Sanctification: Regeneration Perfected

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Regeneration

In our first set of exercises, we began stretching our spiritual muscles as we learned some of the basic principles of Salvation…

We also learned that Salvation is the process by which God redeems lost sinners—those who have been in bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil since their births; buying their freedom for them through the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross and thus making it possible for them to be adopted into the family of God as His children.

A person’s Salvation isn’t limited to his just being adopted by God, though; it also involves his being transformed into a true Christ-resembling Child of the Most High.  That’s because, once a person becomes a child of God through the process known as the New Birth, he or she can no longer continue to think, speak, and act like the sinner he or she once was; instead, he or she must learn to think and behave in a manner befitting the son or daughter of a Holy King.  And, this is where Sanctification comes into play.

 

Sanctification

As we discovered in Salvation: What It Is and Why We Need It, Sanctification is the second of the three Stages in Salvation, with the first being Redemption and the last being Glorification; and, that it means…

To make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate;
To purify or free from sin;
To make productive of or conducive to spiritual blessing. 

And, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, it is something which…

…involves more than a mere moral reformation of character, brought about by the power of the truth:  it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the whole nature more and more under the influences of the new gracious principles implanted in the soul in regeneration.  In other words, sanctification is the carrying on to perfection the work begun in regeneration, and it extends to the whole man.[1]
 

The Work of Regeneration

In order to better understand the work being referred to here, we will need to go back to Salvation:  How Do We Get It, where we learned that…

…Regeneration is the act by which our dead spirits are brought back to life again by the Holy Spirit of God…

…and, where we learned that the need for this regeneration goes all the way back to Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden.  For, it was then that their spirits, as well as those of all of their future descendants, died—or, were separated or cut off from God.  As for how this spiritual death impacted them, and us, in practical terms, it completely shut down the communication system God had established between Him and Man; and, it overturned the authority structure He had designed for His entire created world.

System Failure and Structural Collapse

When God created man, He fashioned him with a Spirit, Soul, and Body, so that…

  • Through his Spirit, he could relate to and communicate with God;
  • Through his Body, he could relate to and function in the physical world; and,
  • Through his Soul, consisting of his mind, will, and emotions, he could not only relate to other human beings, but his soul could also serve as the connecting point between his spirit and his body.

When this system was functioning as it should—which was, before the entrance of sin into the world—it meant that…

  • God’s Spirit could speak to man’s spirit, telling him what God wanted him to do;
  • Man’s spirit could relay that message to man’s soul; and,
  • Man’s soul could then direct man’s body to carry out the command it had been given by God…

…and, in this way, the will of God would be carried out on the earth by man.

As for the authority structure that God had devised for His creation, it was ordered along very similar lines—with God at the top of the structure and Man next in authority under Him; then, with Woman, an equal partner with her husband, yet coming under his authority—to be followed lastly by the creatures in the animal world.  Given that this arrangement was one which was ordained by God, it should come as no surprise that in his scheme to overturn it, Satan would come disguised in the form of an animal (a creature at the bottom rung of the ladder) and present himself first to the woman (on the next level up), who would then turn around and entice the man (on the next higher rung) to disobey God.

Unfortunately, and certainly unforeseen by our forbearers, this colossal structural collapse marked the beginning of what would turn out to be mankind’s perpetual rebellion against authority in every form; manifesting itself not only in his rebellion against God’s authority, but also in the rebellion of wives against husbands, children against parents, workers against employers, and the governed against those governing them.  It was a rebellion which also gave rise to an egocentric lust for power which would eventually lead to the commission of every other kind of sin that man could imagine.

This entrance of sin into the world also resulted in the failure of the once ideal system of communication between God and Man.  Instead of the top down system previously described, it became a bottom up one in which man’s flesh, instead of his spirit, began dictating to him what his thoughts, feelings, and actions should be.  That’s because, with the death or separation of man’s spirit from God’s Spirit because of sin, there was no longer any communication between God and man; a situation which left man’s powerful fleshly appetites to determine what he would or would not do in any given situation.  And, this is the way that it has been ever since.

The Apostle James explains the consequences of this system failure in the following way…

…what causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war with you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2)…

…each person is tempted when he lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it is conceived gives birth to sin and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15).

The Effects of the Fall
Extending Regeneration to the Whole Man

Since the unregenerate, or…

…the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14)…

…when a person becomes Born Again, it then becomes the work of the Holy Spirit, through the process of Sanctification, to restore what was lost to that person as a result of The Fall and to reprogram him as to the right way to live.  As we have just learned, this means that…

  • His soul will have to be restored to its proper function; and,
  • His inborn tendency to rebel against authority will have to be dealt with and brought under control.

Rebellion to Submission

Although this work is a challenging one, and one taking a lifetime to complete, its success will be insured by the presence of the Holy Spirit who, once a person is regenerated, takes up residence within him.  Working from the inside out, He not only begins teaching this new Child of God the right way to live, but He provides him with the supernatural power needed for him to succeed.  Evidences of this success will become apparent in the life of the believer as…

  • He learns to communicate with God, his Father, through Prayer;
  • His mind is transformed into the mind of Christ through the Study of God’s Word;
  • The character of Christ is formed in him through Testing;
  • The works of Christ are reproduced in his service through the Gifts of the Spirit; and,
  • He learns to successfully wage Spiritual Warfare through his respect for and submission to God’s Authority Structure.

We will learn more about this process of spiritual transformation in our upcoming workout sessions, as we begin the basic exercises in Sanctification dealing with Prayer, the Bible, the Fruit of the Spirit and Testing; with these to be followed later by the more advanced exercises in Service, the Gifts of the Spirit, and Spiritual Warfare.  Before moving on to these, however, we first need to become better acquainted with our Trainer and Coach, the Holy Spirit, whom we will meet when we get together for our next session.  Until then…

…may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thes. 5:23)

 

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The Sidewalk Prophets remind us that our salvation makes all things new…

 

[1]  Sanctification. Dictionary.com. Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sanctification (accessed: April 07, 2016).

 

 

Salvation: How Do We Get It?

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Way to SalvationNow that we have a better idea of what Salvation is and why we need it, let’s stretch our spiritual muscles a little further as we learn how to appropriate this wonderful gift for ourselves–through something called the New Birth.  Although some may consider the “head” knowledge of Salvation we gained in our previous workout session to be sufficient, that mere intellectual knowledge will prove to be woefully inadequate in providing us with the foundation we will need for our upcoming exercises in practical Christianity.  For the purposes of this program, then, we can gain an experiential knowledge of Salvation (if it hasn’t been done already) through an active participation in each of the following four exercises…

Exercise #1—The Mandate for the New Birth
Exercise #2—The Spiritual Dynamics of the New Birth
Exercise #3—The Legalities of the New Birth
Exercise #4—Making the New Birth Personal


Exercise #1—The Mandate for the New Birth

In His encounter with Nicodemus, one of the religious leaders of His day, Jesus made the New Birth mandatory for anyone seeking entrance into the Kingdom of God.  This meeting, recorded for us in John 3:1-14, took place one night when Nicodemus sought out Jesus for reasons which were never really made clear.  That’s because, before Nicodemus had a chance to reveal the motivation for his visit, Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (V.3).”  Thinking like a natural man, Nicodemus tried to figure out how he could go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time.  To this, Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said unto you, ‘You must be born again’ (vv. 5-7).”

