Saturday, December 22, 2012

God with Us

            During a census driven by greed, in a town to which His parents had no choice about going, after a journey made laborious by labor pains, in an anonymous stable, in a trough nosed by beasts, Jesus was born.  When necessities infringe on us, when unfair circumstances direct our paths instead of signs from God, when hardship and strain attend us instead of angels, it is tempting to think God is not with us.  Yet, it is precisely in situations such as these that we find Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).  We may hear testimonies from those blessed by heavenly signs (such as the wise men), or by the company of angels (such as the shepherds), but these should not be occasions for bitterness or grumbling against the Lord.  For, like Mary, we have carried the Son of God within.  We have freedom in Him even when we have no choice (2 Tim. 2:9).  The presence of New Life gives us rest even when the world won’t give us a room for the night.  He is the one to whom all signs lead, of whom all angels sing.  We are of the same family as the King of Kings (Heb. 2:11).  In tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, or nakedness, God is with us; “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

What Are We to Think?


            When we compare how Saul and David became king, what are we to think?  The anointing of Saul (who would later reject God’s word) was accompanied by signs, songs of worship, a group of prophets, and a mighty move of God’s spirit which enabled Saul himself to prophesy (1 Sam. 10:1-11, 15:24).  So pronounced was this incident that, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” became a household expression in Israel (1 Sam. 10:12).   Saul’s reign began when Samuel publicly presented him to Israel.  He was received with shouts of “Long live the king!” even as Samuel reminded them they had rejected God (1 Sam. 10:19, 24).
            Scripture calls David a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).  Yet when it came time for his anointing, he was off tending sheep.  His family thought so little of him they didn’t even seek him when Samuel came to them, and even the Lord’s prophet didn’t perceive that David was the Lord’s chosen (1 Sam. 16:5-13).  After David’s anointing, there was no public fanfare.  He returned to tending sheep.  The Spirit of the Lord came upon him but in secret (1 Sam. 16:13).  Eventually, he rose in the ranks of Saul’s kingdom, but when his popularity made him a threat, Saul chased him out of Israel and hunted him like an animal.  David was forced to live in caves and even among the Philistines he loathed, whose champion, Goliath, he had slain as an early evidence of God’s favor (1 Sam. 17:50, 27:1).  Even after Saul died, David’s ascension to the throne was slow.  Israel didn’t accept him all at once but only by degrees (2 Sam. 2:4, 5:1-3).
            What are we to think of these things?  God directed His prophet to anoint Saul, and He accompanied this act with all the hallmarks of His favor: signs, worship, prophecy, and public acclaim.  Why does God do this for the king he has rejected?  Why such a move of His Spirit to install a king who has supplanted Him at the request of His own people?  And why allow David, the king after His own likeness, to be dismissed, to suffer ignominy, to live as a fugitive, and to be accepted with little that would indicate God’s favor?  Since Israel rejected God as king, could we expect that His king would be received?  Should we expect that the Lord’s servant be above his Master?  No indeed, we should not (John 15:20).  Likewise, Saul would’ve done well to beware that all spoke well of him (Luke 6:26). 
            These things clearly underscore the fact that “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).  We cannot trust in the appearance of God’s favor in our lives.  We would do well not to seek or cultivate those blessings God gives to the unrighteous as well as the righteous (Matt. 5:45).  It is better that we seek and cultivate those blessings that come because He finds truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6).  “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).  God help us to live from the inside out, and to care more about what He sees than what others only think they see.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pentecost: Christ's Anointing


An excerpt from a booklet I'm working on about the feasts:

On Pentecost, Peter explained the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this way: "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear" (Acts 2:32, 33). God anointed Jesus with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, choosing Him to be Christ (="Anointed One") (Acts 2:36).  Christ's anointing then flowed down to the church, joining Christ and His people into one body through one Spirit. 
Sharing in Christ’s anointing means several things.  First John 2:20 says, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.”  The Holy Spirit reminds us of everything Jesus said, testifies of Him, and leads us into all truth in Him (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15).  The Holy Spirit also supplies the capability and competence to minister and represent Christ in the ways He has called (2 Cor. 3:5, 6).  Scripture mentions many abilities the Holy Spirit may give us.  Speaking in tongues, writing songs or poetry, governing, metalsmithing, pastoring, interpreting dreams, giving to charity…there are, literally, as many spiritual skill sets as there are people (Ex. 31:1-5; Dan. 1:17; 1 Cor. 12:4-11, 28; Rom. 12:6-7).             
As we give ourselves in the ways God has called us, it is vital to remember that the anointing is on Christ, not on us.  We share in it simply because we are in Him (Eph. 1:13).  Some conceive of the anointing as an almost temperamental, flighty presence: if we have spent enough time with God and are living up to His expectations, then He will anoint us.  If we have failed in some way or if we aren’t at our spiritual peak (“prayed up” or “filled up”) because of some lack of discipline, then the anointing will leave us or not show up when we need it.  But the anointing is on Christ, and, since we are in Christ, the anointing cannot be removed from us unless we can be removed from Christ.  Anointing is every bit as unchanging in Christ as His blood and forgiveness.  It is always available, not because we behave, but because we believe (Gal. 3:2).  It isn’t recent sins, failure to pray enough, or lack of Bible study that affects the flow of God’s Spirit.  It is the unbelief of meditating on these things that robs us of the anointing that is always ours in Christ.  If we believe the truth, we believe that our union with Christ—and therefore with the anointing of His Spirit—never changes.  Believing this, in turn, will improve our morals, our prayer life, and all the other things we try to maintain for fear of losing the anointing.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Full Harvest of Christ


