Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6,7)
The principles and concepts that under-gird promises such as quoted above echo across the pages of the Holy Bible from the first book, Genesis, to the final pages of Revelation. They reveal a Creator God who, despite being despised, maligned, ignored, disobeyed, and/or being treated presumptuously by every living creature upon the planet (“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23) , in contradistinction to what many religions portray and what most individuals believe, is earnestly and passionately awaiting the slightest reason, the most meager of excuses, to forgive, to show mercy, and to pardon.
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:16-18)
Nearly forty years ago at age 24, after too many years spent in quiet but determined refusal to acknowledge or consider God, His ways or His people, and imbibing in practices and substances and a lifestyle which pleased me well, but impinged greatly on other’s rights and freedoms, I was asked a question that challenged me to the core.
“Do you think the life you are leading is pleasing to God?”
Today, after all these years, I like to think that my immediate response was a humble expression tending toward the negative, however, in light of what transpired later in the evening, I think that possibly my response initially may have been more of a non-committal grunt. To be honest, I can’t even remember how I responded at first, if at all. I was at that time in no mood to consider religion, I was quite content with my life, or so I thought thank-you very much. I was happily single and had a well paying job; for my home a little cottage in the country side adjacent to some of the best surf beaches in New Zealand ; I was debt free and little or no responsibilities and parked outside was a vehicle of no mean repute to get me anywhere I wanted to go. Life was good. For what purpose did I need God?
Several hours later however the question still rang in my ears. Was God pleased with the way I was living? Well, was He? The question kept hammering at my brain until I began asking it myself. I think it was at that moment that God knew that He had me. Because until that time, I didn’t need to answer the question if I didn’t want to. But the moment I began asking it of myself, it demanded a reply. And because of the importance of the question, it demanded an intelligent and honest reply. And the answer was simply no. Not by any stretch of the imagination, nor by any indulgence in mental or spiritual gymnastics, could I rightly and honestly justify my behavior or lifestyle before a holy and righteous God. And it was as I was laying on my back contemplating these things that very night when I admitted as much. I took a long and honest look at myself and didn’t like what I saw. So I asked God for His forgiveness, and to make my life something that He could attach His name to without being ashamed. You see, until that night if anyone had asked me if I was a Christian, I would have replied in the affirmative. I believed in God. Sure, I had done a few things wrong, but I hadn’t killed anyone. At least not yet. I wasn’t that bad. I was judging myself however by human standards. For a while I thought I could ignore the question; there had been in the past the odd moment that such religious conversations had come up on the beach, in the pub, at work, but I dutifully ignored them and by and by they would slip away into forgetfulness until the next time. This time however it didn’t go away. There was no-one else present to talk to to distract me. The surf was non-existent. As far as human companionship was concerned, I was alone, with only that question rattling around inside of me for company.
I had grown up in a church which taught auricular confession to a priest. There was no priest there that night. Just me and God. As far as I can remember, I didn’t confess any specific sin. Rather, I confessed my entire lifestyle. As I surveyed my past years, I could think of nothing good to commend it. No mitigating circumstances to lessen the guilt of a life devoid of godliness, a life empty of any spiritual worth. I have come to realize since, and the scriptures teach the same, that a life without God is a life of death. It is a life without hope, a life without substance.
Why did God choose to come to me that day, and issue me with that challenge? I don’t know, but perhaps He knew something I didn’t. That deep down I knew, if I was willing to be honest, that I wanted something better. Something other than the superficial. Something more than window dressing and good-times. I suppose my prayer that night, as far as prayers go, was fairly simple. Nothing ornate, or even overly religious. I wasn’t kneeling, I wasn’t in church, I didn’t own nor had ever read a Bible; just a simple “Please make my life one that you would approve of.”
I didn’t know what to expect as a result of that prayer. I wasn’t even giving that any consideration. My focus was being honest with God, and giving Him the opportunity to do whatever He needed to do. How He did it, and when, was up to Him. What did happen though would have been the last thing I expected if I had thought about it. The moment that prayer was uttered God personally stepped into my room, and into my life. My confession and admission of guilt was all the reason and excuse He needed to flood my room with His love, and to tell me I was forgiven. Not with words, because He didn’t need to speak. I knew. His presence was powerful, palpable, and very, very real. Have you ever been bear-hugged by love itself? I wept with joy for several hours until I fell asleep, and awoke in the morning a different person.
Everything around me was tangibly different. Colors were brighter, light was clearer, the house itself felt as if a great burden had been lifted from its roof, and best of all, I had this most marvelous sense of peace in the depths of my being; forgiveness. Guiltlessness. Freedom from all and any condemnation. And I knew that my life would never be the same again.