Mandate for the New Birth

The Mandate for the New Birth

In this statement, Jesus made it clear that a fixed gulf exists between our fleshly and spiritual beings; and, while everyone born into the natural world would initially be born into a fleshly or physical state, that only those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God would be born into life in the Spirit.  Here, then, we find the mandate, given by Jesus Himself, that anyone who hopes to see God and participate in His kingdom must be born again. However, what isn’t provided for us here is the reason why this New Birth is necessary, or the way that we go about experiencing it.

Exercise #2—The Spiritual Dynamics of the New Birth…

If we are to understand the reason for Jesus’ mandate, we first need to learn about the dynamics involved in the New Birth; dynamics which have everything to do with regeneration.  Since, by definition, regeneration isthe act of bringing something into existence again—that is, to form again, or to be made new—for us…

…Regeneration is the act by which our dead spirits are brought back to life again by the Holy Spirit of God. 

But, why is this necessary?

To answer to that question, we must go all the way back to the beginning of human history; back to the time when Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  That’s  when their spirits, as well as those of all of their future descendants, died because their sin caused them to be separated or cut off from God.  This meant  that every human being who would ever live, with the exception of Jesus Christ, would be born spiritually dead—or, with a spirit cut off from its source of life in God.

In his book, The Spiritual Man, Watchman Nee explains what is meant when we speak about this state of spiritual death…

…when we say the spirit is dead it does not imply there is no more spirit; we simply mean the spirit has lost its sensitivity towards God and thus is dead to Him.  The exact situation is that the spirit is incapacitated, unable to communicate with God…it remains in a coma as if non-existent.

Because of this spiritual death, no descendant of Adam has ever been able to have, much less maintain, a relationship with God while remaining in his or her natural or fleshly state.  The New Birth, then, is what occurs when God’s Spirit brings a man’s spirit back to life, restoring that man’s lost relationship to God, and making it possible for him to communicate with God once again.  But—and this is a very BIG BUT—before this can happen, there are certain legalities which must be addressed, legalities involving our repeated violations of God’s laws.

Exercise #3—The Legalities Involved in the New Birth…

As we learned back in Salvation—What It Is and Why We Need It, each of us has, throughout our lives, repeatedly offended God by violating His laws, or His codes of acceptable moral and spiritual conduct; and, in the process, we have unwittingly erected a barrier—or a wall of offence—between Him and us, something which makes any relationship between us impossible.  Until such a time as we confess our faults—or, until we agree with God about what we have done wrong, and seek His forgiveness—we will continue to be “cut off” from Him; losing whatever opportunities we may have had to get to know Him and to experience His grace.  Thus, the elimination of our offenses against God, as well as the removal of the wall which those offenses have created, is what the New Birth is all about.

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The Wall of Offense Between God and Us

Unfortunately, because most of us have no concept of what God’s righteous requirements for relationship with Him are, we don’t know what we have done to offend Him.  Most of us have lived our lives according to the codes of conduct that we have acquired from our parents, picked up from our friends and associates, or created for ourselves in response to the ever-changing circumstances of life.  Unlike God’s immutable standard of holiness, our concepts of what constitutes right and wrong have been derived from very human and fallible sources and, as a result, tend to have very nebulous boundaries.  Consequently, the principles by which we live are often adapted to the situations in which we find ourselves at any given moment, with what is true and right in one situation differing from that in another.  With backgrounds steeped in such a relativistic system of ethics, how are we to know for sure what God’s requirements are; and, how can we understand what our offenses against Him have been?

The only way we can know how we have missed God’s “mark” for acceptable behavior (with “sin” being defined as “missing the mark” of God) is through the Bible, where God has set forth His standard of righteousness, or right living, in Exodus 20: 1-17—a standard we know today as the Ten Commandments.  In these commandments, He makes it clear that, in order for us to have a spiritual relationship with Him, we must meet certain conditions:

  1. We can have no gods other than Him; ours is to be a personal and an exclusive relationship;
  2. We cannot make an idol, or anything in the form of a person, or an object from the natural or spiritual world, which we worship in His place; so, no person, possession, position, pleasure, power or money can be substituted for Him;
  3. We cannot take His name in vain—that is, use His name in a disrespectful or dishonest manner.  We are not to use God’s name as a swear word, or to legitimatize or authorize any activity which He has not sanctioned;
  4. We are to remember the Sabbath day, or one day in seven as a day of rest and worship, and keep it holy, or set apart for Him;
  5. We are to honor our parents, respecting them as God’s appointed authorities in our lives;
  6. We are not to murder; or, according to Jesus in an expanded version found in Matthew 5: 22, to even harbor hatred in our hearts toward another person;
  7. We cannot steal—that is, take anything which is not ours, including money, property, an employer’s time, a person’s reputation, or the affection of someone who belongs to another;
  8. We cannot commit adultery, or any sexual sin, either by thinking about it or actually doing it (see Matthew 5: 28 for another amplified rendition);
  9. We cannot bear false witness or lie about anyone else; and,
  10. We are not to covet, or want for our own, anything that belongs to another person; this includes his or her spouse, children, positions, possessions, personalities, looks, or money.
The Laws of God

The Laws of God

Since we all have violated these laws at one time or another, how can we, as naturally unrighteous people, meet such rigorous demands for righteousness, and enter into a relationship with God?  In all honesty, we can’t—at least, not on our own.  We must have the help of Someone Else who can meet these demands on our behalf; Someone who can bridge the gap between God’s holiness and our sinful condition, thereby making a relationship between God and us possible.

Exercise #4—Making the New Birth Personal

Since God is the only One who completely understands the strict demands of His law, as well as man’s total inability to meet those demands, He took it upon Himself to create a plan by which Someone named Jesus could bring God and man together.  And, for us to understand how this plan works, here is what we need to know:

  • The Bridge Between God and Man

    Our Lifeline to God

    First, we need to understand that God is so holy that anyone who comes into His presence must be free from any and all impurities, or else he will die.  When God told Adam that if he ate from the forbidden tree he would die, He was making clear to him the principle that “…the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23)” and that “the person who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:20).”

