Tag Archives: Pain & Suffering

You Will Receive Power

Chapter 22 

“YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER”

In order to live out your honored status in Christ, you need help. And help, indeed, is what you get. So, along with “Thank you,” get in the habit of saying “Help” as often as possible.

The cross was behind him and Jesus was eating with his disciples again. It was during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension. The topic was the Holy Spirit. In just a few days, after Jesus ascended, the Spirit would come and life as it was then understood would be changed forever. Power was coming.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now . . . . But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:4–5, 8)

Power—that’s what you need. The shamed have none of it. They always seem to be on the losing end. They experience oppression and neglect. They are nothing. But even more, you need power for God’s truth to come alive in your soul. Too often God’s words of truth to a shame-filled soul don’t penetrate or last. As soon as hope appears, it is vaporized. You need God’s power so his words of truth can take up residence in your life. You need power to believe, power to act.

Jesus ascended and the Spirit was given. This is a moment in history that affects you right now. (You already know how the past can affect you negatively, but this is a good way the past affects you.) Jesus had promised that he would never leave his people alone. He promised that when he left the Spirit would come. If you know anything about the Spirit, you might as well nickname him “Power” because when he is present things happen (Acts 1:8).

The death and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the new kingdom; the coming of the Spirit made it all visible. The people of God had dwindled to a handful of women. Now, with the coming of the Spirit, the numbers multiplied daily. Fearful disciples suddenly became bold, even in the face of death. There were enough miracles to prove that Jesus’ work was continuing, and continuing through imperfect followers. Forgiveness of sins was in the air. Out-of-control lives were brought back within the boundaries of self-control. And shame, for those who were willing, was forever changed.

THE SPIRIT AND WATER

“Power,” that is, the Holy Spirit, was always central to God’s plan. He was promised long ago, and he was promised when people were a spiritual mess. In other words, no matter how bad you think you are, there is no chance that God will renege on his promises now.

People make promises when there is mutual trust. Wedding vows are the best example. They come only after a period of dating or courtship, when faithfulness can be displayed and verified. You want to have confidence in the other person’s fidelity. Not too many people would knowingly walk down the aisle while their prospective spouse was in the process of trashing the relationship. But this is exactly what God does. He makes promises knowing that his people are either fearful or unfaithful. His story is about his faithfulness and our unfaithfulness. So you can’t exclude yourself from these promises. They are delivered to people who are decidedly unworthy.

“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.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27)

The Spirit and water promised by Ezekiel. God says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you.” You can add “Water of Life” or “Cleansing Water” to the names of the Spirit. This sprinkling is with no ordinary water. The Spirit himself is the water.

At the very heart of shame is the absence of relationships, the absence of being known, personal isolation. With this in mind you again get the feeling that God’s words to you are all about shame. For example, many religions have cleansing rituals, but the cleansing given by the true God is fundamentally about him uniting himself with you. His world is intensely personal. You are cleansed by the person of God so that the Spirit of God can dwell with you.

The time is coming, Ezekiel said, when you will be ceremonially sprinkled and be clean through and through. That time has come.

Remember that there are two kinds of cleansing. One happens once and lasts a lifetime; the other is the foot washing we need every day. Ezekiel is talking about that initial once-and-for-all cleansing. No matter how we became unclean, whether by the acts of other people or by our own, we know there must be a cleansing that reaches far beneath the skin. This is that cleansing.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth understood the depths of defilement. He needed cleansing from two murders, and he knew water was ineffective. He said,

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.”14

His wife, an accomplice to murder, also found that her acts left her permanently bloody.

“Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”15

Water alone can’t wash our souls, but the Spirit can. Inner transformation is exactly what the Spirit does. It is part of consecration and it is God’s work, not yours. So Scripture counters the futility of washing ourselves with the Lord’s promise that even murderous hands can be cleansed.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

All you have to do is nothing, but nothing, as you know, is very hard to do. The gifts of God to you are getting more specific. Received rightly, they change you.

An African woman had just been given a scarf. It was a ten-dollar item you could buy at a thrift store for two. But she didn’t look like she had been given a two-dollar scarf. She looked transformed in her own demure way.

Why the change in her? You didn’t have to guess.

“This is the first time I was ever given a gift.”

