Turn To Him

You might think, “I can’t turn to God until I’ve turned away from this problem.” But He doesn’t say “Turn away and be saved.” He says, “Turn to Me and be saved.”

Isaiah 45:22-24 Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. They will say of Me, ‘Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to Him, And all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. 

There are times in our lives when we feel like we’ve got no place to go. You think, “I’ve got this problem, and I’ve tried every solution. I’ve exhausted every option. Nothing’s working. I’m stuck.” 

Someone I know once had an awful turn in life when he was a young teen. A doctor put him on the wrong meds. He had a bad reaction, and his mind and heart never really recovered – well, almost never.  

Before this shattering event, he was a bright, brilliant boy. Afterward, he had struggles. How would he get through high school? How would he get through college? He struggled for years. There were times when we gave it his all – and there were times when he gave up. But he always got right back up again.  

Now this young man was never very religious or spiritual. But the people around him were. And they prayed for him all the livelong day. I always thought it would be nice to see him one day find Jesus. That day hasn’t come yet. But another day has come – he’s finally graduated college. His first day of college was twenty years ago. It was such a struggle for him, that he had to pick it up and put it down many times over for two whole decades.  

Some people may have looked at him and said, “He’ll never make it. He’ll never graduate.” But those people in his life who prayed for him, they never stopped praying for him. More importantly, God never stopped working for him. God has plans for him, and God is revealing his glory in this young man’s life by helping him overcome obstacles and meet his goals. He is a success story with God’s fingerprints all over it. 

Sometimes, Christians like to measure progress by how many people God is baptizing. And we like to see new believers entering God’s kingdom. But that isn’t how God measures success in the Kingdom.  

John the Baptist had faith that God was sending Jesus to set up the Kingdom, but he wanted to be sure. John sent one of his disciples to Jesus to inquire, “Are you the One who was to come?” 

Jesus didn’t say, “Look how many people are being baptized. Look how many people are coming to hear me. Look how much money they’re putting into the basket.” Jesus said, “Go back and tell John what you’ve seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Lk. 7:20, 22) 

God measures success not in quantity of converts, but quality of compassion. His work on earth is to show his love, and every day he is searching for instruments to show his compassion. This young man who just graduated college, through all his struggles, didn’t ever seem to “turn to God” and be saved; he didn’t bend the knee; he didn’t swear allegiance.  

But God was pleased to show his compassion in helping him. I hope this person deepens his relationship with God, and I hope he embraces Jesus. But this will happen when his eyes are opened to how God deepened His relationship with him, and how Jesus embraced him

*** 

God said in Isaiah, “Turn to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God and there is no other.” This is a call to everyone. He’s making an offer to all the ends of the earth – turn to me, and be saved. But it’s also a commandment – the 1st commandment, to be exact. “For I am God and there is no other.” He’s really just restating the first commandment, “I am the Lord your God…thou shalt have no other gods before me.” 

“Wow, Pastor Sean, you’re saying salvation is as simple as obeying the 1st commandment?” Well, don’t take my word for it. Take Jesus’s. 

One of the Sadducees asked him one day, “Rabbi, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” 

Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22:34f) 

There it is! Jesus is saying, “Everything the Law required for salvation – and everything the Prophets promise about the salvation I’m giving you in the Kingdom of God – hangs on the first commandment, and the second is a synonym of the first.” Jesus Christ, the word of God made flesh, declared that nothing short of loving your neighbor as yourself counts as loving God.  

That’s what it means to “Turn to Him and be saved”. It doesn’t just mean, turn to Him and rely on Him. We can’t help relying on Him – we already do. He’s in charge. But when we turn to Him, we see Him face to face. St. Paul says that in this world we see Him “dimly in a reflection.” Isn’t that amazing? He says that when we behold God in Christ, it’s like looking in a mirror.  

It’s not because you’re God or I’m God or anyone is actually God! It’s because in Christ, God became man, and so became a reflection of humanity. St. Irenaeus and St. Athanasius, the one who gave us the doctrine of the Trinity, both said that God became what we are so that we might become what He is. And we become what He is degree by degree – growing into His image. That is why when we turn to him and be saved – by loving our neighbor as ourselves – we see Him in our reflection. Because when we love more and more, we are growing more and more into His image. We look more and more like Him. 

*** 

When Jesus walked the earth, he spent three and a half years preaching and ministering in Judea. It wasn’t his preaching alone that won him followers. In fact, his preaching often lost him followers – like when he said “if you don’t eat my body and drink my blood, you’ll have no life in you!” The Bible said that he lost most of his followers that day. 

