How Can We Again
Become a Spiritual People?

In the portion of Scripture about King Josiah finding the Book of the Law, we learned of the King's terror because his people were not being obedient to the Word of God. This great, godly king was already in the midst of religious reform, only to subsequently learn that things were far worse than he thought. This king's heart is smitten as he falls on his face before God Almighty. After the Word had been more fully revealed to him and his heart is made more perfect by the Spirit of God, Josiah continues his outward reforms. This is a pattern which must always be followed. First and foremost is the issue of the heart before God, which can only be revealed and shown for what it is by the Sword of the Spirit. AFTERWARDS come external measures.

I believe Christians today are in a similar situation. No, we haven't lost the Scriptures only to find them in some dusty church closet. Our situation is far worse. We hold the very Word of God in our hand. The Word is in every hotel room, most every home, and even on cardboard on TV. Yes, the Word of God is everywhere.

No, we haven't lost the Scriptures. We have lost the meaning of Scripture. The Devil has most certainly pulled the wool over our eyes and blinded our hearts to the very Word of God which we hold in our hand. How masterful this wicked, fallen angel is. He paints such a beautiful picture just so he can use it to cover corruption. Bibles are everywhere, Christian books are everywhere. Everywhere there's an expert on Holy Scripture. But where is the meaning. Who understands. Sincere Christians and so many ministers have been beguiled by their own ignorance and blindness into thinking they understand the Word. Everybody has a right to their own opinion and interpretation of Scripture today. Yes, everybody is an expert.

What has happened to the truth that the "prophecy of the Scripture is of no private—or individualistic—interpretation," but rather is a product of the Spirit and thus must be interpreted by the Spirit? Must we diagnose the Spirit with Multiple Personality Syndrome? Is the Spirit's mind divided. Does the Spirit put His stamp of approval on every person's belief about What He inspired? God forbid! Let every parishioner, every demon, and every pastor be a liar before we accuse the Most Holy Spirit of such a charge. What can the Christian community possibly be thinking. Or are we? May God have mercy on our arrogance, stubbornness and presumption—what hellishness it is to think we all have a right to understand Scripture in whatever manner we choose.

Oh yes, the Devil is laughing all the way to the bank of Hell. By taking away the very meaning of Scripture, he has pulled off a masterful deceit. I am impressed at his ability to hide and virtually destroy Bibles, as he has done in times past. But to set up his own printing shop for the distribution of God's Word and deceive Christians into essentially believing that to hold Scripture in one's hand is to have the heart and mind changed, as if there was some magical connection between hand and mind—now that's impressive. What an "angel of light" this False Spirit is! What a deceiver. He has sold us a parachute that won't work. We are falling through time in this wicked age thinking at any time we can pull the cord and be saved. What a shock we are in for when we are splattered on the ground. Yes, God can clean up the mess. But should we tempt God to have to?

Our present dire situation is evidenced by there being so many interpretations and opinions regarding Scripture, to be sure. This is mostly an issue of the heart and mind. The gravity of the moment is also indicated, though, by our outward behavior. I suppose if we are to have so many opinions, we must also have so many practices. If we are going to think any old way we want, we might as well act any old way we want. God, have mercy on us according to your loving kindness. The fact of the matter is that inside the church looks about like it does outside in the world. Scripture states that we are in the world and not of the world—but we sure look pretty much like our world counterparts. It certainly looks like we are from the same gene pool.

Josiah, after having his heart and mind changed, destroyed the detestable idols. He was a man of action who laid the ax to the root of the tree. Empowered by truth and the Spirit of Truth, he acted on the truth he received and which was graciously revealed to him. Oh that he were alive today instead of these Church Kings who just tell us what we want to hear. They know we have no intention of being truly obedient to the Word so they lull us to sleep, and make us as comfortable as humanly possible as we drift off into death. They rub our ears and pat our foreheads and say a little prayer for our soul. How loving and thoughtful that in our dying they want to make us so comfortable.

But what does Scripture say? It says: "Break up your fallow ground." It says: "Because of your lukewarmness I will spew you out of my mouth." It says: "If we should please men, we should not be the servants of God." It says: "You cannot serve two masters." Well, we're proving the truth of Christ's words here when today leaders who do love God's word and God's people, but in a way that is in accordance with their own understanding of Scripture, make it look as if they hate their Master. Strong words, yes. But I remind you that it is infinitely better for every man to be a liar than for God to be a liar.