When you understand that God gave you the gift of himself, you discover another kind of shame: you are being treated in a way that is much better than you deserve. You are being cleansed and accepted, and no one deserves such a gift.

When you receive an extravagant gift and have nothing to give in return, you can be a little embarrassed. You feel . . . unworthy, though it is a very different unworthy than you ever experienced. When you receive an extravagant gift from someone that you yourself shamed, you will feel something closer to shame than embarrassment. That is pride talking. We are concerned more about ourselves than we are grateful for the mercy and grace of the other person. But with our pride ousted, humility has the freedom to take our eyes off ourselves and appreciate the greatness of the giver. Humility simply says, “Thank you.”

And, of course, there are even more gifts.

The Spirit and water promised by Jesus. Jesus had the “Water of Life,” a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, in view whenever he spoke about cleansing and water. He said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Next, he offered living water to the Samaritan woman (John 4). Though he doesn’t specify to her the connection between the Spirit, water for drinking, and water for cleansing (John 4); he will make that connection clear just a little later.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive . . . . (John 7:37–39)

The apostle John spelled it out: The living water is the Spirit.

Can you see it? The gifts are mounting up. In Ezekiel you see the priest sprinkle the water of cleansing on you, and the water of cleansing is the Holy Spirit. Even more, the Spirit doesn’t just wash off. Instead he seeps into you, going all the way to your heart to become the identifying center of your life. The progression from unclean to holy is complete. You are clean inside and out, and you are consecrated. How could it be otherwise? The Spirit lives within you.

Jesus adds that the Spirit in you gushes out from you. There is nothing surprising here. God is generous. When the Spirit is given to you, you get a lot of the Spirit. Jesus is splicing Ezekiel’s prophecy with a later vision when Ezekiel watched the temple spring a leak (Ezekiel 47:1–12). In that vision, Ezekiel was brought to the temple and observed water coming from the Holy Place, where God dwelled with his people. The water was coming out in a stream, flowing outside the temple gates, starting as a trickle but gathering momentum so that it kept getting wider and deeper as you followed it—deep enough to swim in—with life springing up wherever the water went.

No little sprinkling here. There is no chance that any part of you will go unwashed. It’s time for a swim. Usually in Scripture, large amounts of water symbolize danger. Water was where you could drown. But now, for the first time, you are invited to swim without fear of drowning because this water is safe. The water is life itself.

The gusher coming from the temple is the Spirit. You are invited to dive in. When you do, you will find complete cleansing. Places in you that were dead will come to life.16 Then, once you go about your daily business, a mini-gusher comes out of you, enabling you to bless and bring words of life to other people. No more hiding and avoiding. You have been given a mission and you have the power to accomplish it.

The cleansing Spirit has washed you, brought you into the community of God, and authorized you to bless others. You are no longer the beggar but the giver.

THE SPIRIT AND THE TEMPLE

]And there is more still. Since a scale version of the Spirit-gusher comes out of you, you are the temple of God.

Keep the story in mind. The cleansing Spirit, who had been with the people in the Old Testament, was waiting for the perfect sacrifice to be made by Jesus. Once that sacrifice was verified as effective and complete, and once Jesus returned to heaven as the reigning King, the Spirit was released. Attach yourself to Jesus by faith and the Spirit washes over you and fills you. The Spirit is in you. Even more, since God is generous and lavish in the way he gives himself, you can expect the Spirit to overflow from your heart. You are the temple in Ezekiel’s vision.

God never intended to make a beautiful but lifeless building his permanent residence. The Jerusalem temple was fine, but it wasn’t much good for people who lived a few days’ walk away. No matter how beautiful a building it was, people are more appropriate temples. God always planned to dwell in living tabernacles, tabernacles with legs and arms that would represent, love, and serve him.

Yet who could qualify for such honor? Only God in the flesh.

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:19–21)

Jesus was the living temple, the place where God himself was present. Jesus was the Holy of Holies, the very heart of the temple, the place of his throne on earth (Ezekiel 43:7; Revelation 21:22). There you found the Ten Commandments, which Jesus kept perfectly. There you found the manna, the Bread of Life. Everything about the temple pointed to Jesus.

