Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reflection on Risen

Earlier this week, I went to go see the movie, "Risen" with a group from my church family.  In light of some of the other movies about biblical events, this one was quite refreshing.  The main character is a fictional character, but not out of character from what we know in scripture.  1 Corinthians 15 says that Yeshua had appeared to over 500 people.  Since his mission was ultimately the whole world, and since Yeshua had already ministered to non-Jewish people, such as the Canaanite woman and a Centurion, among others, it is reasonable to assume that some of those that Yeshua appeared to could have been Roman. 

The film fills in some of the details that the scriptural writers do not mention, such as how the tomb's seals were broken.  There are a few details that are simply not correct, such as the place of CHrist's ascension, which, according to scripture, was in Jerusalem at not in Galilee, which is what the movie seems to suggest.  But aside from these things, the movie overall is a good movie.

Some of the things that I appreciated about the movie:

1.  Jesus was a Jew.  The actor looked like a middle eastern man rather than the typical caucasian man typically seen in artistic interpretations of Jesus.  Throughout the movie, they referred to Jesus by the Hebrew pronunciation of his name, "Yeshua."  This portrayal showed the cultural, ethnic, and religious distance from Jesus and a Roman like Clavius who served the empire. 

2.  The resurrection of Yeshua was front and center.  Some times portryals of Yeshua emphasize his crucifixion and give much less attention to his resurrection.  The Apostles, in their preaching, put much greater emphasis on the resurrection.  According to the discussion 1 Corinthians 15, all of our hopes rest on the resurrection.  Without it, we are still in sin and without hope.  It was the resurrection that grabbed the attention of the Roman tribute and caused him to start to question everything that he had accepted as truth.

3.  The portrayal of those who believed Yeshua.  At one point in the movie, the Clavius is asking Peter all kinds of questions about Yeshua and his resurrection.  Peter responded by saying there was a lot of things he simply did not have the answer to.  He didn't need to know everything in order to be a follower of Christ.  It was enough that Yeshua had demonstrated that he was of God and was indeed the promissed anointed one.  At another point in the movie, Bartholomew told Clavius that at first, they really didn't understand that Yeshua would literally be resurrected from the dead.  Clavius wanted to know - why then did they followed him?  At that point, Yeshua heals a leper that stumbled on the scene.  After the leper walks away, Bartholomew smiles, looks at Clavius, and answers, "That's why!"  Yeshua gave signs to those who had ears to hear that he was indeed the Christ, with the ultimate sign beign his resurrection.  What I appreciated was how the movie showed that you do not have to have all the answers to have faith.  When Clavius sits with Yeshua as Yeshua is apparently praying, Clavius said, "I don't even know what to ask."  Here is a man that wants to know and wants to understand.  He is on a journey to faith that leads to him telling what he discovered about Yeshua to a stranger and saying at the end of the movie, "I believe."

4.  The movie invites the audience to consider Yeshua.  In portraying the journey of faith from the standpoint of an outsider who begins as an unbeliever and skeptic who becomes a believer when faced with the evidence, it invites the audience to also consider the evidence.  Jesus is risen from the dead.  What does this mean for you? 

This movie is a great reminder to all about the centrality of Christ and his resurrection to our faith.  It is also a great beginning point to starting a conversation about Jesus and the significance of both his work and his identity. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reflection on Numbers 22-25: Lessons from Balaam

Numbers 22:7 and 24:1 indicates that Balaam was a man who used divination and was seeking omens.  Balaam is an illustration of greed, error, and false teaching, according to 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11, and Revelation 2:14.  The Israelites later killed Balaam, according to Joshua 13.  Balaam was not an good or godly man.

The puzzling thing is why God would speak through someone such as Balaam.  As I read the story, I see a man who claims, "I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of Yahweh my God" (Num 22:18).  I find this statement astounding.  In what sense is Yahweh the God of Balaam?  I seriously doubt that Yahweh was truly Balaam's God.  Balaam is not an Israelite and seems to only know about Israel what Balak's men or what God tell him.  Balaam is a man that appears to engage in divination and omen seeking to whatever god will work for him in at the moment.  In this case, it happens to be Yahweh.  Only in this sense can he say that Yahweh is "his God."  

I suppose if God could speak a message through Balaam's donkey, he could speak a message through someone like Balaam as well.  For God to use someone in his divine plan does not depend on whether that person is an obedient and faithful follower of God.  I am reminded of how God stirred up the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, so that Cyrus would let Israel return from captivity and finance the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  I am also reminded of Judas Iscariot.  God used Judas' betrayal as part of his divine plan for Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world.  God can use Balaam in spite of Balaam.