           The feast of Tabernacles celebrated the maturing and harvesting of the whole crop (Lev. 23:39).  Often, the idea of harvest is associated with evangelism, “reaping” souls for the kingdom of God.  But evangelism is probably more like scattering seed and conversion like seed sprouting. No one harvests seeds or sprouts.  Only mature plants bearing grain or fruit are harvested.
            In the parable of the sower, seed is scattered over all kinds of soil.  What distinguishes the good soil is that it produces a crop of 30, 60, or 100-fold (Matt. 13:23).  Jesus taught that many people receive the word and are converted for a time.  But seeds and sprouts only fulfill their purpose if they produce fruit worth harvesting.  Additionally, fruit from individuals is welcome but does not constitute a full harvest.  Ephesians 4:13 gives us a sense of the harvest God is looking for: “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  It is the whole measure of the fullness of Christ in His body that the Feast of Tabernacles foreshadows.  This is the harvest God desires. 
            Ephesians 4 also describes how we grow into the full harvest of Christ.  It starts with holding to each other, keeping the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:11, 16).  As we hold to each other, we function in the measure of grace apportioned to us (Eph. 4:7).  Grace is given to each of us so that we can pass it on to those around us.  For some of us, this means moving in the ministries Paul mentions—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph. 4:11).  But we shouldn’t limit the manifestation of God’s grace to five ministries, as if Paul is giving a definitive list.[1]  Leaders and ministers are important but we will by no means attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ if only leaders contribute.  We can only grow and build ourselves up in love “as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16).  That means every member of the church has grace from God that is vital to the growth of the church.  In this vein, Paul gave the Corinthians the following guidance about their services: “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14: 26).  Whatever your specific role in the body of Christ, it is divinely important.  Be encouraged that you are deeply needed!


[1] In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul gives a slightly different list.  This suggests he is just giving examples of ministries.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dancing or Dignity?

          As the ark entered Jerusalem, David worshiped and danced to the point of becoming undignified (2 Sam. 6:16).  Michal, David's wife, despised David, and told him so: "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!" (2 Sam. 6:20).  David replied, "I will celebrate before the LORD.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes" (2 Sam. 6:21, 22).  Michal remained childless the rest of her life (2 Sam. 6:23).
          I've often thought that Michal was childless because the Lord cursed her womb.  But perhaps, since Michal wouldn't join David in worshiping to the point of humiliation, David withheld himself from union with her.
          Will we join to Jesus, the Son of David, when He is undignified and being with Him means we are humiliated in our own eyes?  Jesus became most undignified and humiliated at the cross.  Will we dance with Him when circumstances lead to a "cross" in our lives?  Or will we despise Him and choose the barrenness that preserves our dignity but means we can bring forth no spiritual life or fruit?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Full of Glory


An excerpt from my booklet about Ezekiel that I posted last year.  I had this on my heart & decided to re-post it.  If you want to read the whole booklet, click here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B2Y7ybCi0Y9gMzE3ZjM2N2EtMDU3Yi00NzFjLWE2YTQtNjM2MDgzYzFiNjNj