But where you find Jesus, you can expect to find his people because his people are united with him. The first inkling that we were connected to the tabernacle or temple was when we examined the clothing of the priests (Exodus 28). Look closely at this clothing and you will discover that it is suspiciously similar to the tabernacle itself. As the Holy Place was surrounded by the beautiful tent God had designed, so the priest was surrounded by that tent in miniature, his priestly garments. He was, indeed, a walking tabernacle, consecrated by God.

As we are joined to Christ by faith, we too become walking tabernacles. The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

You could easily get overwhelmed by all this, as when you ask someone for directions and they give you more detail than you want. By the time the person gets to “You will pass the house with two pink azaleas where you take a soft left after the second right at the fourth light,” you remember absolutely nothing. When you hear one or two directions, you might remember; hear a lot and you hear nothing. In other words, don’t let this montage of spiritual gifts leave you dazed and stuck.

Whenever possible, put these new realities into speech. Talk about them. Tell your friends what you are learning. When you live in the kingdom of God, you will notice that public proclamations are highly valued. We are a community that learns from one another, so you owe it to the rest of us to speak these realities. And you will discover that your confidence in God’s words to you will grow as you proclaim them.

THE SPIRIT AND YOU

This is just a sample of the things the Spirit does, but it should be enough to persuade you that you are clean in Christ. If you doubt that just watch these new realities cascade down on you. In Christ you have been drenched by the cleansing Spirit.  You have been sent swimming in him. That certainly is enough to cleanse you.

You have also been reclaimed as a living tabernacle. Where idols once reigned and tainted associations separated, the Spirit has come to stay. His holiness overcomes any uncleanness within you. The Holy Spirit cleanses you once and for all; you have gone from uncleanness to cleanness. Cleanness, however, can still be common and not holy. That’s why the Spirit’s residency is also important. It shows that God’s intent is to make you his own. You, who were once common and unclean, have now become holy and clean. Now, instead of contaminating others, you can touch them and somehow sanctify them. Your presence in the lives of other people is more powerful than you think. You can, in some real way, make them holy. Your presence announces God’s unique interest in the other person.

I observed this on a human scale when I married. My parents did not meet my wife until a month after our wedding, but the moment they met her they loved her. My parents loved me; I loved my wife; so my parents loved my wife. They were linked to me; I was linked to her; so they were linked to her.

This does not mean that those who are linked to us immediately belong to Christ, but it does mean that they enjoy an enviable position. At the very least, they have daily opportunities to witness the Spirit within another person. In a real way they too have been set apart.

The apostle Paul gave a concrete application of this. In ancient Israel there were strict taboos against marrying people outside Israel. Such a marriage brought pagan contamination into the home and defiled any Israelite. After Jesus ascended, the early church encountered similar relationships: one spouse put his or her faith in Jesus but the other one did not. A possible application of Old Testament principles to this situation was to advise the believer to divorce the unbeliever, thereby breaking the link to the unclean person. The apostle Paul, however, used different logic. If the unbeliever was willing to live with the believer, Paul advised the believer to stay because the believer—the holy one—can spread holiness to others in close association with him or her. With Christ in you, by way of the Holy Spirit, you can touch other people.

 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:13–14)

So get out there and start touching. This is the era of action. If you have said “I love you” to Jesus, you have all the benefits that come with your new relationship. You also have the responsibilities. In other words, you have purpose. You have a reason to live. You claim all the benefits of Jesus Christ and he claims you. Just as Jesus moved toward you in love, you move toward others on his behalf.

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:23–24)

There is nothing burdensome in this purpose. It is hard but invigorating. Imagine that you are the new Isaiah. You have been purified by the King. He lives in you by his Spirit, and he gives you a mission.

Welch, Edward T. (2012-04-30). Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (pp. 227-237). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.

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When affliction leads to worship

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)

We are indeed wasting away – our bodies are decaying this very moment.  We are slowly breaking down, slowly falling apart.  When we are young, we feel invincible, but as we age our mortality begins to set in.  If you’re old enough then you’ve injured yourself getting out of bed, brushing your teeth or getting into your car – you din’t even have to goto the gym!  Even as our external bodies are wasting away, our internal natures are growing stronger and more sanctified, more holy, more like brother Jesus if we have Him as the Cornerstone and Foundation of our lives.  It is easy to “play church,” or know the right answers, but to seek Him and abide in Him is a whole different story.  One makes you religious, the other makes you alive.