But when he healed the sick and gave back sight to the blind, and when he raised the dead, many came to sit at the table and dine with him in the Kingdom of God.  

On the other hand, when he was executed, hanging on the cross, he was a failed preacher. His words didn’t matter that much all of a sudden – everything he said about God had to come into question, since God was letting him die a horrible death, instead of putting the crown of Israel on his head and the throne of the Kingdom under his you know what. By the time they pulled his dead body down, all of his followers had abandoned him except for John. 

All that talk about God’s love didn’t mean much when the man who talked about it was being destroyed. It didn’t look much like God loved him. Looking at Jesus and the two thieves suffering beside him, you couldn’t help but wonder – if God lets this happen to people, even good people like Jesus, does God really love anyone? Why believe in such a God? Why follow a failed preacher whose God let him die like that? 

But when Jesus rose from the dead, all his words came true. God’s kindness was revealed. Ephesians 2:4f says, “Because of His great love for us…God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might display the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” 

Let’s not forget that the whole point of the resurrection was to show God’s kindness. And it was God’s kindness that brought in believers to the kingdom of heaven. That’s when the follower count skyrocketed. But the Kingdom of God isn’t about the quantity of converts – it’s about the quality of compassion that God inspires in His believers by revealing His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. That’s what it means to Turn to Him and be saved

*** 

We often think, turning to God means turning away from other gods in our lives. Turn away from mammon, don’t worship money; turn away from the lusts of the flesh, don’t worship food, sex, drugs; turn away from obsession with power, turn away from violence. But He doesn’t say “Turn away and be saved.” He says, “Turn to Me and be saved.”  

It’s not about where you’re from – it’s about where He’s bringing you. It’s not about who you are – it’s about who He’s shaping you into. He’s bringing you into His Kingdom. He’s shaping you into the image of His precious Child. He wants to put His love into your heart, and He wants to show you His kindness. You are a cup that He is ready to overflow with His love and His kindness!  

Don’t get hung up on turning away from other things – you might miss His love and kindness. Turn to Him. John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Don’t get caught up making other plans – God has plans for you. You might think that you’re not good enough for God. Maybe you think that something you’ve struggled with, or something you’re struggling with right now, is holding you back. You might think, “I can’t turn to God until I’ve turned away from this problem.”  

But Jesus didn’t come to call the perfect to enjoy their privilege, He came to call the imperfect to be blessed by His loving-kindness. “He didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” God didn’t raise His Son to punish you for your sins, but to save you from them. He wants you to step with confidence into relationship with Him, to come boldly before his throne of grace and ask to receive a crown in His Kingdom. He wants you to embrace your destiny, and not shrink away. 

“For the Spirit which God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7) Don’t try to transform yourself for God’s sake; let God transform you for His own sake. And it’s not just that God wants to glorify Himself in loving you; it’s also that He wants the best for us because He loves us. He knows it’s not good for people to punish themselves. He doesn’t want to see us suffer. 

Here’s an example from Soviet Russia. Now, the people in charge there thought they were really smart, revolutionary intellectuals. They saw religion as a crutch for the people, an opiate for the masses, and they looked at Christians as self-flagellating fools, beating themselves up with whips and cords in order to perfect themselves for God – for a myth, is what they thought. 

Josef Stalin thought that religious thinking was a hindrance to fulfilling his desire for an enlightened and equitable society. So he introduced the concept of “self-criticism.” It started first in the colleges, to make sure that the professors were teaching in turn with revolutionary principles. The best way to make sure they were teaching right was by making sure they were thinking right – so workshops and oversight committees were funded by the revolutionaries and given a place in the universities. 

Even though it was called “self-criticism”, it was really an interrogation. If you didn’t think right, then you’d be purged from your position. As you can imagine, once the revolutionary’s intellectual enemies were purged from the colleges, it wasn’t long before its graduates started spreading this practice of “self-criticism” into all parts of society.  

In the Khmer Rouge, this was called “rien sot”. Several evenings a week, civilians were gathered to confess of their sins against the revolutionary spirit. In Maoist China, it was called jiǎntǎo, and it was one of the ways a political criminal could be rehabilitated to escape censure or even execution. The practice has been partially revived under China’s current leadership, and it is now called “struggle sessions”. Struggle sessions happen all over the world in many different forms today, including in the United States, in Massachusetts, even here on the Vineyard. 