                                       ***

The popular view of heaven as part utopia, part family reunion, is not entirely unbiblical.  But it tends to make personal wish fulfillment the focus of salvation instead of Christ.  In fact, we could go so far as to say that for some, Christ is little more than the means by which their wishes will be fulfilled in the afterlife.  Heaven is also presented as a reward for good behavior, a place where we are finally free from suffering.  In the world to come, we will be freed from all forms of suffering caused by the effects of sin in this fallen world (Rev. 21:4).  But we will not be freed from glory, from the self-sacrificing, other-centered fellowship that is the divine nature.  Participating in the divine nature IS salvation (2 Peter 1:4).  If we haven’t had self-motivation eradicated but have only behaved until our desires are finally gratified in heaven, from what have we been saved?  By contrast, God has much more in mind than simply rewarding us.  He wants all things to be full of glory, to be permeated by that selfless inter-relating—“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). 
            What do we mean when we talk of all things being full of glory?  Let’s put it this way: imagine a world where every last thing is Christ: every river, every stone, every blade of grass.  This is something like what Ezekiel’s third vision shows us.  Christ is the temple, the altar, and the offering. He is the priest presenting the offering, He is the sacrificial flesh eaten by those who minister.  He is the land and each inheritance marked out.  He is the 12 tribes and the nation of Israel.  His Spirit is the river that makes everything live as it flows past trees of all kinds, which trees He is.  “Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11).  There is nothing in what Ezekiel sees that is not Christ.  And this is where God has placed us.  This is the One into whom we have been baptized (1 Cor. 1:30, 12:13).  Despite the conditions through which we sojourn, despite the lack of Christ we see around us and in us every day, God would have us know that our reality, the place where we live and move and have our being, is precisely this place where there is nothing but Christ, where Christ is the elemental composition of everything, where He is the length, the height, the breadth, and the depth (Eph. 3:18).

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Confessions....

            For some time, I have been in a season unlike any in my walk with the Lord.  Every day, often multiple times a day, I feel almost incapacitated by a sense of my own sinfulness.  This awareness usually comes through a moment of failure, a mistake made, a motive exposed.  Much of the time, the casual observer wouldn't see anything momentous or heinous occur.  But to me, even a pebble-sized fault feels like a soul-crushing avalanche.
            I am grateful I have been crucified with Christ.  I can't be cured, fixed, or made better.  Death is the only solution to me.  Thank God I no longer live, and that Christ lives in me.  Day to day, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20).  Why He loves me (who has no attractiveness or purity) is beyond my comprehension.  It is enough for me--it is more than enough for me--to simply believe that He does.  And I thank Him that He did not leave me as I am but put me to death so that His beauty & purity could live in me.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Central's Been Mae'd

Mae Arink, a family friend, recently started a campus ministry internship at Central Washington University.  Please check out her blog if you are interested in campus ministry & devotional thoughts about God.  Her blog is called "Central's Been Mae'd" & can be found here: http://centralsbeenmaed.wordpress.com/

Friday, August 24, 2012

Masquerade

Reposting something from a couple years ago.  Taken from my notes on 1 Samuel.

***

            Human religion is God’s greatest enemy and satan’s greatest instrument in his assault on God & God’s people.  Human religion is not just non-Christian faiths or certain denominations.  It is found in varying degrees in every church just as Christ is.  The sons of the evil one are sown amongst the sons of the kingdom (Matt. 13:37-39).  It is also within each of us: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other….” (Gal. 5:17).  We think of the desires of the sinful nature being addictions, greed, lust, and the like.  Certainly these things do arise from the sinful nature, and Paul lists them in the same passage.  But the greater context of the passage is about the Galatians mixing law with grace.  Paul is warning them that their religion not only empowers sinful desires but is itself contrary to God.  One aspect of the sinful nature, then, is its attempt to establish its own righteousness.  Christ must be the end of this or we will travel land and sea to win converts whom we will turn into twice the children of hell we are (Rom. 10:3, 4; Matt. 23:15).
Since human religion puts itself in God’s place, it cannot tolerate when God or His true representatives show themselves.  The exposure of its charade, its counterfeiting, and its hypocrisy cannot be countenanced or it will lose all the control, self-worship, and parasitic preservation secured by its ruse.  So called “clergy” are certainly to blame as perpetrators of the power structure of human religion, the fa├žade which keeps people from entering the kingdom because it poses as the gate (Matt. 23:13).  But human religion can’t exist without a laity which can be appealed to by leaders who justify the rule of self, the religion of the stomach, and their enmity with the cross of Christ (Php. 3:18, 19).  To these and to all Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23, 24). 
            We cannot serve Christ and human religion.  We must choose.  While Christ and human religion coexist (not only in churches but in ourselves) they will be drawn inexorably into conflict, and we will be on one side or the other—laying our lives down in Christ’s image or thinking we offer service to God even as we attack those who are His flesh and blood (1 John 3:11-16; John 16:2). 

“[F]or Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14, 15). 

            The first murder was religiously motivated.  Cain offered God the best fruit his talents and effort could produce.  God rejected his offering but accepted Abel’s—an animal from his flock.  John tells us Cain murdered Abel because “his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (1 John 3:12).  The counterfeiter couldn’t tolerate the existence of the real.  Cain and Abel demonstrate one of the basic differences between human religion and Christ.  Cain’s “gospel” is that of human religion: work hard for God and give Him your best.  Abel had nothing of himself to offer.  Instead, he offered another life from his flock, which God accepted.  Cain says it’s about being good enough.  Abel says someone else must die for us.  Human religion heaps burdens on men which it won’t lift a finger to carry itself (Matt. 23:4).  Christ, who lays down His life for us, says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

God Is in Control

Below is an excerpt from a new booklet I'm working on....

