Monthly Archives: October 2014

Having It All

Jesus once spoke of a sower sowing seed. He told of some seed that fell among thorns and didn’t bring forth any fruit. When His disciples asked Him about it, He said,

18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

I read that again this afternoon and thought about it. He says that the lusts of other things choke the word. Is this why our lives are often so unfruitful? We seek God for the things. If He gives us enough money, nice enough clothes, a good marriage, well-behaved children, then we would be content.

But the problem is that we are in a continual search for more things, better things.

I don’t think that most readers of this blog are vulgarly materialistic. I don’t think that our desires are for a new car, designer clothes, the best delicacies, and diamonds on the soles of our shoes. But we all have those other “things” that we seek after.

Those desires become very acute when we lose some of the comforts of life. What about those in continual pain? What about irretrievable broken relationships? What about extreme poverty?

Perhaps it is loss of reputation. Someone has slandered and reproached us with such skill that our name has a question mark in the minds of those whom we loved dearly.

The hard facts of life in a cursed world often lead us into discouragement – perhaps even wondering if God is there at all. We live unclean lives among people with unclean tongues and long for something greater. But our idolatrous nature turns our longing into a desire for things – health, good food, sex, relationships, wisdom, good reputations – and we lose something very important about living a gospel centered life.

Happiness, contentment and joy will never come from things. What we all long for is God Himself.

If we search the scriptures to learn how to raise happy and well adjusted children, we will not find either God or happy and well-adjusted children.

If we search the scripture to learn how to have a successful relationship, we will fail. The lust for things chokes the word.

When we come to church to hear how to succeed at work, how to make friends, how to save money, how to save our marriage, how to …(the reader can fill in his own desires)… we will never find God, nor will we find what we seek.

Because of this, many fall away. Young people leave the church in droves. They heard how God was cool, awesome, and just so relevant and “now”. They were promised great marriages, great sex, great jobs – God wants them to be happy and well-adjusted.

And then the reality hit. The totally cute, God-centered man that they fell for isn’t what he appeared to be. That girl that the successfully wooed turned out to be human.Their reputation was shattered in college by reproach and lies. The job market collapsed.

What happens when you seek the things of this earth and those things disappear like soap bubbles on a sunny day?

Where is God when your life is constant physical pain? Where is God in the unemployment line? Where is God in the foreclosure notice? The divorce papers? What happened to all of the promises made by the soul-patched and skinny-jeaned youth pastors, signified by the purity rings and virginity pledges, and sung about by the dreamy Christian rock band of the day?

Jesus told us. The desires for something else choked the word of God. And now a question arises. Other than what? What is it that we are to desire above everything else?  David answers this in Psalm 27:

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.

God Himself. God is Abraham’s reward (Gen. 15:1). God is the portion of the saints.

I love the hymn that says, “The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face”. God Himself is the pearl of great price that can only be obtained by selling all that one has.

It took Jacob many decades to learn this. Finally, when he was returning with four wives and twelve intolerable children to meet his greatest enemy, Esau, he wrestled with God and prevailed. He held onto God and cried “I will not let go until you bless me!”

From that day on he walked with a limp, but he held on to God.

From that day on, he was inflicted with misery after misery, but he held on to the Shepherd who guided him every day of his life.

When he met Esau, he gave flocks and herds to his offended brother. Esau said, “Keep them for yourself.  I have enough” (Genesis 33:9).  And Jacob responded, “Please receive this blessing for God has been favorable to me.  I have enough” (Genesis 33:13).

In the English, both statements, “I have enough” look the same. But in the Hebrew they say different things. Esau says, “I have much!” But Jacob says, “I have everything!”

Esau’s mind was still on the world. God had given him many flocks, herds, servants, children, wives. But Esau didn’t have God Himself.

Jacob had all of the material goods, but this isn’t what he is referring to. He was able to be generous, because he had “everything”.

On this earth, we may have riches or poverty. We may have health or sickness. We may have a house of peace or a house of trouble. We may have good reputations, or men may speak evil of us for Jesus’ sake. But if we have Christ, we have everything.