Without knowing it, I had experienced what the scriptures describe as a new birth. I was born again. The man that got out of bed that morning was a completely different person than the one that got in. And it wasn’t from a decision on my part to change my life, but rather a decision on my part to allow God to change it. God isn’t interested in our feeble attempts at self improvement. Nor does He desire that we change things in order to please or impress Him before we come to Him. He accepts us as we are. Dirty, tired, addicted, sick, unhealthy, disabled, downcast, depressed, fearful, dysfunctional, abused and abusive, the kingdom of God is a come-as-you-are affair; God is in the miracle business, He knows what is best for you, what your needs are. In fact, the only qualification we need for God to act on our behalf is our great need.
I have often heard from unbelievers that they don’t need the crutch of religion. Crutch? Sorry, but a crutch is altogether way too insufficient for the needs of man. The absolute minimum requirement for spiritual well-being is a full blown heart transplant. Nothing less. And although that one night 40 years ago was a definite watershed for me, the ‘heart transplant’ wasn’t an overnight operation. In fact, today, many years later, the operation is still in progress. Our habits, mind-sets, ingrained faulty reasoning, selfishness, dishonesty, greed, etc. run deeper than any of us imagine. Changing this mere man into the image of Jesus is a lifetime work. Character alteration in the form of complete re-creation from the inside out is the minimum requirement if we are to ultimately become fit candidates for God’s kingdom. For one thing is certain, although God accepts us as we are, He never leaves us as we are.
It starts with confession, followed by forgiveness which is a promise written with the blood of His Son. It continues with a new creation which is daily transformed by the power , the grace, and the love of a dutiful Father who is faithful to the end, and promises never to let you go, and finishes with a life recreated in the image of God, and an eternity of joy and happiness that will ever increase as we learn more and grow closer to our Savior and Redeemer.
Today, as I daily experience the creative power of God in my life, I can only stand in awe at the grace, the generosity, the all-encompassing love of our heavenly Father for His salvation. I am now in my early sixties. For nearly 40 years now I have been in expectation of personally witnessing the second coming of my Savior. Lately however, I am not so sure. Perhaps I am of the generation that dies just before Jesus comes…just as the generation of Noah’s contemporaries, those faithful servants of God such as Methuselah and Lamech, died just before the flood. Perhaps the task of spreading the gospel in the final crisis will be left to the generations after me…my children and grand-children…younger feet and sharper minds for the tumultuous days that are just ahead.
Folks, I have learned many things in my lifetime, but one thing stands above all others, and that one thing I will cleave to until either I pass from this mortal coil or stand and witness the awesome glory of Jesus as He comes with all the angelic host to harvest His faithful…
….The gospel is not a dead theory used by those who ‘can’t handle life’, like a crutch. It is not just forgiveness of sin. It is not just a “get out of jail free card” that one presents to God in order to avoid the consequences of sin. The gospel is a living vital mighty creative force that changes lives. God desires that the receivers of His grace shall be living testimonies to its power. The addicted, the oppressed, the spiritually blind, the depressed, the wounded, the grieving, the doubting, the sick, nor even the religious will ever believe your presentation of the gospel unless you are are a living demonstration that they can also be free from all those things that formerly bound you.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
What I particularly like about that quoted verse from Jeremiah 29:11-13, is that it reveals to us what His thoughts are toward us. Not thoughts of damnation, or condemnation, not even to the unsaved, but thoughts of peace. Thoughts of atonement, thoughts of reconciliation. As Jesus said, He did not come to condemn, but “to seek and save that which was lost”. This is tremendously encouraging. Even for the unsaved…especially for the unsaved. God does not desire to see the wicked perish, no no, but earnestly desires and seeks to convert each sinner into a saint….to change lives for good….to change them for ever…..to free everyone (saint and sinner alike) from the shackles of sin, addictions, depression, mental illness, sickness, and give them power to make positive choices that lead to an abundant life.
To all who don’t know Jesus….do not let the devil and the powers of darkness dominate and destroy your futures nor the futures of your children….read again the words of Jeremiah 29:11-13; these are words of hope for you and your families. Jesus desires that despite the turmoil in the world, despite the evil that surrounds us daily, we would all live abundant, rich, peaceful and contented lives.
I am a living testimony to God’s power. And throughout the world there are many many others who also have been radically changed by a loving, faithful, gracious and merciful Father God who delights in working miracles, and making the unrighteous and the profane into saints. We all recently saw another Christmas come and go, the focus of which is the incarnation of the Son of God. Consider this for a moment. The Creator of the universe forever setting aside whatever form He took as the only begotten Son of God, and taking upon Himself the form of man that the Father may once again enjoy the pleasure of a relationship with redeemed sinners such as you and I. The amazing thing is that Jesus did not become a man in order for the Father to love us, but as a direct result of the Father’s love for us. This is true hope. This is absolute and sure grounds for confidence in God and as the following tells us, we may be boldly assured that when we approach the very throne of God in the heavenly sanctuary, we can do so without fear, without shyness, without doubt.
Hebrews 10:19 ¶ Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21 And having an high priest over the house of God;
22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
It is for this purpose we were created. To know God and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent for the salvation of mankind. This is eternal life, that we may know Him. (John 17:3)
This is true freedom. This is hope.