Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter and the Triumph of God!

Reading: Psalm 68   
This morning, Easter 2011, I opened my Bible to the place noted in my Bible reading plan and couldn't help but think of the resurrection.
May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him. 2As smoke is blown away by the wind, may you blow them away; as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God. 3 But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful. 4 Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds—his name is the LORD—and rejoice before him. …
7 When you went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the wasteland, Selah 8 the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.... 
11 The Lord announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it... 
18 When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious—that you, O LORD God, might dwell there. 19 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Selah  20 Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death. 
Indeed, God arose in the resurrection, and His enemies, indeed our enemy, death, fled before Him. It is a day for being glad and rejoicing before God. It is a day for happiness and joy. Our Lord, King and Savior has gone through the wasteland of death before us, the earth indeed shook, and he has made a way to life eternal.
May the company who proclaims it be great today! May He receive gifts from the formerly rebellious, even as He has distributed His Spirit and gifts amongst them. He has born our burden, ultimately, and has saved us.  From the Sovereign Lord, even our Lord Jesus Christ, comes escape from death!
Now that “arising” seems to be resurrection, in advance foretold! 
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, April 18, 2011

An Easter Meditation for the Weary

Reading: Psalm 69   
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. 2I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. 3I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. (Psalm 69:1-3)
Have you ever felt as if you were so down, so beat up, so overwhelmed that your eyes were failing in your search for God? “Where is God in the midst of this pain?” “Why does it seem that no matter how much I call out, He gets further away?” The psalmist seems to feel that way.
Maybe it is temptation that overwhelms you; you feel harassed and helpless to stop the incoming missiles of lies and luring by the enemy of your soul. The more you resist, the harder it gets. The psalmist said, “My eyes fail, looking for my God.” It is our inability to see God in moments like this that expresses our desperate need. We need vision; we need to see God. We need to know He is there and that He will deliver. We walk by faith, but faith isn't something we can conjure up on our own. Faith isn't like a muscle we exercise, and as long as we keep working it out, we will have plenty of it. Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).
So, what now? What are we to do in moments like those described in Psalm 69, when we are having a faith crisis, when our eyes fail looking for God? (By the way, you aren't alone in having a faith crisis. All disciples have them. If you haven't had one yet, don't worry, you will!) I think the psalmist had it right: cry out to God for help! “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.” Don't run from God when your faith is weak; run to Him. When your eyes fail, do like Bartimaeus and call out for mercy, and just keep getting louder (Mark 10:46-48). And when the Savior asks, what do you want me to do for you, plead for eyes to see; faith to keep following Him!
The psalmist was not unaware of his guilt, but he realized his suffering was unjust (Psalm 69:4-5). He was troubled by the fact that he was suffering as one whose hope was in God, and at the hands of those who disregard God, who scorn God. The more he pursued God, it seemed, the more people would make sport of him (Psalm 69:10-11). His eyes—his faith—were growing dim. He needed help if he were to continue on.
My title for this blog, “An Easter Meditation for the Weary,” may provoke a question. “What does all this have to do with Easter?” “What does it have to do with Christ's resurrection?” Let's look at John 20:20 for the answer.
19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20)
Here we have the disciples, huddled in fear for the suffering they may endure because of their love for Christ. The Savior had been crucified; what would be done to the disciples? What did they need? They needed to see! They needed what some have called, “20-20 Vision”. In John 20:20 they received it. Their fear, their weariness, the sinking feeling they all had at the death of their Lord, was replaced with overwhelming joy!
Christ Jesus Himself had gone through Psalm 69. Psalm 69:8-9 are verses in which each of the phrases at different places are applied to Christ's sufferings. Paul writes, “For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: 'The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.'” Jesus is truly the Righteous One who suffered at the hands of the wicked, bearing the reproach the wicked deserved. Because of this, we have been redeemed. And His resurrection gives us clarity of vision: “No matter how bad it gets, Christ assures me of resurrection, of victory beyond the worst the enemy can throw at me.” His resurrection is the assurance of our resurrection, our hope, our life. The life we now live, with its miry depths in which I sink, flood waters that engulf me, and parched throat that I endure as I thirst for the Living God, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me! (Galatians 2:20)
Easter, the resurrection of Christ from the grave, is the vision I must ever go to in my battle against sin, against doubt, against fear, and against persecution. May we all realize that when we suffer untold pains as the psalmist describes that we are entering into the suffering of Christ! I believe this is how Paul saw it when he said,
10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Friday, April 15, 2011

King David or King Jesus?