***  

            “God is in control.”  Christians repeat this phrase to each other often.  But what do we mean when we say this?  God being in control is another way of talking about God’s will or what God wants.  Does God get what He wants?  If He does, how?  If He doesn’t, why?  Such questions immediately re-frame the whole discussion about God being in control.  Often, when Christians talk of God being in control, it is in reference to what we want or hope for.  Anytime we are in the midst of change or crisis, there are certain outcomes we would prefer and others we would rather avoid.  At such times, we comfort ourselves and others by saying, “God is in control,” because we assume God shares our desires and is working to conform circumstances to our expectations.  It is hard for us to question whether what we hope for is actually what God wants.  This is because it is ingrained in us that what God wants, God gets.  We are afraid to think that He might want something different from us because, chances are, going down that road won’t lead to the place we expect. 
            This assumption—that what we view as good is also godly—breeds untold confusion and heartache.  We pray for something we want or for a situation to turn out a certain way.  We don’t get what we ask for or things go a way that is completely against our liking.  What do we conclude?  Not that God has something else in mind.  Not that we should find out what He wants instead of asking for what we want.  Instead, when God chooses something other than what we expect, we doubt He exists.  We doubt His goodness.  We doubt He loves us.  We rub salt in our wounds.  Disappointment is hard enough without believing we are disappointed because God ignores us, doesn’t care about us, or simply isn’t there.  We could spare ourselves some additional pain by questioning ourselves instead of God.  But at bottom, we are so convinced that we know best it is almost incomprehensible to question ourselves.  Doubting God is much easier than doubting ourselves.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Standing on a New Frontier--Post by Frank Viola

One of the blogs I follow is by Frank Viola, co-author (with Leonard Sweet) of Jesus Manifesto.  Today, I read a post of his that hit me right between the eyes, so to speak.  Below is an excerpt of the post with a link to the full post.

***

"Today we stand on the edge of a new frontier--one of exploration, not fortification.  One of discovery, not contentment.  In this new frontier, we will navigate the uncharted waters of Jesus Christ, our all-sufficient Lord.

There is so much more of Christ to sail than we could ever imagine.  But if the truth be told, we have been handed a shrink-wrapped Jesus.

Christ has become our once-a-week Mascot.  We rally around Him on Sunday mornings, selfishly reaching for all we can get from Him--goodies and gifts, all for us.  Then we push Him off to the sidelines the rest of the week.

But the game has never been about us; it's always been about Him.

The gospel that's so often preached today lacks a revelation of Jesus Christ.  The contemporary gospel boils down to a fire-insurance policy, a Santa Claus God, or a performance-based religion.  As long as we stay on that plane, we'll never see or comprehend the staggering enormity of our Lord."

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Featured Blog: Inspired Sketch

Patrick Murphy is a friend of mine who loves the Lord & who creates art that I really value.  I'd like to invite you to check out his blog, Inspired Sketch: http://inspiredsketch.blogspot.com/.  On the blog, you'll find thoughtful, spiritual reflections accompanied by drawings, paintings, photos, & videos.  Below are a few of my personal favorites:






Monday, July 23, 2012

The Root and Foundation


An excerpt from my notes on the feasts of Israel
***
            Sacrifice, of some kind, was required with the observance of every feast under the old covenant.  The types and amounts of animals varied from feast to feast but generally there was a burnt offering and a sin offering.  The main purpose of a burnt offering was to be “an aroma pleasing to the LORD” (Lev. 1:9, 13, 17).  For this offering, the entire animal was burned on the altar.  The sin offering was made to make atonement for the people (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35).  These offerings had to be made during every feast because of Israel’s continuing sinfulness.  They could not relate to God or participate in His feasts unless sin was dealt with and God was satisfied.
            Jesus’s one sacrifice was sufficient for all time and beyond.  On the cross He fulfilled every burnt offering and sin offering pictured in the Old Testament. In Him, there is no need for repeated sacrifice.  Why then is the cross pictured at every feast through the offerings that were commanded?  It is because our participation in any aspect of Christ depends on the cross.  We can only be united to His resurrection if we are united to His death (Rom. 6:5).  Sharing His anointing depends on His atonement.  And God couldn’t tabernacle or dwell in us unless His temple was destroyed and raised in three days (John 2:19-22).
            It isn’t just that the cross is a first step that we have to start with.  We cannot move on from the cross any more that a tree can move from its root or a building from its foundation.  This is why, even in the type, the Lord keeps the cross continually before us.  It is as if He is saying, “If I hadn’t died you would have no part in me” (cf. John 13:8). 
Painting by Patrick Murphy: http://inspiredsketch.blogspot.com/