Paul experienced more pain and hardships than probably anyone that you have ever known.  And yet, he sees all of his afflictions as light & momentary when compared to the eternal weight of glory that is to come.  What!?!?  Affliction in and of itself will never produce this in us.  It is only when it is compared against the backdrop of eternal things.  Far too often our minds are set on the things of this world (Romans 8:5-8), not on the things of God.  We must set our minds on the things of the Spirit – there is an active component in us.

What are things that we should be thinking on?  Things that we can’t see – and thus require faith (2 Cor 5:7, Romans 14:23, Hebrews 11:1-6) – are things such as the full restoration of all things by the sovereign Ruler of the universe, sitting at the table at the wedding feast of the Lamb enjoying perfect community with God and with others, working for God’s glory with no thorns & thistles, and enjoying a perfect paradise in the presence of the Almighty.  Dwelling on these things make the hardships of this world seem light and momentary in comparison.  It is what we behold and set our minds upon that marks us, shapes us and drives us.

Indeed Paul knew suffering & affliction to the point of despair (2 Corinthians 1:8), but he had discovered something far greater – a comparison that brought him supernatural comfort.  This is when our afflictions lead to worship.  Regardless of the challenges that are before you – severe medical issues, loss of a spouse or a child, loss of a relationship, work pressures or anything else, whatever you spend your time thinking about and, mulling over in your mind will mark you.  Work towards that being the unbelievable nature of a perfectly powerful and holy God who would condescend to rescue a completely rebellious people.  Be wowed by the fact that God makes His former enemies His friends.  Think on that and see if it doesn’t change you.  Lord, give us hearts to believe!

Other Posts to Consider:

When Wrestling gives way to Worshipping

“A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.   O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels. He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. Was your wrath against the rivers, O LORD? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation? You stripped the sheath from your bow, calling for many arrows. Selah You split the earth with rivers. The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear. You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret. You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters.

I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.”

(Habakkuk 3:1–19 ESV)

This section sounds so much like Job who had heard of God, but now sees Him (Job 42:5).  Habakkuk had heard of God and knew His laws and commands, but now he was asking that God remember mercy when His justice provokes His wrath.  Habakkuk remembers how God’s mighty, sovereign saving power had been displayed in the past – at the Nile, the Jordan & the Red Sea and in the desert during the Exodus.  He is an all powerful deliverer.

Majestic power is on display here.  As God measures the earth (I envision a couple of small steps), He shakes the nations (like in a brown lunch sack), then the eternal mountains were scattered (only God can shake what they viewed as a foundation to the world).  His ways are eternal.  Habakkuk is doing in these verses what we must do – we must recite and remember who God is and the truths about Him – when we do this, things come in to perspective.  Apart from this perspective, you will always struggle and wrestle because you have no real perspective on things.  Like Asaph, the Psalmist you will be able to say, “but when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalms 73:16–17 ESV)

The majestic power of God is seen in the spectacular display of lightning & flash flooding in thunderstorms.  Mountains quake at His power (earthquakes) and He causes even the sun & moon to stand still (Joshua 10:12-13).  This God is all powerful, unequaled & sovereignly ruling.  When difficulty and hardship comes, knowing that our God is ruling and reigning in all power is a comforting thing.  And not just that He is sovereign, but He does good to His people.  Habakkuk is calling to recollection that.  God had protected and miraculously delivered His people before.  He will indeed do it again – but they were needing punishment for their wickedness.  God delivered them from Pharaoh and from Canaanite kings.  God is willing and able to deliver; He is the great Deliverer.

Habakkuk physically responds with a trembling body and quivering lips to the impending judgement that is coming, but he will wait for God to finish His judgement and then judge the invaders.  Habakkuk is finished wrestling, complaining & accusing God.  He is now resting on the sweet sovereignty of God.  The battle in his soul is over and he is beginning to worship and rest.  He does not have all of His questions answered, but He sees God and that is enough for him.  Oh, that we would land in the same spot.  When we wrestle, complain & accuse God of injustice or of silence – we need to be looking to get to this place.  A place where we are done wrestling and we begin worshipping.  Worship is the only thing that will satiate the wrestler’s soul.  God satiates Habakkuk’s soul by giving him a grander view of Himself – God gives Habakkuk God, and it proves to be enough.

