SPECIAL NOTE:  There’ll be NO blog post next week due to Thanksgiving vacation.  Another blog post entry will resume after the holidays.

INTRODUCTION

Last week, we looked at how we can escape the world’s gravitational pull by being established in our identity as the Bride of Christ.   As we draw closer to the end, Christians worldwide will receive this revelation to stand as a corporate cherished bride in the midst of the darkest time of history.   Since love never fails and can outlast anything, it’ll be Jesus’ love for us and our love and devotion to our Heavenly Bridegroom more than anything else that’ll keep us pure, steady and persevering until the end.  We can start that journey now by understanding and living in the bridal paradigm.

HAVE A BALANCED VIEW OF YOUR LIFE

Another way to deal with the pride of our hearts is to see ourselves in balance according to the word of God.

God does cherish us!  He created us to be special in the midst of all of his creation.  We, as humans, made in the image of God are capable of extraordinary things.  We have a very significant place in God’s heart.  All these things are true.  But, these truths need to be balanced with our altogether frail, limited humanity.  We are sinful.  We are made from the dust.  As much as we try to be like god in our fallen humanity, we come up woefully short.  Ideally, we are to hold both sides of our unique personhood in dynamic tension:  both are true, all the time.

God will try to deflate pride, because he doesn’t want us to be puffed up (or inflated).  On the other hand, he doesn’t want us to be deflated either.  He wants us to see ourselves in a right light.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  –Romans 12:3

All throughout Scripture, God has these ways to balance out our view of ourselves.   This week I’m going to just number them off.  Though not an exhaustive list, hopefully I’ll hit the major themes in the Bible regarding our personhood.

1.  MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD FROM THE DUST OF THE EARTH

This is so vitally important to understand.  The world around you will say that we are just another animal, a higher form of the other animals.  They’ll clump us with mammals in their scientific categorization, who give birth to live young, are warm blooded, have fur or hair and take care of their young.  Yes, we are and do all of those things, but we, as humans, are in vastly different category than any other living creature on Earth.

God not only made us in His image, but he called us to rule over the Earth.  We have authority over every creature on the planet.

Then God said, “LET US MAKE MANKIND IN OUR IMAGE, IN OUR LIKENESS, SO THAT THEY MAY RULE over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.  –Genesis 1:26  (Caps mine)

Furthermore, God blessed mankind to be fruitful and to multiply and to rule the Earth.  (Genesis 1:28). We were to be God’s representatives on the Earth, until Adam and Eve relinquished this rule over to the devil.

Since mankind fell and gave authority to the devil to rule the world, only a man could do what Adam couldn’t do and regain that authority.

This was one of the reasons why Jesus came as man.

But, our place of power and authority needs to be balanced with the fact that we are made from the dust of the Earth.  There’s something so humble about recognizing our fragility, vulnerability and mortality.   Many funerals in the past would use this refrain, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

In fact, “Adam” and “man/ mankind” come from the same Hebrew root word (H119), adam, meaning red, or to show blood in the face.   For all of our high position and nearness to the heart of God, we are in the end equation merely men and women… human beings.  We are not God, nor will we ever be God or a god.

Another word the Bible uses for “red” is “ruddy.”   To see how important this is to keeping us grounded as humans, we look to how Jesus the God-man, was described in Song of Songs 5:

My beloved is dazzling and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. –Song of Solomon 5:10

That “ruddy” comes from the same root word (H119), adam.  Yet, Jesus is dazzling, white and radiant also.

Jesus was both God and man.  He took on our ruddy complexion.  His all-too-human blood was spilled out for our redemption.

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, because they believed the lie that they could be like God.  In order to put everything back into perspective, God tells Adam “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  (Genesis 3:19)

God had to seriously deflate the first man and woman, because they were filled with pride and had seen themselves in an exaggerated light.  God did it by stressing the other side of the coin.  No, Adam, you were made from the dust… you are weak, frail and mortal.

Sometimes, I wonder if that is why God brings us through a process of aging before we die.  It’s humbling.  As we age, we may not be as fast, strong, fit, mentally sharp,etc. as we used to be.  Depending on the state of our health, we may find ourselves depending on God even more.  I’ve heard of strong people who get very weak and frail before they die and they finally surrender their lives to God.