            Since the cross is the bedrock of all God has done, we must keep our feet on the ground of it, especially as we know Jesus in the more exalted aspects of His life.  Christ, our risen, anointed King still has His wounds.  The Holy Spirit must mark us with the cross in such a way that we never leave the wounds of Christ, even as we experience the freedom of His resurrection, the power of His anointing, the authority of His crown.  In fact, we must see His wounds as the source of everything else that we experience in Him and learn to value them as the headwaters of spiritual life.  If the cross is not ever before us and hasn’t indelibly marked our hearts, we will have a false sense of where God’s life, power, authority, and blessing come from.  We will think these divine things come because we are spiritual, and because God is rewarding us for “doing it right.”  But if we experience any spiritual life and power, it is only because we are in Christ who died on the cross to make our participation possible.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Living Tabernacles

An excerpt from my notes about the Feast of Tabernacles:  


         During the Feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites were to live in tent-like structures called tabernacles or booths as a reminder that the Lord had them dwell in booths when He brought them out of Egypt (Lev. 23:42, 43).  The Lord also dwelled in the Tent of Meeting, located in the center of Israel’s camp.  The words “tabernacles” and “booths” are two ways to translate the Hebrew word twks (“sukkot”).  The word “sukkot” denotes temporary shelters made by weaving branches together.  Coupling this with Jesus’s teaching in John 15 gives us an image of the Lord and His people dwelling in union: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).  We can almost re-imagine the camp of Israel as a vineyard where the branches weave in and out of each other to form a whole field of living tabernacles whose vines all twine out from the Lord’s Tabernacle in the center.  This is a picture of our living union with Christ.  Only within this vineyard—where life flows from the True Vine to and through and among the branches—can we bear fruit.  “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Life Appeared

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it" (1 John 1:1, 2).

          John and the other apostles didn't preach the Word.  They preached the Word that became flesh and dwelled among us (John 1:14).  If the Word isn't becoming flesh in us, we have no gospel to preach but only a biblical fiction.  And those who respond to such a message will know it is a fiction when they come to church but do not hear Him, see Him, look at Him, or touch Him in us.

Excerpt from my booklet, "The Consummation of All Things in Christ: Ephesians Chapters 1-4"

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Disgraceful Grace


“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).

            There can be disgrace associated with carrying the Son of God within, as when Mary was found to be with child before marrying Joseph.  What was in her was of God but appeared illegitimate.  She seemed to be guilty of sin, and yet she bore the One who would save from sin (Matt. 1:21).  “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13).  Hebrews here contrasts the High Priest presenting the blood of atonement in the sanctuary with the animal carcass that was burned outside the camp.  It was the human priest and the people which needed the atoning blood yet the animal from whom the saving blood was drawn was expelled from the assembly in disgrace.  The priest in need of forgiveness retained his reputation and his place in the sanctuary of God, while the sacrifice was cast out like an unclean thing.  Faced with the choice between our public image and being ostracized with Jesus, the writer of Hebrews counsels us to stick with Jesus, even if it means looking bad. 

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  […]  He was assigned a grave with the wicked…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” 
(Isaiah 53:4, 9).

            Sometimes, because of the disgrace, our reaction is to dissociate ourselves from the Lord and his vessels.  Like Joseph, we are concerned about what is right; we determine to distance ourselves from anything questionable, just as Joseph made up his mind to quietly divorce Mary (Matt. 1:19).  Except for the Lord’s gracious intervention through a dream, Joseph would have continued in his course and divorced, not just from Mary, but from Christ whom she bore (Matt. 1:20, 21).  We too must rely on God’s grace, on His ability to reveal what is spiritual and beyond appearances, or we will distance ourselves from Christ for the sake of what is right.  But to associate with the Lord in this way means sharing in His disgrace.  For Joseph, it probably meant dealing with the sidelong glances, whisperings, and probing questions of friends, family, and acquaintances.  It meant entering into the appearance of sin for the fellowship of the Son.  It meant being in the image of Him who dared to sully Himself by association with us in order to save us.  This is why He was named “Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matt. 1:23).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Something God said to me....

"You are not your mistakes.  You are my son."

