Given for the Saints of the World, 1/17/10.
"For see, I am making a new heaven and a new earth: and the past things will be gone completely out of mind" (Isa. 65:17, BBE).
Ready or not, 2010 is upon us. A new year, a new decade and a new, blank page on which to record our walk with God. So many people are having a tough time of it either because of the economy, or problems with health, relationships, or other family issues. All the prophets spoke of the DAY when God would change the program and bring good out of evil, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, redeem the sons of Jacob and cause God's children to leave Mt. Sinai behind and finish their journey to Mount Zion, where we live with God. We haven't heard from a single person who wants to stay where they are, running in place in the same ruts, and going around the same mountain over and over again.
Paul affirmed, "For if a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether, the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new" (II Cor. 5:17, Phil.). The reference on this verse is Isa. 65:17, quoted above, another one of those symbolic links which ties who we are in Christ to "the land," i.e., the new heaven and a new earth. We all can quote scripture about God's redemption of us in Christ; we understand the work of the cross in making us a new creature in Him; we believe that we were buried with Christ in baptism, and have been raised with Him in newness of life. And yet, we still carry around the old baggage, the inherited prejudices, the neurotic stuff, the failed doctrines that promise life, but result only in death and decay because they emanate from the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The title of this piece is "Reversing the Curse." What curse might that be, someone may ask. It is the curse of the Law toward those who can't keep it: "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them'" (Gal. 3:10). Since no one but Jesus has kept it, we conclude that the whole world has been tainted and made toxic by the curse of the Law. Like the prophets of old, Paul never leaves us bereft of hope: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree" (Gal. 3:13).
I always recommend reading Deuteronomy 28, at least once a year, so we can fall on our faces in worship to God for what He has delivered us from. Among the many curses found there were the cankerworm and the palmerworm which would eat the crops, destroying the living of the disobedient Israelites. Joel prophesied, "What the worm did not make a meal of, has been taken by the locust; and what the locust did not take, has been food for the plant-worm; and what the plant-worm did not take, has been food for the field-fly" (Joel 1:4). Amos threatened, "I have sent destruction on your fields by burning and disease: the increase of your gardens and your vine-gardens, your fig-trees and your olive-trees, has been food for worms: and still you have not come back to me, says the Lord" (Amos 4:9). Notice that even these severe methods did not bring the Israelites to repentance.
Many would be prophets today proclaim that the economic woes of the world, the danger of terrorist attacks, and the rampant moral decline are all part of God's judgment upon us for not keeping His laws. To these zealous but uninformed folks, I would point out that Isaiah told us what the purpose of God's judgments really is: "My soul yearns for thee in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks thee. For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9). IF this scripture is true and judgments really do bring the inhabitants of the earth to righteousness, how can they be a bad thing? Uncomfortable, yes, but bad? Clearly not. Not only that, but these judgments are for this life on the earth, not after we die. That changes the picture considerably.
Joel did his fair share of thundering, warning, cajoling and threatening, but he also said there would come a day when God would change the program. In chapter two, he assures Israel, "Be glad, then, you children of Zion, and have joy in the Lord your God: for he gives you food in full measure, making the rain come down for you, the early and the late rain as at the first. And the floors will be full of grain, and the crushing-places overflowing with wine and oil. I will give back to you the years which were food for the locust, the plant-worm, the field-fly, and the worm, my great army which I sent among you. You will have food in full measure, and give praise to the name of the Lord your God, who has done wonders for you" (Joel 2:23-26). This is really good news for those of us who are waiting to see the destruction of the palmerworm reversed.
God called us here almost 12 years ago, so that Lenny could be a witness of God's light, power and unconditional love to a group of men at a local Baptist Church. He served in that capacity for probably 7 years. Then, the Lord told him he would not return, until "he returns in power." We don't know what that means, but we're waiting eagerly to see.