God says, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." I do not want to emphasize a works-righteousness. True works that are good can only flow out of a cleansed heart and an obedient and receptive mind through the gift of faith. But we can examine our works and evaluate them in light of Scripture. This is what Josiah did. He looked at Scripture, looked at what was actually taking place, and picked up his ax. What an Ax it was—and is.

He destroyed the detestable idols. What are our idols today? What does our behavior say about what we worship and serve? What does it say when the divorce rate is as high within the church of Christ as it is in the world? What does it say when so many fathers are absent from the home—some physically, many emotionally and spiritually? What does it say when wives do not submit and are aware they have no intention of submitting to their husband, their God-ordained authority? What does it say when children run wild, disobedient to their parents who let them do as they please? What kind of training is it that trains children to do whatever they want, prepares them to believe they are the center of everything, and allows them to violate the very boundaries of civility? What kind of people worship and serve their children instead of God? What does it say when our minds are virtually inflexible to learning anything which goes against what we already believe? What does it mean when we place our feelings above the truth of Scripture—"Well, I don't feel that is what the Bible means." What does it mean when so many of our leaders are more politician than preacher and pastor. I don't believe I have to prove this—I believe you sense this on some level. I believe you understand that many church leaders are pretty much like our political leaders, only with a Bible in their hand. Who could possibly argue that there isn't a leadership vacuum today?

What does it all mean? It means we are in a state of danger and peril. It means that if God's Word is true, His disciplining hand is imminent, close by, not far away. You see, God must purify His People. He has allowed us much rope. He has allowed us the fruit of the error of our ways. He has allowed us to go astray to the place we are today. But He will also use our error, waywardness, and blindness to discipline and purge us. God must be about to spit us out of His mouth. He must be growing more and more nauseated. He must be ready to judge His Church.

I Corinthians 11:31-32 states: "But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world." The words are plain. God can either purify and make us holy or he can let us be numbered with the ungodly. Well, he is not going to allow His redeemed to be numbered among the ungodly. He will purge and sanctify His Chosen. It would be better with us if we would begin to judge ourselves. Josiah judged himself and God was gracious with Him for this. God will also be gracious with us if we would do the same.

I ask the question: How can we judge ourselves? How can we become a spiritual people again? How can we work out our salvation with fear and trembling? I believe there are three things we need to understand—for starters. We need to come to understand how truly sinful we are. Once we understand this, maybe the Lord would graciously use this information to create within our very spirits a teachable spirit. Having been humbled by our sins and made ready in the spirit of our minds we must come to understand and believe the comfort we have through the Gospel of God. Oh Lord, show us your ways and lead us in your paths.

I believe the best, safest, and most direct way out of this perilous state is to be led out of it by the writings of the sixteenth century reformer, Dr. Martin Luther. I believe this approach will enable us to come to understand the truth of Scripture. I do not want to exalt Luther, only thank God for this precious gift to the Church, and to utilize this gift God has graciously given to the Church. It is readily apparent to us that this Gift was given by God because God knew what a wretched state His church would be in and knew we would need a sure way to get back to His Truth. Remember that Christ Himself said, "When the Son of man comes back, will he find faith on the earth?" These words indicate what a troublesome state the Church will be in just prior to His Coming.

So please do not think I are exalting a man above the Word. I only want to be good stewards of what Christ has given. Because I do not want to give too strong an impression that I are exalting Luther, I will refrain from using his name as much as possible. He will be quoted often in this article, but without reference to his name.

Do you understand what a great sinner you are? Jeremiah 17:9 reveals that the "heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" Psalm 51:5 states, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Genesis 8:21: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood."

We explain the truth of these passages with the phrase "original sin." Because of original sin there "is inherent in us this evil which causes our heart to cry out continually against the promises of God and to grumble that 'God is lying.'" We believe that "original sin is not only a lack of a certain quality in the will, nor even only a lack of light in the mind or of power in the memory, but particularly it is a total lack of uprightness and of the power of all the faculties both of body and soul and of the whole inner and outer man. On top of all this, it is a propensity toward evil. It is a nausea toward the good, a loathing of light and wisdom, and a delight in error and darkness, a flight from all good and an abomination of all good works, a pursuit of evil as it is written in Ps. 14:3: 'They are all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt.' " We are certainly not talking about some sort of deficiency. If we only look at it as a deficiency of our will or powers, we open the door to "implant pride and presumptuousness, to eradicate the fear of God, to outlaw humility, to make the command of God invalid, and thus condemn it completely. And as a result, one can easily become proud toward another person, when he thinks that he himself is free from a sin in which he sees his neighbor still struggling."

