In the last few weeks, I’ve had love and support poured onto me as a result of my telling the story of our first year here in St. Petersburg. A few have asked that I continue to provide updates about how and what our family is doing here, which I appreciate very much, and which I am planning to do.
First, though, I wanted to share something that has been revolving in my spirit recently, partly due to my sitting and re-reading my own story – and considering how God seems to be using that story. But it’s also been resonated recently in my study of the gospel of John. Specifically a couple of verses have really been sticking out (italics added):
John 4:21-24 – “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
John 3:8 – “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You can hear its sound, but you know not where it comes from, or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Given our journey this past year, and looking at the words of Jesus Christ above, I’m becoming more and more convinced of two things:
1 – Walking faithfully the journey as a disciple of Christ requires that one be born of the Spirit of God.
2 – Walking a life born of the Spirit leaves almost no room for any concern whatever about your physical circumstances.
Now, I don’t mean to say that God does not have concern for our physical circumstances. But the fact is that God is God, and I don’t think He expects us to let Him off of the hook when His children suffer.
I wrote in a blog recently about how drastically different are my and God’s definitions of justice. Take, for example, the story in Leviticus 24 (vs. 10-23) of the man stoned to death for blaspheming the name of God.
Verse 13-14 says, “Then the Lord said to Moses: Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him (take the Lord’s name in vain -mc) are to lay their hands on his head and the entire assembly is to stone him.” Verse 15 says, “Say to the Israelites: ‘If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death.’”
Now, I’ll be really honest – stoning a man to death for taking the Lord’s name in vain does not seem just to me, but instead seems pretty extreme.
However, looking back through scripture for examples of the Lord’s display of justice, it seems that in all circumstances He seeks the fulfillment of one requirement – that He alone and above and in all things be exalted and lifted up. As a matter of fact, God seems to consistently give priority to meeting this requirement over providing physical comfort and ease to His children.
A few examples:
John 9:1-3 – As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Exodus 9:15-16 (when God is speaking to Pharaoh through Moses) – “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
And of course, Jesus’ answer to Peter in Matthew 16:23 (after Peter had said “Never!” upon learning that Jesus was to suffer and be put to death) – Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Now, at first glance, this realization gives rise to some questions. I mean, on one hand God says throughout scripture that He loves and adores us whom He created, that nothing could separate us from His love for us. However, at other times one wonders, is God so insecure and needy for praise that He would go to such lengths and let His children suffer such sufferings just so He could be glorified? This seems like a terrible contradiction.
But then I asked myself – could there be reasons, other than God’s seeking to feel better about Himself, that He requires that He be exalted above all else? Then the old scriptures we all know started coming back to me (italics added):
John 3:14 – “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
John 5:24 – I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
It suddenly seemed so simple – God’s justice requires that He be exalted above all else so that others may see Him and know Him.
The scriptures are full of the promises of God for those who know Him! Take as just one example the 23rd Psalm: Verses 1-4 – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides quiet waters, he restores my soul.. I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Of course God desires to be lifted up, that His children may know Him – no matter the cost – because He knows that it is only in knowing Him that true life, and freedom, and wholeness can fully come to all of His children.
On the flip side of that, however – as in the example above of the man stoned to death for blaspheming the name of God – if glory is taken away from God, whether through insulting His name or through putting His glory onto something/someone else (ie our homes, pastors, selves), then His children become less able to see and know Him. I think it is important for us to understand how seriously God takes this, especially when it is done by those of us in the church. He desires for His children to be free in Him. Any activity that may disrupt this by taking away from His glory is considered by Him to be a very serious offense.
So, having said all of this, I want to conclude simply by stating that if the story we shared these past weeks has had any sort of impact on you, I truly believe that it is nothing to do with me or Charlie or our challenges this first year in Russia. While He may be using these things, God’s intention is to get our eyes on Him, so that we all may know, and believe, and live. Go to Him with it, and thank Him for it, and ask Him to show Himself to you again and again.
Love and blessings to you –