Flesh and stone

I’ve been thinking about flesh and stone. Take a look at Ezekiel 36:26 (KJV).

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

This verse confused me for a long time. I thought the stone heart represented one that was unfeeling and stoic. I knew that I wasn’t without feeling (at least most of the time, I am a man after all), but I was also familiar enough with my own inconsistency that I knew I needed less flesh, less me, not more.

Let’s take a look at The Message translation to shed some light on the true meaning of this passage.

I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.

Aha. Stone/stony refers to being hard, non-compliant, stubborn. I can relate. It is a daily struggle to replace my stubborn will (stone) with one that is compliant (flesh) and gratefully submits to God’s way. This new heart enables me to be obedient when it was not possible before!

This stone vs. flesh metaphor takes on universal significance if we compare the Old and New Testaments, which represent God’s promises to His people. With the Old Testament, we have the law, our guide and mirror in remaining obedient. In Exodus 24:12 we learn that God wrote His commands on tablets of stone and gave them to Moses.

The New Testament brings the good news of Jesus, God made flesh to serve as a living, complete, once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, the path was blazed for our forgiveness and, unbelievably, our righteousness in Him.

I continue daily in this heart transplanting. My experience is that, while it may be a one-time operation, strengthening and learning to use this new heart of flesh, this new obedient heart, is a process. Some days my heart beats strongly, pumping fresh blood of the grace and mercy that I’ve been shown through my veins and into my interactions with God’s children. Other days, my old stony nature erupts into impatience, self-importance, and bitter disappointment.

My continual hope, however, is my trust in a faithful God who tells us that: …he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 1:6)

Take heart, friend. God’s stone-to-flesh transplant is just waiting on your request. Peace!

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Thankstrusting

There are pumpkins on my porch. There is football on television. These clues tell me that fall has arrived on the calendar, even though the Charlotte weather doesn’t seem to be cooperating. Fall means Thanksgiving.

I was reminded of the importance of gratitude through a conversation with my son; he’s a freshman at UNC. He expressed his appreciation to me for being his dad and all that includes. I was immensely gratified by his position of thankfulness, not because I needed him to thank me but because it tells me about his perspective.

A posture of gratitude is also God’s desire for us. The Bible, God’s love letter to us, has a lot to say about thankfulness. Let’s take a look. We’ll answer some key questions regarding the details of thanksgiving.

About what?

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We’re to give thanks for every thing, not just touchdowns. It’s God’s will for us!

When?

giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ Ephesians 5:20

We’re to give thanks always, not just when things go our way.

For what?

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.
Psalm 136:26

We’re to express our gratitude to God’s because He loves us. This puts our focus on God and His goodness, not us and our temporal desires.

Why?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Psalm 107:1

We give thanks because God is good, because He is faithful, forever.

True gratitude is closely connected to trust. We cannot appreciate someone unless we trust them, unless we believe their motives are pure. This is true in our relationship with God as well.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
Psalm 28:7

Look at the order. We trust, we’re helped, we exult, we give thanks. Trust leads to thanksgiving. What appears next on this path? The answer appears in one of my favorite passages.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. Phillipians 4:6-7

We pray. We trust. We’re helped. We give thanks. We are given peace that exceeds our circumstances.

Give your thanks to God. For every thing. Always. Peace to you brothers and sisters!

 

 

 

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Thyine wood

When I’m reading the Bible I sometimes find a word or phrase that catches my attention and sticks with me. This week I was studying Revelation 18 and read: “things made of fragrant thyine wood” in verse 12 (NLT). I’m a country boy. I took wood shop in high school. However, I’ve never heard of thyine wood… so I did my research (which means I typed thyine wood into my Internet search engine).

Thyine wood is a 15th-century English name for a wood from the tree known botanically as Tetraclinis articulata (syn. Callitris quadrivalvis, Thuja articulata). The name is derived from the Greek word thuon, “fragrant wood,” or possibly thuein, “to sacrifice”, and it was so called because it was burnt in sacrifices, on account of its fragrance. [1]

That’s interesting because chapter 18 is about the future destruction of the city of Babylon. Why would citizens of this epicenter for evil behavior purchase wood for sacrifices to God? The short answer is “they didn’t”. What they purchased was “things made of fragrant thyine wood”. This means that we can misuse what is good and turn it toward what is evil, outside God’s desire for His children to live a life free from the tyranny of sin (Romans 6:12).

Let’s take inventory. Is there anything you’re using inappropriately? Sex outside marriage? Run the other direction. Wealth without generosity? Give it away. Pride in self? Offer credit and gratitude to your Creator. Have you made a good thing the ultimate thing? When any “good” is elevated to “god”, it has become an idol. God won’t leave you there. He’s a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

Let’s spend this week looking for the thyine wood in our lives. Let’s make sure it’s being used for its intended purpose: to honor our God, our Savior, our King. Let our worship be a fragrant sacrifice!