  • Since the law of God’s holiness requires that sin’s offenses be paid for by death, the one who has offended Him must die to satisfy the judgment imposed upon him by the law.
  • However, God in His grace also stipulated in His law that a substitution could be made for the offender—that is, the sinner could avoid paying the penalty for his own violations of God’s law if he could find Someone else who was willing to die in his place.  But, in order to qualify as such a substitution, this Someone could not be a person who was himself a sinner—he would have to be a person without guilt in order to satisfy everyone of God’s specific rules for holiness.  The only person who has ever lived who could meet these demands was Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
  • Therefore, God sent Jesus into the world to live a life of sinless perfection; a life which would fulfill all of the righteous demands of the law. Then, Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross—a death which paid sin’s penalty, and one which could be substituted for the death required of each and every sinner who would ever live.
  • In addition to paying the price for everyone’s sin through His substitutionary death, Jesus also conquered the power of death once and for all when He was raised from the dead to live again forever. 
  • But, even though Jesus’ death paid the price for everyone’s sin, the payment for any individual’s penalty would not automatically be credited to him:

     First, he must come humbly before God, acknowledging that he has violated the laws of     God and is unable to meet God’s demands for righteousness on his own, in order to receive, by faith, what Christ has done on his behalf;
    –  He can then exchange his sin for the gift of salvation graciously made available to him through Christ’s sacrificial death; and,
      With this transaction, the wall of offense separating him from God will come down, his spirit will be Born Again, and God’s Spirit will come to live within him and begin teaching how to live like a son of God.

If you aren’t sure that you have experienced this New Birth, then let me urge you to go to God, acknowledging the offenses which have kept you spiritually dead and alienated from Him, and ask Him, for Jesus’ sake, to remove them.  When you do, the Holy Spirit will come to live within your spirit and you, too, will be born again as a child of God.

Born Again

“You must be born again.” — John 3:7

 

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The Talley Family shares the story of our Salvation in this moving medley…

Salvation: What It Is and Why We Need It

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When it comes to thinking about Salvation, there seem to be two vastly different approaches to the subject.  Although both of these are very broad generalizations…

  • To the “Unsaved,” Salvation is often regarded as either–
    • an antiquated theological doctrine, designed to rob life of its happiness and any sense of personal fulfillment; or,
    • a religious crutch for those who lack the intelligence, sophistication, attractiveness, or success necessary to do life well on their own; while…
  • To the “Saved,” it is seen merely as the means by which—
    • their sins are forgiven and their lives are made right with God; and,
    • their eternal destination is changed from Hell to Heaven.

Of course, the first approach is completely inaccurate and the second one is woefully incomplete.  So, in an effort to correct the former and complete the latter, let’s begin to stretch our Spiritual understanding as we learn What Salvation Is, and Why We Need It.

Salvation

We All Need to be Rescued by Jesus


What Salvation Is
 

For a definition of Salvation, I prefer the one found in my little Webster’s pocket dictionary which defines Salvation simply as “a saving or a being saved” or as “a person or thing that saves.”  I like this definition because “a saving” implies an act“a being saved” implies a process; and “a person or thing that saves” implies that salvation is not something that we can do for ourselves—it must come from a source outside of us.  Essentially, this is what Biblical Salvation is all about; for, in reality it is…

  • The One-Time Act of faith which makes a person a child of God;
  • The Life-Long Process of spiritual growth which follows; one which transforms the character and behavior of that person into that of a child of God; and,
  • Jesusthe One Outside of Ourselves who does all of the saving.


The One-Time Act of Faith

As simple as this may seem on the surface, please don’t let its simplicity blind you to the real significance of this One-Time Act of Salvation; for it is the only legitimate, divinely-authorized way in which a Holy God takes a Sinner, or a person who was…

…dead in the trespasses and sins in which [he] once walked, following the course of this world…carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and [was] by nature [a child] of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-3)…

…and not only adopts him or her into His family as His own child, but also makes that child a Joint-Heir with His only begotten Son, Jesus!  And, it is through this One-Time Act that a person goes from being alienated from God to being accepted by Him, from religious slavery to spiritual freedom, from unrighteousness to holiness, and from certain death to life everlasting!  So, just how does all of this happen?  Well, through the three stages of Salvation known as Redemption, Sanctification, and Glorification.


Redemption and Why We Need It 

Since the definition of Redemption is…to pay off, as a debt; to buy back or recover; to ransom or to obtain the release of a captive by paying the demanded price; to restore to favor… 

Redemption for our purposes is the act by which our sin debt is paid, making us righteous in the sight of God and releasing us from the penalty and power of sin. 

This act is a necessity for us because while God is holy, due to the sin nature we all inherited from Adam and Eve, we are not.  Therefore, before any of us can be reconciled to God and any adoption can take place, something has to be done about the problem of sin in our lives.

The Heart is Desperately Wicked

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34

While most of us are all too quick to deny that any sin problem exists, it is a spiritual reality that from the moment of our births until the moment of our deaths, we are constantly adding to a “rap sheet” of offenses against God; that is—through our thoughts, words, or deeds, we repeatedly violate the laws of God’s righteousness, with these violations all too judiciously being transcribed into our “permanent records.”  This means that we are all lawbreakers from birth, on the run from God, and unaware of the day looming before us when we will be apprehended and called to appear in His court for judgment.

Guilty

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” –Romans 3:23

Sadly, because we don’t realize or accept the fact that we are sinners, or because we think we will be able to appeal to God on the basis of our morality or relatively good works, we mistakenly think that we can safely put this day of reckoning off until after our deaths. But, this is a disastrous decision which will leave us standing before the Righteous Judge of the Universe, alone, guilty, and without any legal representation.  And, once the charges against us have been read—and our appeals of innocence have been proven to be without merit—this Just Judge will have no other choice but to honor the law and sentence us to the death that the law demands—a death which will mean our eternal separation from God and all things holy.

But, there is a way that such a terrible outcome can be avoided. You see, this Righteous Judge is also the God of love, grace, and mercy—the One who was…

… not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9)…

…and because of that, He made a way to provide us with an Advocate, sort of a court appointed attorney, who will plead the cases of all those who will come before Him and acknowledge the crimes for which they are guilty—if they will only do so before they die!

Advocate

Jesus is Our Advocate

This Advocate is Jesus, the Son of God, and He can represent a sinner before God because He is the One who came to earth, lived a sinless life which met the righteous demands of God’s law, and then died an agonizing death on the Cross to pay off the sin debt owed by every human being who has ever lived.  Through the substitution of His death for theirs, deaths which the law calls for, He is able to clear the charges against them and offer them a pardon, without so much as a fine to pay!  Once pardoned, and with their sin records expunged by the blood of Christ, they can stand righteous before God, and are in a position to be legally adopted as His spiritual children!


As for Sanctification

Since the definition for Sanctification is …to set apart as holy; to consecrate, or to devote to sacred use…

…Sanctification, for us, is the process whereby a new child of God is set apart for the sacred or holy service of God.