Meanwhile, the "palmerworm" and the "cankerworm" have been running amok in Lenny's flesh. His physical health has deteriorated precipitously. Through it all, God's grace keeps him secure in knowing that this is only temporary. He who began a good work in us will complete it "at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). When will that be? No one but the Father knows, but until that day appears as the day star shining in our lives, we hold fast to the promises written in scripture and sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
When I despair about Lenny's situation or anything else, I do what I always have done, affirm God's goodness and His unfailing plan to bring us to perfection. The Hebrew writer speaks of the need to make a sacrifice of praise. I resonate to the BBE translation: "Let us then make offerings of praise to God at all times through him, that is to say, the fruit of lips giving witness to his name" (Heb. 13:15). That does not mean we jump up and down for glee at pain and loss, but rather we bear witness to ourselves and others, that God is the author of it and He who began a good work will complete it to His glory and our perfection. What we are experiencing is the consuming fire, which God is, doing His work, destroying the worms and the curse itself. (Heb. 12:29).
John the Revelator, like Isaiah, saw a new heaven and a new earth. "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4).
Christ paid the price for our sins almost 2,000 years ago now. Our salvation is a done deal, signed, sealed and delivered by our Elder Brother on behalf of His Father and ours. Yet, for that same period of time, the neurotic stuff has continued to roll on, robbing God's children of peace, discomforting families, communities, cultures, and nations. The "sins of the fathers" are still being visited upon the children to "the third and forth generation" (See Ex. 20:5; Ex. 34:7; and Num. 14:18). When I had the blessed experience of counseling to help me deal with the calamitous end of my first marriage, it came to me like a shock wave, that the aforementioned sins are not iniquities like murder, adultery, and thievery, but the garden variety neurotic stuff which runs in families deep and wide like a river, causing untold misery and destruction. Why is this still going on so long after we were forgiven our sins? When will it end?
Our Father uses everything He sends into our lives to conform us to the image and likeness of His son (Rom. 8:29), and that includes the sins of the Fathers and the neurotic stuff which plagues us all. The day is coming, however, when all the prophets testify that the old things will pass away and be remembered no more. What a blessing that will be, for it is in the remembering that we suffer afresh every time it comes to mind.
Forgiveness is a key ingredient in getting relief from our angst at the vicissitudes of daily life and interaction with others. Only by calling on the Christ within may we obtain the grace to forgive others and ourselves for real or imagined wrongs. Unforgiveness leads to hardness of heart and that deadly root of bitterness which the Hebrew writer declares "grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Heb. 12:15). Jesus tied our forgiveness of others with our own forgiveness (Luke 11:3). I've come to see that this is not a work we perform, for no one can forgive without the Spirit's help, but rather a grace we receive. Has someone hurt you in word or deed, cutting you deep to the bone? Let Christ in you do the forgiving so you can move past the hurt, as He mends the breach which unforgiveness causes in any relationship.
I'm reading The Naked Now by Richard Rohr, and in one of his chapters, he asks. "Would you rather be right or happy?" He points out that you cannot be both. The Law, and many denominations today living off the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, demand that you be right. As our dear friend Jeri Fox expressed it, "We had to be right, because if we weren't, we were bound for hell." The Law was based on being right all the time. The curses of the Law were inflicted when a person couldn't keep it. Unleash the worms, because this guy needs a lesson. Jesus came to set us free from the palmerworm and the cankerworm and all the devastation and destruction they have caused in our lives. Will you join me in shouting, "Death to worms!"
Father, we thank You for forgiving us of our continued inability to get it right; and we ask You to remove any root of bitterness which has sprung up in our soul. Will you forgive others through us so we can be released from the ties that bind, the fears which rob us of our joy and peace, and the curse which has kept us focused on our works rather than YOURS. You have erased the curse in Christ and we ask you to set us free to walk in it. May the Son rise in our new heaven and bring light and life to our new earth, and may You help us tend our garden so it is free of weeds, thorns, thistles and worms, which defile and destroy.
"I love you Lord, and I lift my voice to worship you, oh, my soul rejoice. Take joy my king, in what you hear, let me be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear." In Christ, we ask it, amen. Jan Antonsson
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This site was created on 1/12/10
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister