when through you I vindicate My holiness before their eyes

God created us in His image. We were, originally, intended to be “shadows” and “pictures” of God Himself. He made us to display His holiness, power, and glory to each other and to everything on earth (see Genesis 1:26-31). But Adam sinned, and since him, each of us has sinned. In sinning, we’ve profaned God’s name. We’ve done terrible, unloving things, and instead of seeing God’s holiness in us, people around us have seen our greed, pride, and selfishness.

The beauty of redemption is that God will undo what we’ve done. Not only will He forgive us, but if we believe in His Son, He will use us to glorify Himself–to “vindicate” His holiness:

And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

-Ezekiel 36:23 (ESV)

This passage was written for ancient Israel, but I believe it applies directly to modern Christians. We are the fulfillment of this prophecy. We are sons and daughters of Abraham. We have inherited the ancient Jewish privilege of being God’s people. We’re not yet perfect, but we’re being sanctified each day by the Spirit. The closer we grow to the Lord, the more He can show “the nations” His holiness in us. This is tremendously gracious. God is working for His own glory so that people can know Him, but He using us in the work. What a privilege.

If you’re redeemed, are you allowing God to vindicate His holiness through you? If you are not redeemed, why don’t you let Him begin undoing what you’ve done?

An open letter to Janet Parshall on the insignificance of politics in the kingdom of heaven

Dear Janet,

Thank you for laboring to spread the gospel of Jesus among our nation and among all the nations. I’m glad you’re a devoted sister, and I’m glad that God has blessed you with a voice, a mind, and a place to be heard.

Today, I listened to your radio show on my ride home from work. You were talking about immigration reform. In particular, during the time that I was listening, you were talking about the need find a compassionate way to deal with the some 10 million illegals who are currently in our country, and to stop new illegals from coming. You said there was a Biblical basis for enforcing our immigration laws because the Bible supports upholding the law.

On other shows, I recall hearing you talk about economic policy, middle east foreign policy, and the US Jobs bill. These are controversial issues. I believe you are doing great damage to our witness for the Lord by giving these issues such a prominent place on your radio show, and by implying–by virtue of your prime-time presence on Moody Radio–that these are important issues in our walk with the Lord.

By giving so much attention to controversial issues on a radio show that’s listened to by thousands of people, you are distracting from what should be our main concern as followers of Jesus: to love God and to love people–to glorify God and to see unbelievers come to know the Messiah as their Lord and Savior, so that they may glorify God as well.

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

(Mark 12:28-31 ESV)

I’ve noticed that, on many of these issues, you take a conservative approach. I have no problem with this. In fact, Jesus tells us to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and in a democracy, that means our vote and our honest thoughts and discussion on political issues. So yes, I affirm that Christians probably should seek to influence society through politics. However, I do not affirm that your radio show is a good place to do this. Christians disagree on whether they should be liberal or conservative. I have many good brothers and sisters in the Lord who are liberal. If we as Christians spend too much time focusing on politics, we create division within our church, and we also alienate any liberal unbelievers who might be seeking Jesus.

In the kingdom of heaven, these political issues do not matter. Jesus tells us that the kingdom He has redeemed us into is not a kingdom of this world. In fact, he completely rejects a political goal to his mission. Since we are the body of Christ, there is also no political goal to our mission as the church:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

(John 18:36 ESV)

Politics divides. Not only does politics divide, but politics does not matter in the vast, beautiful sweep of history that God is working out, and that we as Christians are blessed to be a part of. Because politics doesn’t matter, I think it qualifies as a “foolish controversy”, and Paul gives us explicit instructions about “foolish controversy” in Titus:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

(Titus 3:1-2 ESV)

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

(Titus 3:9-11 ESV)

Janet, Titus was written to the leaders of the Christian church in the first century, and I believe you are one of the leaders of our church in this century. Rather than focusing on politics, which divides the church, why not focus on the gospel, on doctrine, on God’s love for unbelievers? I have heard you talk about many of these things on your show, and I have been blessed by them. Please, could you consider spending more time on these core issues and no more time on politics and other divisive issues? Earlier in Titus, Paul instructs Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” and when you do this on your show, it is very good.

