i’m an alien

kingdom_6959cnMy daughter asked me what an ‘alien’ is recently. I told her it was a pretend creature that people made up to be in stories and books and such.

What I failed to tell her was that I am an alien; that she is; that daddy is. But after I had spoken to her I thought it. I didn’t quite think she’d get the whole “there are two kinds of aliens” discussion quite yet, so I let it be for now.

But it made me remember how I was with a friend the other day, and she reminded me that I was an alien here on earth, a stranger, and how I just won’t fit in a lot of the time. I’ll be uncomfortable. I’ll feel like I’m weird. I’ll seem to be different. I’ll often feel left out.

It was an intimidating thought, though I’ve known the truth of it all before. I’m an alien on this earth, a sojourner, my home is heaven, and I belong there. I know that. But sometimes I like to push things aside when I feel uncomfortable, you know? Just smile and nod and keep my feelings under wraps. And, this is often one of those things that makes me just a wee bit squeamish on the inside.

The irony of it is…I never want to be “just like” everybody else. Not that I’m this huge rebel or anything; I like to “fit in” somewhat. But it’s like, if everybody else is getting cats, I want to get a dog. If everybody else is eating jelly beans, I’d rather have a chocolate. If everybody else likes to wear preppy things, I’d rather be in my “skater” outfit (i.e. see my high school pics). If everybody else is proclaiming healthy food, I’m going to proclaim McDonald’s. If everybody is proclaiming McDonald’s, you betcha I’m going to be proclaiming healthy food. If everybody else wants to read this book, I’d really rather be reading something else, please.

And I don’t like clones. Cloning is so boring. I like a variety. I like to mix things up. I like to be around all ages, not just my own. I like traditions, and commonalities and such. But there’s just something about being around people who talk different, and dress different, and who just are different, that makes me smile on the inside. It’s probably why I like 1 Corinthians so much: the body of Christ is a mix of all types and sorts and gifts and talents…and I absolutely adore that.

And yet, despite all that, I still get in those modes of uncomfortableness if I’m looking or feeling just a little too different. A little too left out.

If someday you ever partner up with me for study, you will quickly learn that I love Greek words. I don’t actually know Greek, I can’t speak it, I don’t always remember it, and sometimes I am sure I get things a little mixed up. However, when I’ve got my Strong’s concordance by my side and my Bible in my hand…you can be sure that I am one happy girlie. Enter a sweet, teensy tiny lesson from 2 Peter 1:3-4.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us, to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

There are several truths to gather from this passage – beautiful, astounding truths, in fact!  But today, I have just one thing to point out. Look at the Greek word and definition of “nature”:

Nature (vs. 4): phusis

The sum of innate properties and powers by which one person differs from others, distinctive native peculiarities, natural characteristics. A mode of feeling and acting by which by long habit has become nature.

Whoa! Read it again. Because do you know what this is telling me, to us, who have obtained a righteousness by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ? It tells me that He is making me look like a native of heaven.

A native! Well of all things! Not only am I an alien and stranger in this world, and not only to I belong to heaven…I’m a native of heaven. Because He is changing me, transforming me, making me distinctively different. The sin and corruption in this world has been my natural tendency, my place of feeling comfortable. But now, God is growing me in the knowledge of Himself, and as He is, I am changing. My natural tendencies, my natural inclinations, my habits and thoughts, the places I feel most comfortable, are maturing and becoming more like Christ through God’s divine power.

I just won’t fit in here. No, I just will not. fit. in. And if I do start fitting in, a little too much…perhaps I’ve neglected to find the astonishing promises of God for each of my days, that keep me from falling and cause my knowledge of Christ to be fruitful. Perhaps, if I start feeling a little too comfortable around here, I’ve forgotten the abundance of His mercy that has – astoundingly – miraculously – divinely – given me all things I need to experience more of His very own divine nature, in my very own self, in my very own life.

I am not of this world (duh, Jane!). I’m in the process of escaping it, for goodness sake! He is making me distinctively different. He is making me divine, just like Him. Piece by piece, stitch by stitch, thought by thought, habit by habit, He is transforming me into the likeness of His beautiful, glorious, joy-focused and joy-filled Son.

Aliens here – natives of heaven.

Perhaps this is part of the reason we were told last Sunday to meet together and worship together? Because the places we “natives of heaven” feel most comfortable, the places we feel like we most belong, simply don’t look the same as they once did. Do you ever need that reminder? I know I do.

A native. I have a home. There is a place where I fit in. Maybe that’s why it can sometimes be so uncomfortable to be so very “distinctly different” in this world? Because those who do not follow Christ are comfortable here. This is their home, they ‘like’ it here. But for me…my home…it’s not here. I’m uncomfortable here; I stick out, I stand out and I look and talk and think like an alien. But it’s ok. Because I am a native of somewhere. That somewhere is just somewhere else. And I’m ok with that.

I don’t want to be like everybody else, anyways, remember?

 

Advertisements

Learning to Love God’s Rules

bible_6796cnpI’ll have to admit that when I first hear the word “rules” I have a somewhat adverse reaction. Yes, I appreciate walking through the halls of an elementary school and seeing their poster of the school rules. It gives me confidence that someone is in charge and there are expectations of the students. And yes, I certainly want our teen drivers, and anyone else for that matter, to follow the rules of the road. And no doubt society functions best when its members follow the rules to hopefully guarantee that everything is done with order and civility. But I admit that “rules” in the context of God’s kingdom evokes thoughts of limits and restrictions, and leaves me wondering what happened to grace and freedom and those others words that sound better than “rules.”

A few weeks ago I was reading Psalm 119 and the psalmist’s use of the word “rules” in the ESV jumped out at me. Three times in the first 20 verses the psalmist mentions God’s rules. Listen to his attitude:

I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. (v.7)

With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. (v.13)

My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (v. 20)

Verse 20 put me over the top. The writer is consumed with longing for God’s rules at all times. Really? It would seem that my attitude toward God’s rules needed an overhaul. “Rules” can also be translated “just decrees.” Don Carson in “For the Love of God” defines God’s decrees as “the decisions of the supreme and all-wise Judge.” These rules of God are not just an arbitrary list to follow because God decided we should, but these are rules to be followed because our gracious God has given them to us because they are His wise choice for us – for our good and for His glory.

Seventeen times the word “rules” is used in Psalm 119. When you have a minute, take a look at this psalm and instead of feeling limited and constrained by God’s rules, take comfort that God’s rules are for our good – to help us and comfort us – to make us into the women God has planned for us to be.

The last use of “rules” is in the next to last verse, verse 175:

Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.

I’m beginning to understand. God’s rules truly are rules to live by!

Forgotten Love: Part 2

Part 2: God Reminds Us. A series over Malachi 1:1-5.

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6

Consumed. Remember Israel’s down-and-out state from part 1? They are literally consumed with feeling forgotten. Feeling unloved. Feeling like walking by faith without sight doesn’t work. Feeling…feeling…feeling.

Remember, though, God expressed deep love for Israel by calling out to them in their sin. Now, He demonstrates the depth of His love by reminding them of the past (1:2-5):

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

These words would have reminded Israel of the long ago covenant that God had established before their time with their forefather Abraham, a covenant of God’s promised faithfulness, fruitfulness and favor towards Abraham’s descendants. It was the covenant that they valued and held dear to their souls; but it was the covenant that seems to have gathered dust as it settled down in the depths of their memories. God promised that His steadfast love would be upon His chosen people from everlasting to everlasting, something that Israel, you’ll remember from part 1, just wasn’t seeing.

This covenant began with Abraham, and His son Isaac was chosen to carry this great promise of the Lord. Isaac fathered Jacob and Esau, the ancestors of the nations we now see in Malachi. Israel’s heritage (from the line of Jacob) was no purer or better than Edom’s (from the line of Esau). Israel came from a man who was more than willing to be manipulated and manipulate others in order to exalt himself. Edom came from a man who was more than ready to live irresponsibly and squander his life and heart. Israel “deserved nothing from [the Lord] and would wind up in the same state as Edom for their wickedness, were it not for his changeless and sovereign love[1].”

God had chosen the people of Israel out of sheer, magnificent, incomprehensible grace. Not by works, no, they could do no boasting. But out of amazing, astounding, grace. In the midst of sin, before their sin, in the knowledge of their sin…Israel had been chosen. And somewhere in their very midst the everlasting covenant was being upheld.

And what else had He done? He had remained with them, chasing after them, showing them compassion, giving them chance after chance after chance to turn and repent. God remained faithful to His everlasting covenant to preserve the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Which brings us around back to the present: to Malachi chapter 1, verses 2-3.

“Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”

Israel knew the stories, but they had forgotten the significance of this grace. They had forgotten what God had already done for them.

But, not only had they forgotten what God had done, they had forgotten the prize.The prize of Himself.

Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

God’s promises to them were not just for survival, but for joy. Blessed, sweet, abundant joy in the Lord! Their focus had drifted towards themselves, those blessed, selfish little Israelites. And God promises that He not only will continue to demonstrate favor towards them, but that they shall praise Him, proclaiming that He alone is God. He promises to change the focus of their minds and hearts not upon their wee little worlds, but upon the greatness of God in all the earth. Great is the LORD! Great is He beyond the border of Israel! For He is just! And He is faithful! And He is grace.

This is the great promise here at the end of this passage. Praise. Freedom from self-focused thoughts and attitudes. Freedom of mind to worship and adore His greatness. Freedom to praise and to proclaim.

And so, in His great love, God reminds them. All it takes for Israel are those few words to remind them of the times of their forefathers, and the truth cuts and penetrates their hearts of doubt like a sharp double-edged sword. It reminds them of God’s persistence throughout their entire history, since the foundation of the earth, to keep the chosen Remnant alive and going through great, living, active grace…to keep His covenant intact by expressing great love…and to keep His Word regarding the chosen seed that would bring forth His great glory in its entirety. God knew that Israel needed not just words of affirming love, but that they needed to remember all that He had done for them. They had been chosen to be kept alive; through sin, through famine, and through sword. This was Israel’s heritage. They had been chosen. They had been chosen! Chosen by the One whose faithfulness is never determined by man’s faithlessness.

We too, have been chosen. We, who reek with the stench of wickedness in our hearts, who are absorbed with ourselves, who are prone to wander, and who are filled with tendencies to manipulate. We too, have been chosen to be in the line of great promise and the line of everlastingness.

Not by any good works we have done; no, for our deeds are no better than the woman next to us, and just as worthless as the man across from us. But, oh dear friend, this is where we get an ever so lovely remembrance of God’s work for us; His living grace, His active love. Because, “faith without works is dead.” And Christ is dead no longer. Therefore our faith can rest on the remembrance and focus upon His resurrection act of great love. God’s great love is demonstrated to us in our own sin, too; for, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).” He remains with us, chasing after us, showing us compassion, giving us chance after chance after chance to turn and repent. He causes His Truth to come down from heaven and go straight in to our hearts. His Spirit penetrates the dark places, exposes all lies, and pierces our bones right down to our marrow.

And the result? The freedom to praise Him. The freedom to sing and dance alone in our rooms, lifting our hands up high and proclaiming a joyful noise that He alone hears. Grinning and smiling as we drive down the roads of our city. Rising up and speaking and proclaiming boldly before one another that He will sustain us, walk with us, cherish us, come after us, pursue us, and keep us. Walking boldly and humbly, our eyes seeking the pleasure of our Master. Our mouths reminding one another that we shall not be consumed, we shall not be consumed, no, no, we shall not be consumed. We are alive, we breathe and we have our being because of the great and awesome God who calls us up and out of our pitiful sins, who reminds us that we are His and He is not yet finished with us; He gives us these sweet promises of hope and glory through His very own Beloved Son. “I am the LORD!” He states with great power. “I am the LORD! And I do not change. Your own eyes shall see that this is so, and you shall say of me, my precious, tiny little beloved children of dust whom I have saved by mine own hand, ‘Great is the LORD beyond our borders!’”


[1] Taylor, Richard A., E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary Volume 21A Haggai Malachi, Broadman & Broadman Publishers, 2004, Nashville, Tennesse.

Forgotten Love: Part 1

Part 1: God Calls Us. A series over Malachi 1:1-5.

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6 

This verse came to mind in the recent past, at a very specific moment where fear and doubt had found their footholds to creep in with. Thoughts of, “Where in the world do I go from here? How will life look now? What will we do with ourselves? Everything’s changing.”

It was hope. Relief.  Caused me to sigh with gratitude. A reminder that I shall not be consumed.

But, what did this mean? I mean, really mean? That God does not change? So after that small reminder, I went home, opened up the book of Malachi, and read.

I studied.

I prayed.

And I read some more.

And what I discovered,  what I am discovering, is that GOD is great. And that in His great and unchanging love, we are not consumed.

And so today, here I am, still discovering it. I wondered, might you walk with me through it? Might us ladies go forth in a few small steps together? Might we just take a risk and plunge right into that small but slightly intimidating book of Malachi (I’m just not one to take the easy road sometimes…)? I desperately need to daily, moment by moment, remember the greatness of my God; might you be that way, too?

If you choose to come, bear with me, I say a lot. Be patient with me, I am learning. Show me grace, I am growing in grace myself. But, I think…I just really, really, truly believe…that if we go together, we might just see wondrous light from the Word of God; unchanging, brilliant light, together. God promises that, you know. And He says that He does. not. change.

