confessed, “I believe. For you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Jn. 11:20-27)

But Jesus was not yet done with Martha’s faith. Before raising her brother from the dead, He would raise Martha’s faith as well. You see, just “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). And so Jesus provided opportunity for Martha to show what she believed by what she did.

But it was risky. Many would be shocked. Some, perhaps, offended. Because there would be bad odor as a result of what she was about to do–the stench of faith.

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.

(John 11:38-41a ESV)

Note to self. You don’t open up sepulchers after a body has lain in it for four days. Especially a body buried without embalming. The “returning to dust” process will have started. Decay will have set in. And you won’t have to look upon the corpse to know that, it will be evident as soon as the stone is removed and the stale air from the inside finds its way to the outside.

But sometimes, you need to do what stinks, and make a call that others might misunderstand, in order to see the glory of God.

Martha was horrified at the Master’s request. Just in case the Author of Life wasn’t fully aware of the process of death, she reminded Jesus that after four days, as it concerned her brother, “he stinketh.” (Gotta’ love the old King James)

But Jesus redirected her again to the connection between believing and beholding. That to believe in His word, even when obeying it might not make natural sense, would be to behold His glory.

And He wanted to show her the connection between believing and behaving. That, eventually, what we say we believe needs to impact what we do. Eventually what we say we believe in, others will have to see we believe in.

All eyes must have been focused on Martha. No one would make a move toward the stone covering the tomb without her go ahead.

What would she do? Listen to common sense and leave the tomb sealed? Not risk opening the tomb and then nothing happening other than the stench of death lingering over the crowd?

Or would she willingly risk the stench of faith in order to encounter the glory of God? Would she ignore the potential second-guessing of the crowd around her so she could realize the power of God in her?

Martha obeyed. Willing to endure the stench because of her faith, she ordered the stone removed.

And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

(John 11:41b-44 ESV)

Jesus gently brought Martha from saving faith, to confessing faith, to an acting faith.

Martha was made more alive before her brother was.

All this by the grace of God. All this for the glory of God.

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You Believe? Believe More!

Not gonna lie (not that I normally do), if the two sisters were to mark out opposite end points of a continuum, I probably fall more often on the Martha side then I do the Mary side. In the past I’ve liked to think of myself as like Mary, the one who is naturally content to serenely find my place at the feet of Jesus and there rest and receive. But, as I get older and maybe more in touch with the real me, I can’t help but think I’m more like Martha. Distracted with many things (if only in my heart and mind). Tending towards being “anxious and troubled” rather than calm and collected. Not always choosing “the good portion.” (Lk. 10:38-42)

Maybe that’s why I have increasingly developed a soft spot in my heart for Martha. Thinking that perhaps God has simply wired some of us more like Martha than Mary, and that Jesus loves both the Marthas and the Marys and loves to be with them both.

And maybe that’s why I find myself feeling a sense of pride (if pride’s the right word) as I read about Martha in John 11 this morning.

Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s brother, is dying. The sisters put out the call to Jesus. Jesus receives their plea but tarries. Lazarus dies. Jesus says to his disciples, “Let’s go wake him up, guys!” (11:1-15)

And, when Jesus hits the outskirts of Bethany, word is sent to the sisters’ house that He’s coming. And true to form, Martha gets up and gets busy and heads out to meet Jesus while “Mary remained seated in the house” (11:20). And then, John records this encounter of the divine kind:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give you.”

(John 11:21-22 ESV)

What faith! She believed with all her heart that Jesus had power to heal. Had He been there, she thought, He would have. But even now–love those words–but even now, without any doubt, she says, I believe You can do all things. Attagirl Martha! Way to believe!

And here’s what grabs me. Jesus replies, in effect, “You believe? Believe more!”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

(John 11:23-26 ESV)

You believe I can do all things, Martha, good! Will you also believe I am the resurrection and the life?

While Jesus does great things with mustards seeds of faith, He desires to grow our faith. Taking what we believe and asking us to believe in Him more. Leveraging the trust we already have He asks us to trust Him more. Jesus patiently, graciously, even though sometimes painfully, seeks to draw out our faith to greater heights.

She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

(John 11:27 ESV)

Yes!!! Attagirl again!