Reading: 2 Samuel 15—19   
Absalom's conspiracy is a sad picture of rebellion and broken relationships. These chapters contain abundant foreshadowing which is picked up in the human rebellion against the Son of David, the Messianic King, in the Gospels. Sunday, we will examine these further, from John 18—the trial of Jesus. There is however one picture that provides a stark contrast between David as a human king, and Christ as our Divine Conqueror and King.
David has left the city of Jerusalem, crossing the Kidron Valley. His son Absalom is bent on killing him and taking away his throne. The faithful have followed David out of the city and across the valley (2 Samuel 15:23). In the scene that follows, David has just learned of Absalom's plan of attack.
David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2David sent the troops out—a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab's brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, "I myself will surely march out with you." (2 Samuel 18:1-2)
Two things come to mind as I read this commitment from David. First is the apparent courage to march out with his troops. Second, I am reminded of Jesus promise to the church in the Great Commission, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Christ has promised to march out with us as we carry out the Great Commission. However, there is a a serious difference between David and Christ evident in this very commitment. It is seen in the next couple of verses.
3But the men said, "You must not go out; if we are forced to flee, they won't care about us. Even if half of us die, they won't care; but you are worth ten thousand of us. It would be better now for you to give us support from the city." 4The king answered, "I will do whatever seems best to you." So the king stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. (2 Samuel 18:3-4)
When all was said and done, David opted not to go out before them, and wisely so from a human perspective, in order to save his skin and protect the cause. The people were willing to die for the king. The people wanted to protect him. David's promise was valiant, but in the end, it didn't come about. On the other hand, Jesus' made his promise to always go out with us, after having already gone before us in death, in order to defeat it. (John 13:1; 14:2,3; 15:13; 16:7, 16-21) He is worth more then ten thousand of us; He is worth more than all of us!
Now, risen from the dead, ascended to His heavenly throne, He has poured out His Spirit upon us and goes before us. He will fulfill his promise to always march out with us. What's the battle plan of the Great Commission? Pray in Christ-dependency and then go engage the world around us trusting Him to fulfill His promise! He does indeed march out with us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

There's a Story in Them There Curtains

Reading: Exodus 26   
Do you ever think the instructions about how to build the tabernacle and the various related pieces is tediously boring? You wouldn't be alone if you did. However, it might help you enjoy chapters like these if you try to listen to the story they are telling. These curtains are no exception to story telling.
In Exodus 26:1, 31-33, we find that both the curtains which formed the tabernacle, and the curtain which separated off the most holy place from the holy place were made “of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman.” Don't read past these statements too quickly just because you've never met a cherubim. These cherubim are telling a story.
Before hearing that story, one should note the obvious royal nature of the colors chosen: blue, purple and scarlet. This “tent” in the wilderness is where God's throne is. A throne is for a King. The tabernacle is His palace and therefore it is designed to look like a royal palace so as to remind Israel that YHWH is their king. This is one of the key themes of Scripture, possibly the most significant. After all, the Gospel is called the Gospel of the Kingdom. And it all begins in the garden when Adam and Eve rejected God as King. Now, their King will lead them into the garden like land of promise. Once again they will reject Him as King (2 Samuel 8:7), and of course when the King shows up in person, they will reject Him as King and crucify Him (John 19:15). We are saved when we bow to Christ as Lord, which is a bowing to Him as King.
This is closely connected to the story the cherubim are telling. Cherubim were on the atonement cover, their wings forming the very throne of God (Exodus 25:18-22). Now the curtains in front of His throne, separating the tabernacle from the most holy place, and the curtains which make the tabernacle, separating it from the rest of the camp, are embroidered with artistically designed cherubim. (I would love to see what they looked like!) What is the significance of cherubim? Are they just an artistic design, because God is artsy? Not at all. He is using art to communicate a message (like a real artist, with a real message).
The last time we had seen cherubim was right after God banished Adam and Eve from the garden.
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
God's presence is back amongst His people. But the way had not yet been made for us to freely come into His presence and eat from the tree of Life. That way is yet to come (in Christ). So for now, in Exodus, the cherubim still have a job to do. They may well have been fierce-some looking creatures, for careless entering would have dire consequences. Yet now, for those who come by way of Christ, the new and living way, we can come boldly before the throne of grace (mercy-seat) to find grace to help in our time of need! (Hebrews 4:16) Oh thanks be to God!  (See also Hebrews 10:19-22.)
Imagine for a moment, that you are viewing the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies, with a tree of life shaped candelabra in front of it, spot-lighting the fierce-some cherubim, behind which is the throne of mercy. What is the message you would hear? I need mercy. God has it. I need to access Him. I dare not run past those cherubim to do it. How can I enter?
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Friday, April 8, 2011

What the Evolutionist and Christian May Have in Common

Reading: Jeremiah 2   
What is the effect of saying that life evolved from eternally existent matter? Said another way: What is the outcome of believing that matter always was, and that, in chance, it just so happens that life started and became increasingly stronger and more organized through mutation (a statistical impossibility), until finally, chance has it, we are here? Jeremiah 2 answers this question, so to speak.
Before we believers twist our elbows patting ourselves on the back as we contemplate the previous questions, let me ask another question Jeremiah speaks to, more directly. What is the result of God's people having turned from a life of God-dependence expressed by abiding in the vine, to a life of self-dependence demonstrated in prayerlessness, or exposed by how we spend our money and time?
They say to wood, “You are my father,” and to stone, “You gave me birth.” They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, “Come and save us!”...Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah. (Jeremiah 2:27-28)
Judah had forsaken God and turned to worthless idols. When Judah said to an idol, “You are my father,” or, “You gave me birth,” they were saying it to something made of wood or stone. The evolutionist does this with the earth, or matter. “We came from matter and chance.” In other words, “You gave me birth.” And the evolutionist and the religious idolater are both guilty of the same hypocrisy: “yet when they are in trouble, they say, 'Come and save us!'” The implication is that the answer will be, “Lots of luck!” (See also Proverbs 1:28.)
This text, however is not about the evolutionist, or the materialist (though the application may well fit). It is about Judah, and by implication, about the professed Christian who is not trusting God, not living a God-dependent life. It is about the person who claims to be Christian, and yet is really trusting in idols.
11Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. 12Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror," declares the LORD. 13"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:11-13)
By turning to idols, and not trusting God, we commit two sins:  1) We are forsaking God, the source of life (“the spring of living water”);  2) We make our own gods as we turn to self-dug cisterns, to self-made or man-made sources of life-sustaining water. In effect, we are like an electric appliance that (imagine it is animated) unplugs itself from a real electrical outlet, and keeps plugging itself into outlets that are not connected to electric sources, but we expect them to keep us powered. We have some sort of battery life, but we are not really living, we are dying. (For more on this read, If Living Grows Out of Life, then Dying Grows Out of Death.)
We do this because at some level we think God is unfair, or unrealistic, or doesn't understand. His way of directing our lives seems to be so limiting that it can't possibly lead to life. We have a better idea! Or so we think. (Jeremiah 2:20) We think of God's ways as a yoke or bondage. What is the outcome of all this?
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” (Jeremiah 2:5)
The word translated “worthless” appears twice in this sentence and it is a word the reader of the Hebrew Bible would have been familiar with. A word that has been known from Genesis 4:2. “Hebel” or Abel, as we know him, was the son of Adam and Eve, and the brother Cain killed. His life was “Hebel,” it was but a breath, a vapor. We read this word often in the book of Ecclesiastes when we read that life under the sun, or life considered apart from the existence and fear of God, is vanity (Hebel), it is but a vapor and therefore is meaningless. Like the morning mist, like Abel's life, it is here but a moment, and disappears.
When we live our lives trusting in and dependent on anything but the eternal God, we are following vaporous idols (they will soon disappear.) Doing so our own lives become like that same vapor...we too become meaningless, and short-lived. Only when we build our lives on the solid foundation of the Word of the Eternal God can we endure forever. (See 1 Peter 1:23-25.)
What are you trusting in? What is your life built on? You may say, “I trusted in Jesus,” (once a long time ago), but are you living life trusting in Christ? Are you abiding in the vine? Or are you plugging yourself into outlets that don't have life to offer? In Him is life. Anything else we turn to for life can only deceive us. Prayer, Bible-reading, and study are all good things. But they are not living. They are not good deeds. When understood properly, they are plugging into the source of life, Christ, so that we might go live. They are actions that grow out of a complete dependence on Christ in order to do anything good. We turn to Him for life and strength, and empowering by His Spirit to do what He has called us to do.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How Did Paul Take Up an Offering?

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8—9   
If you've read 2 Corinthians 8—9 you might have wondered if Paul couldn't make up his mind. On the one hand he says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) On the other he says, “But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter (how you had committed to give in this offering) should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be.” (2 Corinthians 9:3) Verse 7 is often quoted from this chapter, but as I read the chapter, the over all feel is much more like vs. 3.
This is a rich chapter, and it is highly likely that the real understanding of it lays in the Old Testament background for it. A large portion of this section has to do with Paul collecting an offering for the saints. Paul seems to have spent a great deal of focus and attention on this particular offering. I think F. F. Bruce is right when he suggests that, “Perhaps Paul envisaged this appearance of Gentile believers with their gifts in Jerusalem as at least a token fulfillment of those Hebrew prophecies which spoke of the 'wealth of the nations' as coming to Jerusalem... (Isaiah 60:5; 66:20)”1. Paul certainly had big hopes for the effect that this offering would have.
12This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. (2 Corinthians 9:12-14)
Paul desires that the effect of this offering would be a joining of hearts between the Jerusalem believers and the Gentiles. That they would give thanks to God because of them, and that their hearts would go out to them in prayer. This would certainly be a significant effect growing out of their offering. In writing to the Roman Christians, Paul asks them to pray that this offering to the saints in Jerusalem would be received in such a fashion (Romans 15:31). So he didn't see it as an foregone conclusion that it would have such an effect, but he definitely desired that it would be so.
But this doesn't resolve the tension that seems to be posited in these chapters between giving without compulsion, as one has decided, and the evident appeal to their commitment and Paul's longing to see it fulfilled. I wonder if we might find some help in verse 13 above. It reads, “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.”.
It may be that this sentence has its roots in the Law. For instance, Leviticus 22:18-19 speaks of two ways people might present burnt offerings to the Lord: either to fulfill a vow, or as a freewill offering. These two ways, if we translate from the Greek Old Testament, would read, “who shall offer his gifts according to all their confession and according to all their choice. It is possible, then, to understand this “confession” as the “vow”. It as the commitment they had verbally made, their confession. If this is correct, then Paul is treating the Corinthians as if they had made a vow. One is free to make a vow, or not to make it, but once made, they were committed. This then, would relieve the tension in these chapters as Paul could speak of not being under compulsion, while at the same time being obligated to fulfill a commitment one has made.
If I take this understanding of the 9:13, informed by Leviticus 22:18, then, what is the vow Paul says the Corinthians made? “...the obedience that accompanies your confession (vow) of the gospel of Christ...” Is Paul saying that when they came to Christ, they were vowing their life to live under the reign of Christ? Did Paul think of the Christian as someone who has submitted all he is and all he has to the King of the Kingdom—Jesus Christ? Did he then see the giving of the Corinthians, and therefore our giving, as a part and parcel of fulfilling this original vow that our lives, and therefore all we have, belong to the King?
Does our giving, our help of the poor, our generosity reflect an obedience, or submission (ESV) that flows from our vow to live under the reign of Christ Jesus our King? Paul might be insisting on it.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Bruce, F.F., Paul: Apostle of he Heart Set Free, pg. 322.