There are strong people, on the other hand, who don’t surrender to God, even in their weakness, but instead cling to their pride and independence.  After all, they’ve had a lifetime of using their bodily strength and mental acuity to accomplish their own ends.  They’ve practiced not needing God.  This should be a sober warning for us all!

Yes, it’s important to feel our frail humanity, but what’s more important is to understand WHY God gave us our frail humanity.  It’s to keep us humble.  We can be in different states of pride and humility throughout our lives.  God will use what He can to remind us.  But, it’s better when we remind ourselves and learn our lessons well.

For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. –1 Corinthians 11:31 (NKJV)

BIBLE EXAMPLES:

  1. In the wilderness, being hunted down by Saul, David often saw himself as “poor and needy.”  He finally came to his deathbed, however, after a lifetime of ups and downs, not being able to warm his own body, no matter how many blankets they put on him.  (Various psalms; 1 Kings 1:1)
  2. In Isaac’s later years, he severely lost his eyesight, leading him to bless Jacob, not Esau, with the birthright.  Yes, there was manipulation going on, but God originally intended Jacob to receive the blessing, not Esau.  Isaac, on the other hand, not understanding God’s will was determined to bless his favored son, Esau.  (Genesis 25:23; Genesis 27)
  3. God called Moses “the meekest man on Earth.”  When Moses was about to die, he had full use of his faculties and was a healthy man.  (Numbers 12:3; Deuteronomy 34:7)
  4. Caleb had to wait forty-five long years, for the previous generation to die out, to claim the land God promised him.  Caleb was only one of two people who gave a good report about the land, one full of faith and victory.  The other ten gave a bad report full of doubt and fear.  At eighty-five, he claimed to be just as strong as he was decades earlier.  He clearly depended upon his faith in God rather than on himself to defeat the giants who occupied his land.  Caleb had a different spirit and was determined to follow God wholeheartedly.  God knows how to preserve His people and restore the years the locusts have eaten.  (Joshua 14:6-15; Numbers 13; Numbers 14:24; Joel 2:25)
  5. God encountered Jacob, the manipulator and usurper, to teach him a lesson.  Jacob did well to care about God’s birthright, but he tried to get it through his own strength and cunning.  As a younger man, God wrestled with him until daybreak and put his hip out of joint.  Jacob lived with this injury for the rest of his life, but it put him on a different trajectory.  By the end, he was leaning upon his staff worshiping God.  (Genesis 32:24-32; Hebrews 11:21)

I’m not drawing any strong conclusions.  I’m just saying that it’s interesting how God, in these Biblical examples, emphasized the frailty of the flesh when needed, and didn’t when it was unnecessary.

Note:  I want to make it very clear.  God doesn’t put sickness on people to teach them lessons.  But, sometimes, God, in His wisdom and sovereignty, does allow certain things in our lives.  We, as His children, need to grow in wisdom and discernment to understand the difference between what is being allowed and what is an enemy attack.  We learn from the one and battle the other through spiritual warfare.  Moreover, we always pray and hope for God’s healing, while, at the same time, recognizing we live in a fallen world, which includes sickness, sin and death.

No matter where we’re at in the timeline of our lives, it’s important to humble ourselves before God.   We need to embrace how we are both made in the image of God, but out of the dust of the Earth.

2.  DARK, YET LOVELY

I am dark, yet lovely. –Song of Solomon 1:5

Song of Solomon can be seen in a few different ways.  It can be seen as a love story between Solomon and his future bride, but it can also be seen as an allegorical love story between the believer and God or Christ.

As mentioned last week, one of the best teachings I’ve ever heard on the Song of Solomon is from Mike Bickle.   Mike did a great job in this particular statement of balancing out our view of ourselves.  Even though we  continue to sin, we are lovely to God.  He enjoys the relationship with us through every stage of our growth and development.  Yes, we’re going to make mistakes, but He sees the willingness in our hearts to say “yes” to Him.  He sees the budding virtues before they’re fully grown.  (Find the link to his teaching on this statement at the bottom of this section.)

God sees us from the viewpoint of eternity.  Timewise, our earthly life to God is just a “drop in the bucket.”  It’ll be the only time in our life when we struggle with a sin nature.  Just because our life on Earth is short to God, however, it doesn’t mean our life choices on Earth don’t matter.  In fact, our choices have eternal ramifications.  How we live on Earth will determine our place in eternity!  As we enter into eternity, for billions of years, we will have been perfected in Christ.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  –2 Peter 3:8

Consider why we need to hold these two views of ourselves in dynamic tension.