There is nothing more. There is no more to be sought. The things of this world always prove as satisfying as cotton candy to a starving man. With Christ, we are full. Without Chirst, we have nothing, though we may inherit the whole world. With Christ, we abound as Paul did – even in a Roman prison (Phil. 4:18).

There may come a day soon when we could very well lose our current prosperity.  We could lose our current status with the state. We might even be in fear of our lives. Millions all over the world have been driven from their homes, separated from their families, and killed by the sword for the sake of Christ and the gospel. But they have Christ. Things are not what they appear.

With Christ, we truly have everything and abound.

It depends on what you seek. If you seek the things, you might get them. But you will still be poor.

If you seek Christ, you may not get things, but you will be richer than you could have possibly imagined, for you will have God Himself.

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Apricot Jam and Hope

A reprint, but still the truth.

My Only Comfort

We are a proud bunch.  I remember my youth.  I thought that any problem that came along I could fix.  I was pretty clever, healthy, able to hold down a job.  I was catechized when I was young so I knew my theology.  I figured that I had the answers to whatever life threw my way.

But I didn’t understand this: to believe the gospel is to declare war on the devil.  And the devil doesn’t let go of his kingdom easily.

I always knew that their was a devil and that he was our enemy.  Our catechism said so.  But he seemed far away and not really relevant to anything in my life.  I guess that I had the same view of God.  When it came right down to it, I got in trouble because I was foolish and if I would just be wiser, I could get myself…

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In Defense of Potluck

I have decided to do something a bit different today and defend what may seem indefensible.  The potluck.

No.  I am actually not talking about the reality of the potluck that the symbol points to.  I often find it hard to defend assorted jellos with mayonnaise in them, various casseroles of assorted things, and other essentially indefensible things.

I am actually talking about the word:  potluck.

OH.  You may say, afraid that by this word I may be bowing before a 1st century Roman god of chance.  Rushing to the defense of the mysterious providence of God, you say with a knowing smile, “You mean a pot providence.”

No.  I actually don’t.  I mean a pot luck.  I do not at all deny the mysterious and wonderful providence of God, by which He upholds heaven and earth with all creatures and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.

With all Christians, I sound a hearty AMEN to that statement, found in question 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

But the fact is that language is a wonderful, nuanced, careful, cacophonous, brilliant and God- imaging thing,  Adjectives fail me.

I began this post saying that I decided to do something different.  By this, I did not mean that I have independent free-will apart from the decree of God. I simply meant that I made a decision.  I could have decided not to write this blog; or I could have decided to write it.  I have not yet decided to publish.  You will know if you are reading it what my decision will be.

We don’t live in the mind of God.  We don’t have access to His secret decrees.  What has been revealed to us are those things that Solomon calls, “The things under the sun.”

We are not commanded to pry into the book of life and see whose names are written there.  We are commanded to come to Christ, who freely offers salvation to all.

We are not commanded to sit under a tree and ponder when and how God will provide our daily bread; we are commanded to get a job and go to work.

That is part of what has been revealed to us.

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
(Deu 29:29 KJG)

Often we act like children taking quizzes answering every question with “Because that’s how God made the world.”

What were some of the causes of the War of 1812?  God’s providence.

Why did the apple fall on Newton’s head?  God’s providence.

What were the causes of the crusades.  God’s providence.

Eventually it becomes silly.  We all (as Christians) know and love the doctrine of God’s providence.  But we also live under the sun and are called to apply our hearts to wisdom.

And there is a remarkable thing that happens under the sun.  Sometimes events happen that are inexplicable.  There are wondrous coincidences.  There are almost mystical convergences that take place that change the course of history.  One may be righteous, and die; and one may be wicked and live.  One might be the fastest runner, but he stumbles on a nail that just happens to be on the road.  As the proverb goes, for want of a nail, the war was lost.