In reality, this is the life-long schooling in righteousness that every child of God must undergo if he or she is to realize the eternal purpose for which they were created.  It begins at the moment of adoption when the Holy Spirit of God comes to live within the heart of each new believer, and He begins teaching him what it means to be a child of God.  He does this by…

  • Training him in the laws of God, and then empowering him to obey those laws;
  • Reproducing the character of Christ in him through the development of the “fruit of the Spirit”–or the character qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control;
  • Empowering him to carry out the work of Christ through the various “giftings” of service imparted by the very same Spirit;
  • Teaching him how to worship God, and how to overcome His enemies through prevailing prayer and persistent praise; and,
  • Helping him learn to die to the things of the flesh so that he can learn to live by the power of the Spirit.

This training—which we will discuss in greater detail in a later session—is designed to totally transform every child of God, until he thinks, speaks, and acts like Jesus; something which, when completed, will prepare him ultimately for his graduation into the glorious and eternal presence of God, his Father.

Glorification

Glorification: The Final Stage of our Salvation


About Glorification…

Since the definition for Glorification is …to give glory to, to honor; to extol; to praise highly

Glorification is what we will experience when, upon our physical deaths, our earthly bodies are replaced by heavenly or glorified ones, and we are ushered into the presence of God where we will receive the inheritance He has promised to His children.

Then, as the legitimate, blood-bought children of God, we will be recognized and honored in heaven, and share in the same glory that is accorded to Christ.  And, having been prepared and equipped through our earthly training process, we will be ready to move into positions of authority as co-regents, or rulers, with Christ, when He sets up His kingdom, first here on earth and later in eternity.

As you can see, Salvation is, in no way, just an antiquated theological doctrine or religious crutch for the needy; neither is it merely about having one’s sins forgiven so he or she can bypass Hell and go to Heaven.  It is the one and only way that we can realize our God-ordained destinies of becoming the Children of God—destinies made possible solely through the sacrificial death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ—and ones which will become realities once we have been Born Again.  

 

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A message worth considering from Francesca Battistelli…

 

 

God Remembers…

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In anticipation of our soon-to-begin Vignette #8, let’s take a few minutes to review the situation that poor Noah was in when our last Vignette ended.  As you may recall he, his immediate family, and a large number of animals were locked up in the Ark—the really big boat he had built at God’s direction—and were floating around on what must have seemed like an interminable sea.

The Ark on the Waves

At Sea in the Ark

This massive ocean had come into being (perhaps I should say it had come back into being) when God released onto the earth the waters which had been stored above and below it at the beginning of creation; an action which eliminated nearly every trace of His original creative work and restored the earth to its initial state of primordial chaos.

We also need to think back to the summary statements of our off-stage Narrator, made just before the curtains closed on Vignette #7, as he sadly reported…

And all flesh died that moved on the earth (Gen. 7:21)…
Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark (Gen. 7:23)…
And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days (Gen. 7:24)…

I don’t know about you but if it had been me, by this time I would have been one severely traumatized human being; not only because I had so recently endured the most terrorizing of all disasters—one involving earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, floods, and hurricane-like storms—but, as it was just pointed out by our Narrator, because I and all those with me would have now been cooped up on a boat for 150 days, without any sign of land or end to our cruising in sight!  Certainly, 150 days would have given me plenty of time to ruminate on our situation and to formulate a list of the “concerns” that I would have liked to have presented to God, should I ever hear from Him again.  In fact, if it had been me there, instead of Noah, here are a few of the issues I would have liked to have brought up in my next encounter with Him…

  1. God, what happened to You—where did You go? Did You forget about us?  We haven’t had a word from You in 150 days.  Given the ordeal that we have just been through, couldn’t You have made an appearance every once in a while to give us an update on what has been going on outside of this boat?
  1. Speaking of these 150 days, when I first signed on for this venture, I was led to believe that it would only last for 40 days and 40 nights—roughly six weeks and not the five months which it has become. As You well know, I have already invested a good part of my life, not to mention all of my material resources, in this undertaking; so I don’t think it is asking too much for You to have been a little more upfront about the actual terms of this contract—especially when You know how much I value having a clear “Definition of Terms” laid out for me, with no contingencies hidden away in the fine print.
  1. You see, if I had only known in advance how long this confinement was going to last, I would have packed a lot more clothes and brought a lot more scrolls to read; plus, the boys could have brought along some of their musical instruments to help break up the boredom. During the 40 days that the Deluge was in progress, we at least had the sound of the wind and the rain, not to mention the on-going underground rumblings and convulsions to listen to.  But for the past 110 days, there has been NOTHING to break up the sound of dead air and the monotonous drone of water sloshing up against the hull of the boat.
  1. Finally, about the living conditions here on the Ark, I am very sorry to have to report that they have been a lot more challenging than what I had anticipated. Of particular concern to me have been…

The Water Situation

Because of the foresight that You gave us, we knew to incorporate cisterns into the design and construction of the Ark and, during the forty-day downpour, we were able to collect and store a great deal of rainwater in them.  However, since the rain ended—and since we have been confined on board a lot longer than I had originally planned for—we have been unable to replenish our supplies.  In light of this, and not knowing how much longer we will be afloat, it seems that the wisest course for us to take now is to initiate a water rationing program for the duration of this trip.

The Sanitation Problem

Of course, the rationing of our water will mean limiting the number of baths we can take and the amount of laundry we can do–plus, it will make keeping this huge vessel clean virtually impossible.  When you consider that we haven’t had a really good breeze through here since the rain stopped, and with odor from the animals wafting up from the two lower tiers of the Ark to add to our aroma, the atmosphere in the upper tier where we are living will, no doubt, soon become rather rank.

By the way, about the animals, we are very grateful that once they were settled in their darkened cubicles and the boat started rocking back and forth, they all seemed to drift off into the deepest and most extended period of sleep imaginable—in fact, they are all still sleeping.  I just can’t imagine how we would have ever fed them all, plus dispatched all of their pooh, had they been awake all of this time!

The Matter of Our Diet

As for our food, we have been eating nothing but grains and dried fruit for the past five months and, to put it bluntly, we are getting pretty sick of it.  There are only so many ways these foods can be prepared—especially when you consider that, due to safety concerns, we cannot light a fire over which to cook them.  Mrs. Noah has done her best to be creative but really, our menu is getting awfully tiresome and, after all of this time, it is starting to taste a little stale.

It is not that I am complaining, mind You; it’s just that, while we are so very thankful to be alive—particularly when everyone else on the earth has perished—I felt I should call these things to Your attention, in the event that another flood of this magnitude is called for in the future.  If it is, then You can use this information to make adjustments to the plan, and to work out the bugs in the operation before any such disaster gets underway.  Oh…just an afterthought…in the event that another Ark is ever needed, it would really be nice to have a deck on top so that, when the rain is over, whoever is manning the ship can go out and get some sun and fresh air.  I am not complaining, mind You—I’m just saying…

With that, we begin to hear the sound of splashing water coming from the Stage, and as the curtains open, we see the Ark—just as we left it—bobbing up and down on the waves.  And, as if he had been reading my thoughts, we hear our Narrator open this Vignette with these words…

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark.

