The Desolate Land Yields Fruit

Sermon: The Desolate Land Yields Fruit

This sermon was preached in Dawson Creek, BC, and Grande Prairie, Alberta, on Sunday September 26.


A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

“Thus says the Lord Jehovih to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes, and to the cities that are forsaken, which became a prey and derision to the residue of the heathen that are round about.” Ezekiel 36:4

Imagine Ezekiel calling out to a desolate land.  The kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah have both been taken away into captivity, and the land of Canaan has been overrun by Israel’s enemies.  “Thus says the Lord Jehovih …. to the desolate wastes, and the cities that are forsaken.”  The prophet is told to say these words not to the people of Israel, and not even to the people inhabiting the land: he is told to speak these words to the land itself.

A desolate land, overrun by enemies, the cities destroyed, no life in the hills or the mountains.  We all know this land, because there are times when we see this desolate land in ourselves.  We look inward, and see nothing but bare mountains, deserts, “desolate wastes.”  We feel alone – that we are distant from the people we love, even that our love for others has left us.  And in those times, we can hear the voice of the Lord calling out to us from a distance.  We can hear a small voice saying, “But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel.”

This is the message of the sermon: the Lord promises the desolate land that it will bear fruit, and that its people will return.

We can see that there is hope in desolation.  But why is the land made desolate in the first place?  What’s the use of this desolation?   The book Arcana Coelestia says, “The Divine Providence differs from all other leading and guidance in the fact that Providence continually regards what is eternal, and continually leads unto salvation, and this through various states, sometimes glad, sometimes sorrowful, which the man cannot possibly comprehend; but still they are all profitable to his eternal life” (n. 8560).

Every state that we go through, whether happy or sad, is leading to a good end.  Does this mean the Lord wants us to feel desolate, like an empty land?  No – it is hellish spirits who lead people into temptation and desolation.  But the Lord allows these things for the sake of a good end.  Think of the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.  They acted from evil.  When the children of Israel were carried away into captivity and the land was made desolate, the conquerors were evil.  But when Joseph is reunited with his brothers, he does not avenge himself on them.  He says, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.”  The evil spirits who desolate us are trying to destroy us; but the Lord uses these desolate times as an opportunity to prepare us for renewal.

The book Arcana Coelestia specifically addresses this prophecy by Ezekiel.  In number 5376, it says, “The subject treated of here is the desolation that comes before regeneration, the desolation being signified by the ‘desolate wastes,’ and the ‘cities that are forsaken, which became a prey and derision.’”  There is a desolation that comes before regeneration – a death that comes before rebirth.  We see this cycle in the natural world – in the autumn, leaves begin to fall, and in the winter the land can be desolate – but every spring, new life arises out of the decay and death.  The miracle of the redeemed land is a miracle that happens constantly around us, in plain sight.  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

But in the winter time, spring is nothing but a fantasy, the far off voice of a prophet in exile.  In desolate times, renewal seems impossible.  What is the use of winter?  What is the use of desolation?  We can see from experience one of the uses: without winter, how much less would we appreciate the miracle of spring?  Without times of emptiness, how would we appreciate fullness?  We go through states of day and night – days when we feel the Lord’s presence, and nights when the Lord seems distant.  Even in heaven these cycles take place, as described in the book Arcana Coelestia:

The heavenly state is such that spirits and angels pass through morning, midday, and evening, also twilight and morning again, and so on. …All in heaven undergo and pass through these alternating states; without them they cannot be led to ever greater perfection. For those alternating states establish contrasts for them, and from those contrasts they gain more perfect perception, for from those contrasts they know what does not constitute happiness since they know from them what is not good and what is not true. (AC n. 5962)

Angels can see what is good and true from comparing it to a lack of what is good and true.

Other passages in the Writings say that the cycles in the lives of angels are relatively mild, that their darkness is not very dark.  But the desolation in Ezekiel goes beyond this.  It is utter desolation; this is conquest by foreign armies, cities destroyed, hills and mountains barren.  The desolation that comes before regeneration is far from mild – it is utter and complete.

