Buried Treasure

You who see yourself as buried, forgotten rubbish, good as dead, worthless, hopeless. Can you see yourself, not as buried waste, but as buried treasure? A treasure worth, to God, his very life.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Matthew 13:44 (NIV)

I have always seen this verse interpreted, and thought of it myself, as us finding the treasure of Jesus. And then going off and selling all that we have and following him, like Jesus recommended to the “rich young ruler” in Matthew 19:21 (NIV).

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

But this time, as I read Matthew 13:24-44, I saw something else. Previously, in these verses, Jesus is comparing his people, his chosen, as good wheat planted in a field (this world), and the “sons of the evil one” as weeds. What if the treasure found in the field is us too? What if the good wheat and the hidden treasure are the same? And what if the man who finds the hidden treasure and goes away and sells all he has to buy the field is Jesus?

Yes, I believe and know and am joyfully grateful that Jesus is my Treasure, my “Pearl of great price,” worth everything I am and own. But, I am seeing that I am his treasure too. The treasure he came to find. The treasure for which he gave up everything to buy back, to redeem. The treasure that he can rightfully claim as his.

… Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:13b-14 (NASB)

The Greek word translated “possession” in the above verse is periousios, which means peculiar in the sense of special, or one’s own. H. Preisker has written that “Christ’s work of redemption has created for God a people that is a costly possession or special treasure.”[i] A treasure for whom Jesus joyfully went and “sold” all he had, for whom he sacrificed all.

… who for the joy set before him endured the cross … (Hebrews 12:2)

.. who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8 NASB)

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV)

You were bought at a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20 NIV)

Can you see yourself as a special treasure? You who see yourself as buried, forgotten rubbish, good as dead, worthless, hopeless. Can you see yourself, not as buried waste, but as buried treasure? A treasure worth, to God, his very life. A treasure he has pulled up out of that hole in the ground. A treasure who has, through his death on the cross, been resurrected out of the grave to new life, new value, new hope. You, yes you, are his precious treasure.

“You [Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Revelation 5:9 (NIV)

 

Photo by Puuikibeach on flickr.com https://flic.kr/p/DyTeW1

This post is also available as a Bible study, freely available for use at Buried Treasure Bible Study

 

[i] Preisker, Herbert, “periousios,” in Gerhard Friedrich, ed., and Geoffrey Bromiley, trans. and ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), VI, p. 57.

Identity

Accepting that I am beloved and a delight and a treasure to Him is like a consuming fire, searing and painful, but cleansing and healing and life-giving.

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Isaiah 49:16a

God has been speaking to me lately about identity, about my real identity as he sees me. About how a false identity, one built on lies, is like a cracked or crooked foundation, skewing my whole life.

“And His Word makes it clear: at the core of every one of our issues is this attempt to construct our identity on something else besides Christ” – Anne Voskamp[i]

My whole life I have given in and accepted other people’s definition, the world’s definition, of my identity pounded into me from birth – mangled, marred, not good enough, just not. But, thinking that way makes me an innocent victim, while in reality, as Tim Keller writes in his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from Him.” The truth is hard to accept when you are chin-deep in self-pity.

“Human beings were made not only to believe in God in some general way, but to love him supremely, center their lives on him above anything else, and build their very identities on him. Anything other than this is sin.” — Søren Kierkegaard

Ouch! I don’t want to hear that. That listening to the self-lies, in some kind of self-pitying, martyrdom is sin. Accepting that I am beloved and a delight and a treasure to Him is like a consuming fire, searing and painful, but cleansing and healing and life-giving. Ann Voskamp in her book The Broken Way wrote that lies about her identity had “become like my own name engraved right onto me. Fraud. Phony. Not Good Enough.” Engraved right on me too. I have always felt like a fraud, a pretender. I think it comes from having to perform in the crazy, imaginary theatre of other people’s heads for so long. Like removing a regretted tattoo, this engraving has got to go.

God has engraved my real identity on the palms of his hands. “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16a). I know that, in this context, this verse is about Israel, but I believe it is about all whom God loves. He has engraved me on the palms of his hands, a place that is always visible to Him. How can I not engrave His real identity into my heart?

Lover (Song of Songs 6:3)

Redeemer (Psalm 14:16)

My Life (Colossians 3:3)

Restorer (Joel 2:25)

And if I do that, I have to accept who he thinks I am, who he made me to be – beloved. That is hard for me, after a lifetime of self-rejection and even self-hatred. Still absorbing that – not only how he sees me but what does accepting that truth mean? Being open to what he wants to make of me.