God doesn’t want this for us. Look at what self-criticism and struggle sessions yielded in the Soviet Union: according to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, almost 60 million killed under Stalin alone. They say Mao’s Great Leap Forward claimed 45 million lives in China in four swift years. In the Khmer Rouge, it is estimated to be between 1.3 and 3.3 million. By comparison, the Spanish Inquisition, considered one of the bloodiest crimes of the Church in history, carried out 3,000 executions over the course of 250 years.  

The revolutionaries thought they were smarter than the Christians, and yet they acted just like the Grand Inquisitors, interrogating teachers and community leaders, searching for sins to punish. People wonder how these kinds of atrocities are possible – the answer is, we want to be perfect. Self-flagellation and self-criticism are attractive options to us when we want to turn away from our sins and shortcomings.  

We all want to be better. We all want to improve ourselves. Isn’t it good to be humble, to examine ourselves, and admit our weaknesses and confess our shortcomings? It is. But God doesn’t ask us to punish ourselves. He asks us to receive his forgiveness. He didn’t tell us to turn away — he tells us to Turn to Him.  

The Bible calls our Enemy the Accuser. It says he accuses us before God all day and night. Knowing this, why would you become like the Devil, and become your own accuser? Don’t let your inner voice speak the words of the accuser into your heart & soul – speak the words of life.  

King David often says in his Psalms, “I say to my soul.” David knew the power of his inner voice, and he spoke the words of life into his own heart & soul. He said, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why the unease within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:11). He’s giving no room for the accuser’s voice to speak to his soul. He’s speaking the words of life to his soul, praising God. 

Even when David was confessing his sins, he never let his inner voice speak the words of the accuser. When he sinned, he confessed, “God, against You, and You alone I have sinned.” He was saying, the Enemy has no business making accusations here. This is between me and God.  

You might feel tempted to self-criticize when you fall. You might want to accuse yourself when you sin. You might want to make it all about your faults and shortcomings and problems and struggles. You need to say to your soul, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Don’t listen to the accuser. Don’t self-criticize. Don’t self-flagellate. Don’t focus on all the problems you need to overcome, the wrong road you’re on that you want to get off. God didn’t say, turn away – God said, turn to Him.” 

The accuser might be your own voice in your head, or it might be the voice of another person. We know that in our world today, self-criticism is making a huge comeback. Don’t let anyone get you down if you’re doing your best. Don’t let anyone discourage you in your walk of faith. Don’t let anyone disqualify you. If they get to you, you go into your closet of prayer and pray like David, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why the unease within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” 

There are fault-finders everywhere. Some of them are really good at it. Remember, you’re not perfect. You never will be! That’s OK. I’m not saying, go crack a few eggs and let someone else clean up the mess. Someone might tell you something about yourself that you didn’t know – someone might have a good critique. They might be right. It’s good to listen patiently to “friendly advice” or a “word to the wise” or some “constructive criticism”. If someone does find fault with you, and you recognize that fault within yourself, don’t beat yourself up. Settle the matter with your accuser, apologize, determine to do better, and work for a happy outcome in your relationship. But let that be the end of it. 

Don’t get obsessed with getting away from that problem – don’t focus on turn away – focus on turn to Him. Turn to God like David, and say, “God, against you and against you alone I have sinned.” When you get in the habit of turning to God, you’ll start to see that many faults are just found by fault-finders and nitpickers. “Everyone’s a critic,” as they say. And nobody’s perfect, either! What everyone should remember is the words, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. 

*** 

I’m not saying not to try to be perfect. Actually, Jesus said, “Be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.” He didn’t say try to be perfect, he said be perfect! Think of Yoda’s wise words: “Do. Or do not. There is not try.” So Jesus has given us a tall order: be perfect! 

But God decides what is perfect. Being perfect isn’t about turning away from the imperfect, but turning toward the perfect – and the perfect is God alone. He’s the only perfection there is. And He is love. We have to be loving in order to be perfect like the God of Love.  

Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, sell all your treasures and come follow me – then you’ll have treasure in heaven.” Well, we know that we have to obey his commandment if we want to follow him. He said, the first and most important commandment is to Love God; and that loving your neighbor is how you do it. Apostle John says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 Jn. 4:20) 

God is calling you to turn to Him. “Turn to Him, and be saved.” And in this way you can also “be perfect” as He is perfect – in love. You can both “be saved”, and you can “be perfect”, by turning to Him, and loving Him. John says, if we truly love Him, then we love our neighbors.  

You know what that means? That means, when we turn to Him, then we also turn to one another in love. May it be so. 

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