And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.  The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually (Gen. 8:1-2).

And, as if to let us know that this wasn’t going to be an overnight process, he goes on to add that…

…At the end of 150 days the water had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.  And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen (Gen. 8:3-5).

Noah Releasing the Raven

Noah Releasing the Raven

We then watch as Noah, after waiting another forty days, opens the window of the Ark and sends out a raven which, rather than returning to the Ark, flies back and forth over the waters until they are dried up off of the earth.  Noah also sends out a dove at this time but, when she can find no dry place to land, she returns to him in the Ark.  Undaunted, seven days later, Noah tries the same thing again, only this time the dove comes back to him in the evening with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her mouth.  While this lets Noah know that the waters have subsided, ever patient, he waits another seven days before sending out the dove again.  This time, however, she does not return.

After this, our Narrator continues with this commentary…

…in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth.  And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked and behold, the face of the ground was dry.

In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out.  Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.  Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animal and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’

So [after spending 370 days in the ArkNoah went out, and his sons and his wife and his son’s wives with him.  Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark (Gen.8:13-19).

Noah leaving the Ark

Leaving the Ark–At Last!

In another little aside here, let me just say—if it had been me there, instead of Noah, after floating around in a boat with a bunch of animals for over a year, a boat over which I had no controls,  I would have fallen down and kissed the ground, dirt and all–even though I have no use whatsoever for dirt, sweat, or bugs!  I would have been so happy to be back on solid ground again, I would have hugged that dirt until someone came and scraped me up off of it. Once again, I am not complaining, I am just saying…

Noah's Offering Following the Flood

Noah’s Worship and Offering of Thanksgiving

However, on our Stage, we see Noah do something entirely different.  He immediately sets about building a makeshift altar with the few materials he can find, and upon which he proceeds to offer some of every clean animal and bird he brought with him as a burnt offering.  But, while we sit silently, reverently, watching the smoke from the offering rise heavenward, our reverie is suddenly shattered by the voice of the Lord as He utters this all-important promise…

I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.  Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.  While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease (Gen. 8:21-22).

Then, in much the same way that He did with Adam and Eve, God blesses Noah and his sons, saying…

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it (Gen. 9:1, 7).

However, unlike He did with Adam and Eve, God tells Noah that from now on…

The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea.  Into your hand they are delivered.  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.  And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.  And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning:  from every beast I will require it and from man.  From his fellow man I will require a reckoning of the life of man.  For…whoever shed the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Gen. 9:2-6).

Then, as if this wasn’t enough, God—who had warned Noah of the Flood, who had instructed Noah how to build an Ark for the safety of him, his family, and the animals, and who had protected and provided for Noah throughout the tribulation of the Flood and its aftermath—does one more amazing thing.  He enters into a covenant with Noah—that is, He initiates a contract with him, in which He promises that…

…never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.  This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth (Genesis 9-17).

Noah's Rainbow

The Sign of God’s Promise to Noah

Wow, what a wonderful promise–and what a great place at which to end Vignette #8! Before we leave this Vignette, though, let me just say, that with this promise, all of my previously stated “concerns”–you know, the ones that were offered in the event of another flood–can be completely disregarded.  For, while they were legitimate at the time, they are now no longer relevant.  Please keep in mind that I am still not complaining, I am only saying…

 

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Join the Gaithers as they remind us that in any crisis, as long as we are in the Ark of Salvation, “It Is Well With My Soul”…

 

 

Biblical illustrations courtesy of http://www.freebibleimages.org/.

New Life…An Easter Message

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Please join me in the Room for Meditation, for my latest devotional message, New Life–an Easter Message.

Fruit Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

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Now that we have learned a little something about the principles of Sowing, Reaping, and the Nature of the Two Trees that were planted in the center of the Garden of Eden, it is time for us to take a look at the part these elements played in the Cain and Abel story which was recently acted out for us in Vignette #4.  Keeping in mind the principles that we have learned since then—which were, that for any seed sown…

  • More would be reaped than was initially planted;
  • The harvest for that seed, though delayed, would always come once the fruit had fully matured; and,
  • The fruit produced as a result of it would always bear the image of the original seed…

…it should be easy for us to see how the seed sown by Adam and Eve, when they ate the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, reproduced itself in the lives of their children and grandchildren; bringing forth a harvest more bitter and deadly than anything they could ever have imagined.

Their Births

Although we aren’t told a lot about Cain and Abel, either in Genesis 4 or in the few related passages that speak of them, we are told enough to know that these two brothers were as different as different could be—with the first difference being seen in the way in which they came into the world.  Although they weren’t born into the same paradisaical situation that their parents had first experienced, still, the world which greeted them both must have a very beautiful one.  Cain was born into it first and, because of this, his birth elicited a far more ecstatic reaction on the part of their mother.

Adam and Eve with Sons

Adam and Eve with Sons

As you may recall, back in Genesis 3:15, when God provided animal skins as a covering for Adam and Eve’s sin, He promised that one day the “seed of the woman” would come and crush the head of the Serpent—an act of redemption and deliverance which would free Man forever from his bondage to sin and death.  We can well imagine that from Eve’s joy when a male child was born to her, and from the naming of him as Cain (meaning “gotten,” as in “I have gotten a man from the Lord”), both she and Adam looked upon this child as the “Promised One”—or, as the One who would someday deliver them from the curse brought about by their sin.

Abel’s birth, on the other hand, didn’t create quite the same stir.  There was no obvious excitement when he was born and, in giving him a name meaning “vapor, vanity, or breath,” it would seem that not too much was expected of him by his parents—that, maybe, in their eyes, he would never be able to measure up to stature of his older brother.

But, with both boys being raised in a generally pleasant environment by the same parents and, with them living in a world…

  • without any grandparents, aunts, or uncles to butt in (or to muddy up the family gene pool);
  • without any known sicknesses or diseases to afflict them;
  • without any governmental or police authorities to have to answer to;
  • without any schools, peer pressure, media or other cultural influences to lead them astray; and,
  • without any church or temple, bosses, or co-workers to be concerned about…

…it would be reasonable to expect that both of these young men would turn out to be equally fine specimens of humanity, wouldn’t it?

Their Vocations

The second noticeable difference between Cain and Abel was readily seen in their choice of vocations, with Cain, either willingly or out of necessity, choosing to become a farmer, and with Abel choosing the life of a shepherd. These were two completely different but equally demanding occupations, with the former requiring hard work to produce food from ground previously cursed by God; and, the latter demanding a twenty-four hour a day commitment to the raising of the animals which could be used for both sacrifices and clothing.  Although different, it would seem that these two livelihoods would prove to be mutually beneficial:  Cain could exchange some of his produce for the sheep he needed for sacrifice and for clothing, while Abel could use the produce he received to provide food for himself and his family.

Their Relationships

Of course, the major difference between these two brothers was in their opposing attitudes toward and relationships with God.  For, although both boys had been born into the same family, and were of the same spiritual stock—that is, in their original spiritual states, they were both products of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; Cain, at the time of our story, was still proving himself to be fruit from that Tree of rebellion, while Abel, through his actions, was demonstrating that he had found his way to the spiritual Tree of Life, and had become part of its fruit.  For evidence of this, we need to look no further than at the offerings these young men brought to God.

The Offerings

We first learn of these offerings in Genesis 4:3-4a, where we are told that…

Cain and Abel at the Altar

Cain and Abel at the Altar

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.

At first glance, nothing seems to be amiss in this situation; Cain, from all outward appearances, is bringing God some of the fruits of his labor, while Abel is doing the same.  But, then, things take a decidedly different turn as we read in verses 4b and 5 that…

…the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.

Hmmm…here we have two brothers with two offerings, both being made at the altar and both at the appointed or designated time for sacrifice—what could possibly have been wrong with this picture?  What was it that set these offerings apart, making one but not the other acceptable to God?  Was it because of the differences in the offerings themselves, or was it something that went deeper than that?

Different Offerings?

I have heard a considerable bit of discussion about this over the years, with some people advancing the theory that, because there was no specific written instruction as to what the offering should be, the one which Cain brought should have been okay; with those holding to this opinion frequently citing the provision of grain offerings in the Mosaic Law to support their position.  However, the grain offerings included in the Law were Peace and Thanksgiving offerings that were to be made once a sin or a burnt offering (offerings specifically calling for animal sacrifices) had been made and accepted by God.  While we have no indication that any type of grain offering had been sanctioned by God or instituted as part of the worship ritual in Cain and Abel’s day, we can find scriptural justification to support the belief that the animal sacrifice brought by Abel was the type that had been mandated by God.

In Leviticus 17:14, it says that “…the life of every creature is its blood:  its blood is its life;” and, in Romans 6:23 that “…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Since, in these passages, God declared that the life of a person is in his or her blood, and that the wages of his or her sin is death, then it would follow that the person who sinned would be required to die and offer up his or her life’s blood to atone for that sin.  Although this was, and still is, the demand of God’s holy law, God has added something of a proviso to it; and that is, as an act of His grace, God stipulated that another’s life—and blood—could be substituted for that of the sinner, on condition that the life and blood of the substitute be sinless, so that it could satisfy the righteous demands of the law.  This law of substitution is what made the sacrifice of innocent animals necessary, and is why this type of offering became the precedent for all those that would be made in the future.

With this precedent having been established in the Garden, and with parents who no doubt told their sons all about it, why would Cain have dared to bring any other kind of offering to God?  Although we are not told so here, fallen human nature being what it is, there are some things that we can surmise which might help to explain his actions:

  • If Cain had grown up believing that he was the Promised Deliverer, he may have adopted the attitude that he could do no wrong, and that no matter what he did, it would be okay with God.
  • If this was the case, he would have had an ego the size of all Eden, accompanied by an attitude of superiority, which would have made going to his younger brother for anything, especially a sacrificial lamb, simply intolerable.
  • Certainly, the fact that Abel was a prophet (something not mentioned here but revealed later on by Jesus in Matthew 23:34-35 and in Luke 11:50-51) wouldn’t have helped to improve the situation in any way. If, in times past, when acting as a prophet, Abel had confronted Cain about his arrogant attitude and preached repentance to him, it surely wouldn’t have endeared him to someone with Cain’s exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  • Cain may have also been harboring resentment toward God; possibly for having kicked his parents out of Paradise for such an “insignificant” offense as eating from the forbidden Tree, and thus denying him the privilege of growing up there. He could have resented having to work so hard to get the earth, cursed as it was by God, to yield its increase—especially when a life of relative ease was waiting to be had, if only he lived in the Garden.

…Or, Different Hearts?

Whatever else may have been going on behind the scenes, one thing we can know for sure is that the real issue between these two men was neither physical nor emotional but spiritual in nature, and reflective of the two very different heart attitudes of the brothers.  For proof of this, we need only to go to  Hebrews 11:4, where we learn that the truly distinguishing feature between their two offerings was faith, for…

“By faith, Abel offered up a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”

And why was faith the deciding factor here?  As it is explained so simply in Hebrews 11:6 and in 1 Samuel 16:7, respectively…

“…without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for however would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

“For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart.”

If a heart of faith was what was required to please God, then how did Abel’s offering reveal that?  Since “…faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17),” Abel must have taken to heart the Word that he had received, most likely from his parents, which said something to the effect that “…without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Heb. 9:22)”—and then acting upon that Word, he offered up to God his best lamb as the substitutionary payment for his sins.

Abel Slain by Cain

Abel Slain by Cain

Cain, on the other hand, in his rejection of the same Word, and in his willful determination to do things in his own way, foolishly attempted to come to God on his own terms, rather than approaching God in the manner which had previously been ordained.  Such arrogant actions on Cain’s part resulted in God’s rejection of his offering, which provoked Cain to anger and to the subsequent murder of his brother, which led to a further curse being placed on his farming, and which, when he refused to repent, led to Cain’s separation from the presence of God, leading ultimately to a life of fearful wandering.  As for the true nature of Cain’s heart and actions, they were best described centuries later by the Apostle John, when he warned his readers in 1 John 3:12:  ““We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him?  Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

Now, as we recall what we previously learned about the nature of the two trees—which was…

  • That the Tree of the Knowledge of Good an Evil was rooted in the in the same desires that motivated Satan to rebel against God, that it produced the SAP of Selfishness and Pride, and that its Fruit was all about Me and My Glory…
  • …while the Tree of Life was rooted in the same desires to do God’s will that characterized Jesus, its SAP being Submission and Praise, while its Fruit for God and His Glory

…then it should be plain enough for us to see that Cain, in his prideful reliance upon his own works at achieving righteousness, was the first and most perfect piece of fruit to fall from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—becoming, if you will, a regular “poster child” for all those who would come after him, seeking to come to God on their own merits.  Abel, on the other hand, with the placement of his faith in the gracious provision of God—that is, in the one allowing for the substitutionary death of an innocent lamb to provide a covering for his sins—was the first and a most fitting example of the fruit to be produced by the Tree of Life.  The offerings that they brought to God, then, were merely outward demonstrations of these inner beliefs.

Of course, both of these trees will continue to bear fruit in each of the generations to come but our inspection of that fruit will have to wait until next time; the time when we will also complete our assessment of the story of Cain and Abel by looking for…

  • the Life Lessons that we can take away from their experiences;
  • the Contributions that their story makes to the One Big Story taking place on the Heavenly Stage above us; and,
  • any new Revelations about God contained within their story.

Until then, though, let’s join with Kutless and reflect on just…“What Faith Can Do.”

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Of Trees and Tapestries

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Tapestry

A Beautiful Example of a Tapestry

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spiritthat they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Try to imagine with me, if you can, what human history might look like to God, as He surveys it from beginning to end.  From the prophetic insight given to us by Isaiah in the passage above, it seems quite likely that God would view it as a forest of trees, one stretching all the way from the Garden of Eden to the coming Paradise in the new Heaven and Earth; trees which, in His eyes, are representative of the countless lives of men and women throughout history who have been made righteous by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  As plantings of God, they have come in every size and shade imaginable, yet all producing the same desired fruit of holiness by which the Lord God, the creator and sustainer of all the earth, will forever be glorified!  What a truly satisfying picture this would be for God to behold; nothing less than a magnificent tapestry depicting His marvelous and ages-long redemption; an intricately woven work of art designed to surround His throne and to testify of His unfathomable love, grace, and mercy for all eternity.

Weaving on a Loom

At Work on a Loom

Although some may not be all that familiar with tapestries, they have been around for quite a long time, with some known to have been in use as far back as ancient Greece.  Similar in texture to carpets, but hung on walls instead of covering floors, tapestries have served as portable murals for centuries, often gracing the throne rooms of kings as ways of depicting the memorable events or victories that have taken place during their reigns.  Typically, tapestries are woven on vertical looms, or large wooden frames, that hold two sets of threads—the longer set being the stationary, immutable threads running lengthwise which are called the “warp,” with the shorter set being the variable threads running width-wise which are called the “weft.”  The threads making up the warp are held in place under tension by the two sturdy frames at the end of the looms; while the shorter and discontinuous weft (threads) are woven in and out of part or all of the warp to create the design of the tapestry.

With this imagery in mind, let’s try to imagine how such a weaving process might be applied to the story of God’s redemption.  To begin, let’s close our eyes and try to visualize an enormous loom being set into place by God when, “In the beginning…,” He bracketed the timeline for His redemptive story through the placement of two sturdy frames, one marking the beginning and the other marking the ending of human history.  Having already discussed these at great length during several of our previous visits, we should be quite familiar with the two wooden frames by now; for they are the two trees that man was given to choose from in the Garden of Eden.  The tree that was chosen, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in its choice, became the beginning frame for the tapestry; while the tree that was rejected, the Tree of Life, took its place as the end frame—the frame toward which all of the design work was to be directed.

Given the enormous distance between these two frames and the incredible number of events that the design of this tapestry was meant to depict, we should not be surprised to learn that an additional piece of wood had to be inserted at the midpoint of the loom in order to secure and support the weight of the weaving work which would be taking place upon it.  This plank was a tree, too, and one that we have also already discussed; for it was the Cross on which the Son of God was crucified; the lifeless tree which, throughout time, has served as the embodiment of all of mankind’s dead works and futile attempts at self-salvation.

Now, with the framework for the loom all set up in our minds, let’s begin to visualize the commencement of the weaving process as the first set of threads are placed on the loom.  These are the warp, and for the purposes of this tapestry, they are ten unbreakable cords which have been stretched tautly from, and then securely fastened to, the first side frame, over the middle plank, and on to the other side frame.  White in color and extending out across the ages, these cords are God’s eternally fixed standards of holiness–His unchanging rules for righteous living–known to us as the Ten Commandments; the plumb lines against which the actions of all men have been and will be measured.   It is only fitting that these should be the first threads that are woven into the fabric of redemption because, unlike everything else…

…the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;  the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
…the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
…the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever, the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether (Ps. 19:7-9).

Given the nature of these laws, what better foundation for redemption could have been laid, other than these?

With God’s laws now securely attached to the frames of the loom, the really intricate work on the tapestry can begin to get underway.  What makes this part of the process so tricky is that before the weft—or those short and variegated “loose threads”created by humanity’s failures to measure up to the standards of God’s laws—can be woven over and under that holy warp, they must first be tied to the crimson cord which runs through the entire length of the tapestry’s design.  This cord was introduced into the human story immediately following man’s first violation of God’s command and, as the cord of redeeming faith, it went on to connect every image in the story, from the beginning frame at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, all the way to the Cross, and then on to the end frame at the Tree of Life.

Of course, this cord is none other than our Redeemer, Jesus Christ; the One who was promised, the One who came, and the One who will come again—and, the only One capable of salvaging all of the threads left dangling by the sins of mankind and then incorporating them into a beautiful and eternal work of art for all to behold.  And how was He able to do this?  By dying the death that should have been ours, on the tree representing all of our dead works, He was able to remove sin’s curse, and open the way to the Tree of Life once more, to any and all who would believe.

Try to imagine with me, if you can, God looking around His throne room, gazing lovingly upon His glorious tapestry of redemption—the one depicting the millions, perhaps even billions, of oak trees that were made righteous through their faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ; each tree springing up from a seed sown in the earth and then growing toward heaven, and each tree reproducing that one seed many times over through an abundant spiritual harvest, some of which will include…

…the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” produced through the discipline of the Lord (Heb. 12:11);
…the fruit of a life transformed by the Spirit, in which the very character of Christ was reproduced;
…the fruit of many answered prayers;
…the fruit of souls won for the Lord; and,
…the fruit produced whenever fear was overcome by faith, darkness was overcome by the light, and the flesh was overcome by the Spirit.

Try to imagine with me, if you can, the kind of joy a sight such as this would bring to the heart of God.  Given that joy, let me ask you this question…when, at the end of time, God scans His forest of trees, will He find you there?  Will you be a part of His tapestry of redemption—one of His oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified?  If not, can there possibly be a good reason why?

God's Trees of Righteousness

God’s Many Trees of Righteousness

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2

 

The Tapestry of Redemption presented in song, by the Tally Trio in “He Saw Me/Jesus Paid it All.”

 

 

 

Tree Treasures, Part II

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There is a lot of Truth in the Trees

Trees—who knew there was so much treasure to be found in them; I mean, how were we supposed to know that, hidden behind all of those leaves, there would be so much rich spiritual truth just waiting to be uncovered?  And yet, as we learned in Romans 1: 19-20, hiding truth in trees was all part of God’s plan to make known to us such otherwise unknowable things as “…his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature…” through the things that He had made.  Wow, this would imply that all of creation is just one huge treasure trove of divine truth waiting to be discovered, wouldn’t it?

Of course, having had only one little excursion into the woods so far, our excavation for true spiritual riches has only begun; but, let’s not despise the day of small beginnings for in just that one outing, we have already uncovered an important spiritual truth, one which we have labeled as Treasure #1, The What” of the trees, or the lesson of what we, in comparison to trees, should look like.  We are not stopping with that discovery, however—for we are on our way back out among the foliage today, and this time, we will be looking for what should prove to be Treasure #2, also known as The Why” of the trees—or, the truth in answers to the questions that were raised in “Redemption, A Story Told by Trees”—questions as to why God would use something as seemingly insignificant as earthly trees to tell His majestic and eternal story of redemption.