What concerns me the most is that these political things may stop unbelievers from coming to know Jesus as their Savior. Scripture also has words of instruction about trying to reach people outside the church. Overall, the theme is that we should avoid offending people if we don’t have to. Telling people that Jesus is the only way to be saved and that all have sinned is offensive, but those things are the core of our faith and we cannot compromise on them. Paul tells us to be at peace with all people so that we can tell them about God’s plan of redemption and renewal for their lives. (Clearly, given the widespread persecution of Christians in the world, it is not always possible. In this country, it is more possible than we often allow.):

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

(1 Corinthians 9:22-23 ESV)

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

(Romans 12:18 ESV)

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

(Hebrews 12:14 ESV)

We are to be “salt” in the earth, and I believe that means we are to be about our Father’s business–seeking to tell the good news, to love God, and to edify the church. This is tied inextricably with being “at peace with one another”:

Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

(Mark 9:50 ESV)

As sort of an aside before I close, I’d like to note that it may have been possible to take a different view of immigration. Our worldly government focuses on the threat of illegal immigrants to our nation’s integrity. As Christians, I believe we should think carefully about the opportunity to love and care for illegal immigrants. Ancient Israel was explicitly instructed to do this:

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.

(Deuteronomy 10:18-19 NIV)

How can we, as a church, “love those who are aliens”? I’m not sure, but I think discussing that question may have made for equally, and perhaps more gospel-centered radio.

Janet, I don’t know you, but I love you as a sister in Christ. I hope you’ll write me back with your thoughts, and I hope you’ll carefully consider what I’ve written here. I’m posting this as an open letter on my blog, because I believe these are issues that the church as a whole needs to consider more carefully. I’ve also copied some of my friends whom I’ve discussed this with–it’s something that’s been on my heart for awhile, since Moody is the main Christian radio station in Chicago. Thanks for considering these things!

Sincerely,

Ben

Edit: Janet Parshall graciously replied to my email to her. I’m sure she is a very busy lady with lots of emails, and it was very kind of her to reply. She pointed out several errors in my original post. The errors do not change the point of my letter, but the errors were these: (1) I wrote that she said to deport illegal immigrants–she did not in any way say this. (2) I wrote that she has spoken of gun control on her show–she has not ever addressed this issue. (3) I wrote that she said these issues are important in our walk with the Lord–she has not said this.

I’m sorry for these errors. They were indiscretions, and I should have more carefully edited before writing. I have now corrected these above–the main ideas in my letter are not changed by the corrections. In regards to the third error, I have changed only a single word, because I still submit to you that, by discussing these things “in the marketplace”–on a prime-time radio show on Christian radio–she is implying that they are central to our faith.

Janet was gracious in her reply, and I hope I have been gracious in this letter. These errors were not gracious, and I’m thankful that she took the time to correct me on these points.

Advice from a chaplain

These notes are as much for my future self as for anyone else. Tonight I listened to a chaplain at my church talk about hospital visitation. He’s a brother, and I was glad to hear his wisdom. He was speaking mostly to people who would be visiting family or other church members, but I did ask him a few questions afterwards as well. Here’s what I remember.

  • To find out what people need, just ask: “Hi, I’m Ben. How can I serve you today?”
  • The most important thing is to be available and be flexible. It’s important just to go visit, and if all they need is a glass of water, bring them water. If they tell you to leave, then leave. If they want you to stay and talk, then stay and talk.
  • If a patient is unresponsive, talk to them. You can talk about the game on TV, items in their room–keep it light.
  • Be aware of what people need. Beyond just asking them what they need (first bullet point), you might ask open questions.
  • Be open to share your faith if they ask, but otherwise, just be there for them.
  • As a physician, it’s perhaps most important to be able to break bad news gracefully. Tell them the news succinctly. Express sincerely that you are sorry for their loss. Pause briefly in case they need something, and then get out of there.

This.

Fundamentally, we were made to love God and to love people. This is why Jesus called this the greatest commandment–first to love God and second to love people. We all fail at this. Because we fail, we need to be redeemed, otherwise, we cannot be with God. Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men”–follow Me, and I will help you to love people so I can change them into people who love Me.