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Torch of Christ


At different and crucial points in my walk, God has sent messengers to lift up Christ as a blazing torch in the darkness of my path.  Years ago, right after giving up Buddhism, I did a 6 month stint with Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I was a voracious Bible-reader and quickly assimilated JW’s perspective of the scriptures.  One night, I was arguing with a Christian guy about whether the Bible sanctioned blood transfusions since, after all, the Old Testament forbids the eating of blood.  Exasperated by his refusal to yield to the teachings of my religion, I asked this Christian, “OK, FINE.  WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BLOOD MEANS?”  He said, “I think it’s about Jesus.  Colossians says that the law was a shadow of spiritual reality in Christ.  So everything about blood in the Old Testament is speaking about the blood of Jesus.”  It is difficult to relate what went on in my mind as he talked.  It was like watching a puzzle putting itself together.  And when the last piece fell into place, I saw Christ.
            After that conversation, I hightailed it out of JW’s for good and started going to church with that guy.  (See their website here: http://christaslife.com/).  During my time there, I heard a man named JW Luman speak on a number of occasions, and it was in the middle of one of his messages that I had another floodlight moment with Jesus.  I can’t even tell you what topic he was preaching on, but at one point JW said of Jesus, “And He is a land, and a temple, and a mountain, and a man!”  To have all these biblical images gathered up into Jesus Christ had a similar effect as my conversation about blood years earlier.  Where once the Bible appeared as so many Scrabble tiles in a disordered mess, its letters now aligned in a single message—“JESUS.”  (JW is part of Covenant Ministries International:
            God has no other message for us but His Son, Jesus (Heb. 1:1, 2).  This is a message I missed, even as a serious student of the Bible.  I am thankful for the messengers God has sent and continues to send my way, just when I need them.  My prayer is that I can thank them by taking up the torch of Christ and continuing to hold it aloft for anyone who cares to look to it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Name above Every Name


“For the sake of your name do not despise us” (Jeremiah 14:21).

            Glancing through the scriptures, it becomes clear that Jeremiah is not merely appealing to the Lord’s reputation in this verse: “…our redeemer from of old is your name” (Isaiah 63:16; 1 Peter 1:18, 19);  “Help us, O God our savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake” (Psalm 79:9; Eph. 2:5);  “…through your name we trample our foes” (Psalm 44:5; Col. 2:15); “Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O LORD, how foolish people have reviled your name” (Psalm 24:18; Matt. 27:39-44).  Speaking of Himself just before the cross, Jesus said, “Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:28).  In doing so, He showed that He was the name of the Lord embodied and drew into Himself all scriptural testimony concerning God’s name.  For “there is no other name given to men under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
            Scripture also says that God’s people are called by His name (2 Chron. 7:14).  We are no longer known by our old name, Adam, nor by his despicable conduct.  God only knows us by the name which suffered, died, and was buried, the name which rose again on the third day.  He makes no distinctions in his heart between us and Christ.  Therefore, He will not despise us.  Instead, in Christ, God says of us, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

True Fasting II


(Part I is the post immediately before this one)

***

         As the verses from Isaiah 58 suggest, a sacrificial lifestyle can take many forms.  We may accept a leadership position for which we feel ill-prepared and unqualified.  We may apologize first, even though another person is at fault.  God may give us an opportunity to share Christ in a setting where it isn’t comfortable.  Ministry to the homeless or opening our homes to travelers may be ways we give ourselves.  Regardless of how it looks, if we are being transformed by Christ’s sacrifice, we will respond when God asks us to offer ourselves. 
            Denying self and taking up the cross daily is the difference between vital spirituality and hollow religion: “For, as I have often told you before…many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Php. 3:18, 19).  The enemies of the cross to which Paul is referring are not those who are godless, immoral, drunks or murderers.  He is talking about people who keep the law, who are moral and worship God, yet refuse the “fasting” of the cross (Php. 3:3-7).  God’s end goal isn’t that we gather in special buildings, sing songs to Him, tithe, and attend potlucks (though we may do all of these).  God’s eternal desire is that we are conformed to Christ’s sacrifice and live as sacrifices ourselves (Rom. 12:1).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

True Fasting


An excerpt from my notes on the Day of Atonement

***            

            On the day of Atonement, the Israelites were to practice "self-denial" (traditionally understood to mean fasting) (Lev. 23:32).  Isaiah 58:6 and 7 say,

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

These verses show that God values a self-giving lifestyle much more than ritual self-deprivation.  God wants us to live from the heart, not the stomach.  This is why Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  The Christ lifestyle is one lived unto the cross.  This is true fasting.
            Second Corinthians 5:15 says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”  For any Israelite who took to heart the full significance of the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, not eating might be a natural response of repentance, besides being commanded by God.  In the same way, we respond to Christ's sin offering by "fasting," by living for Him and not ourselves.  This isn't a rule God imposes on us.  It is the natural response of a heart changed by the love of Christ who gave Himself for us.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Authority to Trample


Another excerpt from my notes on the Feast of Trumpets:

Christ ruined satan when He died on the cross.  Trumpets shouts that Christ has been crowned, and the prince of this world has been driven out (John 12:31). The war is over.  All things are under His feet (Eph. 1:22).  The devil has no hold in Him (John 14:30).  When Jesus approaches, He causes even a legion of demons to tremble and beg for mercy (Mark 5:6-10).  The coronation of Trumpets means that, in Christ, we have “authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19).  The word “trample” doesn’t imply a struggle for the upper hand.  It means rolling like tanks over our enemy.  It means we can drive out spirits with a word (Matt. 8:16). 
This doesn’t mean satan can’t operate and carry out attacks.  After Germany surrendered in 1945, Allied forces moving through Europe encountered pockets of German soldiers who hadn’t heard the war was over.  Battles ensued, just as they had before VE Day, and casualties resulted from these encounters.  In the same way, the devil still attacks and inflicts spiritual casualties, even though the war is over.  We need to be alert and ready to resist enemy forces (1 Peter 5:8-9).  But as we resist, it is crucial to maintain perspective.  Satan is a defeated foe, not a foe we have to defeat.  If, in our minds, the cross was anything less than VE Day (“Victory over the Enemy”), then no amount of prayer, fasting, rebuking the devil, or spiritual warfare will make a difference.  It isn't our moral purity, dedication to prayer, or anything else about us that defeats the enemy.  It is the blood of the Lamb and the word of the cross (Rev. 12:11).  If we don’t meet the enemy on the ground of the cross, we may be giving him grounds to continually provoke us because we have given him no reason to retreat (Matt. 4:11; James 4:7).  Either we trust that Christ finished the enemy or we trust in the things we do to finish what Christ could not.   
            Some final considerations: Jesus had to give satan permission to enter Judas (John 13:26, 27).  God allowed a messenger of satan to torment Paul (2 Cor. 12:7-9).  Satan needed permission from God each time he struck Job (Job 1:12, 2:6).  We often think of satan as a rebel God is unable to control.  While rebellion is certainly one of satan’s core motives, he has no power to act outside the limits God sets for him.  When the enemy attacks we can rest in the knowledge that what satan intends for harm, God intends for good (Gen. 50:20).  Romans 8:28 says, “But we know that for those loving God, for those called according to His purpose, everything is working together for good.”  Nothing satan can do falls outside of the word “everything” in Romans 8:28.  Even his worst, most depraved activities can further God’s purposes.  Consider the cross: God didn’t stop the murder of His own Son.  He allowed the devil to do what he wanted.  Our enemy was so blinded by his desire to destroy Jesus he didn’t even realize the death of Christ would destroy him (1 John 3:8; 1 Cor. 2:8).  The cross shows how absolute God’s authority is.  We tend to think God is in control only if He stops suffering and injustice.  But God doesn’t have to control everything to be in control.  His power is most perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).  Trumpets preaches that Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).   

Monday, March 19, 2012

Overcoming King

This is an excerpt from my notes on the Feast of Trumpets:



            Just before dying on the cross, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  “Trouble” alludes to life in a fallen world.  With everything from genocide to economic strain to sexual confusion plaguing us, “trouble” seems an almost comic understatement.  Yet Jesus tells us to have peace in Him because He has overcome.  When a crying toddler has us on the ropes, Jesus has overcome that.  When we have one drink too many, Jesus has overcome that.  When disease takes someone we love, Jesus has overcome that.  However we want to fill in the blank—with divorce, school shootings, mass starvation, or depression—Jesus has overcome.
The question is, How did Jesus overcome?  We know that Adam didn’t follow God’s command in the garden.  In effect, Adam said to God, “Not what you want but what I want.”  Since then, every individual has pursued what they want instead of what God wants.  Adam’s choice was the proverbial pebble thrown in the pond.  The ripples from that choice have surged into the tidal waves of problems that threaten to sweep us away on a daily basis.  Jesus, however, made a different choice.  He said to God, “Not what I want but what you want” (Matt. 26:39).  The world was first overcome in the heart of Christ when He chose to do what the Father wanted and to die on the cross. 
Christ’s choice is having its own ripple effect.  1 John 5:5 says, “Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  When we believe in Jesus, we receive a new heart, the heart of Christ, which wants what the Father wants (Ezek. 36:26, 27).  As we live by that heart, we start to overcome the effects of the fall in our own lives. 
By extension, the church is a gathering of those with new hearts.  To be sure, we still deal with each other’s failings and sins.  But we also get a glimpse of life in a community where the fall is no longer a reality.  The church is a window to an existence that is coming and yet is already at work within us—where there is no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, where the old order has passed away and all things are new (Rev. 21:4, 5).
We bring the culture of overcoming to our interactions with people in this world.  To those whose only reality is living with the conditions of the fall, we can offer compassion and respite from “trouble.” 
The ripples of the cross continue beyond the church and human society.  One day, the universe will be liberated from every last trace of the fall (Rom. 8:21).  The manifestation of this won’t occur until Christ returns.  But the fact of it began at the cross.  For every kind of sin, problem, sickness, and disorder of nature, we can find a corresponding cure in Christ’s death and resurrection.  It would take a whole other book to explore this in any detail.  But Trumpets announces, with fanfare, that Jesus has overcome and continues to overcome through us: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Sound of Wailing