Habakkuk concludes that if there is absolute famine in the land and hardship – no figs, no fruit, olives, food or live stock – he will still praise the Lord his God.  He will take joy in the God of His salvation.  He trusts in God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness, what a place to rest your feet in the midst of adversity.  Trusting God leads to joy.  Faith that God is in control and working all things out for His kid’s good is profoundly comforting and joyful, despite the physical hardships that may come our way.  In verse 19, Habakkuk clarifies that it is the LORD (Yahweh, the personal covenant keeping God) that is His strength.  Whether deliverance, comfort & prosperity come or not – God is Habakkuk’s strength.  There are struggles to be had, tears to be cried and doubts to wrestle through, but when we find that God alone is enough to satisfy joy ensues.  When we still believe that anything created can satisfy the longings in our soul, unrest & discontentedness are not far behind.

We want to accuse God of not running His world the way that we think is right.  It’s His world and He gets to run it the way that He wants.  And we must always rest on the fact that He is good and is doing good – even when we can’t see it.  This is walking by faith and not by sight (feelings, emotions or current experiences).  There comes a time (or many times) in our lives, if God is gracious, that we press and ask questions seeking to understand, but where the questions no longer matter because we see God and trust Him – regardless of the circumstances of life.  God, alone, is enough.  Regardless of where you find yourself today, remember that the eternal God of the universe set His saving affections on you before a star was breathed into space.  Why?  For His glory and YOUR JOY.  Meditate on this truth, mull it over, think about it and see if it doesn’t move your heart.

He is God and We are Not

“And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own— for how long?— and loads himself with pledges!” Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.

“Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink— you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.””

(Habakkuk 2:2–20 ESV)

Habakkuk had been questioning God and wanting to know why He seemed to be absent, disconnected & slow in acting in judging the wicked.  God tells Habakkuk (and us) that He will indeed punish all of the wicked in the right time!  God will judge all injustice, but it rarely happens on our timetable.  If it seems slow, wait for it.  Good counsel.  All injustice and sin will be paid for – either at the cross of Christ or at the end of time.  Judah would be judged in 586, but Babylon’s judgement would be another 50 years – in 539.  We don’t normally think in 50 year chunks.  But ultimately, It’s not about them (or us), it’s about Him & His story.

God says that the Babylonians, and specifically their king, are prideful and puffed up; they are relying upon their own strengths, abilities and savvy (sound familiar?).  But the righteous shall live by faith (Genesis 15:6, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 10:38-39) and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Simple faith in the Almighty is all that is required to be deemed righteous by God and yet it seems to be the hardest thing for man to do – to admit that he can’t do it on his own, to admit that he is some how deficient in and of himself.  Trusting that God is in control and is redeeming all things for His glory is all that is required.  Even in the darkest nights of the soul, there is an abiding trust in God and in his promises.  He is at work, never distant, disconnected or unconcerned – regardless of how you feel.  Walk by trust in the gospel & in God’s promises and not by what feel or think.  Preach these great truths to yourself instead of running through your own feelings and thoughts continually in your mind.  You talk to yourself more than anyone else, what are you saying?  Are they good, noble, right, praiseworthy things or are they toxic, faith killers.

Habakkuk lands on the sweet sovereignty of God, which is the softest of all doctrines to the weary soul.  We know that God sovereignly controls man’s destiny, but we fail to walk in this truth daily.  “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”  (Proverbs 16:9 ESV).  A day is coming when God’s glory will be shown perfectly because sin will no longer cast a shadow over it.  Things will not be broken, man will worship Him, lives will glorify Him.

God then points out to Habakkuk that idols are stupid. We craft them and then look to them for direction, meaning and worth. Idols can’t speak, relate, rule or reign. They are nothing but wood with precious metals on top of them. They are not alive or powerful. Our idols are more “sophisticated” today – marriages, children, wealth, fame, approval, relationships – many are good things, but they are created things that cannot direct our lives.  
But the Lord is in His holy temple and His presence commands silence.  What a comparison between powerless, silent inanimate objects and the power and presence of the Almighty.  In His presence there is a palpable sense of power, holiness and glory that renders created things speechless (Isaiah 6:4-5). We rant and rave and shake our fists at God, we accuse Him as if we are sovereign, but there is coming a time when our mouths will be shut and we will know that He is God and we are not! “Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests” (Zephaniah 1:7 ESV).

