Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10

“But since we are of the day, let us be controlled, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10)

Without assured truth and love rooted in Christ that guard the heart, we are vulnerable to a number of feelings that run contrary to the high call of Christ.

Without the breastplate of faith we are prone to following sensations and feelings rather than truth.

Without the confidence of eternal life through Christ that guards our minds, our motivation to run with endurance becomes dulled by thoughts of guilt and worthlessness that lead to death.

Without the helmet of salvation, we are likely to reach a point where we reason our way out of acting in faith for Christ.

We don the breastplate to protect the heart and the helmet to protect the mind for we are actively engaged in a cosmic war. A war not of flesh – even though all flesh are entangled in it – but of truth and ideas. We know the outcome; the war is won – our salvation guaranteed.

So why fight?

Why engage in a war in which the outcome is already made known?

We fight because although the war is ours, many battles must still be won. The high call of Christ is to skirmish for the souls of those to whom His blood has not yet covered; to bring the guarantee of salvation to all flesh.

Don the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation to victory!

Reflections on Restoration

It truly is overwhelming to be so unconditionally loved, so cared about, by someone that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that everything they say and do is in your best interest. They may call out weak spots in your character, but you receive it in humility because you know they love you. They may ask you to do something difficult and scary, but you step out in faith because you know that they care about you.

The truth is that there is only One who fits the bill. And the restorative power of His love is truly awesome.

Hosea 6:1-3 touched my heart in a unique way as I was slowly reading through each verse this afternoon. Hosea pleads, Come, let us return to the LordFor He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

The call to the world throughout the Bible is always, “Return to Me! Please return to Me! Let me heal you! Drink from the well that will never run dry!”

And for many of us, returning to the One who created us is more of a painful journey than a peaceful one, Israel being a prime example.

The reason for the Law of Moses, the reason for the Kings of Israel, the reason for the prophets, priests, wars, and captivities (notice that this is the entirety of the Old Testament) was because Israel continually tried to remedy their problems with foreign gods who had “eyes, but could not see, ears but could not hear, mouths but could not speak.” (Psalm 115:5-6)

Instead of returning to the Lord in their mistakes, they turned their eyes from Him. Instead of repenting – redirecting their minds to follow the God who was faithfully leading them- they rebelled. Instead of flourishing in His ways, they floundered in their own ways.

And time after time did the Lord bring His restorative hand of discipline down on the Israelite people. He destroyed their lifeless gods. He broke every expectation that they had of being able to live completely self-reliant. And He made sure that they knew that without Him, real peace, love, and joy are unattainable.

He knew they needed Him, because He knows what is best for those whom He created.

Remarkably, three things are consistently mentioned by individuals in the Old Testament who turn back to the Lord after undergoing bouts of discipline:

1) If we return to Him, He will hear us

2) If we return to Him, He will heal us

3) If we return to Him, He will lead us

There was never any doubt in the eyes of those who underwent the discipline of the Lord that He loved them and cared for them. Nor was there ever any fear of rejection if repentance was made.

The discipline of the Lord is not for the pleasure of a sadistic deity, it is rather for the restoration of broken people to the only One who can heal their brokenness, the all-loving, Almighty, Yahweh. 

The people of Israel never doubted His intentions.

Nor should we.

It will be painful, that can be guaranteed.

But what can also be guaranteed is that He knows what He is doing, and His discipline is for our benefit, for our restoration.

And so the promises of God to us if we offer ourselves to Him in repentance is that he will hear, heal, and lead. Hear, so that we might commune with Him. Heal, so that we might be free from the guilt and shame of our mistakes. And lead, so that we might walk in His ways producing God-honoring fruit wherever we go.

For the true purpose of discipline is to restore the creature to the Creator, and the purpose of restoring the creature to the Creator is God-honoring action.

Reflections on Rituals, Rites, and Festivals

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.” (2 Chronicles 30:18)

Set in the context of spiritual revival in Judah under King Hezekiah, thousands from the surrounding tribes of Israel gather for the Passover feast.

Curiously enough, the enacting of this particular Passover feast ran contrary to the instructions for the Passover set up by Moses in Exodus 12.

“This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household… it is the Lord’s Passover.” (Exodus 12:2-3, 11d)

However, King Hezekiah knew this:

“The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly. They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 30:2-5)

So not only did those that King Hezekiah invited improperly partake in the Passover celebration (by not being ritually cleansed according to the Law of Moses), the entire celebration itself ran contrary to the prescribed plan for Passover God had given to Moses, the writer of Judaic Law.

But here is something intriguing, God finds that their decision to partake of the Passover contrary to everything prescribed by Himself and written by Moses to be acceptable.

“But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:19-20)

How can this be? Does God contradict the very things He has already previously instructed?

May I suggest that the main point of the Passover sacrifice – and every other ritual, rite, and festival found in the Bible – was never the form and ritual itself, but rather to bring the one offering the sacrifice into the presence of God to receive forgiveness, enter into the joy of His love, and to then go out into all the world  making known that the God of love wants to bring life and justice to any who seek it.

Let me explain.

Stephen Hawthorne, in his article titled The Story of His Glory, says it like this,

When people worship anything or anyone besides [God], they become like it. God has better intentions for people. What is true worship anyway? Worship takes place when people recognize who God is and offer public acknowledgment and freely approach God, personally offering face-to-face gratitude and day-to-day allegiance. Worship is genuine relational interaction with God. That’s why God always welcomes us to worship with a gift. He never needs the worship of gifts. But the gift brings the giver… By their sacrifices and gifts, they offer themselves. (pp. 36)

Over and over again, throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God speaks out against the offerings and sacrifices that His so-called people bring Him. Micah 6:6-8 and Isaiah 58 are but two examples where God says that He would rather the people of Israel do justice to the poor and needy than perform rote rituals that have no heart level significance.

Furthermore, Hosea 6:6 sheds even more light on God’s desire for His people, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offering.”

Without a heart that is inclined towards worship of the Father, rituals, rites, and festivals are mere forms that lack any real value or significance.

God wants the giver, not the gift. God wants the heart, not the meaningless repetition of behavior.

God wants you, not what you want to bring Him.

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 is a clear example of God saying, “Finally! You finally understand! This system is not about cleaning yourself up! It’s not about you bringing me things. Because these things are meaningless to me. It’s about directing your heart towards me! Participating in these rites, these rituals, these festivals, brings you to me. And I want you, not what you have to bring me.”

 Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:18-20)

Why does God pardon them for going against clear instruction?

Because the instructions were for the purpose of inclining hearts towards Himself, regardless of the form.

It is common for individuals who participate in modern day rituals, rites, and festivals (church, small groups, worship services) to do so because they feel as if they must in order to appease the Almighty, whip-bearing, God.

Friend, God is not a slave driver.

Your attendance at the Sunday morning worship service does not appease the God who has every right to banish your body and Spirit to the place reserved for those who hurt themselves and one another.

That is Jesus’ job. And he already gave His life so that you could live pardoned from ever needing to do anything to appease the Almighty God.

He is pleased with you.

He loves you.

Incline your heart towards Him.

Because without that, outward forms of worship are vain actions that effectively crucify the Christ a second time.

He died once for sin. And He rose from the grave to declare that sin forgiven.

You do not need to ‘act accordingly’ in order to please Him.

All outward forms of worship are for the purpose of drawing you near to Him and drawing others near to Him. And it is when we are near to Him that our lives begin to change, that justice is done, and that moral living is adhered to.

Worship the Lord in love with your heart, with your soul, and with your mind, because only then will outward forms of worship take on any life-changing meaning.

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