This is a particular kind of desolation.  As mentioned before, this is the desolation that immediately comes before regeneration.  Right before a person begins his path of rebirth, he comes into a state of darkness and desolation.  The creation story begins in darkness and chaos, and after each day, it is said that “the evening and the morning” were the first, or second, or third day.  First there is darkness, first there is evening, first there is desolation, before there is light, before there is morning, before there is re-birth.

This specific desolation that comes before regeneration is pictured in many other places in the Word.  In a story from the book of Genesis, Abraham casts out Sarah’s maidservant Hagar because Hagar’s son Ishmael has been mocking Sarah’s son Isaac.  Hagar wanders in the wilderness with her son Ishmael, and they run out of water.  They are near death, and in despair, Hagar puts her son Ishmael under a bush so she does not have to see him die, then lifts up her voice and weeps.  It is a picture of desolation and despair.  But just at that point, when all hope seems lost, an angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar and tells her not to fear, that there is water nearby – just as the voice of Ezekiel called to the land that it should not despair, that it would return to life.  The passage we read from the Writings earlier describes the inner meaning of Hagar’s despair and hope: that it is despair because of a lack of truth, followed by hope at a promise that truth will be restored

Why is truth taken away or brought into doubt, though?  Why was Hagar almost allowed to die?  Why is the land made desolate?  The general reason we already mentioned – so that from experiencing anxiety and grief, we can perceive the opposite, the blessings that the Lord gives us.  But in a more specific sense, why does “desolation come before regeneration”?  Why are we brought into a state of ignorance after we’ve learned truth but before we start to make them part of our lives? We read in our reading this morning that the primary reason for this particular desolation is that what is “persuasive” with a person can be broken, so that he or she can see what is true.

What is this “persuasiveness”?  It is a tendency to believe that we already know everything we need to know, a reluctance to change our minds or be challenged, the desire to always stick to the way we’ve always seen things.  Further in the passage from Arcana Coelestia about Hagar, we are given the example of someone who feels like that they have power and intelligence from themselves, not from the Lord.  They can be intellectually convinced that the Lord is really in charge, but they don’t believe it in their hearts until they are able to experience their own helplessness for themselves.  In their hearts, they still are persuaded that they do not need the Lord’s help.  The passage says,

But when anxiety and grief are induced upon them by the fact of their own helplessness, and this even to despair, their persuasive is broken, and their state is changed; and then they can be led into the belief that they can do nothing of themselves, but that all power, prudence, intelligence, and wisdom are from the Lord. … (AC 2694)

Why is the land allowed to become desolate?  So that we can experience the truth of the Lord’s saving power, to break us out of our own comfortable self-assurance that we can take care of everything.  We might “know” a lot of teachings from the Word but not really understand or believe them on a deep level.  When we come into states of desolation, we realize that we don’t actually understand those truths.  We feel like they’re being taken from us.  We experience a devastating feeling that we don’t know anything at all, that despite our years of being taught we haven’t really learned anything.

Have you ever experienced this?  You realize that you don’t understand something you’ve always known is true?  Maybe it’s the truth that all good and truth come from the Lord; maybe it’s the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is God; maybe it’s the meaning of one of the Ten Commandments, for example, what it really means to “not covet”.  We can know the words that express a truth but realize we don’t understand actually understand the truth itself at all.  We can despair over the realization that a truth has apparently been taken from us.  But then it can come back, and when it comes back, it’s a deep truth – a truth that you feel, that you live, that you may no longer even be able to express in words.

When we first learn what is true, it enters our head, and doesn’t get much further.  We might take pride in our knowledge, we might love that others think well of us.  But in time we find this kind of truth leaves us desolate.  The land comes under attack from enemies, and we do not know how to defend ourselves, because the true things we know are only intellectual, and they’re tied up with pride and selfishness.  In our path of regeneration, we will all experience this if we have not already: a feeling that we are lost, that the things we once knew and took comfort in, the love we felt for others, even the most basic spiritual truths – that there is God, that He loves us – even these feel like they have been taken from us.  The land is made desolate.