What God reveals to Habakkuk about Himself is that He is God – just like in the book of Job – and seeing that renders a man speechless.  Far too often, we ignorantly careen through life relying on our senses and feelings for direction.  We feel like we have ultimate perspective and understanding – we are limited, finite and ignorant.  The most gracious thing that God can do is to crush us and reveal to us that we are not sovereign.  When we realize this and embrace the truth that He is in control – and that we are not – when we embrace that He is God – and we are not – our hearts worship.  Instead of staying crushed, we are lifted up and God’s power, holiness and justice meets His mercy, grace and glory – and we worship and experience joy.  Lord, please teach us that you are God and we are not.

Questioning God

“Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever? I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.”  (Habakkuk 1:12–2:1 ESV)

Habakkuk’s theology is correct – God is eternal and He has sovereignly chosen the Babylonians for judgement over His people.  But Habakkuk’s head and his heart are disconnected.  He wants to know how an all powerful & good God could allow sin to go on unchecked.  Furthermore, how in the world could a just and holy God use the wickedness of the Babylonians to punish His own people for their disobedience?  Judah was indeed less wicked than the Babylonians, though only slightly!  Have you ever been there?  Have you ever questioned God and despite the fact that you know that He is in control of all things, you can’t seem to figure out why things have turned out the way that they have and where He is in the midst of the darkness?

Habakkuk’s main argument is that God makes all things and the current state of affairs seem as if He is absent from the equation.  This is deistic thinking that resides in all of us that needs to be put to death!  Habakkuk wants to know if God will sit idly by and allow the Babylonians to sweep across the world conquering, subjecting and treating people wickedly?  Where is the justice in that?  In 2:1, Habakkuk throws down a direct challenge to the Almighty.  That’s scary!  He is going to the watchtower to wait and see How God responds to His direct challenge.

We rarely challenge God directly & out loud like Habakkuk is doing, but aren’t these thoughts swimming around in the back of our minds?  Don’t we question where God is and why He seems absent from certain situations?  We seem to, by nature, gravitate towards believing that God set up the world but now just let’s it mostly run on its own.  Nothing could be further from the truth, He is intimately involved in this world – whether we can see it or not.  He holds all things together (Colossians 1:7 & Hebrews 1:3).  We must battle this unbelief because it never leads us to worship.  This is why when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His word.  Let us lean upon one another to build our belief; let us walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The Sweet Sovereignty of God

““Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!””

(Habakkuk 1:5–11 ESV)

Habakkuk had been complaining to God that He seemed distant, disconnected and slow to respond to the wickedness of the people.  But God responds that He had already been acting – though Habakkuk could not see it.  God is always at work, but we rarely see what He is up to.  That is why we are called to walk by faith (trust) and not by what we can see (2 Corinthians 5:7).  God was bringing the Babylonians to punish His people for their wickedness.  What?  Wicked Babylon will punish God’s wicked people?  That certainly was not the response that Habakkuk was expecting.  Verse 5 is far from a coffee cup or t-shirt verse (“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” ESV).  Habakkuk did not have anywhere to file that – how could a loving and just God use such wicked people – people more wicked than the Jews – to punish them?  This did not fit in Habakkuk’s (or our) belief system.

The next verse (6) tells us that God is raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians).  What?  God is the One who is raising up Babylon?  The sweet sovereignty of God comes into crystal clear focus in this verse.  God sovereignly rules and reigns over the earth – all people (even the most powerful rulers) are His servants.  God guides history, it is not randomly unfolding.  He orchestrates it to accomplish His purposes.  He calls Cyrus His servant (Isaiah 44:28) as He determined to use him to deliver His people.  Indeed, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” (Daniel 2:21 ESV).  God’s answer to Habakkuk:  The Chaldeans (Babylonians) which He calls bitter & hasty are the tool of judgement that HE IS RAISING UP!  God orchestrates all things for His purposes.  He knows their traits and uses them as His tool of judgement.  When you are God you get to do whatever you want and what you do is always good, just and right!  We aren’t God, but we want to accuse & complain as if we were sovereign.

The Babylonians were wicked and had no common decency and in their lust for power and dominance they abused their power and oppressed those under their rule.  They were strong, swift and skilled warriors that could conquer opposing nations before they knew what hit them.  Their violence exceeded that of the Assyrian’s and they had no regard for weaker kings and kingdoms.  God was telling Habakkuk that this was what He was bringing to Judah – His chosen people.  This was His tool of judgement.  He was going to use a wicked people to judge His people for their wickedness.  Only God gets to do that!  We read this story separated by 2500 years in three chapters and it is easy for us to digest.  Sit & think about what God is doing and what that would have done to Habakkuk.

Verse 11 tells us that their strength is their god.  Most nations “depended” upon their superstitions and gods for victory, but the Babylonians were such proficient warriors that they had come to rely upon their strength to overthrow their enemies.  Self-reliance on our strength or abilities (ones that God gave us) makes us glory thieves.  There is nothing that we have that we have not received (1 Corinthians 4:7).  Are smart, successful, compassionate, moral, wealthy, driven, entrepreneurial, patient, technical or __________?  Those are things that God gave you. Don’t be a glory thief (Psalm 18:32).

If you find yourself wrestling with where God is in the midst of a difficult season, preach to yourself that He is never distant, disconnected or slow in acting.  Wrestle through it, but walk by faith and not by what you see and feel.  He is in control, He is working and He is doing good for His children.  In the dark night of the soul, these are the truths that we need to preach to our downcast souls (Pslam 42) and beg God to awaken them!

When God is Silent

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”(Habakkuk 1:2–4 ESV)

Habakkuk opens this short book asking, “how long shall I cry for help and you don’t hear our cry for deliverance and you not respond?”  Sound familiar?  It does to me.  Wickedness is happening around him and Habakkuk can’t understand why things are turning out this way and where God is in the midst of it.  Habakkuk uses the covenant keeping, personal name for the LORD here indicating that He believes God is not absent, but is struggling with where He is and why He seems to be silent.  Have you ever been there?  I have.  These are times where we have to walk by faith and not by sight – times when we believe the unbelievable (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Simple, but certainly not easy!

Habakkuk surveys the wickedness, moral bankruptcy & spiritual disconnect and He cannot understand why it seems that the Lord is sitting “idly” by and is not judging the perversity.  This sounds like us – “where are you God, why do you seem to be so absent, why are you slow in acting?”  This is a common theme in the Bible, Peter addresses the same line of thinking when addresses the scoffers that are among them by saying that God is not distant, disconnected & slow in acting (2 Peter 3) God rarely acts on our timetable and yet we feel compelled to accuse Him of being distant & disconnected, as if we were sovereign.

The laws of God are being completely ignored and the people are doing whatever they please.  The law was not impacting their hearts.  This is a familiar refrain:  “everybody did everything that was right in His own eyes.”  Life was hard for the remaining faithful & righteous remnant.  It was easy for Habakkuk to feel alone – like God had abandoned Him.  We find ourselves in the same shoes at times.  All Habakkuk could see were the trees, but God is going to help get his head above the trees so that he can see the forest.  Despite the fact that Israel only occupied the promised land for 530 years, God was still faithful to them and to His plan.  They were slaves for 400 years in Egypt, lived in the land as a combined kingdom for 530 years and then were under the rule of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans.

Today we can see how God was working out a beautiful plan of rescue for His elect.  And yet when we go through hardships for a day, week, month, year or lifetime we want to cry out to God – “foul, where are you, why are you silent and not acting!”  God never promised us ease, comfort or prosperity – He gives us something far greater:  Himself.  The pain is real, for sure.  But our crying out and accusations must ultimately land in a place that says, “not my will, but yours be done,” because we are not sovereign – He is.  If you find yourself suffering, struggling or hard pressed, cry out to God.  He can handle your questions & accusations.  If you will walk in this and trust that God is indeed sovereign and that He is indeed good (and does good [to you]) then you will find that He is enough regardless of whether deliverance comes.  The most gracious thing that God could do for us is to give us Himself, which is the very thing that He does at the cross.

Entrust your soul to a faithful Creator

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV)

When the Christian suffers (not for his own ignorance), he should entrust himself to the sovereign Ruler of the universe who allows nothing to happen that has not first been filtered through His fingers.  The sovereignty of God provides absolute reassurance to the suffering servant.  God will vindicate those who are His.  Your identity is in Christ and your inheritance is in heaven.

Good things aren’t transformational things

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7–11 ESV)

Peter again instructs his readers to get their heads above the clouds to see ultimate reality.  This world is coming to an end.  It is not all that there is.  Our inheritance is far greater than anything that this world has to offer.  In light of that we should be self-controlled & sober minded in the way that we live.  As an interesting caveat, Peter says that their sober-mindedness & self control was for the sake of their prayers.  We are not just called to passively obey, we are called to actively participate in the kingdom of God.  They, as do we, have a role to play in the kingdom.  The fact that the sovereign Creator of the universe invites us to play a part in His grand redemptive plan is unbelievable.  Why would God invite us to play a part for He certainly does not need us to accomplish His purposes?  He gets the glory, we get the joy and others get the good that we do.

The pinnacle of all Christian virtues is love.  Why?  Because love covers a multitude of sins (4:8 & Proverbs 10:12).  How is this developed?  He that is forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:47) and we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  The source of our love is the regeneration of our hearts.  As we grow deeper in the love and forgiveness of God, we are able to extend this to others.  It becomes a more “natural” outflow of what God is doing in us.  A primary way that this was displayed in the dangerous and hostile first century culture that Peter’s readers were living in was through hospitality to others.  Their love compelled them to help others.  This hospitality should not be obligatory – it should be without grumbling.

The gifts that we have received from God should be used to serve others.  We are to be stewards of God’s grace.  If you have a speaking gift, then use it with sobriety – not propagating your own ideas and theology, but God’s.  If you have a serving gift, rely upon God’s strength instead of your own.  It is easy to rely on our own strength when serving.  Gifts, whether spiritual or our own natural strengths, are due to the grace of God and should be use for the betterment of others.  Our natural proclivity is to use them for our own glory & good.  They are meant for the glory of God & good of others.

Are you loving and serving others well?  We all fall short in these areas and our normal mode of operation is to resolve to try harder and do better.  We ask for accountability and lay out a plan of action.  These are not bad things, but these are not transformational things.  We should love and serve others – even when we don’t feel like it.  But external compliance to the commands of God neither glorify God nor produce joy in the disciple.  If you are lacking in these areas, go back to the foot of the cross.  Go back and behold the Creator of the world.  Ask God to reveal Himself to you – His majesty, holiness, goodness & sovereignty.  For as we behold the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into His likeness.  Start at the foot of the cross and seek not love, but rather seek God Himself.

Our identity is in Christ and our inheritance is in glory

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (1 Peter 4:1–5 ESV)

Since Jesus suffered, so too should we expect to suffer.  We should “arm ourselves with this way of thinking.”  We should expect suffering – we should not go looking for it, but when it comes our way we should not be surprised.  When suffering comes, we must remember that our identity is in Christ and our inheritance is in glory.  We must remember that this world is broken and that one day God is going to make all things right; He is going to make all things new (Revelation 21:5)

Peter says, “for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” which represents either Jesus as our sacrificial sin offering, our new “dead to sin” nature that Paul discusses in Romans 6:1-11 or the fact that suffering has a way of killing sin at its root.  All of these are true and regardless of how this is interpreted, Peter points us to abandon our fleshly, human passions and embrace the will of the Lord – which for this audience was suffering.  If God is really sovereign, as Peter emphatically says in 3:22, then suffering must be part of His grander plan.  Though we rarely see the reason during trials, and often times don’t after the trial (remember Job?), we must trust in His goodness & sovereignty and set our hearts toward heaven.  We are exiles, sojourners, aliens & strangers – this is not our home.  Our home and inheritance is in glory.

The believer that finds his identity in Christ & inheritance in heaven will readily abandon fleshly acts of debauchery.  This will surprise those around them who participate in these acts and they will likely malign believers for not participating.  This world is all that they have so they need to get everything that they can!  All people will have to give an account for what they have said and done.  All sin will be paid for – either at the cross of Jesus Christ or by the sinner himself.  Justice will be served.  This enables the saint to persevere when he suffers injustices.  So set your eyes upon Christ, trust in His sovereign goodness and know that you have an inheritance waiting that is grander than you could ever imagine.