  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thyine_wood

 

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Another brick in the wall?

I have a confession. I probably listened to Pink Floyd a bit too much in my teenage years. My favorite album was Momentary Lapse of Reason (Dogs of War was my football anthem). However, you can’t appreciate Pink Floyd without enjoying The Wall, the 1979 rock opera that describes the descent of a troubled rock star, Pink, into madness [1]. A pivotal reminiscence from Pink’s youth is captured in “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”.

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey teacher leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

Since the final phrase is so familiar to me, I was thrilled to read a similar statement in God’s word.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. (1 Peter 2:5)

This describes our position in God’s kingdom as followers of Jesus Christ, our risen Savior. It tells us that we hold a critical position in God’s family; we are sons and daughters that are being weaved into God’s diverse, extended family, the church that Jesus established.

We are living stones (bricks) that are intentionally stacked one upon another in a specific pattern beginning with the cornerstone, Jesus.

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. (1  Peter 2:4)

Don’t be confused. When your circumstances, environment, friends, or acquaintances question your value, do not accept the lie that you are unimportant or unloved. You are a living stone designed to take your place with Jesus in God’s holy temple.

Be blessed brick!

  1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084503/
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LUI

You are probably familiar with the acronym DUI, which abbreviates the phrase “driving under the influence”. DUI laws date to 1910 when New York became the first state to regulate drinking and driving. Since that time, changes have included progressive reductions in the allowable blood alcohol limit and increases in the legal drinking age [1].

DUI infractions carry significant penalties for good reason: lives can be lost and innocent people can be harmed when drinking and driving are mixed. However, DUI remains within the driver’s control. A choice is made to drink and then drive. You don’t have to be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs when driving. You can choose not to ingest and the influence is eliminated.

I’d like to introduce a new, much more pervasive acronym, LUI, and its associated phrase “living under the influence”. In this case, there is no choice. You ARE living under the influence — every single person on the planet. However, you still have the opportunity to choose your influence.

God gave us free will, as well as the immense responsibility that it incurs. We can choose to worship and follow God or we can choose something else (this is called an idol). Idol choices differ for each of us and can even change over time. Rest assured that you are being influenced, however, whether your choice is God or money or sex or prestige or… It is therefore essential that we make a conscious decision about what will drive our desires, energy, and time (in other words, our worship).

LUI is supported by scripture. Let’s take a look at some representative passages.

Warnings

  • You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Galatians 5:7-9 ESV
  • Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV
  • He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. Matthew 13:24-25 ESV

Promises

  • All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
  • Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 ESV
  • “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.” John 14:21 MSG

I encourage you to think carefully about your influences: media (movies, music, magazines, Internet, social apps), friends, boy/girlfriends, thought life… If that list does not include the Bible, daily Bible study, consider the concept of LUI. What wind is blowing you? Is it driving you toward a safe harbor, dangerous rocks, or further out to sea?

God wants your worship. He wants a personal relationship with you. Open His word to find His desires for your life. LUI friend!

1. http://www.liquorlaws.net/duilaws.html

 

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Envy’s children

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An ox and his will

A goad is a stick with a pointed (or electrically charged) end used to drive cattle and oxen. By extension, it is a stimulus that pricks like the pointed stick in order to encourage, urge, or drive.

I’m interested in the ox goad because Jesus used it as an analogy to Saul, who would be renamed Paul when given the mission of inviting non-Jews (or Gentiles) into God’s family through faith in Jesus. In Acts 26, Paul is on trial because his missionary work in Jesus’ name  has offended the Jewish leadership (Pharisees). He tells the story of his first encounter with Jesus when he was on the road to Damascus with the expressed intent of locating and persecuting those in the new “Christian” sect. You see, Paul was previously a Pharisee by training and choice until called by Jesus. [Think God can’t use you because of your past? Think again!]

12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

The New Living Translation says it this way: ‘It is useless for you to fight against my will.’ (Verse 14b)

This version makes it personal for me. Now I get it. If I had to identify one critical struggle I’ve faced in my growing relationship with God, it is the consistent surrendering of my will. Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you are as stubborn as me and have a difficult time releasing what you are “certain” is the right decision (or path or response or desire) to embrace a better alternative provided by someone other than yourself.

Oh, the burden of pride.

Jesus’ goad that he uses to encourage me to greater (see Galatians 5:22-23) is prodding me in the direction I was created to follow. The ox kicks against the goad because he resists completing the task that he was made to perform. When I insist on my own will and stiffen my neck against God, I am refusing the direction of the One who loves me most and knows what is best for me. This is truly useless and self-defeating.

Here is a practical indicator that I’m submitting, rather than kicking. I have peace. I am not stressed and anxious. I have God’s peace that transcends my circumstances (Philippians 4:7).

The title of this post is “An ox and his will”. I’m the stubborn ox, but I choose to lay down my will. Keep prodding me Jesus. I’m listening.

God’s blessings, hope, and peace to you friend!

 

 

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