I know and confess I am a condemned sinner made righteous by the blood of Christ. I don't remember a time when I my heart was not tender toward God. I remember as a young boy wanting to go pick up night crawlers with my grandfather. I was afraid I would be too sleepy, so I asked God to help me stay awake. Well, I not only stayed awake for the midnight outing, I couldn't go to sleep when we got home. That impressed me. It stood with me as a testimony to the power and care of God. I appreciate this sweet morsel God gave me. More importantly though is how I came to be humbled.

I remember the day God struck at the very heart of my depravity, sin, and selfishness. I came to believe I was not called into the ministry. From the very moment I began to believe this I sank into despair, hopelessness, and severe depression. I wrestled with this until I became physically ill and was bedridden for 15 months. I had lost my reason for living. Without the ministry I had no way to please my father, be as respected as my preacher, and feel good about my life. I had made the ministry and my quest for it bigger and more important than God Himself. In my very own sin and depravity I created an idol and called God a liar. In my ignorance and stupid blindness I said, "God, you cannot love me if I'm not in the ministry." It would take years for the Lord to break through to my arrogant mind.

And by God's grace you, too, need to be convinced and continually convicted of your arrogance. It is so difficult for us to understand how our nature is inclined toward evil and hatred of God. We avoid examining ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. We, from fear of what we might find, fail to "analyze ourselves to see how unwillingly we obey the Law and how little we love it, but actually we believe and act out of a servile fear; yet we think that we are doing enough and that we must be regarded as righteous before God, because we believe and act; yet we are in no way anxious to do this work so as to do it gladly in joy and love and with full will, or even to see our need of God's grace to accomplish it. But we trust only in our own powers and go about doing our works, although always with tedium and difficulty, when actually we ought to be seeking God with earnest prayers that He might take this tedium from us and fill our will with happiness and through grace take from us our inclination toward evil. For this to happen, there must be earnest prayer, earnest study, earnest work and reproof, until this old habit is eradicated and a newness of will comes into being. For grace is not given without this self-cultivation. But we are snoring so loudly, we have become so lukewarm, so arid and so obdurate, that finally we have become full of impatience and evil desires. And others are deceived by Satan who helps people do good works with joy and happiness, so that under this pretense he may hide their weakness from them, so that they come to believe that they have grace, and in this subtle manner they come to be more pleased with themselves than with others and are proud, until they have become completely taken up with their own uniqueness, in accordance with a zeal which is not enlightened. If we examine ourselves carefully, we shall always find in ourselves at least vestiges of the flesh by which we are afflicted with self-interest, obstinate over against the good, and prone to do evil. For if there were not this kind of remnant of sin in us and if we were seeking only God, surely this mortal man would quickly be dissolved, and our soul would fly to God."

Twenty years ago, you could not have convinced me that I was following myself rather than God. But God allowed me to suffer with my blind ignorance and arrogance until I became ready to listen. How wonderful it is to turn ones eyes squarely upon the Lord. What a prelude to blessing it is to see how sinful we are and how great our need is.

What about your self-interest? Why do you do the things you do? Do you have the courage to be honest before God. Do you have the faith to investigate your self and the motivations and desires which lie deep within you? How much honesty can you take. How much truth, or rather, I think the line goes, "You can't handle the truth, soldier."

Men, why do you go to work? Is it possible your greed for money and power drive you more than love? Mothers, why do you give so much to your children? Could it be because you expect so much in return? Children, why do you obey your parents? Is it because you want to be a good boy or girl more than you want to honor God and His Word? Or why do you disobey your parents? Is it because you think you are more important than anyone or anything—that what you want decides how things will be? Do you not realize that when your parents speak to you, it is just as if God is speaking to you? Do you not understand how seriously God takes authority and our being in submission to authority. Why do you not obey your teachers and not only that, you try to turn your parents against your teachers just so you can be right and avoid your God-ordained responsibility?