We cannot force an end to these states.  The passages we read tell us that we will go through them, if not in this world, then in the next world.  There is not a simple solution, an easy way to avoid those long nights of doubt and despair.  But we can take some comfort in knowing that this is still part of the Lord’s plan, that he is allowing us to go through this for the sake of salvation.  It is OK for us to be experiencing this.  The Lord is allowing it to happen so that afterwards we can come into a much deeper understanding, a much fuller sense of His presence.  In those states of darkness, we can try to hear the Lord’s voice, try to obey Him even though we have lost sight of Him.  Like Hagar, we can cry out to Him.  We can call to mind the truth that all states lead to a good end.  But still, we may come almost to the point of total despair.  But eventually a voice will call to us.  The prophet Ezekiel sings out to the land –

But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to My people of Israel; for they are at hand to come.  For, behold, I [am] for you, and I will turn unto you, and you shall be tilled and sown: And I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, [even] all of it: and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded: And I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bring fruit: and I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better [unto you] than at your beginnings: and you shall know that I [am] Jehovah.


Lessons: Ezekiel 36:1-15: Mark 4:35-41; AC 2694

AC 2694. That they who are being reformed are reduced into ignorance of truth, or desolation, even to grief and despair, and that they then for the first time have comfort and help from the Lord, is unknown at this day, for the reason that few are reformed. They who are such that they can be reformed are brought into this state, if not in the life of the body, nevertheless in the other life, where this state is well known, and is called vastation or desolation, … They who are in such vastation or desolation are reduced even to despair; and when they are in this state they then receive comfort and help from the Lord, and are at length taken away into heaven, where they are instructed among the angels as it were anew in the goods and truths of faith. The reason of this vastation and desolation is chiefly that the persuasive which they have conceived from what is their own may be broken; and that they may also receive the perception of good and truth, which they cannot receive until the persuasive which is from their own has been as it were softened.

This is brought about by the state of anxiety and grief even to despair. What is good, nay, what is blessed and happy, no one can perceive with an exquisite sense unless he has been in a state of what is not good, not blessed, and not happy. From this he acquires a sphere of perception, and this in the degree in which he has been in the opposite state. The sphere of perception and the extension of its limits arise from the realizing of contrasts. These are causes of vastation or desolation, besides many others

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister

Ezekiel and the Dry Bones

Sermon: Ezekiel and the Dry Bones

I preached this sermon at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC on August 28, 2011.

Lessons: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 3:1-12Arcana Coelestia 154


“And I prophesied as He commanded me, and the spirit came into them, and they lived, a very great army.” (Ezekiel 37:10)

In the children’s talk this morning, we talked about the story of Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones.  We heard some of the context there – the people of Judah were in captivity in Babylon, and they were crying out to the Lord that their bones were dried up, they had been cut off – they were alive but they felt dead.  And so the Lord took Ezekiel to this valley of dry bones.

Before we begin to look at the internal sense it would be useful to look a little more at the concept of spirit, since it plays such an important role in this story.  In Hebrew, as well as Greek and Latin, the word for “spirit” is the same as the word for “breath” and the word for “wind.”  The concept of “the spirit” was more than just the concept of natural wind or natural breath – there was a concept that the entire world was maintained by the breath or spirit of God.  And so when a person breathed that was the spirit breathing in them.

With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into the internal sense of this story.

The story begins with the prophet Ezekiel being taken by the hand of the Lord to a valley – a low place, a dark place.  It’s a valley where a great host of people has been killed, and their bones lie scattered.  They’ve been there for ages – the flesh has gone from off of them, and the bones have been dried out in the sun.  The Lord asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  Ezekiel is humble enough to simply say, “O Lord Jehovih, you know” – but the answer clearly seems to be “no,” they cannot.