As I consider Balaam, I see a man who is focused on himself.  Even though God already had told him not to go with Balak's men, Balaam tried to get further word from God.  He was hoping God would change his mind after Balak increased his offer to come and curse Israel.  The money was simply too good to turn down!  I don't know if Balaam was looking for an omen, using divination, or using some other method to seek some sign from God.  Whatever he does, it appears that he kept inquiring until he got the answer he wanted.  God finally "allowed" Balaam to go with the men.  This did not mean God was pleased with it.  Even though God permitted it, God was angry with Balaam for going after God had already said no the first time.  God sent an Angel of the Lord to stand in Balaam's path with his sword drawn and ready to strike him down.  Only Balaam's donkey could see it.   If it were not for Balaam's donkey that kept dodging the Angel of the Lord in the road, Balaam would have been struck down.

What a lesson!  When God makes his will known, that should be the end of it.  But Balaam seemed to be determined to get the answer from God that he wanted.  I suppose we can do the same thing today.  Instead of divination, we can use enlightened skepticism against the Bible so that we deem it unreliable and inapplicable to our day and age.  Instead of seeking an omen, we can misuse modern scholarship to make a passage say something different than what it actually says.  We can simply reject the Bible, or parts of it that we feel do not fit with the modern times.  We can make ourselves feel okay with what we want to do just as Balaam did.  No wonder 2 Tim 2:14 says not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers!

It is simply the wrong approach to try to find a way around what God has plainly communicated.  Even if there doesn't appear to be any immediate consequence, this does not mean God is okay with it.  There may still be a consequence down the road for not being submissive to what God has communicated to us.  Even  if there is not a consequence in this life, there will be an eternal consequence for disregarding God's word.  1 Samuel 15:23 says that rebellion against God is like the sin of divination and insubordination is as the sin of idolatry.   Psalm 119:11 clearly says that God's word is settled in heaven. Isaiah 40:8 says that the grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

Lord, please forgive us for the wrangling of words that we do.  You have communicated that this is unprofitable for us and leads to our ruin.  Help us to be open, submissive and obedient to you in order that we may please you.  Help us to never forget the transient nature of this world and everything in it.  You are the same, your years will not come to an end.  Your word stands forever.  Your word is sweet to our taste, it makes us wiser than our enemies.  Lord, even when following your word puts us extremely out of step with the world around us, help us to remember that we are not of this world, and that in the end, you will abolish all rule, authority and power. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Reflection on Numbers 1-4: God's Ledger

As I began to read the book of Numbers, it became apparent from the first chapter why it is titled the book of "Numbers."  God instructed Moses to take a census of the people of Israel.  As a result, they counted all the men old enough to fight in the army from the various tribes and were laid out by camps around the tent of meeting.  Even the Levites, who were exempted from the battlefield, were numbered and arranged by their various priestly and levitical families and duties.  When all was said and done, everyone was numbered and accounted for.

The only reason the text gives as to the purpose of this accounting was to survey the number of people eligible to go out to battle.  It gives a number of the size of the fighting force in Israel.  But for whose benefit was this?  It doesn't seem that God would need to know the number of the righting men.  The number of men is irrelevant to God, as he demonstrated with people such as Gideon in the book of Judges.  One man and God is always a majority, regardless of the size of the opposing army.

Maybe this was to be a revelation to God's people and to the nations of how God had blessed his people and multiplied them.  God wanted his people to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, according to Genesis 1-11.  In Exodus 19, God said that Israel would be a nation of priests.  As a priestly nation, they would have special access to God and be able to demonstrate God's character and goodness to the rest of the world.  In a far clearer way than the heavens that declare the glory of God, his priestly nation would declare his glory through their observance of God's Torah that God had given to them for their good.

Maybe it is to show that God's promise was not yet fully fulfilled.  God promised a childless Abraham a son and many descendants who would eventually have a land of their own.  In fact, God had promised Abraham in Genesis 32 that his descendants would be too great to be numbered.  God's people had been granted land in Numbers, but they were too few to be numberless.  There was still yet more to be fulfilled in God's promise.  God's blessing would overflow much more than this.

In Revelation 7, we see a highly symbolic picture of God's people on the earth from each tribe accounted for in a similar way to what we see in Numbers.  However, each tribe has a symbolic apocalyptic number of 12,000.  12, the symbolic number of God's people times 1,000, which is the number of completeness multiplied.  All of God's people in their completeness were accounted for.  This reminds me of the numbering of the tribes in the book of Numbers.  This was an accounting of the military force of God's people.  This is a reminder that God's people are in a state of spiritual conflict while on this earth.  After all, Jesus said that we are not of the world, and the world loves its own, but hated Christ and his followers.  But the text in Revelation also says that they were "sealed."  So not only was every single person accounted for in God's army, but God placed his seal on them to identify them as belonging to him and protect them. 

