Thursday, July 29, 2010

Victory Garden - 7/29/2010

Romans 1:19-20, "...since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

When my wife and I first bought our house, there was a large, mostly empty garden spot in the front yard with three large yuccas and two small dahlias. My grandfather had always grown rose bushes, and I thought it would be nice to replace the yuccas with some roses. As soon as spring was approaching, Costco offered some nice varieties, so I was quick to snatch them up.

I live in a place with short summers and long, cloudy winters. I was stir-crazy for sunshine and for spring, so I started planning everything else that I'd grow. I went to a few "big box" stores and started shopping for bulbs. I was so stunned by the variety! Not the variety that the stores offered, but the variety of designs and colors my God created!

I've always loved God's creation - I loved to camp as a kid and get close to nature, and was so infatuated with animals that my childhood dream was to work in a pet shop (mission accomplished!). But, as I read about different types of plants for our front garden and learned how they grow, I couldn't help but be in awe of our God and His creativity, His attention to detail and variety.

Incidentally, after typing that last line, I was curious about the account in Genesis where God created the plants. I decided to search for it, figuring it was probably in Chapter 1, and unexpectedly typed verse 12 afterward; here is the verse that came up: "The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good."

"And God saw that it was good." What an understatement! Anything He declares to be good is so much more by our paltry standards.

So, to display what God saw as good, I started to select flowers for the front of our house with a specific purpose in mind: to show everybody what my God has created. Gardening became an act of worship for me, and almost an obsession during that first, long winter in our house. I know there must have been people who raised an eyebrow at a 30-something man growing roses and
flowers like a retired grandmother, but I don't care! I love what my God has made and I wanted to put it on display for all to see.

So now, I've got this garden out front with dramatic shapes, bold colors, and stop-you-in-your tracks fragrances. I like the verse above because I see evidence of a loving Creator who poured Himself into the basic framework of nature, creating the most subtle yet dramatic backdrop for the human experience. We are surrounded by evidence of His character and His very nature. I'm reminded
now of the lyrics to the song "Here Is Our King" by David Crowder:
"And what was said to the rose to make it unfold
was said to me here in my chest,
so be quiet now, and rest"
We can rest in the knowledge of who our God is, as seen by the work of His hand. I wrote earlier about a verse in 1 Kings that describes how God revealed Himself physically. The scripture above in Romans says God revealed the invisible qualities of His divine nature by what has been made. Here in 1 Kings, when he made Himself visible, He did so with the arrival of a quiet whisper. Not a thunderstorm. Not an earthquake. Not a tusnami/meteor shower/volcanic eruption combo. A quiet whisper.

That quality is evident in the delicate details of His creation. The plants He made are like the quiet whisper where God Himself can be found - you have to be still and take notice. He will not demand your attention in loud, showy displays. But if you look closely at His creation, He commands it. This is His character as seen in His creation.

Often we wait for God to interrupt our thoughts and daily lives with His next order or command. We continue along with our plans, waiting in quiet desperation for God to grab us and steer us along, to change our direction and do the work for us. But,
"His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made." That is not how He operates in our lives. Like the beauty He's created, God is always there for us. His power and ability constantly surround us, we have only to slow down and take notice. Let creation remind you of His quiet whisper. If you think He's gone or far away, you're wrong. He's right there, waiting for us to be quiet now, listen ... and rest in Him.

The garden I planted was my attempt to show this - the invisible qualities of God's eternal power and divine nature. I sometimes think of it as my "Victory Garden." That was a term used during the world wars for private vegetable gardens, designed to make families more self-sufficient, leaving more food for soldiers at war.

However, we are reminded numerous times in the scriptures that victory belongs to the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 15:54 and 57, Paul writes, "'Death has been swallowed up in victory'" (quoting Isaiah), and "...thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." If God's creation displays His divine nature, then it can show us the victory of Christ as well. He swallowed death ... just as His creation demonstrates life arising from death. At the end of the growing season (a sad time for me), death comes to all the stunning colors and shapes in the garden. But in the spring ... Victory! Oh, the drama of gardening!!!!!