Some people just see themselves as dark to God.  Their primary view of themselves is sinful, broken and unworthy.  They “beat themselves up” for their sins, habitual or otherwise.    They can’t imagine God loving them, because of their sinful nature.  Consequently, they view God as being perpetually mad and grieved by them.

On the other hand, others see themselves as only lovely to God.  They may not understand the gravity and weight of sin and how it impacts their lives and the lives of others they touch.  They may not take sin seriously.  They may not see the need to repent of things the Bible clearly says are wrong.  Instead of an upward climb, involving growth, sanctification and life change, they live more static lives of blanket acceptance for themselves.

In fact, in Song of Solomon, the future bride’s awareness that she’s “dark, but lovely”is what propels her on a journey of maturity, sanctification and growth in love.  In short, deeper into the heart of a Holy God!  Her darkness shows her the need to change and the Bridegroom’s strong and loving acceptance of her gives her the strength to not only attempt the journey, but to endure to the end.  We need both.

One of my favorite verses from the Song of Solomon happens towards the end of the story.  It speaks volumes.

Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?  –Song of Solomon 8:5

We each have an individual journey of growing towards maturity as the Bride of Christ.  We also have a collective journey of growing towards maturity as the corporate Bride of Christ.   The wilderness speaks of all the different things we’ll have to go through to come to that place of maturity and deeper Christ-likeness.  Once again, only as a cherished bride will we have the devotion, strength and resolve to make it to the end, of course, always leaning upon our Beloved.

I know the end of the story.  I’ll come up from the wilderness, leaning on my Beloved.  –Jon Thurlow “Strong Love”

I’d like to share Jon Thurlow’s song “Strong Love.”  In it, he sings about the sheer power and scope of God’s love and how God’s strong love will see us through to the end.  It’s based on the messages in the Song of Solomon.

Mike Bickle’s teaching on the Song of Solomon:  The Paradox of Grace:  Dark but Lovely

3.  GOD’S GREAT POWER IN JARS OF CLAY

Now we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this surpassingly great power is from God and not from us.  We are pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken;  struck down, but not destroyed;

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

For we who are alive are always consigned to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal bodies.

So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.   — 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

Many times God can so seamlessly work through us that it seems like it really was us who did it.  Sure, God might have helped, but we made it happen out of our wisdom, expertise, intelligence, gifting, etc.

Consequently, God may then have to jostle around the clay pot to show us that we are poor, needy and weak.  With all the trials we sometimes go through, we, then, end up marveling at how God sustained us.  I was weak, harried, hassled, not feeling up to it–it can be a number of things –and, yet, God accomplished what I couldn’t.

God may allow difficult circumstances to deflate our pride.  But, like the Apostle Paul, when you consistently walk in anointing, power and effectiveness, much of your life can be one hard path.  I don’t say this to frighten anyone.  I’m just saying the Apostle Paul paid an enormous cost for his effective ministry in the early church.

He understood the principle that we have to die to ourselves in order to be made alive in the Spirit.

He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.  –1 Peter 3:18 

This verse speaks of Christ’s actual death on the cross, but it can be seen metaphorically as a Biblical principle.

We must get away from the false ideas that an effective ministry can be born out of a viral YouTube video.  Maybe, if that person for years up until then struggled in the background and sought after God with his or her whole heart, fully committed to the truth of God’s Word.  Not saying it can’t happen.  But, if the video is all there is and the person has the charisma and the flash, but lacks the substance, then you just encountered the world’s way of catapulting someone to fame.

The Bible speaks of people who have a “form of godliness” but denying the power which makes them godly.  Paul writing Timothy makes it very clear:  “Have nothing to do with such people.”  (2 Timothy 3:5)

These people are the clay pots that have nothing in them.  They are the whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.   (Matthew 23:27)  One thing’s for sure, you can fake a lot of things doing it the world’s way, but you can’t fake God’s power and anointing!

Whenever God means to make a man great.  He always breaks him in pieces first.  –Charles Spurgeon

Let’s face it, this is not a fun quote.  It may not strike us as inspirational.  But, the sobering part is that it’s true.

