Rebuilding the Altar

 

Our religious arguments about God are not with each other, but with God Himself.

We think we are searching for Him, when He is actually seeking us — sending us words, using the stuff of our life to draw us into dialogue with Himself . . . stirring us to confirm, negate, teach and correct . . . so that He can get us past our deficiency of knowing the truth into real contact with Himself.

Some say that God is God, and it doesn’t matter what name we give Him; yet nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing is more crucial to receiving God’s power into our life than grasping Him rightly, because what we believe about God determines our ability to get through to Him. Our wrong-thinking about Him keeps us from Him.

And so, God’s search for man becomes something of a wrestling match, in which His success in bringing us into the reality of Himself necessitates a divine dialogue, in which He breaks the hold of our wrong-thinking to give us a right-understanding of Who He Is.

As believers, we can have a strong relationship with God, but presume very wrongly about Him. The error of our presumptions accounts for the powerlessness of our lives and His absence from our experience.

Last week I shared my shock and grief that God would allow my much prayed-for, hard-worked-for Christmas to be swallowed up by hell. I want believers to see that we can have a strong relationship with God, but presume wrongly about Him.

As Western Christians, blessed and protected beyond measure, we tend to presume on God’s automatic forgiveness of our wrong-thinking and wrong-being (sin). . . whether we repent of them or not. This is not how it works. We expect Him to save us from the painful consequences we have brought upon ourselves, because He is good and He loves us and — hey — “we’re the good guys.” But He doesn’t.

The message I want American Christians to take to heart, as we look out upon our nation, is that God’s power to save — to lift us out of death into life — will not be seen in our country any more than it made itself evident my Christmas from hell, until God’s severe mercy brings us to repentance.

 

Repentance

Our strength in the Lord, our joy and confidence in Him, our multitude of precious confirming experiences with Him result from breakthrough after breakthrough into the palpable reality of Him.

sanctification

But each of those breakthroughs only comes after a painful struggle, culminating in a revelation from Him that brings us to our knees in repentance.

6-- repentanceRepentance is a point of breakthrough,  where you’ve been conformed to one specific point of truth God has taught you.  No longer resistant to that point of truth, you pass into pure truth. (In this illustration, the barrier is like the leading front of a new weather system, but it is delineating the difference between untruth and the spiritual realm of unadulterated truth.)

You can’t fully experience truth at any point where you are holding onto untruth.  Repentance is that moment in time when the exchange is made, He gives you truth for untruth. Being brought into submission to the truth is both agony and ecstasy, for divine illumination demands that the lie must die if the truth is to live in us.

What we believe about God is, therefore, a life and death battle . . .  in which He is fighting for us.

 *

When an Old Testament believer experienced a new breakthrough into the truth of God, he would often build a new altar to worship and honor God as he now knew Him to be. The process of coming to know God is one of continual submission to each new truth He teaches us about Himself . . . it is like He is teaching us how to rebuild the altar of our worship of Him.

*

Once you have entered into the truth of God, as you have not known it before, you look back on your earlier struggle . . .

Denying the truth

 and recognize how your former appalling deficiency of knowing God kept you in defeat, kept you from God.  You realize how you were being kept from Him because you did not rightfully respect or correctly estimate Who He Is. After a breakthrough of repentance, you never want to go back to the old altar of your deficient understanding.

 *

Deep in the Old Testament lies a potent expression of this principle . . . in the story of Naaman, the Gentile commander of the Syrian army. Although he was given success by the God of Israel, loved by the God of Israel and sought by the God of Israel, Naaman was plagued by a deficiency of correct respect for Who God Is.

Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper.   And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife.  

2--a word

Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.”   And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.”

Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

 So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing.  Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said,

Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.

And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.”

So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.”

obedience

 

Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house.

 

 

2--a word

 

And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.”   

 

Denying the truth

 

But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’  Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.   

2--a word

And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”   

heeding the word of God

 

 

So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”

But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.

So Naaman said, “Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord.  Yet in this thing may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon — when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord please pardon your servant in this thing.”