Then, the scene shifts up to Heaven, the throne room of God.  The text describes it as a "multitude which no one could count from every tribe, nation, people and tongues." This is a reminder of the promise that God made to Abraham that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed and that his descendants would be innumerable.  God's people, who are from every tribe, nation, and language, are safe in the hands of God.

This reminds me that God is faithful to his promises.  At times it may seem as though we are alone and God does not see us.  Sometimes we may forget about God's promises, but God never forgets.  God sees our struggle and hardships and nothing is ever beyond his notice.  Jesus makes this point when he talks about how God numbers even the hair on our head.  In Matthew 10:29-31, he said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."

Jesus, the good shepherd, has accounted for every single sheep.  All of us are on his heart, and none of us are beneath his notice.  We are much more than a number to him.  In John 10, I am reminded that Jesus said that he knows his sheep by name.  In his book of life, we are more than a number.  He has our names, which he knows intimately, written in his book of life.   In fact, it is even more intimate than this.  In Isaiah 49:15-16, God says, "Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me."  God has us tattooed or etched on his hands.  We are much more than a number and much more than a name in a book to our God.  We are near to his heart like a baby is to his mother!

Lord, how loving, kind, and compassionate you are!  You are our Father, and you are our Mother.  You protect us and provide for us.  You love us and nurture us.  Thank you for reminding us of these things in your word so that we can grow in hope, and encouragement.  Help us to see ourselves and one another the way that you see us.  Help us to love as you love.  Help us to look to Jesus as our example of true love in action.  Thank you in his name, Amen!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Reflection on Leviticus 4: Leadership

Since I have been thinking a lot about spiritual leadership, one of the passages from Leviticus 4 jumped out at me.   There is a section that describes what to do in the case of some sort of corporate sin among the people.  Like other sin offerings, the people were to bring a bull from the herd to the sanctuary so that the priest could offer it up as a sin offering.  However, unlike the other sin offerings, God specified that it was the elders of the congregation that were to lay their hands on the head of the bull before it was offered up as a sin offering.

I am picturing in my mind how this may have looked and how this might have affected the people.  Can you imagine how it would have affected them to watch their leaders humbly approach the sanctuary, lay their hands on the sin offering, and seek forgiveness from God?  Can you imagine the effect it would have if they were to hear their elders confess the sin of the congregation and ask God for forgiveness and reconciliation on behalf of the people they lead and represent?

I am reminded of Moses, who stood in solidarity with his people when they sinned in Exodus 32.  Moses told God to blot his name out of God's book if God would not forgive the sins of his people.  I am also reminded of Jesus, who is the prophet like Moses.  Jesus also stood in solidarity with his people.  Like Moses, Jesus stood with his people even in their sin.  In fact, Jesus actually carried our sin!  

I am also reminded of Josiah in 1 Kings 22.  When he discovered that all of the people had completely neglected God's law, he tore his robes as a sign of mourning led the way in national repentance.  There is also the example of Jonah who went and preached divine destruction to the city of Nineveh.  The king set the example with humble repentance and mourning.  God then relented and did not destroy the city. 

I am also reminded of Moses' reaction when he saw his people begin to complain and rebel against him as God's leader and against God himself in places like Numbers 14 and Numbers 16.  Moses' first reaction was to fall flat on his face as prostrate himself.  He knew the holiness and wrath of God, especially since the people now had a history of rebellion against God.  As their leader, Moses fell flat on his face as to humble himself before God so that perhaps God might be merciful in spite of their rebellion.

This reminds me that repentance and humility are part of what makes for a good leader.  A leader does not stand apart or against his people.  He stand with them and for them.  A leader will model humility and repentance in solidarity with the people.  A leader would lay down his life for his people.  A leader genuinely loves his people.

Reflection On Exodus 20: God's Name

Often times, when I am thinking of God's law, I think of the tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments. As a child, I can remember the drills we did on the JOY Bus in reciting the Ten Commandments. They began with, "You shall have no other gods." 
However, as I am reading text once again in Exodus 20, I am reminded that God did not begin with "You shall have no other gods." Instead, God began with "I am the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." As I am reading, I notice that LORD is spelled in all caps, which is the traditional way translators render God's personal name, "Yahweh." For a long time, I hadn't really noticed this. God says, with "I am YAHWEH, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." 
In a very significant way, these words affect how I read and understand God's law. God doesn't begin by throwing out a bunch of arbitrary rules and laws. Instead, God begins with his personal name, Yahweh. 
In Exodus 6, God indicates that this is something new. In past times, he appeared as "God Almighty," but not by his personal name, "Yahweh." This makes me think of times when I offer my personal name to people. I don't go around offering my name out to just anyone. When I offer my name, it is usually because I am initiating some sort of relationship. This makes me somewhat vulnerable to other persons needs and wishes. It opens up a greater possibility of being hurt by someone. This is why I don't just offer my name to everyone. 
Yet, God has given his personal name. He has initiated a relationship with his people. This is not a distant God merely giving arbitrary laws, but a God who is coming down to make a personal covenant with his redeemed people, a people he refers to as his special treasure (Ex 19:5-6). This is a God who has come down to be in their midst in his sanctuary tabernacle he will have them build.
This reminds me of when we took our wedding vows. It was an extremely personal and intimate moment. "I, John, take you, Stacey to be my wedded wife. . . " We were covenanted to each other to love, cherish, and honor each other. This is essentially what God does at Sinai when he begins with his personal name rather than with the first of his covenant stipulations.
This reminds me that God's word, like our wedding vows, are extremely personal and precious. It is next to the heart of God. God's word expresses how we are faithful in our covenant with God. We are now called by his name because we are his bride, and his children. No wonder the Psalmist had such a high regard and love for God's word in the 119th Psalm!

Reflection on Exodus 1-2: When You are Stuck in Chapter 2

Exodus 2:23 says that in the course of those many days, the king of Egypt died, and the sons of Israel sighed because of their bondage and cried out.

For years, I read quickly over Exodus chapter one and two.  Because so much time is compressed in those two chapters, I don't think I ever fully appreciated how difficult those chapters were.  Whether it is in the burning bush, the plagues or the pillar of fire in the wilderness, God is intensely present throughout the book of Exodus.  Well, he is intensely present throughout all of the book of Exodus except for chapters one and two.

I don't know how bad those "many days" were, but they were bad enough for an entire nation to groan and cry.  They probably saw no end in sight.  They probably could not envision better days ahead.  They were probably overcome with depression, grief, uncertainty, fear, and despair. 

Before jumping ahead to the burning bush, perhaps it would be good for me to consider chapter two.  There are times in life when we are in chapter two, and we can't just turn the page.  Chapter two seems to be the end.  We can't see anything better down the road. 

However, Exodus 2:24 says that God heard their groaning, remembered his covenant, and took notice.  We may not be able to turn the page, but God can.  He provides future chapters full of hope, a better future, redemption and deliverance.  He writes the conclusion when he will wipe all tears from our eyes and will destroy all death, pain, mourning, and sickness.  Then we will live in complete peace with him.

Sermon Reflection: Foundations

As I consider the words of Dave's Sermon about a good foundation, I find myself reflecting on his illustration of rebar.  I am not a builder like Dave and therefore do not know the procedure for pouring a good foundation for a building.  However, I do understand the value of rebar being laid in the concrete.  I have seen how concrete can crack.  I imagine that without rebar, those cracks can turn into breaks, which can lead to the concrete breaking up into smaller pieces and no longer sticking together. 

In order for my faith to be strong and carry the load, it needs to built up with God's rebar.  I am reminded of things like the Word, fellowship, prayer, service, and many other things that God has provided to strengthen us from the foundation up.  Do I try to build with my own materials, or do I faithfully allow God's rebar to strengthen me inwardly?

I find myself reflecting on one of the passages from the sermon.   1 Peter 2 seems to indicate that my disposition and attitude can actually change how the building material looks.   

For those who believe, the Bible says that God lays a "choice stone," a "precious cornerstone" and that "he who believes in him will not be disappointed." 

However, this stone looks different to those who do not believe.  For those who do not believe, it is a "stone of stumbling" and a "rock of offense." 

How can the same stone be so different for different people?  When I came inside this morning, I didn't stumble over the corner stone, the foundation stone, rebar, or any other building material.  Why?  The builders faithfully made it a part of the building and it now performs its function. 

However, the half-built building down the road is another story.  Someone did not use the proper materials and had to abandon it.  It leans and is not safe.  Bricks, rebar, nails, and other building materials are laying around and make the area unsafe.  This is the picture I get of one who disbelieves and does not use the building material that God has provided but has substituted his own building materials.  The material God provided lays on the ground, neglected, and is now a tripping hazard for those who choose not to believe.  

This is kind of what my life would look like if I did not have the proper foundation and faithful use the building materials from God.  Whether it is my family, my job, or anything else in my life, if I don't build using God's materials according to his blueprints, then my life will eventually fall in.  If it doesn't happen now, it definitely will happen when my time on earth ends.   

I do not want to build with inferior materials that will fail in the end.  I do not want God's stone to be a stone of offense or a stone of stumbling for myself.  How bad would it be to reject the only thing that will last for eternity!  How ironic would it be to stumble over what can save me rather than pick it up and utilize it!  How sad it would be to have passed on what is best in favor of what is withering away!  I want God's stone to be my chief cornerstone.  I want it to be the foundation of my life.  I want it to be what I build my education, my career, my family, my friendships, and my legacy on.  I want to accept God's rebar to give me the lasting strength that only he can give.

It seems then, that the question is simple.  Will I believe and be faithful and obedient so that God's foundation stone can become my dependable and unfailing foundation for all eternity?  Or will I be unfaithful and disobedient so that God's foundation stone is nothing more than a stone of offense or stumbling, leaving me with stones that will break, crumble and fail, leading to my eternal death?

A Storm is Coming. Am I Ready?

They say a storm is coming. One of the largest companies in town actually will be closed tomorrow because of the coming storm. I looked outside my window. The sky is blue, the sun is out, and it is a great day for January. I went outside and took a picture of the sky. What a beautiful day it is.

If one did not hear the weather report, he might not have any idea of the snow, ice, and freezing temperatures headed our way. Some might even scoff at the idea when looking at how beautiful it is outside. However, the warning has been issued. There is a storm headed this way. Some reports have said there would be nearly two feet of snow. Those that have taken heed of the warnings have stocked up on supplies for home.

I am reminded of biblical warnings of coming storms. The ultimate storm in the Old Testament was not a snowstorm, but a worldwide flood. No one survived except Noah and his family because they were faithful to God and therefore found favor with God. They obeyed God's instruction to prepare for the storm by building an Ark and were saved.

The ultimate storm in the New Testament will be a storm of fire and brimstone. This storm will destroy the entire world. It may not seem like it. Life is beautiful, the skies are clear, and the warning was given in scripture so long ago. It seems like a fairy tale to some people.

This reminds me of the passage in 2 Peter 3.

"Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.' For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Pet 3:3-7).

The next worldwide storm will not be a flood as in the day of Noah, but will be a storm of fire and brimstone. The flood will seem like a light sprinkle compared to the coming tempest of fire.

However, God has provided a way to prepare for this coming storm. As God saved Noah because he was faithful and obedient to Him, so we also can be saved if we are faithful and obedient to God. I am reminded of the passage in 1 Peter 3

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him" (1 Pet 3:18-22).

God has provided a way to be rescued. As God saved Noah through the water in his faithful obedience to God, God saves us through baptism by the death and resurrection of Christ in our faithful obedience. Through Christ, God has provided a way to be rescued from the coming storm.

There may be those who may deny that there will be a storm just as they likely did in the days of Noah. One may be offended at the warnings and ignore them. One may discount the warnings and say that no storm is coming at all. No matter how vehemently someone may wish to ignore and discount the warnings, it does not change the reality of what is coming.

God loves us, therefore he has given us instructions on how to be ready for the storm when it comes. This will not be a snow storm, nor will it be a flood. It will be a storm of fire and brimstone. 2 Peter 3:10 says that the earth and everything in it will be destroyed. Through Christ, God will rescue those who are faithful and obedient to him. Only Christ can be our lifeboat that can survive the fire.

When I look up and see the blue sky, I need to be reminded that a storm is coming that will burn away even that blue sky. I need to be prepared for it by being faithful to God and obedient to his instructions just as Noah was. Our Lord is preparing a new heaven and new earth that has a beauty, magnificence, and glory that does not even compare with this.

Reflection on Genesis 44: Divination in God's Family?

In Genesis 30, Laban tells Jacob, "I have divined that the LORD has  blessed me on your account."  Through divination, Laban figures out that  the reason he has been so prosperous over the years is because Jacob  has God's favor and he has been indirectly blessed by this.   

In  Genesis 44, when Joseph meets his brothers after years of living in  Egypt, he has his cup secretly placed in Benjamin's bag.  But it is not  just any ordinary cup. It is the cup that Joseph uses for divination. 

Apparently,  even though these folks seemed to follow Yahweh, they still were  engaging in the pagan practice of divination.  I am reminded of when  Saul was told in 1 Samuel 15 that "rebellion is as the sin of  divination."  This indicates that divination is something that God finds  abhorrent.

I wonder, under what circumstances did they  practiced divination?  Why didn't they seek the Lord for guidance?  Was  divination a way they tried to find guidance from Yahweh?  Didn't they  understand that Yahweh is not bound by spells, incantations, or any  other attempts to try and manipulate him?   Did they not know that this is actually a pagan notion and not a true view of God? 

I wonder if we have pagan notions of God, or some other unbiblical notion of God that affects how we approach him?  I wonder if  we have our own ways of trying to manipulate him.  Maybe it is  bargaining with God, or thinking that using a verbal formula or posture for  praying will be the thing to make him do something.  What forms of “divination” do we have in our lives? 

How patient God is as we grow in  our understanding! How merciful he is even in our stubbornness!  In spite of our immaturity, God still blesses us due  to his graciousness, just as he blessed Laban, Jacob or Joseph through the rough times  in  life.  Truly, God is Good! 

Lord, please for give us for our foolish ways.  May we always seek you as you are, not not as we wish you to be.  Help us to humbly seek you through your word and to be faithful and devoted to your in spite of our weaknesses.  Thank you Lord for your long-suffering patience. 

Adam's Transformation

"Arrrrgh! Me do it! Go away!"

Adam was determined to do it all by himself. His mother, Ruah, had tried to sit her tiny son on her lap to guide him through the process. Ruah thought that little Adam might have ODD and had him tested. After several visits, everyone discovered that Adam did no have ODD after all. He was just a stubborn child.

The incident at school that sent them to the doctor to get Adam tested for ODD was three years ago. The school regularly had problems with Adam. Ruah remembered how she cringed every time her cell phone would ring during work. It was either her mother in Omaha, or it was the school calling about Adam.

Ruah remembered that dreaded phone call like it was yesterday . . .

"Mrs. Ruah Devine?"

"Yes, can I help you?"

"This is Mrs. Granger at Crossway Academy. We have a problem with Adam and need you to come and get him."

She sighed, "What did he do this time?"

"Well, it was time to come in from the playground and he refused. We tried to coax him inside, but nothing work. When Miss Thompson held out her hand to him, he bit it and took a chunk of skin with it. Miss Thompson had to go to the hospital."

That was his last day. They asked her not to bring him back.

Here they were, three years later. The stubbornness had gotten better, but it was still a challenge.

Ruah watched Adam twist his shoestrings around his fingers, holding his tongue out of the corner of his mouth in concentration.

"Son, you are going to get it into a knot. Here, let me…"

"No!" shouted Adam, "Adam do it!" Adam ran across the room.

Pursing her lips in frustration, Ruah answered, "Fine. Do it yourself." With that, Ruah went down the hall to the kitchen to fix breakfast.

Right as she inserted the bread into the toaster, she heard a frustrated growl followed by a scream from down the hall. She wanted to run down the hall, but stopped herself. She was very familiar with this sound. She paused and listened. Then she heard Adam's familiar "Arrrrgh!"

Silence. . . Then the sound of sobs.

"Mommy! Me can't do it!" Adam sobbed.

With that, Ruah went back down the hall and walked into Adam's room.

"Do you need help Adam?" She replied.

"Yes," said Adam, as he held back his sobbing "please help me Mommy!"

Adam looked up and saw his mother standing in his doorway with her hands over her mouth. She just stood there a moment looking at him, trying not to laugh. Adam's fingers were tangled in his shoestrings. His hands were stuck. She gathered her composure, knelt down in front of him, and looked straight into his eyes. "Adam, look at me… if you want me to help, then you have to let me show you how to do it without interrupting me …you can't run away…you can't argue. Do you understand?"

Adam stopped sobbing, and looked back down at the tangled mess that had enslaved his hands. "Yes mommy."

With that, she picked Adam up, sat down in the chair by the bed, and sat him in her lap. After gracefully undoing the knot and freeing his fingers, she took his hands in hers and began to guidthem through the process of tying his shoes. Adam started to protest again.

"Adam, do you remember what I said?"

Adam sighed and quietly stopped his protest.

With his mother's hands to guide his hands, they made a beautifully tied knot on both of his shoes.

"Adam, we are going to need to do this several times until you are comfortable with doing this yourself? Do you understand?"

"Yes mommy. Can I go eat breakfast now?" asked Adam.

"Yes, Adam. Why don't we……"

. . . . . . .

"What are you thinking about?"

"Huh?" said Adam, as he snapped back into the present.

"Are you ready to go on?" asked Dr. Dodd. "It looks like your mind was a million miles away."

"Oh," said Adam "Actually, my mind was about 40 years away. I was thinking of my mother and when I was growing up."

"Well, it's time. Dr. Winklestein is about to give your introduction. Are you ready?" Asked Dr. Dodd.

"Yes," Adam replied.

Adam looked across over the wall to wall crowd as Dr. Winklestein began. . . "Today, it is my privilege to introduce Doctor Adam Land. . ."

Adam gathered himself as Dr Winklestein finished his introduction. He picked up his notes and Bible from the chair beside him, and walked with a smile to the podium.

"Control," he began as he looked at the overflow conference crowd, "It is an illusion. That is something I had to learn at a very early age. There is a reason why the Bible says to be still and know that he is God. The more we try to control things, the more frustrated and rebellious we became. I know because I was a very stubborn child. My stubborn tendency caused me to become angry, bitter and frustrated. When I became older, I finally learned what faith was all about. It is about letting go of control. It is about letting God guide your hands, your feet, your heart, and your mind. And so, let's open our Bibles…."

Reflection on Genesis 1-11: The Earth is Filled With His Glory

Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth. Several times in the early stories of Genesis, God instructs humans to multiply and fill the earth. Is God glorified through marriage and bearing of children? Does God like large families? Is God pleased with the earth filled up with people? 
I reflect on men and women, whom God created in his image. God instructs mankind to fill the earth and to govern it. Unlike any other created thing, only we are created in the image of God. When we are submissive to God, we bear God’s image to the world. When we are righteous, just, merciful, faithful, kind, and loving, we reflect the image of God to the world. When we do so in the name of our Lord we radiate the goodness of God around the earth. When we share the Gospel alongside all we do, we can truly be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 
Jesus put it this way in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” So some questions to ask of ourselves might include questions such as, “What do I reflect? What do I fill the earth with? Do I reflect the image of God in my family, workplace, and among friends?” 
Prayer: Lord, I see the fruits of your graciousness, mercy, and kindness all around me. I see how things reproduce after their kind that goes in a line all the way back to you. May I be yielding and submissive to you so that I also can be fruitful and reproduce all your goodness in my words and actions every day. Thank you for Jesus, thank you for the Spirit, and the fruitfulness that comes as a result. In his name and through his grace, Amen.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Reflection on Genesis 1: Our Place in the World

When God fashioned the world, he created something initially that was formless and void, or a vast wasteland.  Then, God brought order to all of that primordial stuff.  After creating the firmament, he place stars, the sun, and the moon in it.  He said it was for signs, seasons, and years.  He also said the greater and lesser lights were to "govern" or "have dominion" the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.

When God created man, he instructs that man is also to have dominion.  But man's dominion is to be over the sea, the things the fly in the sky, and the things that roam on the earth.  As the functionaries in the firmament bring order, beauty, and goodness there, so men, God's functionaries on the earth, is to bring order, beauty, and goodness on the earth by exercising dominion over the earth. 

Some have pulled an ecological message out of this, understanding that we need to be caretakers of the earths' resources and its wildlife.  In exploiting the earth's resources, we need to do so responsibly and with care.  While there seems to be some of this in inherent in God's design, it doesn't seem to be the main thrust of what "dominion" means to man.  The next chapter and the remainder of the Bible is focused on man, not the environment.  The next chapter shows how God instituted the very first social institution, which is marriage and family.  It seems that governing, or exercising dominion has to do not mainly with ecological order, but with social order.  Whether it is marriage, family, governance, social contracts, exchange of goods, etc., there is a design for governance from the designer.  When that design is honored, things tend to work well to his glory.  When that design is ignored, disorder, ugliness, violence, and death usually follow. 

When I look up, and consider the sun, moon, and stars, I will be reminded of these things.  The sun faithfully governs the day as the moon does the nights.  The stars twinkle in the heavens and give guidance to travelers.  The seasons faithfully come and go.  These functionaries in the heavens provide order, beauty, and goodness as they faithfully perform their governing functions to the glory of God.

How do we, as God's functionary on the earth, perform our governing function?  Unlike what we see giving it's light in the heavens, we give a different kind of light.  The text says that we have been created in the image of God.  Our light is not for seasons, years, day and night, but for a different kind of order and beauty.  Our light illuminates the beauty of righteousness, virtue, holiness, and love.  These things are designed by God to be part of the foundation for our marriages, our families, and our social institutions.  As the heavens submit to God's design for their governance and bring goodness and beauty to the heavens, so we, when we submit to God's design in our governance here on earth, bring goodness and beauty to the earth that God has created for his glory.

Prayer:  Lord, may our hearts be humble and submissive.  May we look to your instructions and commandments in ordering our lives.  May we truly understand true beauty, goodness, and holiness from you, our creator and designer.  May we be reminded that all of this belongs to you, and that we are here to serve your purposes.  May we be submissive to you, holy, righteous, virtuous, loving, and kind.   Please forgive us when we, in our pride, forget all of this.  Please pardon our sins according to the grace you have shown in Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.  In his name…AMEN.

We Need The Good Shepherd

Last year, I read a news story about a sheep that had been lost.

The story reported that:  An Australian champion sheep shearer has set a new record after clipping a sheep that had become so overgrown its life was endangered.  The gigantic sheep, now named “Chris”, could barely walk when it was found.  Shearer Ian Elkins volunteered to shear the mammoth creature after the royal society for the prevention of cruelty to animals in Australia contacted him.  The sheep had to be sedated throughout the haircut.  It took 45 minutes to remove the 18-inch fleece, which weighed about 88-pounds.  It easily beat the 60-pound fleece previously shorn from a New Zealand sheep, known as “Shrek”.  The RSPCA said sheep like Chris need to be shorn regularly. Otherwise, they can develop serious medical issues.

From what I now understand, an unshorn sheep can eventually develop infections and other issues that stem from being able to relieve himself.  They will eventually die from the complications.

This reminds me of some of the 23rd Psalm, that begins with the familiar words, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want."   I typically hear those words at funerals.  For a long time, I did not realize that this is not actually a funeral Psalm.  It is not about the Lord being my shepherd after I die, but when I am in danger.  The comfort of the Psalmist comes from the nearness of God.  Left to himself, he would be pursued by his enemies who would overtake him. 

Instead, the Psalmist declares that it is goodness and mercy that follows him all the days of his life, not his enemies.  The shepherd watches over his sheep, he protects them, examines them, binds up wounds, leads them to clean water and good pastures where there is plenty of food. 

If a sheep wanders away from the fold, he is in trouble even if there are no predators.  What happens when there is no shepherd to shear his wool? The article I read about the lost sheep included a couple of pictures.  The before picture was pitiful.  After the sheep was finally shorn, it is almost as if the sheep has a look of relief and peace on his face.

Jesus said in John 10 that he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  He has come to give us abundant life.  In Matthew 18, he points out how the shepherd will leave the 99 sheep and go out in search of one lost sheep, and when he finds it, he rejoices and brings the lost sheep back home. 

I can imagine the lost sheep pictured in the photo was so glad to have been found, and especially when all of that matted wool was sheared off so he could be healthy again.  If this sheep had remained lost, he would have died.  Thank God that Jesus the good shepherd came after us and began the process of making our hearts healthy and whole again.  He laid down his life for us, and rose from the grave, and because of this, he has the power to save us when we are lost.

 This sheep was lost for some time. If he hadn't been found, he would have died due to the overgrowth of wool which had caused infection.

 Happy to be found, the sheep is now regaining his health


How Amazing Is our God!

As Larry West was leading us in the communion meditation during a campaign a few years ago, I was reminded of what kind of God we have.  Larry explained the ancient concept of a covenant by going step by step through a typical Hittite suzerain-vassal treaty.  We see different parts of a typical "covenant" in some of the covenants that God makes with us in scripture.  I remember studying this sort of thing in graduate school in books by Jon D. Levenson and other scholars.

But Sunday, it really hit me what kind of God we have.  These covenantal forms do not appear to have been invented by God.  There were already in use by humans in their dealings with each other when God descended and entered into a "covenant" with humans.  In today's time, it might be like God coming down, sitting across a table from us, and signing his name on the dotted line next to the "X" on a contract with us!  As I understand it though, the ancient "covenant" was something much more intense than signing on a dotted line today.  God is above all of this.  This is something that human beings have invented.  And yet, God comes down, and enters into an agreement with people using their forms and ways of making agreements! 

Theologians have recognized that God "condescends" to us and meets us where we are.  How amazing is it that God, using our man-made forms of treaties, would relate to us with them to demonstrate his faithfulness to us!  He was not obligated to do so, but he chose to do so for our sakes.  It is like the book of Hebrews says in chapter 6, he gave an oath to us so that we can have strong assurance.  This is the God that "inclines" his ear to us when we pray.  This is the God that delights in us as a groom delights in his bride.  This is the God that went so far as to meet us in the flesh . . . literally.  How amazing is that?

God loves passionately, with his whole self.  God "IS" love.  If God loves passionately, doesn't it make sense that his anger would also be passionate when that love is spurned?  If one is indifferent, there would be no anger.  If there is no anger, cant there really be love.  God is a jealous God, which is a pure jealousy in the same way a man wants his spouse for himself and not for other men.  The source of God's intense anger is from his passionate love.  At the end of the day, love is what wins.  The story does not end with God destroying mankind, but with him offering adulterous mankind a way back through the sacrifice of the cross.

When one gives his personal name as God did, "I AM", or "Yahweh," one initiates a relationship with someone else.  This is what God did when he gave his name.  When you initiate a relationship, you make yourself vulnerable to someone else.  You make yourself susceptible to their needs.  You make yourself susceptible to being disappointed or even hurt by them.  Yet, this is what God does.  He allowed himself to be "hurt" by us because of his intense, loyal, and faithful love for us.  Even though he was "grieved" that he made man on the earth, he had a plan to redeem us through self sacrifice.  God put it all out there for us.  Angry?  Wrath?  I would expect no less from a God who went to these lengths to demonstrate his love and faithfulness to win us back to himself.

Truly, God "Is" love.  Love is at the center of his nature.  His faithfulness and anger are both expressions of his love.  How amazing is the God we serve!