The clay pot needs to be broken first for God’s power to be released.   The alabaster jar needs to be broken before the fragrance can be released to fill the whole room.  (Luke 7:37)

4.  WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION, FOR IT IS GOD WHO WORKS IN YOU

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God who works in your to will and to act on behalf of His good purpose.  –Philippians 2:12-13

Ever since the Garden of Eden, God wanted us to work in partnership with Him.  Adam’s job was to work the garden and take care of it,  (Genesis 2:15) whereas God’s job was to do everything that Adam couldn’t do.  God watered the garden and made the plants and trees grow.  He fed all the animals through delicately balanced food chains and ecosystems.

Even sharing the gospel and growth in salvation relies upon this set partnership between God and man.  It’s no surprise God used the context of agriculture in the spiritual.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.

So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

Now he who plants and he who waters are one, but each will receive his own reward according to his own labour.

FOR WE ARE GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS; you are God’s field…   1 Corinthians 3:6-9  (Caps mine)

God wouldn’t do what He called man to do, BUT man couldn’t do what only God could do.

Throughout most of human history, people groups lived in agriculturally-based societies and most people lived in rural farming communities rather than in cities.  The Israelites prayed and waited on God for the spring and autumn rains and for good crops.  Surprisingly, other nations worshiping false idols also did the same.  They sacrificed to their gods in order to gather in a good harvest.

When drought struck the land, most of these nations sought out their god(s) to find out what was wrong, including the Israelites.  What did they do to bring forth this judgment?  Of course, I’m not giving legitimacy to other nations worshiping their false gods.  They were all groping to find truth in the midst of darkness.  God gave them an avenue where they could possibly encounter the one true God through an agricultural context.

In the following passage, God makes it clear the connection between drought and judgment of the people.

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land:  “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.  There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery;  they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.  BECAUSE OF THIS THE LAND DRIES UP, AND ALL WHO LIVE IN IT WASTE AWAY…  –Hosea 4:1-3b  (Caps mine)

In moving away from agriculturally-based societies, we’ve lost a fundamental dependence upon and true partnership with God.

I don’t need God in most of what I do.  I could live my life if I chose to as a “practical atheist.”  In doing so, even if I did call myself a Christian, in all my ways, I’d depend on myself, my bank account, my credit card, my boss, my working cell phone and laptop, etc.

We need to all this important question about our spiritual lives:  Am I living as if I desperately needed God?

This world’s system gives us all these avenues of dependence to take us away from the One Person we need to depend on… God!

If it was all up to me, that would be religion.  Man trying to make his way to God.  I would tend towards either pride or self-condemnation, depending on how I was doing and how I compared to others.  Any righteousness I had would be a SELF-righteousness.  I wouldn’t really need God at all.

We can see a good picture of this in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”  –Luke 18:11-12

On the other hand, if it was all up to God, why would I have to do anything?  I would always see myself as chosen and “good to go.”  Spiritual disciplines and a quest for righteousness would seem not only unnecessary, but legalistic.  God’s grace would be the band-aid that covers all of my carelessness and indiscretions.

Actually, God’s grace gives us the ability to live a holy, righteous life before God!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope– the appearing of the glory of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

These, then, are the things you should teach.  Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.   –Titus 2:11-15

Unfortunately, there’s a false grace being preached, granting people the license to do whatever they want.  It’ll be okay, because “God’s grace will cover it.”   There’s a false grace that counterfeits true grace, just as there is a worldly love that counterfeits God’s agape love.

Do you see why we need this partnership with God?  Do you see why we need to hold these two seemingly contradictory ideas in tension?

CONCLUSION

Next week is Thanksgiving, where we all will, hopefully, have a much-needed break.

We’ll continue this discussion of how to see ourselves in a balanced way the week AFTER Thanksgiving vacation.

Remember… there’s always something to be thankful for and a PERSON to thank for all the good things in life!  (James 1:16-17)

[All Bible study helps have come from Blue Letter Bible App.]

 

 

–Joyce Lee

REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS

  1. What are some ways you can humble yourself and embrace your mortality?  When you’re young, it can feel like you’re invincible and you’re going to live forever.  It really doesn’t matter how old or young, healthy or sick, strong or weak, we all need to get this revelation into our spirits.

The only psalm ascribed to Moses has this special verse:

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  –Psalm 90:12

Remember, Moses lived a long life and, by the end of his life, he was still strong and healthy.  He wasn’t getting progressively weak and debilitated.  Instead, he reminded himself of his own mortality on a daily basis.

  1. Have you ever been sick in a major way and/or for a long time?  I have recently.  Trust me, it’s tough to deal with and I’m still learning the lessons.  What lessons did you learn?  Did you find yourself weak and depending on God even more during that time?  Did you come out of that time a wiser and more humble person?  Why or why not?
  2. Study the Biblical examples given under the section “Made in the Image of God from the Dust of the Earth.”  Go into the verses and passages, including the account of Adam and Eve.  Pray for more revelation.  Journal your findings.  Respond accordingly.  Even though I didn’t draw any strong conclusions, it seems as though God may want to speak to us about this issue.  Ask him for wisdom.
  3. Do you lean on one side or the other of “dark, yet lovely?”  If so, how has that affected your relationship with God, yourself and others?  In what ways has “missing the other side of the coin” hindered your growth in maturity?  How can you bring more balance to your life on this issue?
  4. How will the awareness of us, as individuals, being “dark, yet lovely” inspire us to go on this journey of maturity with God?

Take time to listen to or watch Mike Bickle’s teaching on “Dark, yet lovely.”

Why is it important to take this journey?  What happens to us, as Christians, if we don’t?  We saw in the section how this journey is unto something… becoming a pure, mature bride by the “end of the story.”  How will understanding the “bridal paradigm” –believers as the cherished Bride of Christ –help us persevere through every hardship and trial and finally come up out of the wilderness leaning upon our Beloved?

Why is the bridal paradigm so important to our walk with God as we approach the End Times?

  1. Look around the Church today.  Are there examples of those who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof?  How can we tell if somebody is or isn’t operating in God’s power and anointing?  Think of the metaphor God uses of jars of clay containing God’s power.
  2. It’s clear from the Bible that God uses broken vessels to do His greatest work.   Judging from the metaphors He uses, how does God release His power through our lives?  Is there a disconnect with the way God works and the “power brokers” in the Church today?  Why or why not?  What are some ways you can live in brokenness before God?

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God will not despise.  –Psalm 51:17

For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit… Isaiah 57:15

The world and many in the Church do not encourage brokenness.  Instead, they encourage strength, wealth, talent and popularity.  How is going in the opposite direction of what God wants negatively affecting the Church?  How will I encourage others towards brokenness?  How will I encourage the broken and those in a state of weakness?

  1. How did living in an agricultural context foster dependency upon God’s people?

Study the verses and passages about spring and autumn rains, the harvest and droughts connected to God’s judgment.

Consider how life has drastically changed, since the Industrial Revolution, where many people left the country to work in cities and left the farm to work in factories.  If we let go of dependency upon God back then, how much more now that we’re in the midst of a technological revolution, going from human power and ingenuity towards computer technology and artificial intelligence.

Do you agree with my statement about “practical atheism” in today’s world and how we can live without depending upon God for all of our needs?  Why or why not?

In what ways will you depend less on money, technology and modern conveniences and more on God?

  1. The world will tell you that any advancement in technology is “progress.”  My question:  progress towards what?  The Bible declares “But wisdom is justified by all her children.”  (Luke 7:35)  What is the fruit of all that’s happened?  Yes, things are more convenient.  I don’t prefer to wash my clothes by hand.  Yes, the gospel is going to the ends of the Earth with advanced technology.  In other words, there are pluses.

But, overall, what’s been the cumulative effect of this technological advancement?  Are we becoming more human and dependent upon on God or less?  Do we have an increase in Christian values or less?  Do we have better, more enriching and connective relationships or are they more fragmented, disconnected and shallow?  Are the majority of people growing in excellence and character, because of these advancements or are they becoming more shallow, hollow, less capable with life skills and, thus, increasingly dependent upon the world’s system?

How can we utilize the benefits of increased technology, while, at the same time, avoiding its pitfalls?

What will you do?  Brainstorm, make a plan and start changing your life and relationship with God by changing your lifestyle around technology!  Respond accordingly with life change according to God’s word and ways!

Research what happened during the Industrial Revolution and what’s happening now.  Look around you to see the effects.  Journal and pray about this issue.

  1. There were many verses and passages either shared directly or referred to in my comments.  Take time to read through the blog post again and study the verses/passages in the context of the sections.

 

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