Christ conquered death, and victoriously rose to life from a corpse. In the spring, life comes again to the garden. Beneath
the decay of last year's flowers comes the tender shoots, bright leaves, and new flower buds. We are reminded again of God's eternal power and divine nature. We are confronted by His unchangeable constancy. We see victory over death!

Let God's creation remind you that His power is eternal and His nature divine. He is as approachable as an unfurling rosebud releasing its fragrance, and more beautiful than the burning colors of tropical blooms. Here is our King, remember His Victory!

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?” Job 12: 7-9

Friday, July 16, 2010

Timeless Temple Treasures - 7/16/2010

Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

I have heard this verse many times before, but only recently did I allow it to sink in. Try to picture it if you can. Everything Jesus said will stand eternally. When there are no more countries, no more earth, no more heaven, only eternity with the Holy One, the words of Christ will still remain. They will outlast any building, any investment, any vehicle, any mountain.

It's interesting to think that in 60,000 years, we will still be with our Lord, and the words He spoke on Earth 2,000 years ago - that we can read right now in the Bible - will remain. Kind of makes me want to pay closer attention!

With that in mind, I read the story of the poor widow in Luke:
Luke 21:1-4, "As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 'I tell you the truth,' He said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'"
This account of a poor widow will be part of eternity, these words will never be erased or forgotten. I know of a poor widow, I included a picture of her. Haregewoin Teferra. She is Ethiopian, and a remarkable woman. You can read more about her here. She lived in one of the poorest countries on Earth, with the average income ranking 213 out of 227 countries. People in Haiti and Afghanistan make more than Ethiopians. The United States ranked 11th on the list.
  • Average annual income for an American: $46,400
  • Average annual income for an Ethiopian: $900
This woman was poor, but like the poor widow Jesus saw in the temple, she put everything she had into God's treasury. She gave her life to God's children, orphaned by AIDS and starvation. About 400 children over the years. The little money she did make went toward housing and feeding the kids brought to her by aid workers who had nowhere else to bring these innocent victims of circumstance. I know some Americans who don't want to have a third or fourth child because they think they can't afford it...

Looking back from eternity, we will be able to say that we were alive at the same time as this woman. I can't imagine meeting somebody like her and comparing what she was able to accomplish with my own use of what God gave me. The fact that I'm American and she's Ethiopian won't really matter that much. We were on the same planet at the same time, given the same chance to serve with our resources. Imagine what any of the poor widows who gave everything they had to God's treasury would say to us if we talked about it in heaven!
"Oh, you were an American? Wow, you were R-I-C-H! Didn't you people make like $46,400 on average in 2009? What did you do with all that money?"
"Well, I bought a nice home."
"I bet! How many kids lived there, like 1000?"
"Uh, no ... just a couple."
"Oh. Well probably a whole village of widows then!"
"Um .. no. We did have a dog though. He needed lots of toys and food and affection and room to run around."
"The dog lived inside your very nice home? Where did the orphans live?"
"Uh ... outside."
"Hm. So, did you use all of your money to feed those kids outside then? I bet they at least ate a lot of food thanks to you!"
"Well ... actually, no. I wish now that was true, but really ... I ate very, very well. In fact, I didn't even make my own food most of the time. I would go places and pay other people to make it and then serve it to me."
"So you gave the rest to the Lord, then? Did you place that wealth in the treasury so God's workers could use it?"
"Not really. I mean, I gave ten percent of it to God because I had to."
"Do you remember the story of the woman in the temple? Of course you do. The words of the Lord are everlasting. Are you aware that you are just like the rich people who gave out of their wealth? I made less than $900 that same year. Pretty much all of it went toward rice for the kids I kept from starving to death on the street. In fact, you can see some of them over there..."

Even with a poor attempt at an eternal perspective, it should be obvious that the poorest of the poor in this country still have more than the average person in a country like Ethiopia, where one poor widow was still able to give enough to literally save hundreds of lives.

So what are we to do then with the wealth we have been blessed with?


Always more.

"Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, 'Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow' - when you now have it with you." - Proverbs 2:27-28


We Are Adopting! - 7/16/2010

We have been pursuing adoption since the beginning of the year, and are nearly done with the paperwork! We have submitted an application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to bring an orphan from another country into the United States. When we receive the confirmation form (the I-171H), our Dossier will be complete! This was a long process, and all that will remain is to have the whole thing notarized in the state capitol and mail it to Ethiopia with a referral for the child we've applied for.

This is not a cheap process, but we have been blessed to be able to provide for the costs to bring our next child home. However, during the process a new regulation was approved. We now have to travel to Ethiopia twice - before you only went once to bring your child home. We weren't prepared for that added expense. So, we are accepting any donations to meet our goal for the extra plane tickets. If you feel led to contribute, just use the "chip-in" widget in the top left of the blog. Thank you to those of you who have already contributed, every little bit helps!

In the meantime, please pray that His will be done in this process and that we would be sensitive to His leading in choosing the child He has in mind for our family. Thank you!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Greatest Returns - 6/26/2010

Ecclesiastes 5:10-11, "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?"

My wife and I are in the process of adopting an orphan from Ethiopia. It goes without saying that this process is not cheap, but it is worthwhile. I know people question this decision and wonder why anybody would spend so much to bring home someone else's child. To be honest, I have wondered the same thing. I've always wanted to adopt, but once I felt called to begin the process, the sticker shock was enough to cause me to honestly question if the price and paperwork were worth it.

Then came the big questions. "If I don't spend the money on
this child, who will?" "If I save this money for myself and my family, what will it bring us? More money? More things? Then what? What will those benefit us in the big picture?"

I think this is what Solomon meant when he wrote, "This too is meaningless." I could invest the money I would put toward international adoption and earn more money, but it will never be enough. I would always want more. Maybe one day I would be wealthy by the world's standards, but as Solomon who was rich beyond imagination wrote, I wouldn't be satisfied. And, this world is temporary. In the end, all the fanciness and shiny things will pass away, and the only thing that will remain is God and the people He created.

People are the only investments that will truly last. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:18, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

"But, Nathan, what about your children and their future? You should leave them as much money as possible!"
If I've done my job as a father, I will have been responsible with my money while serving God, and taught my kids to do the same, not worrying about finances while keeping in mind this lesson.

After writing the first big check for this adoption, I really questioned the cost, especially considering our agency is not-for-profit, and still expensive. So, I pictured my own retirement years and the two possible scenarios that I could attain: one centered around living for myself - building wealth and ending up with a very small family, or alone, but surrounded by very nice things. But as Solomon wrote in the verse above, "...what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?" The second option is to live for God, serve others, and maybe have a smaller home, fewer luxuries, but surrounded by lives God touched through my obedience.

So thinking about adoption and money with terms used for investment, which of these holds the greater return? My money, performing in a strong market, could grow by 7-10% each year, so when I retire it could yield a return that would impress even the most serious investor, but when my life ends so does my ability to feast my eyes on all I had gained. Or, I could invest in human lives. The money I put toward adoption could deliver a person from a short, tragic life and literally restore generations of God's people, established on a foundation of love.

Do the math. Which of these two investments has the greatest return?
In my twilight years, is it better to be surrounded by things, or people?

That's not to say we can't have nice things or big houses. It is when we allow things to take the focus off of God or hinder us from serving Him that we begin to have problems. Some may argue that it's their money, they worked hard for it, they can spend it however they want. But for thousands of years we've had the words of Moses that warn, "You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth..."

How are you thanking Him for that ability? How are you using the ability He's given you to serve Him? Will you leave a legacy of selfish living, or one of serving the Lord our God? "you cannot serve both God and Mammon" ... so ... "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."


Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Foundation of Courage - 4/11/2010

1 Samuel 47-48, "... it is not by the sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's

... As the Philistine moved closer to attack Him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him."

This familiar anecdote describes the encounter between David and Goliath - a giant of a man who kept the entire Israelite army in fear for five days with his challenge to Saul's army. Only one man had to defeat Goliath and the whole Philistine army would become servants to the Israelites, but failing to do so meant the Israelites would become servants themselves. Nobody accepted his challenge.

Until David. David wasn't a soldier. His brothers were, and were counted among the trained warriors who knew Goliath could defeat them, and refused to act. Their younger sibling David was a shepherd. The soldiers of Saul's army put their faith in their ability, and failed. David put his faith in another Shepherd's ability, our God, and defeated the source of fear for an entire army, with a single stone and a sling.

Even as this giant of a man covered in armor with large weapons rose up to attack David, he didn't fear. In fact it says here "David ran quickly toward the battle line." I love that line because David didn't doubt or ponder or second-guess God's ability or willingness to deliver. He simply ran forward knowing God would come through - because He had before! "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine... " (v.36-37). I have been struck before by this idea that David had practice using God's strength instead of his own, with the lion and the bear as "trial runs" for his meeting with Goliath.

But, what I find fascinating now is how offended David was when Goliath challenged the "living God." In verse 26, when David first assessed the situation, he asked, "...Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" The significance of referring to Goliath as "uncircumcised" is to emphasize that Goliath did not believe in nor serve the Lord, yet challenged our "living God" while he worshiped mute gods made from the hands of men. How often do we Italicfeel offended when people challenge God? Perhaps most of us haven't become desensitized to assaults on our Lord's loving character, but if we are to rely on God to stand up for us, why don't we stand up for Him more often? Why don't we defend His love and His power and His ability to those who challenge our "living God?"

David did. "[He] said to the Philistine, 'You come against me with the sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied."

There are two things I love about this account. 1.) David was offended to his core that anyone would slander the most important person in his life - our living God - and he acted on it! 2.) David had a close enough relationship with our God that he could rush into battle with a giant without flinching, knowing this God of ours well enough that he could trust Him to follow through during any challenge that presents itself.

Two lessons I truly hope I can take to heart.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Source of Peace - 3/28/2010

Psalm 85:8-9, "I will listen to God the Lord. He has ordered peace for those who worship Him. Don't let them go back to foolishness. God will soon save those who respect Him, and His glory will be seen in our land" (NCV).

We have a lot of things to listen to in our culture; it's almost impossible to shut out the noise. We have the obvious distractions like the television, movies, radio, and the internet. We also have teachers and professors, coworkers, friends, and family members all contributing to what we hear and agree with. What do you listen to? How do you sift through the mountains of conflicting opinions, well-meaning and sometimes misguided advice?

"I will listen to God the Lord." We may not be able to control what we hear. But we have total control over who we listen to. I like how firm and direct this statement is. Almost as if to say, "I will measure everything I hear based on the one constant truth to have withstood the test of time: God the Lord."

The benefit of that decision is that "He has ordered peace for those who worship Him." This is such an incredible statement! What has God ordered that has not come true? By His very words everything we know came into existence. Worship him and experience His peace - the peace that is often referred to as "the peace that passes all understanding."

I think this is one aspect of Christianity that a non-believer cannot fully grasp. They don't realize that the peace God offers is real and makes absolutely no sense and cannot be attributed to "mind over matter." When faced with uncertainty, you feel this peace. When you face conflict, you feel this peace. When you lose a loved one, you feel this peace. It is the vivid awareness that all things are in His hands, and regardless of our circumstances, "we know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him." If you worship Him!

That's the catch, if there is one - you have to worship Him. Because it's easy to "go back to foolishness," as the verse states. Or as Solomon put it, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly." Many people erroneously believe that once you are saved, you are no longer tempted and have somehow risen above all human imperfections - even though we are still imperfect. As long as we are in the flesh, we will have temptations! But according to scripture, He makes all things new! Upon salvation, our spirits are new and bound for His presence. When we receive our heavenly bodies, our inward spirit and outward body will finally be matched in pefection.

So while we are here, we can rest on the last line of this verse, "God will soon save those who respect Him, and His glory will be seen in our land." If you respect Him, it will be obvious in your life, by your actions. If this describes you, when will He save you? SOON! And through your respect for Him and how obviously you are quickly saved from trouble, He will be glorified. His glory will be seen in our land because of your respect for Him! That is amazing to me.

Lord Jesus, may your glory be seen in my life, that you may receive full credit for the awesome works you've completed in my life. Amen.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

La Palmera - 3/16/2010

Psalm 92:12-15, "But good people will grow like palm trees; they will be tall like the cedars of Lebanon. Like trees planted in the temple of the Lord, they will grow strong in the courtyards of our God. When they are old, they will still produce fruit; they will be healthy and fresh. They will say that the Lord is good. He is my Rock, and there is no wrong in Him."

This verse inspired me this morning. It may have been the image of the palm tree, which obviously I love. It may have been the idea of producing fruit in old age - Melissa and I had just recently discussed how retirement can either be lazy and self-indulgent, or an opportunity to serve God without any hindrances. Either way, I thought about how each verse can apply to my life:
12: "We will grow like palm trees."
How do palm trees grow? Fast and strong! Have you ever seen a palm sapling? I don't know that I have - they don't stay small for long. I remember in Belize, driving by a section of jungle while the pastor's wife explained to us that just four years prior, that jungle had been a corn field. They stopped farming it, and instantly the jungle reclaimed that land. There were tall palms there - the trunks weren't very thick, but they were imposing. Many palms can also survive hurricane-force winds. They can bend without breaking. Who wouldn't want to live this way? To quickly grow and thrive, while simultaneously surviving the worst life can throw at you. How can we arrive in this place in our lives?
13: "...they will grow strong in the courtyards of our God."
We grow in God's presence! That's how we can arrive at the place in our lives where we thrive like the palm tree. We become the strong, beautiful fixture on the horizon by His wisdom and guidance.
14: "When they are old, they will still produce fruit."
This is my goal, to be old and still serving God and furthering His kingdom. I like this verse because the word "still" is in there, implying fruit is produced in youth, but for those who are like the palm tree, it will continue into old age.
15: "They will say that the Lord is good. He is my Rock, there is no wrong in Him."
We will praise God! We will share what He has done. We will tell the world that He is good. He loves us - all of us! This verse is also prophetic. It claims they will say that "He is my Rock." Jesus told the parable of the two houses - one built on sand, the other built on rock. After the storms, only the house built on rock remained standing. For this reason, we do say that "He is my Rock," as the psalmist wrote, and there is no wrong in Him! His ways are sometimes mysterious, and always perfect. His decisions are always the BEST choices! He can be your Rock too! Thank you Lord!

Lord, help me to become like the palm tree described in this Psalm.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gentle Wind - 2/16/2010

Elijah was the last prophet of God in his day - all the others had been killed. When he heard that King Ahab's wife Jezebel was planning to kill him, he fled to the desert. There, God asked Elijah to stand in front of Him on the mountain, and He would pass in front of Elijah. Moses had to ask God for this honor. Here, God freely offered it to Elijah. Before God passed by though, His power first passed in front of him:

1 Kings 19:11-13, "The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

God passed in a quiet, gentle sound. A whisper. I love that! The God of all creation could have passed in any display of power He wanted, and His very power did precede Him, but he was not in those displays. To represent His very presence, He chose a quiet, gentle sound. How many times have we sought to hear God, looking for earthquakes and fires and awe-inspiring signs, when we should be listening for a gentle whisper?

God is not one who delights in showy displays of His ability, but one who delights in His children. As a Father, He made Himself approachable in gentleness. After displaying what He can do, He finished by showing what He's like before asking Elijah why he was in the desert.

He did not want to put on a "Hey-look-what-I-can-do-and-you-can't" fireworks show. He wanted to have a conversation with his child. It struck me that God did not comfort Elijah in this moment. If I were the last living servant of God and people were trying to kill me, I might be seeking a kind word or two. Instead, God directed Elijah immediately to his next task. God's presence was comfort enough! God's demonstration of His ability was comfort enough. Elijah had all he needed to be obedient to God, and so much more.

So do we. After Jesus' sacrifice, He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit - God's presence is always with us. And we have before us a testimony of all God has done. We don't need an earthquake or a fire, we have the Bible, the testimony of believers, and His very creation all around us. We, like Elijah, should be able to stand firm in the middle of our trials and simply receive direction from God; simply listen to that gentle whisper in our heart that would guide us toward the next way we can serve Him.

Thank you, Lord, that yours is the way of peace and gentleness, knowing you have the power to move ... yet instead I am moved.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Plans - 2/13/2010

2 Corinthians 2:10, "If you forgive someone, I also forgive him. ... I did this so that Satan would not win anything from us, because we know very well what Satan's plans are."

Do we know very well what Satan's plans are, as Paul writes here? He seems pretty clear here that Satan not only exists, but has plans to win something from us. So, what might Satan want to win from us?

I think the more important question actually is not to ask what Satan wants, but what does God want? I heard a convincing argument once that the very nature of Satan and all evil in general is quite simply the opposite of God's nature. What God has declared to be good, Satan purposefully lies about; arguing that the opposite of what is good should not only be acceptable, but normal. Jesus said, "...when [Satan] lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).

So, what does God want then? I think getting to know God and His nature - learning to value what He values - will make it clear. Following God is not about following His rules, it is about developing a relationship with Him. Everything else will follow that. This can help us see what Satan wants to win from us.

In this particular scripture, Paul is talking specifically about forgiveness. It seems from this verse that refusing to forgive is specifically how Satan can win something from us. We do in fact know what his plans are! He plans to use unforgiving hearts to turn us against each other - husband against wife, father against son, friend and brother against each other. This will take the focus off of God and put it on each other, and on hate - the opposite of God since He is love. That's what makes it evil. This must be why it is written, " not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26-27).

If we have been so freely forgiven for all the ways we've offended God, how then can we refuse the same forgiveness to others? Remember the parable of the master who refused to forgive his servant after receiving forgiveness himself!

But what about revenge! What about all the crap that goes on unpunished? I remember a pastor asking the question once, "What if your refusal to forgive others replaces the punishment God has in store? What if, according to His law, that person is already being punished by your grudges?" Perhaps that is what is meant by Paul's words, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord'" (Romans 12:19).

I often think of the quote I share with my students when we study Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, "Forgiveness is for the forgiver, not the forgiven." When you wake up mad at someone, do they share in those emotions? Of course not! They continue living their lives while you suffer in bitterness, the focus taken off of God, and possibly His vengeance postponed or replaced. They do not share in your suffering. So, you forgive them as the only way to release their control in your life, thereby putting the focus back on God, and leaving Him to deal with them as He sees fit since "it is His to avenge." Justice belongs to Christ Jesus - so we must regularly give it back to Him. This can only be done through the regular forgiveness of those who do anything against us - thereby circumventing Satan's plans to win from us all we have gained through Christ.

Thank you Jesus for offering us a relationship with you that allows us to learn about who you are and what you value. Thank you for being good, for being loving, and for your forgiveness.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Twelve - 2/4/2010

Mark 3:14, "He appointed twelve - desig-nating them apostles - that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach."

Perhaps choosing twelve apostles, or messengers, was necessary - but why twelve of them? What is the significance of choosing a dozen? Why not three or seven or twenty-five?

I think maybe Christ linked Himself with the very foundations of the Old Testament by choosing twelve apostles, in this way affirming once more that He is the son of God; that it was His story laid out and prepared for throughout the generations of Israel's family.

Originally God established the nation of Israel through twelve men. Israel was the name of a man who had twelve sons. These were the great-grandsons of Abraham, with whom God made His covenant and whose descendants God promised would outnumber the stars. All Jews for centuries traced their lineage back to one of these twelve men, using their names to identify the tribes to which they belonged.

This literally was God's family - which is why we sometimes refer to the Israelites as God's "chosen people." This is the family to whom God delivered His word, and He promised to send His son, the Messiah, through this same family. The world would know God and be saved by this family - because it is the one into which Jesus was born. Salvation then was offered to everybody "...because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." - Romans 1:16.

Christ came to save all men, not just the family or nation of Jews to whom He originally preached, if they just believe His message. So, Jesus chose twelve more men. These men were sent out into the world to preach the good news which, like a fire spreading across a dry wheat field, covered generations and continents, eventually spanning the globe. Those who hear and accept the good news that started with these apostles are then grafted into the family that God made - the same family that started with those twelve other men so long ago. This is why it is sometimes explained that Gentiles are "adopted" into the family of God, like in Ephesians 1:5, "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will..."

So, what is the one and greatest link between the Old Testament and the New Testament? As a Christian, I believe it to be Jesus Christ. The Old Testament establishes God's covenant and relationship with man, prophesying and preparing the way for Jesus Christ to fulfill the law and embody (literally) God's plan to save man from sin and eternal separation from Him. Much of the Old Testament involves preparing the very family into which God's son would be born - the Israelites.

Twelve men and their descendants set the stage for the arrival of the Messiah. Twelve more men carried the news of the Messiah’s arrival into the rest of the world and are the reason we know today of what Jesus accomplished.

In the book of Revelation, John explains how these 24 men will be honored, since it is by them that God's presence and knowledge spread to all of mankind, making the members of God's family innumerable. Revelation 21:12-14 describes part of the “New Jerusalem,” stating that,

"It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and the names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel ... And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

Surely, if these men are to be memorialized in the city of heaven for all eternity, we shouldn't take lightly how God used them for His glory. By the family of the twelve sons of Israel, the world is able to enter into God's presence - the "gates" to the city as described in Revelation. And once in God's presence, we stand firm on the Truth preached by the twelve apostles - the "foundation stones" of God's eternal Holy City.

Thank you, Jesus, for your plan and your grace, that we might all be saved and come to spend the rest of our days with You.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bread of Life - 2/2/2010

Exodus 25:30, "You shall set the Bread of Presence on the table before me at all times."

Often I don't take the time to think about and try to understand the symbolism God uses. Typically, I will read a passage, take it at face value, and carry on. The other day I was reading Exodus as part of the one year reading plan I'm following and almost did just that.

These first books in the Bible are often passed up because the weighty lists of rules and specific commands about worship can be a dry read. This might be true, but I've also found much of it to reveal the very character of God and what He values.

In this section of Exodus, God instructs Moses on how to prepare the Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting, which served as the house of God before the temple was built. This is where Moses would talk to God and receive the instruction and information he used to write what is now the first five books of the Bible.

This is also where the Ark of the Covenant (or Ark of the Testimony) was kept. Inside, the ten commandments and a jar of manna. On top, a special lid described by some translations as the "Mercy Seat," where God would be spiritually and audibly present to speak to Moses and deliver His word.
Exodus 25:22, "There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment of the sons of Israel."

God was present here, but not bodily, since His pure holiness would cause sinful man to literally drop dead before Him if we were to gaze upon His face in such a sinful state, "
But He said, 'You cannot see my face, for no man can see Me and live!" - Exodus 33:20.

Instead, God ordered the symbolic bread, the "Bread of Presence," to be on the table before the Ark at all times. This would represent the physical presence of God - His body. Flash-forward now to the life of Christ; the very spirit of God wrapped in flesh that we may know Him now and receive His mercy.

Before Jesus was crucified, He celebrated the symbolic Passover meal with His disciples. In Luke 22:19, it states, "And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.'"

The body of God Himself had been represented by bread for centuries. Now, here at the Passover supper, Christ affirmed two things: that He is God (by saying this is "my body"), and that He would die for us (He broke the bread). The "bread of presence" was now in our presence, and its purpose is now made clear - to be broken for us that we may be reconciled with God the Father.

Suddenly the tedious list of rules God delivered to Moses seem more meaningful and purposeful, when at first they seemed excessive and arbitrary. The symbolism used in the Tabernacle seems less abstract - God's body was demonstrated by bread that would be broken for us, and at that time He would then dwell within us. This is symbolized by our eating of the bread during communion (which fulfills the command to "do this in remembrance of me"). The temple which replaced the Tabernacle is no more, and our hearts serve as the current Temple of God; the dwelling He has chosen now that Christ's sacrifice has redeemed us and allowed us to be in God's presence once more!

Thank you, God, for weaving a story so complex, so meaningful even across centuries that it could only have come from your vision of the big picture!


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Proof - 1/31/2010

1 Timothy 2:3-7, "...God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and know the truth. There is one God and one way human beings can reach God. That way is through Christ Jesus, who is Himself human. He gave himself as a payment to free all people. He is proof that came at the right time."

"Proof that came at the right time," like the old song says, "He's an on-time God!" Our modern world has been completely shaped by Jesus Christ; knowledge of Him has spread to every continent. If He came any earlier in history, His teachings may have been lost to antiquity. Any later, and they may not have spread as far and as fast as they did. Since He came at that time and place in history, His life and teachings were able to be recorded and then carried with those who recorded it as they spread across the globe, sharing the message of His love and salvation.
"The proof that comes on time."
So, what did He prove? That the prophets were right! That God didn't fail. God didn't forget about us in our lost state. That God is forgiving. That God's love knows no limits, that his love and forgiveness applies to all people. It says here that God our Savior wants all people to be saved and know the Truth, to know Christ.

He also proved God's word to be true and reliable. Isaiah 52 and 53, for example, described "God's suffering servant" 800 years before Jesus was born and suffered on the cross. This chapter is a prophecy that specifically describes what Christ accomplished on the cross for a sinful world that He loved enough to die for.

Christ was the proof that God loved us so much that, "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God the father sacrificed His son so that every one of us might be saved and can eternally enter back into a relationship with Him - our very reason for having ever been created. He didn't give up on us!

There are many who reject that truth. Yet, Christ wants all to be saved. But in the end there will be some, who "...will die, because they refused to love the truth. (If they loved the truth, they would be saved.)" - 2 Thessalonians 2:10b.

So, we are commanded to help these people, and ourselves. In Titus 1, 2:1-8, we are instructed in this way:
"...tell every one what to do to follow the true teaching. Teach older men to be self-controlled, serious, wise, strong in faith, in love, and in patience. In the same way, teach older women to be holy in their behavior, not speaking against others or enslaved to too much wine, but teaching what is good. Then they can teach the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be wise and pure, to be good workers at home, to be kind, and to yield to their husbands. Then no one will be able to criticize the teaching God gave us. In the same way, encourage young men to be wise. In every way be an example of doing good deeds. When you teach, do it with honesty and seriousness. Speak the truth so you cannot be criticized, then those who are against you will be ashamed because there is nothing bad to say about us."

Certainly, this will prove that the Truth of Christ has its foundation in love, having the power to change hearts and bring us back into relationship with God. Amen!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Abba, Father - 8/29/09

Psalm 127:1, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (NASB).

I love the way God uses His word to speak to me! I understand why it is called "the living word," since a verse you've read before that didn't really apply can suddenly come alive - jumping off the page to speak to your current situation.

That's what this scripture above did for me. It began with my studying Hebrew. I think the Hebrew script is beautiful, and to satisfy curiosity I have been studying it during Corban's naps. The day I finished learning all the consonants, I turned to that day's reading in the Bible which began with Psalm 119 - an acrostic poem based on the Hebrew alphabet! Originally, each verse began with one Hebrew letter. I might have considered that a coincidence, but then I clicked through a couple pages online, and suddenly was looking at my first name written in Hebrew! One of only two names on the page. I think these two "coincidences" were God's way of encouraging me to continue studying the language.

So far, I learned that the Hebrew characters began as pictures that evolved into an alphabet over time. To infer deeper meaning in the words, some people have substituted the modern letters with the original pictograms, using the meaning of those ancient pictures to get a deeper understanding of that word. For example, "El," the root word for "God," (
אֵל) can be traced back to a picture of an ox and a staff, the two images together meaning "Strong Leader." Likewise, the picture-word for "father," or "abba," (אָבּ) is an ox and a house, meaning "Strength of the House."

So with this in mind, I turned to today's reading in the Bible, Psalm 127:1. It states, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." Abba. Father. Strength of the House. Who is the strength of the house? God, our Father, is the Strength of the House. He is the one who must build it; He is the one who must be the foundation for my family. Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27, "
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash" (NIV).
I can let Jesus Christ and His teachings be the foundation for my house, and it will endure life's storms. Or, I can try to do it on my own and watch it all "fall with a great crash" when those storms come along.
I am a father now, I am Abba. I am supposed to be the strength of the house. But, without a foundation built by my God, my "Strong Leader," my efforts to establish a safe home to raise and guide my family are in vain. I must rely on God's strength, not my own, to provide for my family.

If a father is to be the strength of his family, then surely the enemy will recognize that threat and attack it first. As a father then, it is important to take extra care to anticipate attacks in areas where I am weak (i.e., temptations). How many families in our country live in a house without a father, without abba? Clearly these attacks have been successful in our culture, given the number of students I have without a father in the home. Fortunately for fatherless homes, our Heavenly Father can be our Abba.

He can be the strength of any house.