We all know that these are attributed solely to God’s hand of providence.  But the word “providence” includes everything that takes place in or under heaven.  Some things work on very precise mathematical principles.  Often, human behavior is predictable to a remarkable degree.  Weather patterns can be followed and weather forecasts can be made.

And we know that it is all attributable to God’s providence.  And yet, we don’t insist that every time we speak of any fact we again remind our hearers of God’s providence.  Science books and history tomes would be even more ponderous than they already are if with every sentence you had to say, “By God’s providence, of course.”  Couldn’t we just understand that principle and read and think in the light of it, rather than give ourselves to vain repetition?

By God’s providence, the alarm clock went off at exactly the same time that I set it.

By God’s providence, the bread dough rose exactly as it was supposed to.

By God’s providence, the man that I insulted and hit became angry with me.

All of these statements are factually true, but lack wisdom and insight.  We are better than that.

Human beings have a word that describes those inexplicable happenings, those things that have no earthly explanation. Those fortuitous events that come together without any expectation, contrary to what experience would allow.  It is true that all of these events are also in the hand of God’s providence, but that is sloppy language.

The word that we have in English is “chance”, or sometimes, “luck”.

When my house catches fire, but I happen to be awake at 3:00 in the morning, contrary to my usual pattern, and so I am able to warn my family and flee to safety, I might say, “I was lucky that I was up then!”

I would praise the sovereign hand of God, give him thanks for his providence and rejoice in Him for His goodness.

But if I said, “By God’s providence, I was up then,” then I haven’t communicated anything meaningful.  I have not told you if it was my normal practice, whether I had a predictable reason for being up, or whether my insomnia was inexplicable.

“Luck” or “chance” covers those things that are inexplicable and fortuitous.  “I happened to come by just as the accident happened.”  “I was lucky to have found the child before he was seriously injured.”

The problem with using the term “providence” to describe those events that happen by chance, is that it leaves the impression that providence does not cover those events that happen expectedly.  Let’s look at an example from the Bible.

Jesus is telling a parable.  He says,

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. (Luk 10:31 KJG)

He uses the Greek word “sugkuria”, which means “chance”.  I am sure that a modern expert on theology would have corrected him here and said, “Wait.  You mean ‘by providence'”

No.  Being the eternal word of God, Jesus never tried to say anything, nor did he ever misspeak.  He meant, “By chance”.  He is not delving into the mysteries of God’s providential hand.  He is stressing the fact that there was no earthly reason for a priest to be walking the road at this time.  At this exact moment, out of the blue, completely unexpectedly, a priest walks by.

If Jesus had said, “By God’s sovereign decree, a priest was walking by…” the meaning of the sentence would be different.  It would not be clear if this was an ordinary occurrence, according to the natural laws of priests, something that was expected, or if this was something OUT of the ordinary and unexpected and unpredictable.

Jesus’ point was that this was unpredictable and marvelously unexpected.  That is highlighted with the only word that could have been used.  Sugkuria, or, as we would say, “Chance” or “luck”.

Let’s look at the Old Testament.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (Ecc 9:11 KJG)

The Old Testament word is “pega'”.  It again means “chance.” Once again, I can hear the corrections in my head.  “Oh, poor Solomon.  He means ‘Time and providence happeneth to them all.’

Once again, no he didn’t.  The point in this verse is NOT that God’s hand is over everything, and not even a hair can fall from our heads without the will of our Father in Heaven.  That point is stressed throughout scripture and we see God’s hand in the smallest and largest events.

But that isn’t the point in this passage.  The point is that under the sun things happen that can never be explained and never be expected.  This world is vanity under the sun.  We can prepare to be the strongest, fastest, and mightiest and get run over by an oxcart in the street.  Time and chance happen to everyone.

Only when we lift our eyes to heaven can we trust in God’s hand even in those events of chance. But by denying chance at all, we attempt to explain and quantify that which cannot be explained and quantified.  We not only lose the mystery that is in the world, but we also ROB from the doctrine of God’s providence.