“There are very few men who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into His hands and let themselves be formed by His Grace.” –Ignatius[ii]

How can God form me if I have “set” myself rigidly in a mold of lies? I must be pliable as fresh, new clay. The old me must be broken up, must die, be made over. I feel that after 45 years I am just now beginning to realize – and to admit into the secret place of my soul – the breadth and length and height and depth, the passion, the zeal of God’s love for me. Words cannot contain and it will take eternity to grasp. Where my treasure is there is my heart and my true identity. Let Him be all my treasure, all my identity, all my value. Lord lift the veil over my mind and bring life-giving revelation of how you see me, how you see us all. Beloved child of God.

 

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way. P. 184.

[ii] Letter to Ascanio Colonna (Rome, April 25, 1543)

 

Captured

During a bible study at the jail I mentioned to a woman that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

“No man’s really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he’s realised exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about ‘criminals,’ as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; … till he’s squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.” Father Brown in G.K. Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, 1927

The above quote reminded me of a conversation I had with a woman at the jail recently. During a bible study I mentioned that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

Funny, but true. Jesus made it clear who the criminals are.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV)

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27 (NIV)

In our natural selves we are all caught. Caught in the act. We are all criminals. But Jesus came to capture us in our captivity to sin. He told Peter, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). That word translated “catching” is zogreo (ζωγρέω) and literally means to capture or take alive. At its very root is the Greek word ago (ἄγω ) which means “to lead by accompanying to (or into) a place.” “To take alive” sounds fearful, but his heart is always mercy and love. He captures us to lead us to that place of salvation and peace.

When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives (he led captivity captive), and he gave gifts to his people. Ephesians 4:8 (NLT)

He led captivity captive. He captured the captives – we who are captured by our sin, slaves to the enemy of our souls. Yes, it’s true we are all criminals that need to be captured, but Father Brown was wrong about one thing. We can’t do it ourselves. There is only One who can. There is only One who can keep us “safe and sane under our own hats.” Jesus – who was considered a criminal, though he never sinned outwardly or inwardly. He loved us and allowed himself to be captured and executed that we might be captured and set free as new creatures. We must surrender, wave the white flag, and let the Lover of our souls lead us away.

Lord, let me be in that crowd of captives. Captured by your grace.

A thousand times I’ve failed
Still your mercy remains
Should I stumble again
Still I’m caught in your grace

From the Inside Out by Joel Houston

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew (repair, make new) our days as of old.  Lamentations 5:21 (KJV)

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives rescued from the fierce? But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. Isaiah 49:24-25 (NIV)

For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (Amplified Bible)

For more on being caught in his wonderful love read Imprisoned

Photo by Jack Bair copyright 2019

Completed

When it is accomplished that the way God sees things is how I see things, that when my heart and soul are woven together with the heart of God through Jesus to make one heart, then I will be completed.

My flesh and my heart (soul, understanding, mind) may fail, but God is the strength (Rock) of my heart and my portion (share, possession) forever. Psalm 73:26 (NIV)

This is such a wonderful verse – in fact my life verse – but still it has always had a slightly negative connotation to me. Flesh failing, mind going, like the decay and decline of old age. And it does mean that – this earthly body and mind will fail – but there is a hidden treasure in this verse. It’s kind of an opposite way of thinking. We usually think of getting old and dying as a bad thing, as losing things, a falling apart. But I think there is more here, and a very positive message too.

The word translated flesh in the above verse is the noun sheer (שְׁאֵר).[i] It means flesh, body, physical strength. The secret message is hidden in its root, which is the verb sha’ar (שָׁאַר). Sha’ar means to remain, be left over, be left behind. Yes! This failing body is what is left behind. I love that image, that my flesh may soon be left behind, like Elijah’s robe falling to earth from the chariot of fire on his way to glory. And I don’t think he looked back for an instant. He was on his way to his Strength, his Rock, his Portion, his God.

The second message of hope is the seemingly hopeless word translated “fail.” It is kalah (כָּלָה ) and it doesn’t mean stumble and fall, mess up, like we would think. It means be accomplished, finished, be completed. How glorious! My time here may be finished, but, hopefully, what God intended in my flesh and heart will have been accomplished. I will be complete.  If God is my Rock, it will be as the last strokes of the artist’s brush on his masterpiece, the signing of His Name in the corner of my heart.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed (renovated, made new, changed into a new kind of life) day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16 (NASB)

Oswald Chambers described it this way:

There is nothing, naturally speaking, that makes us lose heart quicker than decay—the decay of bodily beauty, of natural life, of friendship, of associations, all these things make a man lose heart; but Paul says when we are trusting in Jesus Christ these things do not find us discouraged, light comes through them. [ii]

Light comes through them! Light comes through decay, this failing of the mind and flesh. I love that! It makes me think of a threadbare curtain, washed over and over, until it is so thin you can see right through it. You can see the light. Hopefully, you can see Jesus shining out of me.

