Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
so that you might discern what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son,
so that he might be firstborn among many brothers.”
Every person has a future vision for himself in his own mind. Even young children have ideas about what they want to be when they grow up. If a person’s name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life, however, God has His own vision for that person. The process of growing up in Christ is the process of having your vision for yourself changed into the vision of you that God has in His mind.
When I was a young man just getting out of college, the world had used me up. I felt old. I had no energy left to form a future image of myself. My images were gone. Jesus found me the way he said he found Israel (Ezek. 16:5—6): “None eye pitied you . . . to have compassion upon you; but you were cast out in the open field, to the loathing of your person, in the day that you were born. And when I passed by you, and saw you polluted in your own blood, I said to you when you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yea, I said to you when you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ ”
Since I had no more no visions, nothing had to be the way I wanted it to be. There was nothing in me that felt like a leader, or a teacher, or even a helper. I was a hopeless mess, and I knew it. Whenever I tried to testify (and I did not often feel worthy to do so), I would cry. I was desperate to be led and completely willing to do as I was told. I was a real follower of those who were over me in the Lord, and thankfully, they were worth following. It hasn’t been that way for other sincere souls.
One of the things I saw was that those elders had a great love for the Bible. So, I followed them in that love. I humbled myself to whatever the Bible said just as I humbled myself to my elders in the Lord. (They never demanded that I or anyone else do so; they knew that such devotion cannot be commanded; it must come from the heart.) And as a result of my submission to the Bible, in not too long a time, I found that I had attained to a knowledge of the scriptures which few other people possessed, including those who were still my elders in the Lord.
I developed an Old Testament course for the local Community College and after several years of teaching, one of my students asked me, during an evening class, “How did you get to know the Bible the way you know it?” I had no answer, for it was a question I had never considered. For days, that student’s question rang in my mind until, suddenly, the answer dawned on me. The reason I knew the Bible so well is that God had pieced it together for me, as the scripture says, “here a little and there a little”. But He pieced it together for me only because I had surrendered my mind and soul to His mind and soul, as it was revealed in the Bible!
I looked at the Bible the same way I looked at my elders. There was in me no disagreement about anything they said because as soon as I learned their thoughts on a matter, I began thinking them. Their thoughts became my thoughts when they were revealed to me. I brought nothing to the table because I knew I had nothing to bring! The words and the ways of the saints around me became my words and my ways, and I came to know them better than anybody in this world.
In the very same way, I came to know the Bible well, and finding in me no interfering self-visions, God began to reveal to me “great and mighty things” which I did not know — things I never could have known if I had been clinging to a vision of myself that I had made. I had no vision; I had no opinion; I had no preference. I hated my own thoughts and my own ways. I was, in fact, afraid to have things my way because my ways had ruined my life and had almost destroyed me. Why would I want my ways any longer when I knew what my ways had done to me?
Do you really know what your ways have done to you? If so, you have trashed all your self-visions and prayed for God to grant you His vision for you instead.
Listen to this! You will never know God or the Bible unless you are willing to let go of your self-vision and let God renew your mind. If you are ever to see the future that God sees for you, if you are ever to become the person God intended for you to be from the beginning of the world, you must come low, as the old saints used to say. You must have a heart that will believe whatever He says — even if what He says is contrary to what you have always thought, or always wanted, or always judged to be right!
The secret of God is with the humble! It is with the bruised and battered, and with those who are so beaten down by this life that they are not just willing for God to have His way but they are begging God to have His way. God’s secret is with those who have discovered how desperately needy they are and who are seeking Him and His will for them, the way some men pursue gold. The old song tells the truth: “He will not walk with the proud or the scornful.”
When we bring nothing to God’s table, when we are completely willing to eat whatever Jesus puts on our plate, the holy truth that Jesus serves us will create understanding within us as we swallow it. It will give us the knowledge of God. The truth of Christ will shape our spirits; it will inform our attitudes and determine our choices. It will keep us from sin and make us perfect before God — if we don’t bring anything to God’s table.
Let me give you some examples of how my attitude before God as a young man in the Lord made room for God, through the scriptures, to shape my thoughts. First, the story of Uzzah and the stumbling oxen.
2. And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubim.
3. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah, and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.
4. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God, and Ahio went ahead of the ark.
5. And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals.
6. And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it.
7. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.
8. And David was displeased because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah, and he called the name of the place Breech of Uzzah to this day.
9. And when they came unto the threshing floor of [Nachon], Uzzah put forth his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled.
10. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and He smote him, because he put his hand to the ark; and there he died before God.
11. And David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah; wherefore that place is called Breech of Uzzah to this day.