How wicked is human nature and how we refuse to see it. It is easy for us to bless our nature and "exalt it before God—but on account of our own righteousness and holiness. But this blessing of the flesh must be mortified and killed like a deadly poison. And before we apprehend the real blessing of delighting in the will of God from the heart, we must consider and recognize the curse, through which we have been plunged into sins and horrible corruption, namely, unbelief, blasphemy, smugness, and other maladies and lusts without number." How impressed we are with all that we do and think we are. Sure, we do some atoning for our little sins and weaknesses by having a guilty conscience or doing some work we think is good. Interesting how we curse our neighbor and give a coin to a bum. But a guilty conscience only serves our purposes—we substitute our own atonement, a guilty conscience or works, for the atonement of Christ. And we go merrily along blessing ourselves almost every step of the way.

We forget that our old nature must be crucified and that God wants to "crush the head of the serpent in us (Genesis 3:15). " This is a most grueling process, for it is death itself. For "sin does not want to be laid bare and to be what it is. For it wants to be pure and clean, contrary to its nature. It wants to be beautiful." We expend much energy covering our sins and faults. We even teach our children to do the same. We teach them to impress us with their good intentions—to lie—Example: "Johnny, Why did you not do your homework?" Johnny isn't stupid. He knows Mom doesn't want the truth. He knows he has to make it look good because Mom won't tolerate the truth. In fact the truth would stop Mom's heart cold and he knows it. So he is dishonest and says, "I forgot." Someday he will become more sophisticated and grow into a fine husband and say to his wife, "I'm sorry, I forgot." The truth is the boy just didn't want to and is sick and tired of Mom griping at him, and is taking revenge on her.

How we hide, how we hide, how we hide from God just as Adam in the garden. God came to Adam just as He comes to us with His Holy Scripture which is "open, and we can see that it teaches nothing else than the fact that God sets forth His Son, who was crucified, resurrected, and delivered for our sins. Yet this will not enter your heart, nor will you attain to the knowledge of what Christ is, unless you understand, with Scripture as your mentor, what you are before God. But you will learn this from Genesis 3:19, where it is taught that the punishment of death was inflicted on the whole human race on account of original sin, the fruits of which show how great its wickedness and perversity are. For what great rebellion and obstinacy there are in man's earliest years! What ragings and flames of lusts, hatreds, greed, and envy there are in youth and throughout life! Although we are born without actual sins, later, as time goes on, an infinite multitude of vices bursts forth. What is the source of these foul monsters? The philosophers do not know. But Scripture says that we are born as children of wrath (Eph 2:3). "

Do we see ourselves for what we are? Do we have the courage to be sinners? Are you a sinner, and to what degree are you a sinner? Or are we by nature more concerned with being right and impressed with our good intentions? But "what is it to be a sinner if not to be worthy of all punishment and trouble?" I certainly didn't think I deserved all the trouble I went through. I just wanted to be in the ministry—isn't that a good thing? Aren't my intentions good? Why was my life so miserable when all I wanted was what God wanted—or so I thought. I confessed generally that I was a sinner but I had no idea how much a sinner I was. When we confess with our "mouth that we are such sinners but are unwilling to act like a sinner, this is hypocrisy and lying. If we confess that we are sinners, we must take the punishments and injuries as our own and our rightful possessions. Therefore if shame or an insulting word, if a beating or an injury, if condemnation or disease befall us, and we say: 'I do not deserve this, why must I endure it? An injury has been done to me; I am innocent,' are we not thereby denying that we are sinners, are we not resisting God and with our own mouths convicting ourselves as a liar? For with all these things God is proving and asserting that we are sinners, because He brings to us the things of sinners. And He cannot lie. But you rise up and contradict Him, resisting and opposing Him, as if God were the one who was acting wickedly, foolishly, and dishonestly. When these things happen we should say: 'Indeed, I surely deserve these things , I have been justly treated, I freely admit that I am truly a sinner, so that all these things are just, and Thou art truthful and righteous; Thou are not mistaken concerning me. There is no lying in Thee. For just as in all these things Thou dost show that I am a sinner, so it is true, I am indeed a sinner.'"

Do we believe we are a sinner? Yes we do if we believe from our heart that we deserve it when our husbands are mean; when wives are snotty; when children disobey; when people are unfriendly; when our neighbor mistreats us; when the church disappoints us; when our teachers make fun of us; or when the government is unfair. If we believe this, now we can be true sinners, hard-boiled sinners.

If we believed this we would be quick to repent. But the fact that we do not "constantly hasten to repent says by this action that we do not need repentance. And if we do not need repentance, we do not need mercy; and if we do not need mercy, then we do not need salvation. This is something which cannot happen, unless one is without sin, as God and His angels are."