“The sound of wailing is heard from Zion: How ruined we are!  How great is our shame!” (Jer. 9:19)

           Throughout scripture, wailing is common when the Lord comes in judgment and leaves no hope of escape or recovery.  There was wailing when all the first-born were slain in Egypt, and in John’s vision of the fall of Babylon (Ex. 12:30; Rev. 18:19). Wailing is the blindness of the unspiritual mind expressed—full of protest, agony, and searching.  For when our treasure is stored up on earth, and our heart is there also, we cannot see past suffering or loss (Matt. 6:19-21).  It is incomprehensible.  For sinners and Christians whose minds are set on the flesh, death is the final truth.
            When Jesus came to visit a man whose daughter had just died, he asked, “Why all this commotion and wailing?  The child is not dead but asleep” (Mark 5:39).  Jesus knew that He, and not death, was the final truth.  Nevertheless, scripture says the people laughed at Him.  Those grieving blindly always have a moment to pause and call Jesus a fool.  But Jesus put out the mourners and wailers (Mark 5:40).  Only three disciples and the girl’s parents—those who believed—saw resurrection in the midst of tragedy.  “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them…There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:3, 4).  Through the resurrection of Christ, God made man His dwelling; what was mortal has been swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5:4).  Those who believe, whom He draws to be eye-witnesses of Himself, see beyond death.  In Jesus they find One who is worth the loss of all things (Phil. 3:7, 8).

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

What Spirit Are We Of?

This is an excerpt from a booklet I'm working on about the Feasts of Israel:

          Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).  He sends us out in all authority so that people will learn of Him and conform to Him (Matt. 28:19, 20).  As we go it is important to remember that our authority is given by the Passover Lamb.  When some Samaritans didn’t want Jesus coming through their village, James and John asked if they should call down fire on them.  Jesus rebuked them and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:54-56).  Jesus wasn’t interested in forcing anyone to accept Him.  Scripture says His face was set like flint toward Jerusalem, where He was to be crucified (Luke 9:51). 
          We disciples face opposition as we go out into the world.  There is many a “village” that doesn’t want us around.  We know Jesus.  We know His value.  We know that every person has a deep need for the Lord.  When others don’t recognize or receive Him, it is easy to feel anxious for them or even offended.  But when we are tempted to confront, to threaten hellfire, to argue and to push until they accept Jesus, we need to remember our Master headed to the cross to die for them.  Laying down our lives for others should be more important than trying to convince people of our viewpoint (1 John 3:16).  If we allow the Spirit of Passover to move us, He will command devotion and obedience because His self-giving nature is truly worthy of these things.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trinity + 1

Ezekiel chapter one records a vision of God’s glory.  At first, we are struck by the theatrics of the vision: a windstorm, fire, thunder, wheels covered with eyes….  Yet, there is something about this vision of glory we will miss if we go no deeper than the special effects (1 Kings 19:11-13).  In the midst of the fire, Ezekiel sees four living creatures.  Each has the face of a man, a lion, a calf, and an eagle. All move as one:  “Each one went straight ahead.  Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went” (Ezek. 1:12).
In glory, nothing originates in self, no one moves independently.  All proceed by one Spirit.  One creature doesn’t fly off on its own while another roars and runs around.  Sometimes they all fly, and sometimes they all roar “Holy, holy, holy,” but whatever they do, they do by one Spirit (Ezek. 1:19; Rev. 4:8).   This is a reflection of God’s unity and of the selfless fellowship that defines the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The unity of God is not a unity of sameness.  The members of the Godhead are as individual as the creatures.  Yet none of them lives to Himself.  None moves based on His prerogative or power as God.  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing out from himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19).  In saying this, Jesus was not referring to His human dependence on God.  He was speaking about the divine nature.  In the same vein, He said of the Spirit, “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears” (John 16:13).  This could not possibly refer to the Spirit’s human dependence on God for the Spirit never became man as did the Son.  The glory of God, then, is marked by a fundamental denial of self and preferring of others.
            Dependence on God is not primarily a function of human need.  God has none of our needs yet each member of the Godhead operates interdependently.  It is important for us to see that we have not just been called to eternal neediness.  We have been called into glory, to live as members of God Himself.  Perhaps this is why Ezekiel sees four living creatures.  By grace, we have been added to the Trinity and to the flow of life between them!