Just as the doctrine of election includes my free-will decisions; just as the government and order of God’s creation includes scientific laws, so also the providence of God includes those events of time and chance and luck.  In none of these is the choice “Either/or”; it is always, “Both/and.”

The writer of Esther could have written, “Because God’s hand is over all things and nothing happens outside of His decree, that night the king couldn’t sleep….” and we would have glossed over it and not have seen how astounding it was that on this night, of all nights, the ONE NIGHT that wicked Haman was plotting against the Jews, the king couldn’t sleep.

But by saying, “On that night, could not the king sleep” (Esther 6:1), the master story-teller stresses something astounding that a systematic theology could not say with the same punch.  If it was the night before, or if it was the night after, the hope of the entire world would have been lost.  But on THAT ONE night, it happened that the king couldn’t sleep.

Instead of denying God’s providence, the writer exalts the amazing hand of almighty God with art and skill and mystery, without even saying the words.  It lifts the heart to heaven in wonder; it opens the lips to praise and the heart to mystery!  It takes the breath away at the wonderful, glorious, almighty hand of God in even the sleep patterns of the kings of Persia.  The master story teller SHOWS us God’s providence, without ever even mentioning the word.

So also the potluck.  We could say, “Pot providence” but that doesn’t communicate the same thing.  I could assign everyone in the church to bring an assigned item, lay it out like a banquet, fully knowing what to expect, and still call it a “pot providence.” I could actually cater a meal, go to a restaurant, or order fast food, and have a “pot providence”.  Is God’s hand only seen in the inexplicable and unexpected?  God forbid.

When we say potluck, we are simply saying, “everybody bring what you want.  The meal will be unexpected, marvelous, strange, a bit wacky perhaps, and scientifically inexplicable – like Jello with peas and onions and Aunt Edna’s casserole that no one has ever been able to explain.”

It means precisely that there are no rules, no menu and what we will be eating will be inexplicable.

If we insist on “pot providence” let’s at least be consistent and instead of asking for menus, ask for the providence list; instead of seating charts, we could call them providence charts.  Instead of family style, we could say, providence style.

And we would be boring, uncommunicative, non-creative and say absolutely nothing.

The fact is, whether we go to Burger King, Five Guys, Red Robin, or have a potluck at church, all our food is controlled by the providence of God.  We know that as Christians.

That doesn’t mean that we turn our brains off and make no distinctions and use no definitions.

Being created in the image of God, man gave names to all the animals.  It is part of our image bearing to name those things that are under the sun.  One of those things is the uncaused event, the unpredictable and unexpected, the fortuitous and almost miraculous.

Those things have names too.  Let’s use them, and understand that God’s providence is indeed over all.  For now, I will praise the hand of God and proudly say, “Next Sunday, we’re having a potluck.  You know what that means!”

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Oppression and Relief

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. (Pro 31:8-9 KJV)

Most of us are familiar with the Proverbs 31 woman.  We heard about her, we studied her and we tried hard to either be her of have a wife like her (some of us have done pretty good with that one).  Unfortunately, men have also used the “Proverbs 31” woman in churches to keep their wife silent, in the kitchen and doing what she is “supposed to do”. Much ink has been spilled praising the virtue of this woman while at the same time professionally “exegeting” the passage to make sure that the women don’t get too uppity.

Let me run through a quick survey.  How many of you have heard how a woman can consider and buy a field and plant a vineyard without every working outside the home?

Next question.  How many of you have read, studied and applied the two verses right before the section on the Proverbs 31 woman?  I’ve listed them above (Proverbs 31:8-9).  I would imagine that now we are hearing crickets.

Run a search on the Proverbs 31 Woman.  How many books, lectures, conferences, blogs and articles do we find?

Now check the upcoming calendar for the year.  How many conferences are there on these two verses?

Don’t get me wrong.  Proverbs 31:10-31 is a wonderful, moving, hopeful and joyful celebration of wisdom.  It needs much more meditation, study and reflection in all of our lives (notice that I didn’t say “conferences, blogs, bible studies, articles and personal opinions”).

But part of the same passage, the same instructions that King Lemuel’s mother gave to him, are these two verses.  It all goes together.

The Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t begin at verse 10.  The instructions begin with the man.  In order for the wife to flourish in wisdom the man must take heed to his heart.  First, he must be devoted to her, married to her (verse 3).  He must not let his heart wander around in fornication and adultery, but must “live with her in understanding” (1 Peter 3:7); he must “love her as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph. 5:25).  He must not live as a miserable drunk, but live as a king and priest under Jesus Christ (verses 4-7).  Miserable wretches are drunkards; that is not us.  We have been made members of Christ and partakers of his anointing.

Both of those concepts are for another time and another place.

God has given gifts to mankind according to his wisdom.  To some, he has given authority, responsibility, wealth.  Some have a voice that is heard.  Some have office in the church.  Some are kings.

Our human nature wants to take these gifts that we have been given and use them to control and devour the sheep.  Human depravity always seeks to elevate itself as god in the place of God.  Authority and responsibility quickly become abused to the destruction of those whom God has placed to benefit from godly structure.  And God will hold those in authority accountable  for their abuse of authority.  This is why Israel and Judah were destroyed and taken captive into Babylon.

Because human nature is thus depraved, there are many who have no voice, have no hope, have no help.  They neither have the money to purchase justice from corrupt judges, nor do they have any skills for making a case for themselves.  Perhaps their words get jumbled.  Perhaps they are frightened.  Perhaps they simply cannot speak for themselves. Perhaps they have no legal standing, either in church or in the state.

If King Lemuel is to be a good steward of the gifts that God has given him, he MUST use the authority, responsibility and power that he has been given to be the voice for those who do not have one.  Of course, if I were of the patriarchal persuasion, I might ask what King Lemuel was doing still listening to his mother when he was clearly over the age of 13, but since I am not of that persuasion, I will let those that are continue to blog trying to explain it.

But that is neither here nor there.

Open your mouth for those who can’t (verse 8).  The second half of this verse uses Hebrew idioms that sound a bit awkward in English.

Literally, it says, “Open your mouth on behalf of those who cannot speak, into judgment on behalf of the children of vanishing.”

“Judgment” means the legal process.  It means that which determines situations righteously and with equity.  It means not to look at wealth, power, privilege and position, but to judge according to equity, according to the Law of God.

“Children of vanishing” are all of those without a voice, who are not seen and are not heard.  They are those who have been silenced by oppression, have learned from an early age to vanish into corners, keep their mouths shut.  They are the Harry Potters of the world, hiding under the stairs with no voice, no hope, no future.  They are the ones that fade into the mass graves of the world, who are unnoticed in the marketplace.  They are those who hide the bruises and the scars with long sleeves and long tales, unnoticed by the “important” people, who wish to not be bothered by uncomfortable things.

The King James calls them, “those who are appointed to destruction.”  The ESV says, “all who are destitute”.  The NKJV says, “appointed to die” and the ASV says “the unfortunate”.  All of them (except arguably the ASV) come close to the meaning of the Hebrew idiom.  All of this, and more.  They are the “children of vanishing”.  Those who are marginalized, outcast, voiceless, powerless and helpless.

All who have been given a voice are commanded by God to speak for those who cannot, to plead the cause of the poor.  We all have our corners of responsibility and everyone who has been given responsibility has been given responsibility over only a certain area.  We have our families, our churches, our cities, our neighborhoods.  These are our first responsibilities.  The poor we will always have with us, and we cannot shut our eyes and ears to the cries of the oppressed right in our own midst.

We cannot look the other way while the powerful abuse, beat and torment the sheep.  We cannot pretend that “mistakes were made” when pastors and church leaders get rich on the backs of the oppressed.  We cannot hide our eyes as the gifted ones of the church stomp over the quiet saints of God, running them out of the church and leaving them broken and wounded, without a home.

Perhaps I am a “bleeding heart”.  This kind of talk always seems to make conservative Reformed people a little nervous, as if someone is about to go off and become a “new dealer”.

No.  I’m not talking about ending one form of abuse with another form of officially sanctioned government abuse.

I am talking about a righteous king.  All who have been given voices, responsibility, or even authority.  Whatever sphere God has placed you in and whatever gifts God has given to you it is your responsibility to be a voice to those who have none.  If the church had done this, there wouldn’t have been the necessity of adding a bureaucracy to step in.  But we have miserably failed.   We have historically shut our eyes, ears and mouths against the cry of the oppressed and silenced.

We have not practiced church discipline against those who bought and sold slaves, or even those who attempt to justify such wickedness.

We have not protected wives from abusive, drunken husbands.

We have looked the other way and pretended not to hear the cries of sexually abused children.

The Anglicans who occupied Ireland watched millions starve to death during the potato famine and did nothing.  There was plenty of food, but it went into the pockets of the rich land owners – all of them professing the name of Christ.  The bodies of the poor lay dead on the sides of the roads as the wealthy protestants filled out eviction notices.

It’s time to end it.  It is time for every pastor, elder, deacon, wealthy and powerful church member, all those who have a voice to say, “Enough.”

I am not talking about civil unrest, picketing or even how we vote.  We in the church have been given a tremendously powerful tool against all oppression and wickedness.  We just don’t use it.

That tool is church discipline.  Unfortunately, we most often use church discipline against those who have no voice, because we listen to the ones who have a voice.  It is time to open up different ears and learn how to hear the voice of the voiceless.  It is time to open our mouths and speak for those who are “children of vanishing”.  It is time to hear with the ears given to us by Christ, with minds that distinguish between wolves and sheep, with eyes that discern according to truth and hearts that don’t tremble at the fierce and violent words of the powerful.

This, by the way, is how to build a church.  Not programs, tent meetings and sparkly evangelists.  The church is built of the outcast, the wounded, the sick and those who have no voice.  Follow Christ.  Speak for those who cannot.

6 I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment (Eze 34:1 KJV)

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Too Filthy to Serve?

And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
2 And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
5 And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. (Zec 3:1-5 KJV)

Have you ever believed that you were so shameful and filthy that there was no way you could ever serve the Lord?

This is exactly what Joshua the High Priest was going through.  When Zechariah the Prophet ministered, Israel had just returned from their exile in Babylon.  Joshua was the grandson of the High Priest who was carried away with Jeconiah and the rest of the captives.  They had spent 70 years in Babylon. They had rebelled against God and God drove them from His presence.  Joshua had known nothing else but the experience of being an exile in a corrupt and filthy culture.

But now the exiles had returned!  Zerubbabel had begun to build the temple, and Joshua, the descendant of the first High Priest, Aaron, was to begin his service.  What a tremendous calling!  When you read about the cleansing of the High Priest to make him fit for service (Exodus 39-40), it can take your breath away.  The High Priest stood in the very presence of a Holy God, making intercession for the people.  But Joshua was defiled.

He not only was defiled by his own sins, but he was also defiled by the sins of his father, his grandfather and the whole nation of Israel, all the way back to his first parents, Adam and Eve.  He had been an outcast and an exile, alienated from the land and the covenant of God.  Jeremiah wrote, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed!”  Joshua, and all the rest of Israel, were only alive because God saved a remnant, not because they deserved it.

But the fact remained that they were filthy.

Satan, the accuser of the brethren, was on hand to remind Joshua how filthy he was.  “Look at you!  How can you possibly serve God?  You are fit for nothing, skilled in nothing, covered with corruption just like your parents before you!”

His was the voice of the abuser.  “You are worthless. Scum. Violated.  Outcast. You don’t deserve anything and should be grateful that you are even alive.  Now you want to serve God?  Wait until everyone finds out who you really are!”

The scene in Zechariah 3 is the courtroom of God.  Satan is on Joshua’s right hand to resist him.

But then the Lord silences the mouth of Satan.  It isn’t that Joshua WASN’T unclean.  He certainly was.  His garments were filthy (the Hebrew here means to be covered with excrement).  He certainly was not at all fit for God’s service.  He was a sinner, from a line of sinners, corrupted by birth – even as all the others.

But the voice of shame and condemnation came from Satan, not from God.  God’s voice rebukes Satan.  And there is only one reason.  God chose Joshua.  God chose to make Joshua his servant.  God not only chose Joshua, God also makes Joshua fit for service.  He commands the angels to take off Joshua’s filthy garments and clothe him with clean clothes.  God commands them to put a turban, the symbol of the priest’s authority on his head.

God makes Joshua fit for service!

Of course, this is all a picture.  It is a vision that Zechariah sees in heaven.  The reality is this.  God has chosen his church, calls them to service.  Each one of us is called to serve.  We are called to love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We are called to worship and serve the Lord.  We are called to use our gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and welfare of the church of God.

And Satan is still there to oppose us.  “YOU? Nobody wants to talk to you.  What if they find out who you really are?  What if they find out about your childhood?  What if they find out who your parents really were?  You aren’t fit to serve.  You’ve been defiled.  You are unclean.  You have no skill, no gift, no ability that anyone would want.  You’re just a drain on everybody.  Just go home.  Nobody likes you anyway.”

But if you have come to Christ in repentance and faith, this isn’t the voice of God calling you filthy and worthless.  This is the voice of Satan.  His name means, “The accuser”.  He is also a liar and he has many children on this earth who do his bidding.  They are the ones that snort with contempt when you speak.  They are the ones that cut you down and tear you to pieces. They are the ones that make sure you always remember just how stupid, useless, and wasteful your whole life is. They act like they are just “speaking the truth”, but they neglect something very crucial.  You aren’t wearing filthy garments any more!

Your sins and your shame were put on Jesus Christ.  He was beaten and mocked and reproached as a criminal in your place.  And now you are His and He is yours.  THIS is who you are, and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

You are not worthless anymore.  You are not unclean, defiled, filthy and unwanted.

You have been fit for service.  You have been clothed with Christ and all of His righteousness.  When the devil says you are worthless, he is really saying that Jesus is worthless, because you are a member of Christ and a partaker of His anointing.

Statistics tell us that one out of four women are sexually abused in their lifetimes.  A very common side-effect of sexual abuse is this:  I am defiled.  I am worthless.  I have no value.  I have nothing to offer.

Some victims go on to live lives of worthlessness and hopelessness, believing that they have nothing to offer.  Drug use, prostitution, marrying abusive men, cutting, eating disorders and sometimes even suicide.

A recent question has surfaced in social media since the Ray Rice story surfaced.  “Why did she stay?”  Why would a woman choose to stay with an abuser?

I believe that there are many different answers because human nature is what it is.  It is complex.  The heart is deceitful and only God knows it.

But I also know that one answer comes up again and again.  “I’m not worth anything else.  I have no gifts.  I have no value.  At least he wants me.  No one else does.”

That’s a lie of the devil.  There is One who wants you.  He wants you to come to Him and cry out to Him and cast all of your sins and shame upon Him.  There is one who shouts in the crowd, “Come to me, all who are thirsty! Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden!”

There is One who has given his life to redeem.  To redeem means to buy out of bondage.  He came to rescue and redeem the Joshuas and the Rahabs and that Tamars of the world.  The hurt and broken and sinful and weary.  He cries out to all of them with a loud voice, “Come to me and I will give the water of life freely!”  And whoever comes to Him He will never, ever cast away.

In fact, He not only will never cast them away, He will make them His bride!  He will gather, defend and preserve them to the end!  He will take off the filthy garments and give you the garments of a priest!  Listen to what the Bible says concerning those who were unclean, filthy, outcast and worthless.  They came to Christ and now they are no longer outcast and unclean, but this:

9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1Pe 2:9-10 KJV)

The mercy of God is astounding!  We have truly been fit for service!  We have truly been given the garments and the turban of a king and a priest because we belong to our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God.

May glory and honor and might and praise and dominion be His forever and ever!

Amen.

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