Are you ready to be a sinner. Are you ready to agree with God as to the true state of your soul? May Christ have mercy.

Understanding our sinfulness is a most important prerequisite to obtaining a teachable spirit. But our heads are so hard, so very hard. It takes so much suffering and failure and need before this most marvelous mental attitude is created by God within the mind of His children. God is persistent and continues to perfect His will in us. Jeremiah states in 23:29, "Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" O wonderful Rock. O tortuous process. But it yields such a spirit of peace and fruitfulness.

God wants nothing less than the destruction of all our ideas and thoughts and attitudes that are not in line with His Word. We have no idea how many of our thoughts and perspectives are inconsistent with His Truth. We need to assume most all of them are, unless you have walked with the Lord for a hundred years, or unless you are Martin Luther. Otherwise, listen on your knees. Beg God to burn out the weeds of your mistaken thinking and false beliefs. He will leave something to smolder—your faith. All else must go.

No one is "eager to be contradicted in his thinking, reproved in his actions, or despised in his wisdom. However, he who would do this and would say, 'Teach me differently, I beg you, and I will gladly be different,' if he would always avoid contention, how blessed he would be! But the arrogance of the mind and will is much too great. No one is entirely free of this plague, particularly when things suddenly go against us." And so often God's people are contentious thinking they are doing it for the truth. What defenders of the truth we are, when we barely know what truth is and what its fruits are.

None has been more guilty of this destructive sin than myself. For whatever reason I had to be right at all cost. What can make a person even more dangerous is for him or her to take the Bible and twist and turn God's Word to fit his or her preconceived notions. We then proceed to destroy those around us. And we feel so good and faithful when the persecution comes. We have been persecuted for truth's sake. Ignorance is truly bliss.

Unfortunately, the man who confesses and believes he is a stubborn, hardheaded sinner is rare indeed. How can we confess we are sinners if we are "unwilling to endure even a word of criticism against ourselves or our actions or ideas, but we immediately rush into the controversy and do not even confess with our mouth that we are liars but rather contend that we are truthful and well-intentioned and that we have been wickedly resisted and falsely accused?"

God makes it clear what He values. Isaiah 66:2: "Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?" declares the Lord. This is the one I esteem: He who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word." "Esteem." What an abused word this is today. We run helter skelter looking for esteem. Do you want esteem? Slap your mind to its knees about a hundred times a day and beg God for light and wisdom—His light and wisdom. You see, esteem comes from fighting difficult inner battles. I'm sure you can see what a difficult battle this would be. Try assuming you are wrong for a day and see how it wearies and drains the spirit.

Play a game with yourself. Ask God to help you listen to "things that are contrary to your own thinking and understanding." Cease to only listen to things "which you approve and applaud and ideas that are in agreement with yours." Exercise your mind in another direction—a direction with which you are uncomfortable. You might be surprised what you learn.

Bear in mind that the Lord creates a teachable spirit, and this creation is born out of much suffering. We maintain such a focus on resenting the suffering that we forget God is in the midst of this fiery furnace trying to lead us in His Truth. Proverbs 20:12 says that "ears that hear and eyes that see—the Lord has made them both." This verse indicates that there are three kinds of people. "The first is the very best and the most distinguished of these: Those who are inherently wise and intelligent—those that see. The second kind follows and listens when admonished by those who see. But the third is by far the worst, because they neither see nor listen to others or obey those who see." "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, search me and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and teach me thy ways."

We get so busy though with the activities of life and focus so much on all that we do, that we drown out the subtle prompting of God. We "love piety, prayers, studies, reading, devotions, meditations, and other good works as if these things were the best and alone pleasing to God." But just let us be asked to do something we consider beneath us and see "how we murmur and grow angry." We are so foolish and "do not know that God does not require kinds of works, or a certain quality and number, but a quiet, meek, and obedient spirit."

Nobody wants to listen, nobody wants to understand. We just want to be heard and understood. Probably one of the most distressing things I experience is when children are not getting along with their parents and they take a deep breath and tell the parents what could make the situation better. How I watch them fall in their spirits as the parents will not begin to hear their wisdom. So many times if parents would just listen and learn from their children, untold heartache would be avoided. Dear God, let us hear.

Instead we continue to suffer and learn nothing from it—that is until we have all but ruined everything around us. May God give us grace to learn from our suffering, to cherish it as a good gift from God. May He give us grace to submit to the process of having our minds renewed by the Spirit through the Word. We read Romans twelve this morning which discusses this process of having our minds renewed and understanding the will of God. The will of God is not much more than heartily and enthusiastically learning from our suffering. The end result of this process is a peace that passes understanding and minds that are flexible. "The right hand of God leads them wonderfully (Ps. 45:4) where they neither think nor want to go, but above all thought. And when they are led this way, the will of God seems to go against them sharply and displeasingly and almost desperately. For whenever God gives us a new degree of grace, He gives it in such a way that it conflicts with all our thinking and understanding. Thus he who then will not yield or change his thinking or wait, but repels God's grace and is impatient, never acquires this grace. Therefore the transformation of one's mind is the most useful knowledge that believers in Christ can possess. And the preservation of one's own mind is the most harmful resistance to the Holy Spirit. For in the church God does nothing else but transform this mind, and His transformation they resist who are satisfied with their own thinking; they disturb everything and produce schisms and heresies."

Transformation takes time. Transformation is made up of many turning points, just as life itself is made up of one turning point, one decision, one choice of one fork in the road over another. It is now time for this message to take a turn. I have been speaking to you of your need. I have explained a standard and set a goal for ourselves. I am also addressing what the Christian community-at-large needs—I know this particular group of people may not need "both barrels" as I have given it today, but I wanted to make our beginning on a sure foundation. I have been addressing "human nature which knows nothing but its own good, or what is good and honorable and useful for itself, but not what is good for God and other people. Our nature sets for itself no object but itself toward which it is borne and toward which it is directed; it sees, seeks, and works only toward itself in all matters, and it passes by all other things and even God Himself in the midst, as if it did not see them, and is directed only toward itself. It sets itself in the place of all other things, even in the place of God, and seeks only those things which are its own and not the things of God. Therefore it is its own first and greatest idol. It makes God into an idol and the truth of God into a lie, and finally it makes idols of all created things and of all gifts of God."

So if you are overwhelmed with your sinfulness; if you think this message is a downer and all life is doom and gloom; if you have some idea of how far short you fall in serving God and your neighbor; if you are excited and eager to do everything right and good; and if you are angry with what you have heard so far today, I say, "Praise God." You see, this is how God gets our attention. This is the purpose of the Law of God. The purpose of the Law and expectations is to break and crush us. This is the only purpose of the Law—to show us our sinfulness and true self and to hook us into trying to fulfill it until we grow to hate it and in failure and exasperation look for Something outside ourselves. Yes, the Law would have us angry or joyful with it. The one group is full of disappointment and impatience, and the other group is walking blindly along not knowing they are in store for a great fall. Pride surely comes before destruction. But destruction is good when it is the destruction of human pride under the mighty hand of God.

Our nature truly believes these lies we create instead of believing the truth of God. We convince ourselves, against even objective evidence: "I can do it." "I understand." "I'm not that bad." "If people would only listen to me." "My way's as good as another." "All roads lead to heaven." Statements such as these only prove our arrogance and fly in the face of the grace of God. Grace is the opposite of all that human nature is. "Grace sets for itself no other object than God toward which it is carried and toward which it moves; it sees only God, it seeks only God, and it always moves toward God, and all other things which it sees between itself and God it passes by as if it had not seen them and directs itself only toward God. Grace is never content in the things which it sees except as it sees God in and above them, and it wills, hopes, and rejoices in the fact that all things exist, are seen, and are accomplished for the glory of God. Grace remains at rest, in all things loving only to do the will of God and seeking to perform it, so that whatever befall it, it is content both with itself and with all other things."

Grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is great than all my sins. Grace is the only thing we get in this world for truly nothing and we still attempt to pay for it. God wants to prove his grace and comfort to you. God wants to perform His work in you. God wants to do it for us if we only allow Him.

As we are transformed by seeing what we really are, as our hearts and minds are made pliable and teachable by the Spirit, we grow more and more in the Wisdom which is from above and see what a truly gracious God we have. God wants nothing more than to comfort and provide for us. He wants to meet our every need and He doesn't want repayment. God is pleased when we come to understand that "the whole life of the believer is repentance." He wants us to experience Him as a God who understands our frailties and can run to Him and jump into His arms when we have fallen. In fact, one of the names of God comes from the Hebrew word for "breast" because God wants to provide His children with nourishment.

God wants us to come to know Him as a gracious God who "governs His saints in such a way that even when we err seriously in our thinking and have been guilty of great rashness, from which countless evils can arise, yet He brings about a happy outcome." I look at all my mistakes and foolishness and am amazed at how God has turned it for my good and His glory. There were many years I hated the fact I had even prepared for the ministry. I was ashamed I had prepared for something I wasn't doing. My own pastor ridiculed me. And I could be ashamed that I am now in the ministry as opposed to pursuing counseling. But I'm sure you see the benefit of a pastor being skilled in this art. Besides the training I received for the ministry, for teaching school, and for counseling, was more for my benefit and personal growth. God willing you will be reaping the overflow of my benefit.

God wants us to believe He is providing even when circumstances seem quite to the contrary. He wants us just to believe, by faith, that all our suffering is to Him a "beautiful censor" from which flows our living sacrifice. It is a sweet-smelling sacrifice to Him. He does not have us suffer because He is sadistic, only because He desires to purify His People. For this reason he is pleased. In grace He even overlooks the poisonous gases of our murmuring and complaining because we think He has forgotten us. Yes, He understands.

God understands your every pain. Every loved one you have lost, every disappointment you have experienced, every hurtful word which has been sent your way and lodged in your heart, every heartache, every guilty conscience, every time you cry yourself to sleep, these are all precious sacrifices to God—for He is the one making the sacrifice. He desires that we shout for joy even in the midst of "sobbing and perplexities and troubles of conscience, so that we begin at the same time to taste eternal life. "But why should I shout?" you will say. "I feel I am being mortified." Here God replies: I do not want the death of the sinner (Ez. 18:23) "What then?" I want your shouting, that I may deal wonderfully with you, and that you may understand your uncleanness which I shall remove in this manner."

God is just playing a game with us and we take this game so seriously. In fact, God is playing a game, if you will, with everyone. God is seeking to express His full graciousness to all; like glass He is attempting to wash them; but many resist this cleansing so that they fall and are broken on the ground of suffering. But the redeemed come to see this as a playful experience. It is just like what most any father does with his son or daughter he loves. What father has not placed his child on a counter, on the side of a pool, or on the bed, and said, "Jump to Daddy. Come on. Come to Daddy. You can do it." Let's look at this from the child's perspective, because from the adult perspective this is no big deal—we're only talking about a few inches here, unless macho rules then we might be talking about feet. But from the kids perspective every inch looks like a foot or a yard. When they are inexperienced and so trusting and just immediately jump, this thrills the heart of the father. We feel loved and trusted, powerful. But when they get a little more experience under their pampers, they may have a more discerning outlook. Either way, Daddy is just playing a game.

In the same manner God plays with his children. He wants us to just let loose and jump! Unfortunately we have so much experience in seeing all the bumps and bruises, hurts and pains, in life that we hold back. God understands this. He doesn't get insulted. He continues to play this little game with us until we get the hang of it and, JUMP!

When I sat on the edge of my mother's bed trying to wake her up as a five year old, God was just preparing me to learn this game. When my father slapped me and left his hand print on the side of my face as an infant, an imprint that embittered my family to pity me, God was just preparing me to play this game. When I would come home and find blood all over the house, watch my father knock out my mother's front teeth, He was just preparing me to play. When I watched my mother go into the bathroom after fighting with my father and come out with her wrist cut with two razor blades, God was just preparing me to play this game. When an eighth grade teacher came and asked me if I was all right because the female gym teacher asked him if I was retarded, God was just preparing me to play this game. When I would go to sleep clutching my Bible because I was lonely, God was only teaching me the fine art of playing His game. When I ran away from the ministry, fell into depression and a hatred of life, God was laying the foundation for a beautiful game board. When my grandmother whom I loved as a mother was lying on her death bed and I told her I loved her and she said, "Timmy I know you do, at least I hope you do." God was only playing a game. The years I spent thinking my wife didn't really love me and all the pain I created because of my foolish belief, God was only teaching me this game. When our house was destroyed by fire, then by a flood, God was only teaching me this precious game. When we were involved in a serious auto accident and a person in the other car was killed, and I looked behind me in our van which was on its side and I saw five towhead kids hanging from their seat belts, God was only playing a game. The problems I have had submitting to authority and getting along with others only served as a game for God to teach me what it meant to jump into His arms rather than try to solve problems in my own inept way. God is teaching His game! The fact that there is so much distance in my family of origin reminds me of this game God plays with us. I look forward with hope and anticipation to the day, or when there are no more days, of unbroken fellowhip. In the meantime, God is teaching me this game.

And so too God plays a game with you. What a marvelous game it is which He plays with us. It is so precious He even keeps the game pieces. Psalm 56:8 states: "Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?" God even saves our tears, keeps them like we keep our children's hair from their first haircut. The only difference is that we put this hair in an envelop, stick it away somewhere and pretty much forget about it. Not so with God. God looks at us through our tears and He is working to wipe them all away someday.

Psalm 9:12 says that God "does not ignore the cry of the afflicted." This is a promise of God and by faith we take hold of the promise and believe it. God does not ignore our cry. When our heart is breaking in two and we cry out to Him we know He hears our cry. Even though it doesn't SEEM like it. It doesn't seem like it because we are so focused on what we see. No. We walk by faith. We need to know that "God hides Himself under the form of the worst devil of misery, pain and suffering. This teaches us that the goodness, mercy, and power of God cannot be grasped by speculation but must be understood on the basis of experience. Just endure and wait for the Lord. Hold fast. Be content with His Word and promise."

And we think God forgets us. Perish the thought. "We do not groan, weep, and suffer in vain and alone. Everything is written and noted down in God's commentaries. This means that He looks carefully at everything. God does not look at us from afar but is close to us. He counts our fancies and thoughts, our sorrow and griefs, even during the night; and He wants to pay us back far more richly than we can even ask or understand." God is only trying to transform us into the image of His dear son. Our response should be, "Let death terrify us, and let Satan drag us off to hell! What then? My Lord and my Redeemer lives!" Yes He lives, He lives, He lives. He lives so mightily that He makes us more than conquerors even though we look like slaves and ragamuffins. This is the power and wisdom of our Great God!

Only Believe! We don't have to do anything. Only believe. Believe the Word when God says: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." Isaiah 49:14-16. It is most unusual for a mother to turn from her offspring, such is the power of motherly love. But it does happen. But it cannot happen with God. God cannot, will not, would not, would never forget His offspring. Those He has redeemed by the shed blood of His Son on the cross will never be forgotten. Mark it down. Write it in your book. Tape it to your refrigerator. God does not forget you in your pain and suffering. He is only playing a game.

Please understand the hopes God has for you and me. God Himself is our Hope. His Son is our hope. God wants us to hope in Him. But we don't know God or His Son too well, therefore we seem to be losing this game He plays with us. He understands how little we truly know of Him and about Him. Part of the game is for him to teach us to hope and expect great things in HIM. "Hope changes the one who hopes into what is hoped for, but what is hoped for does not appear. Therefore hope transfers us into the unknown, the hidden, and the dark shadows, so that we do not even know what we hope for. If our hope were seen, that is, if we who hope and the thing hoped for mutually recognized each other, then we would no longer be transferred into the thing we hope for, that is, into hope and the unknown, but we would be carried away to things we see, and we would only enjoy the known." Paul says in Rom 8:24 that "in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."

God is working patience and perseverance within our very soul. And He does so with this game He plays with His Beloved. We are so much beloved that the Psalmist speaks in 116:15: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Praise God, what we fear the most, death, is actually the victory lap, the winners circle, and the time of honor and glory. This is when death is truly swolled up in victory—the victory won for us by Christ. Our death is viewed by God in a very similar way in which the young mother sweetly holds her dear infant in her caressing arms, rocks the baby, watches the baby smile at her as she smiles back, until the baby drifts off to sleep, safe in the loving arms of its mother. So God rocks us in His arms until we drift off to sleep and we awake in His presence, fully changed, transformed into His glorious image, ready to serve and glorify Him forever.

I urge you on behalf of Christ to be willing to be confused, trusting, even empty so that God might dwell in you by faith. May you be "gladly weak that His power may dwell in you; gladly a sinner that He may be justified in you; gladly foolish that He may be your wisdom; and gladly unrighteous that He may be your righteousness." May you not think you are "righteous but rather always pray and wait to be justified, and for this reason God will regard you as righteous because God has regard for the humble."

I urge you to "prostrate yourself in the quietness of your heart and pray to God with all your strength that He give to you also the intention which you have presumed to arouse in yourself. You cannot walk in a security which has been produced of and by yourself, but rather in one which has been sought and looked for from His grace and mercy."