cleansing from idols

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

We read as the first of the Ten Words, which we call the Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:3-6

Idolatry is endemic to humanity. Simply put, it’s putting anything above God. We were created to be in relationship with God and with each other. And God is not only alone deserving of our entire devotion, but we find our true value and the value of everyone and everything in light of the revelation of God. And when we give God our complete love in response to God’s love, we actually find that our love for others is more pure and indeed sacrificial.

“Love” in the world is often more about what I want than what I can give. It often is essentially self-centered. Not to say that there aren’t people who love others self-sacrificially apart from worshiping, indeed even knowing God. That is part of the image of God in humanity. But sin has come into the picture, so that human beings are inherently self-seeking, turned in on themselves, their own interests, and not God’s interests. And ironically to put oneself first ends up resulting in loss, including the loss of one’s very self, according to Jesus. But acknowledging God as the one who is worthy of full devotion is to find one’s own self, and the true value of others, seeing the blessing of others through who they are, and not by what we can get out of them for ourselves.

But what we need is nothing less than a cleansing of the impurity of our hearts from idolatry. Only God can do that, and it occurs in what in theology is called “regeneration.” In the context quoted above in Ezekiel, it is a promise for Israel and involves the promised land as well. In Christ it’s fulfilled within the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of all nations, and thus inherit the world. So what is needed is nothing less than a change of heart. And ultimately, as the passage indicates, and as we read elsewhere in Scripture, only God can do that.

That is our need. It’s not easy, because ironically when we’re tuned into God and God’s love, we’ll love others all the more. It will be a love, not about us, or our wants and needs, but for the good of others, to serve them in God’s love. We genuinely love and care about others in God’s love. And we experience God’s love for us and others. It’s important to remember that we’re included, loved by God, who loves in a way that’s beyond our wildest imagination, with no end. But we know and experience that love only through the cleansing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Something we should ask for and value, basic to our lives. In and through Jesus.

 

 

their hearts right, their heads wrong

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me,  for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Matthew 26:31-35

Peter’s heart was entirely right, but his head was entirely wrong. And the other disciples with him. Jesus had already made them clean through the word (John 13), I take it meaning regeneration, new birth. But little did they know or understand either Jesus’s words, or what was happening before them right at that time, the momentous event, and the shaking and sifting, along with the tragedy.

Earlier we remember that Peter had roundly rebuked the Lord for saying that he would have to die on a cross, that such a thing would never happen to the Messiah. The Lord summarily dismissed that, and made it plain that not only would he be taking that route, but that all who really follow him would as well.

Peter still had it in his head that there was a place for the sword. He is the one who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus ends up healing that ear, and makes it plain that all who draw the sword will die by it. And that he had come for this, that the prophecies of scripture were being fulfilled (big in Matthew).

This can be so much like us. Yes, the Spirit in Pentecostal fullness had yet to come. That would make a big difference. But everything had to unfold before them, Jesus’s resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances, and his ascension. Yes, we have the benefit of this now, both in hindsight, and the Spirit’s ministry to us today. But we too can easily not begin to understand what we’ve gotten ourselves into. As Jesus told Peter, along with James and John at the Garden of Gethsemane, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

So our hearts can be right. But are we being changed by the renewing of our minds, so as to know God’s will, and not be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2)? That’s the question.

 

don’t blame God (or the devil)

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James 1:13-18

We are our own worst enemies. If only we would understand that, and take it to heart. It’s not like there isn’t a tempter out there, or that the stuff life throws our way makes it easy for us. Not at all. And reality is that the world (system), the flesh, and the devil are linked; you can’t separate them in reality. At the same time, we are sinful enough on our own; we need no help from the devil. That realm of evil, the demonic, does throw gasoline on the fire we’ve already lit.

James doesn’t so much as mention the devil here, though he does later in this letter (4:7), and chapter 3 definitely alludes to the demonic when speaking of the tongue as set on fire by hell itself. We are more than capable all on our own, just the point James makes here. It’s our own desire, tainted by sin which results in death. And the problem certainly doesn’t come from God, who instead is the giver of all that is good.

James turns our focus from ourselves and our sin to God and his goodness. But we must not be in a hurry to get to this point. We need to take seriously every letter and line James writes about temptation, and our own blame in giving into it. But then we need to remember God’s gifts, and especially the gift of his regenerating work through the word of truth, the gospel. Through that work we are made new, so that we can not only begin to understand the problem, but also overcome it. Otherwise why would James write this letter? He does so with the pastoral intent of helping us do what we hear and profess, as well as confess. In and through Jesus.

meditation for Maundy Thursday

The night before Jesus was crucified, he did for his disciples what only the lowest of slaves did when he washed his disciples feet. Of course Peter objected, but Jesus then seemed to apply it in some spiritual sense, that if Peter didn’t submit to this foot washing, he would have no part with Jesus. Peter then bursts forth with the words, “Then Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well.” But Jesus then pointed out that those who have had a bath only need their feet washed. And that his disciples were clean, though not every one of them.

In washing his disciples feet, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love, or he loved them to the end. And set them an example that as he had done for them, they also were to do for each other.

After predicting his betrayal, Jesus then taught them a new command. They were to love one another. As he had loved them, they were to love each other. That is how the world would know that they were his disciples, if they loved each other in this way.

In all our weakness do we endeavor to live this out? To follow the way of our Savior and Lord in loving each other, even as we carry our cross? We can do so by meditating on Jesus’ example to us. And seeking to live that out in practical ways of service to each other.

Even as we look to the one who in love gave himself for us, and for the world.

A suggested reading for todayJohn 13:1-17, 31b-35