We are those bones.  When we begin our spiritual lives, we are dead.  In the children’s talk, we talked about times when we feel dead.  And this story is about those times – but it’s also about times when we are spiritually dead without even realizing it.  Because before we are born again, we are spiritually dead.  The people in the earliest days of the Christian church knew this well.  For example, in his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul wrote, “You who were dead in trespasses and sins He made alive” (Ephesians 2:1).

Those dry bones in particular represent a part of ourselves that is both dead in itself, and that is the source of evil and death.  The Writings for the New Church refer to this as our proprium, which is a Latin word meaning, “what is our own.”  Now, the concept of the proprium is a complex one, and it’s hard to describe briefly even what it is.  One way to think of our “proprium” is as our sense that we live from ourselves.  It’s a sense of ownership, that things within us belong to us.  It’s similar in some ways to the concept of a sense of self

But is this bad?  We need to have a sense of self – we wouldn’t be human without it.  This is true.  Everyone – angels and people and evil spirits alike – have an Own or a proprium, and in fact, it’s this sense that we live from ourselves that allows us to be joined to the Lord in freedom as separate beings from Him.  But there is an enormous difference between the heavenly proprium and the natural proprium that we are born with.  The heavenly proprium is called the “vivified proprium,” or the proprium that has been given life.  And this story of the dry bones is a story about how that happens, how the dead, bony proprium is brought to life.

What is our sense of “own” like in that first, dead state?  In it, we think of everything in our lives as coming from ourselves.  All our good qualities, everything we like about ourselves – that’s US, and we feel a lot of affection for me.  Our thoughts are focused on ourselves – if we’re daydreaming or our minds are wandering, chances are the focus is not on others, but on something we want for ourselves.

It’s hard to believe, but in this state, from the perspective of the angels, we are nothing but scattered bones.  When we believe that life is in us and from us, and that everything in our lives is from ourselves, we are not yet alive in a true sense.

It’s important to note, also, that those dead bodies did not just die naturally – they were killed, probably in battle.  There are evil spirits around us constantly who would love nothing more than to convince us that we live from ourselves, that we are the most important thing in our lives, that we should love ourselves first and foremost.  There is an enemy that killed us and wants us to stay dead.

Is there really any hope for us?  Can we really be so radically changed that we move from the sense that life is from ourselves, to a real acknowledgment that life is something that flows in from heaven?  Because this is what it’s going to take.  It can seem impossible – Ezekiel was not sure that the bones could be brought back to life.  But he did not deny it.  He simply said, “O Lord Jehovih, you know.”

Now, many people think of being born again as something that happens in an instant.  But that’s not the way it happens.  It’s a process.  And it’s a process in this story.

So how does it happen?  How do we start to acknowledge that life is something that flows in, not something that belongs to us?   Some people would say the solution – the way to feel like life is from God – is simply to stop trying to do things on your own and wait for God to flow in.  But if the spirit had blown into those dead bones, nothing would have happened.  They had to first be arranged in such a way that they could receive that spirit flowing in from God.

We’re the same way.  The way to experience the Lord’s life, rather than life that we think of as our own, is not to just sit around and wait for it.  We have to act completely as if from ourselves for God to give us a renewed proprium that acknowledges life as coming from Him.

So Ezekiel prophesies to the bones – and they start to move.  As a prophet, Ezekiel represents the Lord’s Word, since he spoke the Lord’s Word.  The first step in the revival of our proprium is to go to the Lord’s Word.

We go to the Word first with the intellectual side of our minds.  Those bones but they especially represent the “own” in our understanding, our intellect.  This is where we first hear and respond to the Word.   That proprium in the understanding is all our thoughts, and the sense that our thinking is from ourselves – the sense that the things in our mind belong to us.

We do need to have that sense – that our thoughts are our own – for us to learn anything.  And at first, our motivation for learning anything is going to be mixed, and in large part selfish – because we want to feel smart, or for other people to think of us as smart.  But there can still be the beginnings of life there – to the extent that we want to learn truth for the sake of living better.  The bones start to move.  And it’s a focus on how to use truth that brings those bones together, to start to form a skeleton.  We sometimes even talk in these terms about concepts – the framework of an idea we call the skeleton, the most important part of it the backbone, etc.

This can sound abstract, so let’s use an example.  We know lots of scattered truth, things we’ve picked up from talking to other people, from sermons, and especially from the Word.  But when we focus on how to live by them, certain ones start to stand out as being the most important.  The backbone of it all is to love the Lord and to love the neighbour.  The finger bones might be the specific, practical things we’ve learned about how to love the neighbour – for example, that we have to fight against a tendency to snap at our spouse when we’re in a bad mood.  All the different truths we know will play some role just like the different bones in our bodies plays, and even the different parts of the different bones – because there is a direct correspondence or relationship between the spiritual function of truth and the functions of the bones of our bodies.

When we learn truth and think about how it could apply to life, those bones start to join together.  But the body is more than bones.  And as Ezekiel looked on, sinews and flesh and skin came onto the bones, so that they lay there complete human forms – still without life, but whole and new again as they had been when they had been alive.

The Writings say that this flesh that is put onto the bones represents that heavenly proprium – an “own” that is tied to a new will, born in the understanding.  And it’s what happens when we start to put those truths we know into life – it’s what happens when we live truth and it begins to turn into goodness.

Now again, in this story, it can seem like all of this happens without any effort on a person’s part.  But this is not actually the way that new proprium or sense of self-life is formed.  In fact, it is just the opposite – it is self-compulsion that forms that new will.  When we don’t want to do something, and yet we force ourselves to do it, it does not feel like we’re very free.  In fact, it feels like we’re giving up our freedom.  But the reality is that in compelling ourselves, we are coming into more freedom than ever before.  The truth is that before we fight against sin, we are slaves to sin.  Before we make ourselves get up and do something, we are slaves to lethargy and laziness.  It’s only in compelling ourselves that our higher selves begin to have dominance over our lower selves.  It’s that higher self where the new proprium resides.

But even then the process is not complete.  In Ezekiel’s vision the bones had come together and flesh had covered them, but there was still no life in them – no spirit.  And so at the Lord’s command Ezekiel prophecied to the four winds to breathe spirit into these bodies.  And the four winds blew and spirit came into the bodies and they stood up on their feet, a great army.

As we mentioned in the children’s talk, our culture is rife with images of the undead – of living skeletons, of green-skinned zombies.  That is not what we are to picture here – we are to picture an army of healthy, strong, living human beings.  Because this is an image of what happens when our proprium is made new.  We read a passage from Arcana Coelestia this morning describing the immense difference between a person’s “own” and a person’s “own” that has been vivified, or brought to life, by the Lord’s Own, the Lord’s proprium – that is, all the things that really belong to the Lord that He us to feel as our own.  The first proprium, when we believe that life is from ourselves, is so ugly that nothing could be uglier; but the things in the vivified own appear beautiful.

And the key here is that breath, that wind, the spirit that flows into these bodies and brings them to life.  The spirit represents life inflowing from the Lord.  We act as if ourselves to learn truth and to live by it – but it is the Lord who breathes His spirit into that and brings it to life.  It happens in the moment when we realize that we actually want to do good to others – that it isn’t any longer something we have to force ourselves to do.  It happens when we realize that our desires and attitudes have changed – and we realize that we weren’t the ones who brought about those changes.  And it happens when we realize that the good things in us are not our own, but they belong instead to the Lord God Jesus Christ.

The primary characteristic of the heavenly proprium is that even though it continues to feel as if it lives from itself, it perceives and acknowledges that all life is from the Lord.  All angels are in this acknowledgment – the acknowledgment that of themselves they are nothing but evil, that what is their own is hard and bony and dead.  But from the Lord they are granted a new proprium – a perception that they are merely vessels of the Lord’s life, and that they are blessed with the opportunity to serve as expressions of the Lord’s love.

The angels are constantly in this perception that life is the Lord’s.  Even so, though, we read in Arcana Coelestia, “the angels perceive that they live from the Lord, although when not reflecting on the subject they know no other than that they live from themselves.”  They still feel like life is from themselves.  And so we can’t expect to constantly feel the Lord’s life in us.  But when we are reflecting by ourselves, we can acknowledge it, and as we progress, even perceive it – that all of our own efforts toward goodness, all our ability to love, even our life itself, is from the Lord.  This is one of the great secrets of the New Church – that our own efforts are not somehow evil or wrong, but that we know the Lord in those efforts when we realize that they are really His efforts in us.  That’s the vivified, renewed proprium – the sense of ourselves that does not want to live from ourselves, but simply wants to be a vessel.  And yet the Lord grants us to feel life of ourselves so that we can freely choose to join ourselves to Him in sharing His love for humanity.

It’s hard to believe that we’re dead until we come into this acknowledgment.  But the Lord does let us catch glimpses of what it’s like to get out of ourselves and have moments where we aren’t so focused on our selves, or where we actually realize that the good things in us don’t belong to us.  When we compare the life in those moments to the life in our regular, self-centered moments, we can realize that the more we are in our self-life, the more dead we are.  But this story is also a story of hope – if the Lord could revive dead bones, scattered in a valley and left to dry, He also can bring us to life.  This is the new life, this is regeneration, this is the new birth.

“And I shall put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you on your own ground; and you shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it, and done, says Jehovah.”


Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister


A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois September 7, 1986

Life can seem terribly dreary. Familiar patterns are repeated over and over again. Ruts appear. Dishes keep getting dirty. Bills keep coming. The house always needs something done to it. And as we grow older, our bodies signal the rapid passing of time. Energy levels decline. Aches and pains come from nowhere. From being unthinkable, one’s own death is seen as a real possibility.

Emotionally we can feel trapped by what has gone before. Previous actions, mistakes, and evils close in on our minds. We can be haunted by what has happened. The depressing patterns of petty frustrations and useless arguments scar and desensitize us. We can become numbed wandering through the day trying not to feel anything.

Ezekiel had a vision addressed to such a lifeless and hopeless frame of mind. He saw a valley full of dried out bones. As he prophesied, the bones came together, flesh was put upon them, and breath entered them. From dry bones came a great army. And the Lord said to Ezekiel, “These bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, `Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ` … Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves'” (37:11-13).

Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. How pitiful! And how false! Life is repetitive and dreary only if we choose to look at it that way. For all around us there is a renewal of life. New beginnings are taking place constantly.

Consider the natural world. Plants and animals are constantly reproducing, much more than this world could support. Every day the sun comes up anew. Each new year is ushered in with festivity. Even in the fall when the leaves turn and life seems to drain away, there is the promise of rebirth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24).

Consider also some events in the life cycle. A child leaves home for school. A person leaves school for a job. Single life is given up for marriage. Children grow up and establish their own homes. Retirement comes. Each of these changes involves loss and gain a new beginning. Even death itself is growth. The Heavenly Doctrines show that when a person awakens in the other world, “at this point his life begins” (AC 186), and his entrance into his eternal heavenly home “marks a new beginning” in his life (AC 1273).

Even as natural life has changes new beginnings so spiritually there can be a constant renewal of life. Above our consciousness the Lord is gently guiding our thoughts and feelings. While we are unaware of it, He is inspiring new ways of looking at life, stimulating new feelings of warmth and concern (see AC 6645e). The Lord is working with our spirits so that we are renewed every moment of every day. The fact is, there are new beginnings in our lives all the time. The Lord is raising up our apparently dry bones, putting flesh upon them, and breathing life into them.

We can choose to feel trapped by the past or dulled by routines. Or we can look at what is happening as the opportunity for one of the many new beginnings in life. For the Lord does not control what happens to us. Yes, His Providence is overseeing all that happens, but that does not mean He is causing specific events to occur good or bad. In one sense He is not concerned for what happens; rather He is concerned with how we respond, for that determines what good He can then bring about. Retirement, for example, is not important, but how a person then uses his or her time is. The response can be gloomy, for the loss of co-workers, status, or income; or it can be of renewal more time for friends, family, church work, or others. A newness of life can be born in any situation any time, anywhere.

Our participation in renewal is critical. The Lord never forces us to grow. He never forces us to change our minds or actions. While He is always working, urging and pressing to influence us in heavenly ways, He will not change our outlook if we do not want Him to. We can remain in the trenches. We can look upon life as a deterioration of our physical and mental abilities. We can see the dark side of every event, pessimistically awaiting the next cruel blow of fate. We can cry about dry bones and hopelessness. But those dry bones can have flesh on them, breath in them.

Regardless of what has occurred in the past, new beginnings are possible if we are willing. They do not start outside of ourselves. They start with our thoughts and intentions (see AC 1317). We have the freedom to think about life in any way we wish. We can think negatively or positively. We can desire, intend, anything we wish. We can want what is good. We can want what is evil. We are not trapped by previous choices or patterns of behavior. We are trapped only by our fears and refusals to think and try.

Our attitude makes all the difference in how we view the world and how easy we make it for the Lord to renew us. From a negative, doubting viewpoint we see the world and ourselves through a warped lens. We reject or give up on the ideals the Lord has shown us in His Word. But if we attempt to trust in what He has said, if we will be positive, affirmative to Him, then wonders can be worked (see AC 3913:5). “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Our basic assumptions can never be proven. And if we assume, have faith, that the Lord speaks to us in His Word, and our lives will be improved if we listen, then a new beginning can occur. For regeneration is the new creation of life spiritual life. It begins when a person affirms the truth and intends to live according to it. This is the start of regeneration. It does not occur at any set time in life, nor does it happen only once. Each and every time we positively turn our minds to the Lord’s way, a new beginning occurs.

Such beginnings are like seedlings. They are planted in the soil of our lives. With watering, with light and warmth, they take root. As they grow, as we walk in the Lord’s way, the earth of our life is made more secure. The interlocking root systems stop the erosion of false ideas, evil desires. The more that take root the better, for the roots hinder the washing away of good by selfishness.

But for seedlings to grow strong they need weathering. The storms and bitter cold which could harm the trees actually serve to strengthen them. So in regeneration. Each new beginning of spiritual life will be challenged. Where honesty is growing, the harsh wind of theft will blow and try to destroy it. Where compassion is developing, cold disregard for others and apathy will also be present.

Spiritual struggles ensue. These raging storms are painful, as the new beginnings of spiritual life are threatened and buffeted. Yet, as we endure, as we resist the forces of hell, a greater strength is acquired. More spiritual life grows perhaps a clearer idea of His ways, a deeper appreciation of our need for the Lord’s presence, or a greater intensity of affection for His good (see AC 2272). Whatever is gained, our spirits are growing flesh upon dry bones, breath giving life. As the Lord promised: “I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight” (Isaiah 42:16).

The Lord leads us through all the many byways of life, through the valleys up to the peaks. He would have each day be a new beginning for us, not in a dramatic sense, for we are not meant to have radical changes often. The new birth, or regeneration, is not a series of sudden changes in direction. Yes, it can begin with that when a person first realizes the importance of spiritual values, when a person experiences the grief of repentance. But rebirth is an evolving process. It is made up of many small beginnings.

The small beginnings of regeneration are a series of purifications the regular washing away of evils in the spirit, of saying, “No, I won’t do that because it is wrong.” And as the Heavenly Doctrines note, ” … such purification ought to go on all the time and so always to be taking place as if from a new beginning” (AC 2044).

“As if from a new beginning.” In one sense, each time we resist an evil, each time we intend on doing something good, it is a new beginning. Something new has started in our lives. But in another sense, every positive step is a continuation of what was begun before. It is a resurfacing of the seeds planted years before from parents, from teachers, from whatever good we had willingly done. The Lord keeps working with the good He has established in everyone’s life. While it may not be seen for a time, it is carefully preserved, awaiting the occasion to be seen again. Hellish choices and life styles shut it up, but it is still there. The Lord is very patient, always leading us so that the good we have might be protected, develop, and eventually blossom in the fruit of an angelic life.

What this means is that life is never pointless. While we will certainly go through times when we feel our life is dry or our lot hopeless, the Lord can put flesh on our bones, breath in our lungs. All our patterns which seem so fixed and limiting, all the painful baggage we carry from the past, need not defeat us. For every day the Lord is providing us with new beginnings small, almost imperceptible opportunities to renew our lives. If we are not utterly downcast, if we have not given up if we will be open and affirmative to what He has said then new life may grow. Seedlings are planted which, though they may not bear visible fruit until the next life, will give us strength, will renew our spirits. And the prophecy of Isaiah will come true for us: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint” (40:31). Amen.

Lessons: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 3:1-8; NJHD 173-182 (portions)

New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 173-182 (portions)

173. He who does not receive spiritual life, that is, who is not begotten anew by the Lord, cannot come into heaven, which the Lord teaches in John: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except anyone be begotten again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3).

174. A person is not born of his parents into spiritual life, but into natural life. Spiritual life consists in loving God above all things, and in loving his neighbor as himself, and this according to the precepts of faith, which the Lord has taught in the Word. But natural life consists in loving ourselves and the world more than the neighbor, yea, more than God Himself.

175. Everyone is born of his parents into the evils of the love of self and of the world.

176. [So] everyone continually inclines to, and lapses into, what he derives from heredity: hence he confirms with himself that evil, and also superadds more from himself. These evils are altogether contrary to spiritual life; they destroy it; wherefore, unless a person receives new life, which is spiritual life, from the Lord, thus unless he is conceived anew, is born anew, is educated anew, that is, is created anew, he is damned; for he wills nothing else, and thence thinks nothing else but what is of self and the world, in like manner as they do in hell.

179. Everyone has an internal man and an external man; the internal is what is called the spiritual man, and the external is what is called the natural man, and each is to be regenerated so that one may be regenerated. With one who is not regenerated, the external or natural rules, and the internal serves; but with one who is regenerated, the internal or spiritual rules, and the external serves. Whence it is manifest that the order of life is inverted with one from his birth, namely, that serves which ought to rule, and that rules which ought to serve. In order that a person may be saved, this order must be inverted; and this inversion can by no means exist except by regeneration from the Lord.

180. What it is for the internal man to rule and the external to serve, and vice versa, may be illustrated by this: If a person places all his good in pleasure, in gain, and in pride, and has delight in hatred and revenge, and inwardly in himself seeks for reasons which confirm them, then the external man rules and the internal serves. But when a person perceives good and delight in thinking and willing well, sincerely and justly, and in outwardly speaking and doing in like manner, then the internal man rules and the external serves.

181. The internal man is first regenerated by the Lord, and afterwards the external, and the latter by means of the former. For the internal man is regenerated by thinking those things which are of faith and charity, but the external by a life according to them. This is meant by the words of the Lord: “Unless anyone be begotten of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). “Water,” in the spiritual sense, is the truth of faith, and “the spirit” is a life according to it.

182. The person who is regenerated is, as to his internal, in heaven, and is an angel there with the angels, among whom he also comes after death; he is then able to live the life of heaven, to love the Lord, to love the neighbor, to understand truth, to relish good, and to perceive the happiness thence derived.