No one says “Jesus is Lord” except in the Spirit, according to Paul (1Cor. 12:3). In fact, John writes that you know the Spirit of God is present when someone confesses Christ has come in the flesh from God (1John 4:2). What’s more, Jesus Himself said that those who confess that Christ is the Son of the living God are blessed because it’s not flesh and blood which has revealed such insight, “but My Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:17).

Martha–busy, distracted Martha–stands before the Son of God, filled with the Spirit, confessing only what the Spirit could make known. Blessed because the Father Himself has revealed to her in a deeper way the glory of His Son.

“You believe?” Jesus says, “Believe more. Believe Me.”

Yes, Lord!

By Your grace. For Your glory!

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Seeing Will Be Becoming

This morning I’m reading in 1 John of a purifying hope (1Jn. 3:3). An anticipation of there and then which has a way of working in us a sanctification here and now. Becoming more like Him because we believe we’re gonna be with Him.

And we often wonder what will it be like to be face to face with the Savior. When the walk of faith gives way to walking by His side. When what we believe is actually what we behold.

Surrounded by His glory, what will our hearts feel? Will we dance for Jesus, or in awe of Him be still? Will we stand in His presence, or to our knees will we fall? Will we sing hallelujah, or will we be able to speak at all? As the well known song says, “I can only imagine?”

But while the song contemplates what we might do on that day, I’m noodling on what we’ll be like. If I’m reading John correctly, then there will be something in looking upon Him that actually makes us like Him. Seeing will be becoming.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

(1John 3:2 ESV)

Lot of things we don’t know, but John says this we can know, “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him.”

Not that we’ll look like Him and lose our individual persona. The Lord Jesus will have His own distinct appearance, and we ours. Not that we will become as Him, being all-knowing and all-powerful. But that we be like Him. Inhabiting a new resurrection body. Imperishable. Raised in glory. Infused with power. Spiritual. A heavenly body, like His (1Cor. 15:42-44).

Like Him too, morally. We’ll be free from the flesh, from the old man and its sin nature. No more defilement. No more sickness. No more sorrow. No more death.

How do we know that? Because, John says, we know that when He appears we shall be like Him.

But it’s also seemingly implied here, that seeing Him will facilitate becoming like Him. Because we shall see Him as He is, we shall be as He is. That in the culmination of being in His presence will be the final strokes for conforming us to His image. To behold Him will be to complete our transformation in Him. Seeing will be becoming.

And John’s contention is consistent with Paul’s.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

(2Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

Beholding the glory of the Lord, if even by faith says Paul, triggers a divine dynamic of making us “more and more like Him as we are changed into his glorious image” (NLT). If that’s true of just believing, then what will happen when we are actually beholding? We shall be like Him.

Don’t know that I fully get it. But, honestly, I can’t wait to.

And I guess that’s why it is a purifying hope. Knowing that I will see Him then, and be like Him then, has a way of compelling me, by His enabling power, to seek Him now. To see Him with the mind’s eye as I read of Him in His holy word. To know Him as I realize increasingly the depths to which He knows me. To abide in Him and He, through His Spirit, in me. To be like Him. Now dimly as through faith, but then fully because of sight.

Seeing really will be becoming.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Abiding in the Anointing

I’ve been meeting with a couple of guys over recent weeks. Different backgrounds, different current situations, different struggles. But I’ve been talking with both about the same thing–the need for a lifeline. And that lifeline is the word of God.

But the lifeline is not simply found in owning a bible. Not realized by just carrying it to church. Not even in drawing from our memories things we’ve been taught out of the bible in our past. But found in reading it. Found in getting into it and letting it get into us. Or, as I read in 1 John this morning, abiding in it and letting it abide in us.

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He made to us–eternal life.

(1John 2:24-25 ESV)

Abide. Tarry. Don’t depart. Continue in. Endure with. Remain. Don’t move on to something else.

That, John says, is what he wants his children in the faith to do. And where are they to hang out? What are they to continue in? What are they to tether their souls to? What you heard from the beginning. They were to abide in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. They were to stay close to the word of God.

False teachers had gone out from among them seeking to deceive them (2:26). An antichrist spirit was about them wanting to derail them. A lying voice denying Jesus as the Christ. A worldly whisper questioning His power to save and save to the uttermost. Religious sounding reasoning casting doubt as to whether Christ alone was really enough for life now and the life to come.

And so John says, let what you’ve heard abide in you. Keep going back to the truth you’ve known. Keep taking it in. Keep chewing on it. Because, when you do that, then you’ll abide in the Son and in the Father.

Remain in the word and you won’t depart from the God who loves you with a steadfast love. Hang out regularly with your bible, and you’ll continue with the Son who rescued you and longs to hang out with you (Rev.3:20) . The word of God acting not only as a tether, but as a life-giving, life-sustaining conduit to the very throne of heaven.

And here’s why. Here’s out it works. This is what’s evoked the awe factor afresh this morning. Because we can abide in the Anointing.

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. . . . the anointing that you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about everything–and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you–abide in Him.

(1John 2:20, 27 ESV)

Anointed by the Holy One with an anointing that abides in us. What’s the anointing? The Spirit of God poured out on every child of God.

Having all knowledge. What’s the reality? Not that we know it all, but that we have access to it all. Access to all knowledge? Really? Yeah, really! We have access to all that we need for maturing in Christ and living for Christ, and it’s in that book we so often can’t make time for.

His anointing teaching us about everything. While teachers have been given to the church to help us learn, we don’t need any teaching apart from the inspired word because we’ve been anointed with the One through whom it was inspired. We have THE TEACHER resident and living in us. And because He lives in us and rests upon us, every time we open our bibles, the divine dynamic of illumination kicks into gear with the same transforming power that raised Christ from the dead.

And so, John says, abide in Him. Abide in the Anointing.

We all need the lifeline. We all need an anchor for the soul tethered to the Son.

And that happens as we open His word and as we abide in the Anointing.

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Voice

They were all wrapped around the wheel about a blind man seeing, but Jesus decided to change the subject on them–He wanted to talk about hearing.

They questioned the claim that the blind man seeing was ever really blind (Jn. 9:18). They were choked that sight restoring mud had been made and applied to a man’s eyes on the Sabbath (Jn. 9:16). Upset that manual work had been done on the holy day. Blind themselves to the miraculous work that had been done by the Holy One.

Let’s keep talking about eyes, they said. Nah, we’ll talk ears instead, Jesus replied.

“But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”    ~  Jesus

(John 10:2-4 ESV)

Jesus shifted the conversation with the Pharisees from a flesh and blood miracle who for the first time was seeing, to a figure of speech example about hearing. Because being unconvinced looking at a blind man with sight wasn’t just about the eyes, but about their ears. They didn’t hear the Voice.

Because the Pharisees didn’t get the picture Jesus was painting (10:6), He would clearly identify Himself as the door (10:7,8). Would explicitly say that He was the good shepherd (10:11). But this morning, somewhat in awe, I’m meditating on the thought of hearing the Voice.

Observations: The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd. He calls them by name. He leads them out. They follow him. All because they know the Voice.

Not many in my circle, who by faith decided to follow Jesus, did so because they saw the miraculous. Some, but not many. Most of us heard the Voice before we ever really saw the Savior.

The Voice heard as someone shared with us from the Bible. Strange words, at first. Foreign concepts. Yet a sense that what we were hearing was truth. Though we didn’t recognize it as such, God was speaking through His word. And somehow, we were picking up what was being laid down.

The Voice heard as hearts of stone gave way to hearts of flesh and our inner man was attuned to things we had never been attuned to before. Our internal radio frequency somehow dialed into the kingdom of heaven’s “transmitter”, the Spirit of God, and an inner voice became more apparent: “This really is the Way. Believe it! Embrace it! Walk in it!”

We heard the Voice because, by grace alone through faith alone, through Him we had entered into the fold of God’s redeemed people by the one, true Door. Somehow hearing Him specifically call our name. Somehow being convinced that the inner voice we heard was that of a loving, good, and great Shepherd. Somehow trusting the Voice enough to leave the bondage of sin’s deceptive sheep pen. Believing the Voice would lead us into life, and life abundantly.

Sometimes I can be so used to seeking to follow His lead that I lose the wonder of hearing His Voice. That what should be awe-inspiring–that I even hear the voice of the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit–has too often become common place and, dare I say, even taken for granted.

But this morning, not so. I know the Voice because the Good Shepherd loving, patiently, faithfully continues to call me by name.

Wonder of wonders! Blessing beyond comprehension! Comfort and hope beyond full understanding.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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