The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22-23 (NASB)

The word translated “clear” in the above verse is the Greek word haplous (ἁπλοῦς ) which means “single.” When my eye is single my body is full of light. It comes from the word that means to plait, braid, or weave together into one. I believe this means that when it is accomplished that the way God sees things is how I see things, that when my heart and soul are woven together with the heart of God through Jesus to make one heart, then I will be completed. My earthly flesh and heart may get more and more threadbare, but that just means His Light will be able to shine through, brighter and brighter. Yes Lord, be the strength of my heart. Complete your work in me.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect (accomplish, finish, complete) it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 (NASB)

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on …  Philippians 3:12 (NASB)

 

[i] All definitions from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

[ii] Oswald Chambers. The Place of Help

Image in the Public Domain from pxhere.com

3 + 3 = 1

 

“God loves messes.” Pastor Troy Gentz

“He changes things.” Reverend David Sidwell

 

The above three-word sermons-in-a-sentence were part of two teachings I heard lately. I think these six words equal one passionate, grace filled message. God is always whispering his love.

If your life right now seems like a ruin, trust in him; surrender it all over to him. God loves you in your mess. But he loves your mess too. It gives him the chance to demonstrate how much he loves you, and his redeeming power to transform. He changes things.

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:37 (NIV)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 (NIV)

 

Image in the public domain

To Discover, All Along, to Whom I Belong

Receiving my true identity as accepted in the beloved and a delight and a treasure to Him is like a consuming fire, searing and painful, but cleansing and healing and life-giving.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these … Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Matthew 19:14, 16 (NIV)

God has been speaking to me about identity lately. Who am I? What is my real identity as God sees me. Matthew chapter 19 contrasts two different identities. A little child, who is totally dependent for food, clothing, everything. A little child whose identity is in his family – I am somebody’s child; I am somebody’s sister or brother. A little child who clings to his mother and father because they are life itself. A little child aware of his helplessness.

The other person is a very self-sufficient young man intent on building his own identity – what must I do? The child possesses very little, if anything. In fact, especially in those times, a child was legally considered a possession, whereas the rich young man saw himself as having many possessions. To one, the Kingdom is freely given, the other is intent on getting it – what must I do to get? The Greek word means to have i.e. own, possess. His identity was bound up in his doing and his possessions.

The children were invited to simply come to Jesus and the Kingdom was given them. Jesus invited the young man to enter also, to come and follow – but he would have to leave the possessions and the doings, his present identity, outside. He would need to become a dependent child, and that was something he felt he could not do.

For most of us, our identities are broken, the result of rejection and based on hurtful lies we have taken down deep into our souls. I am not (good, pretty, smart, etc.) enough. I am a disappointment. And worse, much worse. We spend our whole lives rebuilding our broken identities by doing, performing, acquiring. Trying to live up to somebody else’s expectations. Trying to be somebody that could be loved and accepted. Performing in the crazy, imaginary theatre in other people’s heads. Or, completely rejecting them all, thumbing our nose at everyone. Either way, writing our scripts and collecting all the props and costumes needed to play the part we choose. I become the book person, or the cat person, the financially successful person. I am the wise professor, the talented musician or mechanic, I am the good prayer warrior, the effective evangelist, the humble servant of Christ. None of those things are bad. Just like the rich young man, we may be doing everything right, but our identities are built on the wrong foundation. I am significant because of what I can do, what I can “get.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen† has written of how self-rejection is the enemy of our true identity. “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection … Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Our core, the essence of our being is our identity – who I am, who I was made to be. Anne Voskamp in The Broken Way writes – “at the core of every one of our issues is this attempt to construct our identity on something else besides Christ” – in other words, to give in and accept the world’s definition of our identity, or to stand defiant and create my own. But, listening to the self-lies, in some kind of self-pitying martyrdom, trying to create my own acceptable identity – is sin and deadly. “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God … Human beings were made not only to believe in God in some general way, but to love him supremely, center their lives on him above anything else, and build their very identities on him. Anything other than this is sin.” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God). My identity is not what I “must do” or what I “get,” like the rich young man in Matthew 19. My identity is found in simply accepting the invitation to come and be.

I must receive my true identity as His little child, totally dependent on Him for strength, faith, life, breath, food on the table, shelter over my head, talents and gifts. I’m realizing that even the words that come out of my mouth when I pray for someone, the love in my heart for them, the willingness and passion to serve – it all comes from Him – everything. At least the part that brings life to others. Otherwise, it is just me doing and getting for myself.

Receiving my true identity as accepted in the beloved and a delight and a treasure to Him is like a consuming fire, searing and painful, but cleansing and healing and life-giving. Lord, I pray that you would be all my treasure, all my identity, all my value, all my significance. A dear friend once prayed for me that I would “discover, all along, to whom I belong.” I believe God is answering that prayer. I am finally opening the Invitation.

I am a child of God 

I am beloved 

I am precious in His sight 

I am His 

And you also are among those who are called (invited) to belong to Jesus Christ. Romans 1:6 (NIV) 

They say that love can heal the broken
They say that hope can make you see
They say that faith can find a Savior
If you would follow and believe
With faith like a child
from Like a Child by Jars of Clay

 

† You are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. 2017, p. 12.

The image is a photograph of me with my beloved Mom.

This blog post has been revised into a Bible study which may be freely used and copied. It can be accessed at Hidden Treasure Bible Studies here.

Sawdust

God may be doing a demolition and rebuilding in your brothers and sisters, but you won’t be able to see it if you have not started your own demolition. All you will see is the sawdust in their eyes. The beams in our eyes hold up self-made structures that become the prisons of our souls. The beams need to be pulled out, as from a Jenga tower, so the structures can collapse and be rebuilt.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust (karpos) in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank (dokos) in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take (ekballo) the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7: 3-5 (NIV)

It’s easy to think of the first person (with the speck) in the above verse as having a little problem or sin, and the second person (with the plank) as having a bigger problem or sin. But, the three Greek words, karpos, dokos, and ekballo, tell a deeper story – a story of redemption.

Karpos (κάρφος) is a small particle, as a splinter of straw or wood; a dry stalk, a chip of wood, twig, splinter, or chaff. These small particles are usually the resultant left-overs from carpentry work or from threshing and winnowing wheat – unimportant garbage that is swept up or blown away.

There are a lot of sawdust and splinters flying around in the Carpenter’s shop. There is a lot of chaff blowing in the wind when the wheat is being winnowed, or refined and cleansed, until only the good grain is left. Like the first person, it would be easy to get a speck of it in your eye. To stick with the first metaphor, the Carpenter is building something in a person, or in us, but sometimes all we see is the mess the process makes – or we can’t see what he’s doing at all because of the sawdust in our eyes. We have to trust that he knows what he’s doing.

The second person has a dokos in his eye. Dokos (δοκός) is a beam of wood. It comes from a word that means “to hold up.” This beam is “a large beam (joist) of wood; “a beam of timber[i]; “a log on which planks in the house rest … joist, rafter, plank.”[ii] ”The term beam of wood refers to a very big piece of wood, the main beam of a building, in contrast to the speck in the other’s eye.”[iii] These beams sound essential, holding up a structure. Jesus says the person with the beam needs to ekaballo (ἐκβάλλω), pluck, pull, take, or thrust it out of his eye – this beam that is holding up the whole structure! It reminds me of a giant Jenga game where you pull out the wrong block and everything crashes down. But Jesus says the structure must be dismantled in order for us to see clearly to help our brother with the speck.

But what is this structure? Jesus calls the plank-eyed brother a hypocrite, or “an actor under an assumed character, a stage-player.”[iv] So maybe the structure is a stage, or even an elaborate theater, a self-made structure where a self-chosen part is played. We may build these theaters to make us feel good about ourselves, to protect a fragile ego, to hide a broken heart. We may play the part of smug self-competence, better-than-you self-righteousness, hard invulnerability, a discerning Judge dispensing well-meant criticism or confident condemnation. Or the structures could be those of racism or prejudice or assumptions, long-held, long-built. Whatever it is, the parts we play, the structures we build and cling to, blind us to the needs of others, and blind us to our true identities.

Jesus wants to tear them down and start a very messy demolition. He wants to re-make us.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new (kainos) creation (ktisis); the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

The Greek word kainos means new, recently made, fresh (can you smell the wood shavings?). Ktisis means a building or creation. A new, recently made, building or creation. We are all in the process of redemption. God may be doing a demolition and rebuilding in your brothers and sisters, but you won’t be able to see it if you have not started your own demolition. All you will see is the sawdust in their eyes. The beams in our eyes hold up self-made structures that become the prisons of our souls. The beams need to be pulled out, as from a Jenga tower, so the structures can collapse and be rebuilt.

Lord, show me if I have a beam in my eye, and if I do, what structure it holds up. Help me to pull out the beam and let that building fall so you can start re-building me today.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)

“Look, I am making all things new!” Revelation 21:5 (NLT)

 

Photograph, Granada Theater, Chicago, 1990, taken by Genial 23, from flikr.com

 

[i] A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament by G. Abbott-Smith.

[ii] James Moffatt’s New Testament Commentaries.

[iii] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988.

[iv] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.