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Time to Get Your Tools Out

To aid us in our search today, we will need to take along the same tools that we used in our previous outing; only this time, we will be bringing with them the truths that were uncovered during our earlier search.  As you may recall:

  • Tool #1—was the understanding that from the beginning of creation, God has revealed Himself not only through what He has said, but also through what He has done.
  • Truth #1—was that one of the first of those revelations was of God as the Separator, Divider, and Judge of the very things He had created.
  • Tool #2—was the understanding that when God created the world, He included elements within it that He would later use as teaching tools for His spiritual truths or principles.
  • Truth #2—was that for one such lesson, God used the natural characteristics of trees to illustrate the spiritual characteristics that righteous men and women should exhibit.

With these tools and truths in hand, then, we can begin our search for…

Treasure Chest

Treasure #2

Treasure #2—The Why of the Trees…    

… by answering the questions posed so long ago.

Question #1 – Why would God choose to use trees to test the measure of a man’s righteousness?

Since we now know that it was part of God’s plan to use trees to teach us important spiritual truths, and that it was also part of His nature to divide and make distinctions between the various elements of His creation, it should come as no surprise that He would also make distinctions or divisions between the humans He had created—and that He would use trees to do so.  After all, if trees were to produce fruit after their own kind—that is, in accordance with the type of seed hidden within them; and, if men and women, likewise, were to produce fruit after their own kind—or, in accordance with the type of seed hidden in their hearts, wouldn’t giving them a choice between two trees that produced vastly different kinds of fruit be the most logical way of revealing the heart conditions of those who were doing the choosing?

We will find this truth borne out for us through a little deeper dig into the Word of God, where:

  • In Luke 6:43-45, from the words of Jesus, we are instructed that…

    …no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit.  For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

  • In Matthew 12:33, we hear the Lord’s admonition to…

    Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.

  • In Proverbs 11:30, we learn that…

    The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life

Surely, the God who had separated, divided, and judged every other aspect of His creation would be expected to do the same with the people He had created, especially since those people had been created in His image, and been given authority to rule over all that He had made.  To rule for God, though, one would first have to be righteous, and what more appropriate way to judge for righteousness than through an inspection of the fruit produced by the tree of that person’s choosing?

Question #2 – Why would God make the choice of one tree over another mean the difference between life and death, not only for the one doing the choosing, but also for all the ones who would come after him?

In designating man as His ruling representative on earth, God was entrusting him with the responsibility of carrying out His will upon the earth.  So, in having him choose between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God was giving man the opportunity to prove whether he would choose to do God’s will or his own.  This was the same choice that was presented to Israel, as she was preparing to enter into the Promised Land, when the Lord said…

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord and walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statues and his rules [doing His will], then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 

But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear [or do your own will]…I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. 

Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers… (Deut. 30:15-20).

If the first man chose to do his will over that of his Father, and if every tree produces fruit after its own kind, then all of those who were to descend from Adam must, of necessity, be of the same kind that he was, must produce the same type of fruit, and must have to suffer the same consequences.  As the old saying goes, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree–or, as we said before…no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit.

Question #3 – Once the choice had been made, why would God make the way to the Tree of Life inaccessible to those who needed the new life that it offered?

The truth is, if God had allowed fallen man and woman to eat of the Tree of Life, then they would have lived forever in their sinful state and, in that state, they would have been beyond the reach of God’s redemption, and wouldn’t have experienced the saving grace and forgiveness that Christ made available to us through the Cross.  In reality, it was an act of mercy on God’s part to bar man’s way to the Tree of Life until the time when the Son of Life would come to pay the price for man’s sins and reopen the way to that Tree through His redeeming blood.

Question #4 – Why would God allow an ugly, cruel tree fashioned by men to be the instrument of torture and means of death for His one and only Beloved Son?

When we consider the two trees that were in the Garden, it is important for us to understand what each of them was meant to represent.  Just as God intended for healthy, vigorous trees in the natural to represent the healthy and productive spiritual lives of men and women who were right with God, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were intended to represent the only two options in life available to mankind—that is, man could opt to do God’s will and, in so doing, he would become more like God and end up gaining life everlasting; or he could opt to do life on his own terms, attempting to be his own god, with the end result of that choice being death.  The Tree of Life, then, was intended to represent the way of Faith, while the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was meant to represent the way of Works.

The Tree of Life, or the way of Faith, was rooted in Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father, or as it is recorded for us in Psalm 40:8-10…

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.  I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.  

As we can readily see, the sap produced by this tree was one characterized by Submission and Praise, while its fruit was that of God and His Glory.

On the other hand, as the way of works, or as man’s attempts to be god on his own terms, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, had as its root system the same one that Satan had when, as he sought to rebel against God, he said in his heart…

I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High (Is. 14:13-14)

a root system which could only produce the fruit of “Me and My Glory,” and sap amounting to nothing more than “Selfishness and Pride.”

It was Adam’s choice of this tree that eventually produced every sin, every act of rebellion, every false system of belief—no matter how seemingly virtuous—and every death that men have suffered throughout history.  In fact, every work of man, apart from God, has been the fruit of this one choice and has found its representation in this tree.  Since the only kind of tree that the works of man could produce was one of dead works, that was the one that Jesus would have to die on if men were to ever be set free from its curse and its power, and if the way to the Tree of Life was ever going to be made available to them again.

Question #5 – Why and how could God make what was a tree of death for One into a Tree of Life for many?

Through His death on the Cross, that tree representing all of man’s futile efforts at achieving righteousness through his own works, and then through His resurrection from that death, Christ became  the “firstfruits” of all those who would afterwards come to Him in faith.  As the Apostle Paul explains in selected verses of 1 Corinthians 15…

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 

But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.  The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

In other words, just as the first Adam’s selfish choice reproduced the fruit of death in those who would come after him, the second Adam’s sacrificial choice reproduced the fruit of life in all of those who would came after him in faith—to those for whom “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life…”

I know this has been a lengthier than usual dig today but as we consider all of the tree treasures that we have uncovered today, let’s also take a moment to consider this final treasure of truth found in Isaiah 61:1-3.  It is Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the promised Messiah, and one with which many of us are familiar.  However, I don’t think too many of us have heard, or at least not paid much attention to, the last line, for it in it God reveals the ultimate purpose of our Redeemer’s mission…

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

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There’s Gold in Them Thar Trees

Wow—who knew that the reason Jesus came was to make us into oaks, trees of righteousness through whom the Lord would be glorified!  I mean, who knew that the most precious treasure to be found in the trees would be us?

 

 

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The Robbie Seay Band on that “Beautiful Scandalous Night”