Now, I was designing for the Community College the first Old Testament class that I taught because the school had no Old Testament class before then, and I was actually learning the Old Testament as I was teaching it. For example, I remember discovering as I was preparing the assignment for the end of the book of 2Kings that the class was near the end of the history portion of the Old Testament. I didn’t even know that. So, when I read the story of Uzzah being struck down by God for touching the ark, I did not know why God was so displeased at Uzzah for doing the good thing he did that He struck him dead. It seemed to be a straightforward matter: the oxen stumbled, the cart shook, the ark appeared to be in danger of falling off the cart, and so, Uzzah reached out and steadied it.
And God killed him.
After reading this story with my class, I told them that it was safest to always assume that God is always right and that if something He did in the Bible did not seem right to us, then either it was because we do not have all the information or it was because our hearts are not pure. I could not explain to them God’s actions, but I knew in my heart, and I would not be moved from it, that God was right to kill Uzzah.
Studying further, we learned that David, though displeased with God for killing Uzzah, afterward sought God for His reason for killing him, and that God had shown David why He had done it, and that David then decided to move the ark again — this time the right way. Then David, made wiser by the tragic experience, gave a stern warning to the priests and Levites to follow carefully the instructions for carrying the ark that Moses had given to Israel in the law:
1. And David . . . prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched for it a tent.
2. Then David said, “No one ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister unto Him for ever.”
3. And David gathered all Israel together to Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord unto his place, which he had prepared for it.
4. And David assembled the children of Aaron, and the Levites,
. . .
12. And said unto them, “You are the chief of the fathers of the Levites. Sanctify yourselves, both you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel unto the place that I have prepared for it.
13. For because you did not do it the first time, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, because we sought him not after the due order of Moses.”
14. So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel.
15. And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the Lord.
God was right to kill Uzzah. In fact, it was merciful of Him not to kill them all, including David, for bearing the ark in a manner contrary to the holy law He had so graciously given to them through Moses.
There were other places in the Old Testament that contradicted my thoughts, but my thoughts instantly vanished when I read them. I remember reading that God’s judgment was that kidnapping should be punished by death (Ex. 21:16), and instantly, I thought the same thing! Do you? What is your opinion about that? If you have an opinion about it after hearing God’s judgment of the matter, you are a fool. Why are you holding on to your opinion after God has spoken? When I was young, I earnestly prayed to be delivered from my opinion, and God answered that prayer by giving me the kind of heart that gladly abandoned what I thought whenever He let me know what He thought. The truth made me free from my own opinion, but only because I believed it; the truth make nobody free who does not receive it.
The old man John Clark gladly died when God offered him life, and in time, I was “transformed by the renewing of my mind” because I believed God and surrendered my life! I believed that whatever God said and did was right, and nothing He said or did displeased me. Displease me? Who was I to dare to be displeased with God? I had no vision for myself, no dream, no plan, no desires for the future that interfered with His work in me. My heart was soft in His hands, and He molded me. And I am persuaded that He will do the same for every moldable heart.
Visions for Others
You can have your own visions for others as much as you can have visions for yourself. What kind of past do you insist on your friends having, or your pastor? I am certain that few if any of the saints who were Preacher Clark’s sheep when I started in the Lord would ever have chosen him to be their pastor, but they all knew that God had chosen him to be their pastor, and that made all the difference. Preacher Clark used to ask us these questions: “Would you want a man who was guilty of murder to be your spiritual guide or judge?” or “Would you want a man guilty of adultery and murder to be your pastor?” Let me rephrase those two questions so as to make it clear what Preacher Clark was asking. “Would you want Moses for a pastor?” or “Would you want David for a pastor?” Moses murdered an Egyptian. He was guilty of that crime. Given a choice, would you have a convicted murderer as your guide to eternal life? King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her righteous husband in order to cover it up. Given a choice, would you want David as your pastor, knowing how people would talk? In their times, the overwhelming majority of Israelites did not want either one of them, BUT GOD DID, and those who had given up their own visions of the right spiritual leader knew that God did, and they were satisfied with God’s choice.
Furthermore, God chose Moses and David, each in his time, to be pastors for His people — but listen — God also chose His people as sheep for Moses and David! And every person in Israel, whether Moses, David, or anyone else, who was humble, accepted God’s choices, for they were too busy rejoicing that God had chosen them at all to meddle in His business.
What is it that matters to you? God’s vision of your life or your own vision? In the Spirit, there is but one vision of you, for there is just one hope. Walk with Jesus in the Spirit, and that hope will grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day when he who is our hope will appear, bringing his salvation with him.