••••••••••

Let’s look at Israel for a moment during the time of Malachi. Israel’s morale was low; God’s people had not been seeing the bold promises of blessing told them after the greatly anticipated construction and dedication of the temple. They were waiting in expectation; expecting peace, safety, prosperity, and blessing from God (see Haggai 2:6-9, 19; Zech 8:9-11). Instead, God’s people were suffering from drought, famine, financial poverty, and slavery.[1] While they weren’t prospering under great blessings at all, the “wicked people” around them were. There was tension between God and His people. But while they were thinking that God wasn’t living up to their expectations, they weren’t living up to God’s expectations, either, and their zeal for the Lord had been left by the roadside.[1] They were dwelling in sin that was causing half-hearted commitments to God’s glory, the whole small book of Malachi records.

Look at the beginning of this “conversation” between the Lord through His prophet Malachi and Israel (vs 1:2a):

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

But you (Israel) say, “How have you loved us?”

“I have loved you,” He says to them, referring to His past actions towards them. God then verbalizes out loud what the people believe in their hearts – not a belief in His love…but a belief in no love. “How have you loved us?” they are wondering. They can’t keep their circumstances out of their minds; “this isn’t love!” they think. “We are poor! Disheartened! We feel forgotten.” Their hearts have deceived them into believing a lie – that God does not love them, that His promises have changed. For, they are saying, “in effect, ‘we have seen no evidence of Your love!’[2]” And, this doubt of God’s love, their focus on self, if we read further on in Malachi, led to sinful thought and sinful action towards God and others both.

Do they not know? Do they not remember, from the days of old? They apparently have forgotten their first love. Again. As we see Israel do so many times over the course of their history (sigh).

But is this true? That they have seen no evidence of His love for them?

No, because in the midst of this sin of unbelief and pride – God, the One who loved them – is now calling them. He starts with their doubts and gives them a statement of His love. It would have been enough, truth be told, to simply hear from the Almighty, Sovereign and Holy God enthroned in Heaven above, the words “I have loved you,” spoken to these people made of dust, these people of doubt and distress and sin. He goes on, though, we shall see later on, and gives His people a reminder of how He has loved them. Yet here, even in this simple call, a call in the midst of their sin, He is demonstrating His great love for them. It has been said that actions speak louder than words; but sometimes words are so good to hear, aren’t they?

Have we, too, forgotten His love?

“I have loved you,” God says to us.

“But, how have you loved us?” we may be tempted to ask, perhaps with a puzzled expression on our hearts.

We easily remember the facts of God’s love for us. We know that “because God so loved the world He sent His one and only Son (Jn 3:16).” But are we remembering the greatness of our God in it? For, as Israel so easily forgot the greatness of God from His deeds of love for them, so we, too, so easily forget. We become doubtful, fearful, distrusting of His goodness, and yes, even prideful towards Him, during times of adversity, when we are watching others’ successes and wondering about our own.

Doubt then has the foothold it’s been looking for to creep in. And as we doubt, we Christians work at saving face, don’t we? But half-hearted commitments to His great glory make us wholeheartedly committed to ourselves, to our needs, our desires, our…sin. Just. Like. Israel.

But remember, while we, too, were still sinners…Christ called us. It is His glory that is magnified as He graciously demonstrates love to us, calling us up and out of our sin, and unashamedly pouring words of love out upon us. As our faith wavers, our gloriously great and loving God addresses our doubts with great patience – head on, without cutting corners, just as He did with Israel. And in His great love He lavishes abundant grace on us  – people of dust – reminding us that His glorious eye is indeed upon us, His beloved daughters, and giving us the hope of glory.

What magnitude of grace! That, while our eyes cannot stray from ourselves and our circumstances for barely a minute, we should be called daughters of the King of Glory! And that is what we are, as we cry ‘Abba Father,’ in our times of doubt. His lavish love spoken to us sinners causes us to drop down on our knees, fall back on our heels, raise our heads toward heaven, and smile up in speechless wonderment, as we sit amazed at how the Great God of all eternity would be pleased to bestow such blessing upon those of dust and dirt – me, and you.

Might we live up to being daughters of the King of Glory by remembering His love? By grasping tightly those deep-rooted doubts of His love and pulling them up from the darkness, dirt, worms, and all, with the strength the cross of Christ provides us with? By clinging to His Kingly white robes as we see the world seem to flourish around us? Might we be ones who accept with the greatest humility the fact that He calls us in the midst of our sin…into His glorious light? Might we lift voices in praise up to Him, the glorious great gracious One?

O, that we might be! O, that we would! O Lord, we do trust You to do Your work in us.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


[1] An Introduction to the Prophetic Literature of the Old Testament, Willem A. Gemeren, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1990

[2] Wycliffe Bible Commentary