I will put a new spirit within you, but not for your sake

These are the themes in Ezekiel 36:22-38.

  1. In order to glorify Himself, God would restore Israel. Israel did not deserve to be restored, but by restoring Israel, He would demonstrate the holiness of His name. “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned.” (vs. 22)
  2. God would make Israel clean again. He would change their hearts, bending their thoughts, desires, and inclinations to do His work. God’s Spirit would come to dwell within His people, and He would restore them inwardly. “I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…And I will put my Spirit within you.” (vss. 25-27)
  3. All the nations would see God’s restoration of Israel, and they would know that God is God. “Then the nations that are left around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” (vs. 36)

Lectio divina: Ezekiel 36:22-38

Awhile ago my pastor spent a bit of time talking about lectio divina and suggested that it was a good way to study the Scripture. I’ve tried this a few times, and the Lord has used it in my life. I would encourage you to try it as well if you’re looking for a different way to structure your quiet time. For me, it just involves reading a text repeatedly over a few days or weeks, praying about the text, and writing about the text. The idea is to spend a prolonged period of time in a small section of Scripture, so that God uses the Scripture to transform your mind and focus you on Him.

I’m going to spend a bit of time on this Scripture, and I’ll be writing my thoughts here as I do so:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
“Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.
“Thus says the Lord GOD: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

-Ezekiel 36:22-38 (ESV)

Behold I am sending for many fishers

God is a God who pursues us. He pursues us with friends, with preachers, with experiences, with His Word, with thoughts and feelings that come to us in our quiet times. He pursues us to make us His, to bring us back to where we belong, where we will be most satisfied. He won’t relent, because He loves us. We’re in trouble in this world, and we need Him more than we know. So He pursues us relentlessly, into our darkest hours and our saddest times. God is a God who fights for us, and when He’s rescued us from our sin and self-interest, He makes us fishers of men, so that we can pursue, fight for, and rescue others, just as He has rescued us.

“For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.
‘Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.'” 
-Jeremiah 16:15-17 (ESV)

Obedience is a sign that you love someone

God wanted a relationship with ancient Israel. In fact, God wants a relationship with each of us today. Because of this, He gave Israel–and us–His Law. But people have trouble understanding why we have the Law. They think of these rules as burdensome, unnecessary, and archaic. Why should what happens to us when we die depend on whether we’ve obeyed the minutiae of an ancient moral code? The fact is, obedience to the Law doesn’t save us today, and it didn’t save anyone in ancient Israel either.

The Law God gave Israel through Moses didn’t sanctify them. To sanctify means “to set apart for a sacred purpose” and “to free from sin” (from Merriam-Webster’s). The Law didn’t free the people of Israel from sin. God freed the people of Israel from sin:

“I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.”

-Ezekiel 20:11-12 (ESV)

The people would “live” if they obeyed the Law, but it was God who sanctified them. This is exactly what we’re told as Christians today–Jesus saves us from our sin (sanctifies us) and then we obey His commands because we love Him, but not because obedience saves us.

Read Ezekiel 18. The same idea occurs there.We’re told that if a person who’s done evil stops doing evil and obeys God, that person will live. If an Israelite person had sinned, that person could still have been sanctified if they stopped sinning and obeyed God–their previous sins didn’t condemn them to hell. But also, their current obedience didn’t get them into heaven. God sanctified them; they didn’t sanctify themselves.

Obedience was merely a symbol that a person was accepting God, rather than rebelling against Him. You see, the entire Old Testament is a history of Israel’s relationship with God. Obedience is an important part of healthy, loving relationships. We often think of obedience in relation to authority: children obey their teachers, people obey traffic laws, employees obey their supervisors. There is, obviously, an element of authority in God’s relationship to us, but I think it’s often more valuable to think of God as a friend or a spouse. The entire book of Hosea depicts God as a faithful husband and Judah as an cheating wife. In Ephesians Paul uses Jesus and the church as an example of the relationship between a husband and wife.

If my wife asks me to clean the kitchen, and I don’t do it, I have wronged her. She’ll be disappointed. She may wonder if I’m upset with her. It’s not a matter of whether I’ve obeyed or disobeyed some insignificant rule (e.g. “Thou shalt keep thy kitchen clean”), it’s a matter of whether I love my wife enough to do something she would appreciate. Do we love God? If so, we’ll do the things He tells us to do in Scripture. We’ll undoubtedly fail, but that’s okay as long as we try, because God sanctifies us, and our sanctification isn’t dependent on our obedience, but rather on our willingness to accept God’s invitation to be in a relationship with Him.

The same thing was true in ancient Israel. God had spoken to Abraham, Moses, and other Israelites. Would Israel obey the Law given to Moses and thereby show God  they were accepting His offer of a relationship? Or would Israel dismiss the Law as full of insignificant, unnecessarily-burdensome rules?

The Law was merciful. The Law was God’s plea with Israel to be His people, to be His bride on this earth, to be protected and loved by Him. There were provisions in the Law for failure. The sacrifices and Sabbaths were there to remind Israel that God saved them even though they didn’t always obey. Obedience to the Law was a symbol of love, not a mechanism of salvation. Just as I demonstrate my love to my wife by doing things she appreciates, Israel demonstrated their love to God by obedience.

Today, things are no different. Jesus has come to earth to plead with you, to ask you to follow Him, to ask you to be His disciple. You only need to pray and accept His offer. If you love Him, you’ll begin to obey Him, and it won’t be burdensome. When I do things for my wife, she gets excited. Her eyes sparkle, she gives me a big hug, and I feel loved. But God loves me so much more than she–or anyone else–ever can.

from Me comes your fruit

This morning I was reading Morning and Evening, by Charles Spurgeon, and I learned about this verse:

“Oh Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?

It is I who answer and look after you. 

I am like an evergreen cypress; 

from me comes your fruit.”

-Hosea 14:8 (ESV)

There are other verses like it:

“We love because he first loved us…And this is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother”

-1 John 4:19, 21 (ESV)

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”

-Romans 11:36-12:1 (ESV)

God is the source of anything good that comes from His disciples. If we love people, this love ultimately comes from God. If we sacrifice our time and money to serve Him, the strength to do this ultimately comes from God. Even our life, our situation, and our resources come from God (“He upholds the universe by the word of his power” -Hebrews 1:3)

If we as Christians want to do anything great that displays Jesus’ love, mercy, and power, we can only do it by experiencing His love and power. And we can only do that by spending time with Him in prayer and Bible study. Our personal life isn’t disconnected from the things we do and the relationships we have with other people. The strength we receive from the Spirit when we meet Him in our quiet times is the strength we need to serve Him by loving people.

My name is graven on His hands

It’s rare that I cry in church, but today we sang this hymn, and I did cry. I think if I really understood the things we talk about in church, I would cry more–I am sinful, people are broken, and God is pursuing us to save us for Himself. Sometimes I just don’t believe these things about myself. Why did I cry today? I’m not sure. The church was full, and everyone was singing beautifully. But I wasn’t feeling forgiven. I wasn’t feeling holy.

This morning, I read Jeremiah 1–where God tells Jeremiah that he was consecrated from before he was born, that he had been chosen to speak the words of God to the nations, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” And I also read 1 Peter 2:9-10:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

I am a chosen nation. I am a royal priesthood. This morning I wasn’t feeling it. I was feeling downtrodden. I have so much medicine to learn, I can’t “pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant.” I sin too much. I don’t have time.

So I guess the hymn spoke to me this morning. I was feeling like I hadn’t done enough. I’ve been a Christian for so long, but what have I sacrificed? I was discouraged by this, but I hadn’t thought to look to God. The hymn turned my mind to God, to Jesus his Son who justifies me in spite of my inadequacy. The power to be a “holy priesthood” comes from Jesus’ sacrifice. I’m a holy priesthood because my name is graven on his hands, not because I’ve done or not done something.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God, the just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I Am,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Saviour and my God.

I had trouble finding a good version of this hymn, but here’s the best I’ve found so far. It’s worth a listen (although probably not a watch):