Then he said to him, “Go in peace.” So he departed from him . . .

2 Kings 5:1-19, NKJV

Notice the divine dialogue taking place in Naaman’s life: God sending him words through the slave girl, through Elisha, through his own servants . . .  begging him to perform the small obedience asked of him.

In his rage, in the arrogance of his presumption, unable to receive the truth about God,  which The God of Israel, Abraham, and Jacob wants to give him, Naaman turns to go home to Syria.

7--turning away

That green line turning down and away represents the dreadful state-of-being when we are desperate, discontent, depressed, dieing inside, struggling with disappointment. Still ravaged by his leprosy, furious that his effort has been wasted, indignant that the river Jordan should be elevated above the rivers of his own country — that the God of Israel should be elevated over his own gods — offended, contemptuous of Elisha, his religious expectations going unfulfilled . . . who is Naaman arguing with?

Naaman is not arguing with Elisha, he is arguing with God.  It is an argument in which he will not convince God, but God seeks to convince him. [1]

The BarrierThe issue of the argument stands like a great barrier between Naaman and the power of the healing he so desperately seeks: God is Who?  To get Naaman through to that healing, God is going to bring him into conformity with the truth of Who He Is. God could heal Naaman anywhere, by any means — but getting rid of the leprosy is not what God is after. God’s intention is to work the deepest healing of all — to lift Naaman out of death (false religion) into life (the knowledge of The One true God).

Years before, when Naaman discovered the first white spot in his flesh, and the doctors confirmed his worst fear,  leprosy became the staggering blight on his life. There was no way that he could have imagined that it was God’s severe mercy intended to bring him to Elisha and this moment.

*

The most tender point of this story is the humility and dignity of Naaman, when he comes back to thank Elisha.  He asks for dirt . . . two mule-loads of earth from the land of Israel, because he now associates the One true God with that land. He has a reverence for the very dirt of Israel, because he intuitively understands that Israel is the place the One true God has chosen to establish His Name and express His redemptive purpose.

Naaman understood what no nation in our present day acknowledges. [2]

But there is something more, something very tender on God’s part.  Naaman asks for forgiveness, when he returns to Syria and has to accompany his master into the temple of Rimmon, when his king leans upon his hand and he has to kneel . . . Elisha tells him to go in peace.

God understands.

He sees the humility and dignity of a man who has come into the knowledge of Who God Is, bearing two mule-loads of earth from Israel home to Syria, unable to ever worship at his former altar again.

Oh, that we would take seriously our own desperate need to rebuild the altar of our worship of Who God Is.

*

I ask God, that our hearts would be trained to recognize His severe mercies, when they come into our lives — that we would not turn away from Him in our fear and rage, in our confusion and disappointment — but that we would submit to them in the sure confidence that they come for our good. They are intended to bring us to a future breakthrough, after which, we will look back on our struggle and see how our former appalling deficiency of understanding the truth about our Lord and God kept us in defeat, kept us from the full reality of God.  We will realize how we were kept from experiencing His reality and power — even as Christian believers — because we did not correctly estimate or know Him as He Is.

Our religious arguments are not with each other, they are with Him.

Even now, today, He is sending us words to keep us from giving up on our quest — to prepare us for and get us through that moment of repentance — into our breakthrough.

Hang tough.

 


[1] W. Glynn Evans, Daily with the King, March 19

[2] Even as I publish this, my president is in Israel. I pray that his heart will be made like Naaman’s. I pray for the revelation that will cause him to associate The One true God with that land. May he be given a reverence for the very dirt of Israel, because he intuitively understands that Israel is the place The One true God has chosen to establish His Name and illustrate His redemptive power.

The BarrierThe issue of the argument — God is Who? — stands like a great barrier between the nations of the world and the power of God we so desperately need. It is the same argument that stood as a barrier between Naaman and God.   To get us through to Himself, God has to bring us into conformity with the truth of Who He Is.

 

This entry was posted in NewPosts. Bookmark the permalink.
  1. Karen Finley says:

    Excellent I will enjoy this……

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *