Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Living Lessons From Leviticus 12

When I made a commitment to study all the chapter 12's in Scripture for 2012- I knew the likelihood of finding an obscure chapter was part of the plan. But I also believe that ALL Scripture is given for us and equally important in its ability to teach, correct, train, edify, etc.

So here I am, fighting a miserable head cold, and probing the meaning of 8 verses in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 12. And the topic? Childbirth, menstruation, circumcision, and rules for burnt offerings.

But the principles even here are startling and life changing. The opportunity to hear from the Holy Spirit in these times is an incredible opportunity.

In fact, there is so much here, that I won't be able to write on it- and will likely take a number of posts to explore the implications of this passage.

Over the next few blog posts- I hope to explore the purpose of the Law, the picture of Christ, the beauty of His Sacrifice, the compassion of the Father, and the daily awareness of our life and choices in our fellowship with Christ.

It is this last one that I want to start with, because it has been the newest discovery as I read and prayed through the Word.

We first need to explore the concept of 'clean' and 'unclean' as it pertains to much of the Levitical code. The meaning here is primarily related to a ritual purification or a ceremonial state when it comes to participating in the rituals set up by God in the Law.

Though it has a symbolic attachement to holiness or unholiness- it is not necessarily a designation of sin as we tend to apply these concepts. Again- there is an entire context of sin and holiness that is often missed in out modern day teaching. Yes, Holiness is without impurity- but there is also an equally important definition of HOLY as being SET APART or ALIEN.

In other words- the THRICE HOLY God is without sin- but He is also SET APART- His ways are not our ways. When He declares something HOLY- not only is HE washing it of all impurity, but He is setting it apart for HIS use.

Now, the complexity of this is very important- and we will press into this at a later point about the PURPOSE OF THE LAW- but for now, let us take a journey back into the ancient world and gain a greater appreciation for what God is doing in the moral, civil, and ceremonial law of His chosen people.

#1- God Presents Himself to the Ancient Israelites in Close Proximity to the Customs of Ancient Cultures for the Ultimate Purpose of Defeating False Worship and Idolatry.

When I read the first 5 books of the Bible I constantly remind myself that our God is revealing Himself to Moses and telling Him how He has been doing this very thing since the beginning of human history. The narrative gives context and uses the context of all the people experienced in Egypt, the education, the subtle slide away from truth, and the human default mode to create idols.

But here is the beauty! As God gets close to paralleling the customs of those who do not know the TRUE GOD- he bucks the system and, in the end, pulls down false worship, problem beliefs, and knocks down the prison of false idols.

A great example is of this is Abraham and Isaac- child sacrifice was well known- Abraham's past culture and many of the current cultures practiced going to the top of a mountain and slaying a first born child to the God of Thunder and fire-BAAL.

And as Abraham is about to do the same- God interrupts him in a dramatic fashion! "No Abraham, I am a different God- I will provide the Lamb! Remember my covenant? I alone walked through the split animals. The curse of this covenant will be paid by ME!"

#2 - Some of God's Mysterious Ways are to Point Us Daily to Him, Promote Our Dependence on Him, and Gradually Teach Us About His True Nature.

  Again, there are a myriad of reasons for how and why God does things- and some of those are a purposeful mystery (Deut. 29:29).And unfortunately, we make a lot of assumptions in these areas (including this blogger!). Why does God declare a woman who has given birth ceremonially unclean? Why does He declare a menstruating woman ritualistically impure? Why is there a distinction between the birth of a girl and boy? If we are honest we say- " I don't know" but trust God's declaration here.

But consider how trustworthy and caring God is here. Do you watch doctors or paramedics when blood is present? What do they do? Why? The protective gloves and eyewear is proof that human blood contains all kinds of contaminants.

Now, I don't think the whole Ceremonial Law is a community hygiene campaign- but improperly cooked food, some types of animals, and some of the stranger laws in Leviticus do help ancient people to stay healthier.

As I write this- I just measured a 100.4 F temperature. I took me some ibuprofen and if I don't improve in a day or so I will go to a doctor. How fortunate we are!

It wasn't uncommon in days even up to the late 19th century that I could very well be looking at a death sentence. Most people did not see children make it past 1 year old! Ceremonial washing does provide some protection.

What does Leviticus teach me about God? He is orderly, He is specific, He is serious, He teaches us methodically AND He is going to provide a cleansing at the Cross that will wash all of this away except the important Moral Law.

#3 It Would Benefit Us to Think in Terms of Our Daily Life and Daily Choices as Areas of Clean and Unclean.

My relationship with Christ is secure. I cannot lose my salvation. The day I put my faith in Christ as the only hope of my Salvation, I was saved.

But, because of sin, I do find myself separated from Him in unconfessed sin. I can grow cold toward Him. I can grow hardened in patterns of sin. And He disciplines me, because He loves me. (see Hebrews 12)

That is why I need to draw close to Him daily. Yes, daily quiet times can become routine- daily prayers can become seemingly meaningless rituals- but these are beautiful reminders of our daily need of Christ.

I John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.".

In fact, the entire first part of I John covers it in a beautiful and balanced way.

What did David say?


For when I kept silent (about my sin), my nbones wasted away
through my ogroaning all day long.For day and night your phand was heavy upon me;my strength was dried up2 as by the heat of summer. qacknowledged my sin to you,and I did not cover my iniquity;I said, “I rwill confess my transgressions to the Lord,”and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is sgodlyoffer prayer to you at a time when you tmay be found;                                                        Psalm 32 ESV

What are some daily things I do that make me, in a sense, ceremonially unclean? A TV show I watch? A joke I laughed at? A witnessing opportunity that I turned down? Over-eating? Over-sleeping?

The key point is that I can't find salvation by keeping these rules- but I can find a richer relationship with my Savior who died for my failure.

This is not a self improvement plan to brag- it is not a system to oppress others- this is a journey.

My greatest shame is that I have spent almost 30 years of walking with Christ, not seeing how Holy I can live, but how worldly I can stay and still keep a decent conscience as I pray.

AND HERE IS THE DEAL- WE ARE JUST STARTING TO COMMENT ON THE LAW- THE NEXT FEW POSTS SHOULD BE INTERESTING!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Exodus 12- Christ and the Passover

This is part of my goal to study all the chapter 12's in the Bible in 2012. This blog will make more sense if you read Exodus 12 first.


Hindsight is always 20/20. It is so neat to live in the light of the gospel! The OT is the New Testament contained. The NT is the Old Testament explained!


The Passover is an amazing event and it comes at an even staggering bright light when you see it coming right after Abraham in Genesis 12 and in context with the sacrifice of Christ on Passover in Jerusalem.

When God was directing Moses to write the Book of Genesis- He was preparing the people for a similar type of call. Just as Abraham was called to leave and follow God (Gen 12), so was Moses going to lead the Israelites as they left Egypt.

Yes, it was bondage and yes, life grew harder as God's people prospered under the fear, bigotry, and jealousy of the Egyptians. But Egypt was a known quantity and the journey into the wilderness was a step of great faith.

But the event of the Passover is monumental in the 'sending off' of God's people.

There is way too much here to comment in detail about- but I did want to make a couple of crucial observations.

THE MULTIPLE MEANING OF LEAVEN: 

It is interesting in Exodus 12 that the removal of all leaven was indicative of haste and sin. Haste as to the need for the Israelites to pack, prepare, eat standing up and be ready to run at God's call. It is such a haste that you don't even have time for the bread to rise.

AND

Scripturally, leaven as symbolic of sin. In preparation of the Passover ceremonial meal- the house is to be rid of leaven and everyone who ears of leaven shall be cut off. The rapid spread of sin and indicative of the extensive false teaching of the Pharisees (Matt16).

CLEAR SYMBOL OF CHRIST AS THE PASSOVER LAMB:

The blood of the unblemished lamb (put on the doorposts as a sign of a cross) is the sign for the angel of death to pass over the household.

The current day passover ceremonies even picture the resurrection of Christ- (go participate in one and see if you catch it). You can watch some of those clear pictures in this link: Passover.


DEEP CONNECTIONS OF PASSOVER TO THE LORD'S SUPPER:

As Christ is participating in the passover meal on the night of His betrayal, He doesn't drink the final cup of wine because He is waiting to share it with His purchased/ransomed Bride on the great resurrection day.

In fact- a proper 'fencing' of the Lord's Table (not partaking in a unworthy manner) can be linked to disallowing anyone who has eaten leaven in the Passover preparation.


When I put Exodus 12 right after my study of Genesis 12 I see a God of deep plans and powerful providence. Nothing is random with Him! The complex overlays of the Scriptures in space/time/history make me marvel at His ways!

SO what do we do with this revelation?

We must have the covering of the blood of Lamb of God to escape the angel of death.

This gift is received by faith- just as the Israelites trusted in God's provision , so must we!

A final powerful symbol of leaven is found in Matthew 13:33

 He (Jesus) told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
Here leaven is the pervasive and rapid spread of the gospel.

What are we doing to hasten the coming of the great Kingdom? Are we preparing and sharing?

I can't wait to see Jesus!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

If Any Man Be in Christ, He Has a New Calendar



Exodus 12 

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, fThis month (NISAN) shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.


14 This day shall be tfor you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as austatute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.



29 oAt midnight the pLord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, qfrom the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was ra great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.



40 The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of d430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a enight of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.



 51 And on that very day the mLord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their nhosts.

Have you already broken your New Year's resolution to diet?

That seems like a strange opening to the selected passages out of Exodus 12. But I do think that it is interesting that the Hebrew calendar starts the New Year closer to Spring. (March/April depending on lunar cycle and adjustments).

January is a terrible time to start a diet. You have cold weather and other issues (including NFL playoffs and Superbowl). My most successful attempt to lose significant weight was when I waited until April to push the eating plan.

The better weather is added incentive to pick up body metabolism. Spring is life....winter is death.

So what in the world does that comment have to do with Exodus 12?

Sometimes God does things so significant in one's life or the world that even the calendar is changed.

We should never give in to the pressure to adopt BCE (before common era) in place of BC (Before Christ) and ACE (After Common Era) in place of AD (Anno Domini "in the year of our Lord).

This is what the Passover will come to be for the Israelites: an event so significant that it will be marked with change and somber celebration for centuries to follow.

God uses the reality of space/time/history to reveal Himself. Creation declares the glory of the Creator 24-7.

But God also invades space/time/history in such a way that the ordinary is suspended and He performs supernatural acts. And everything is interrupted and changed.... permanently

We will have much more time to contemplate the Passover in future blog posts- but I wanted us to see again the references to calendar and time in the passage.


A SPECIAL MONTH- THE MONTH OF BEGINNING


Just look at the significance of Nisan in Jewish history. According to Jewish tradition:
Abraham, Issaac, and Jacob were born and they died in the month of Nisan
Spies Helped by Rahab in Nisan- 7 Nisan 1273 BC
Miriam's death- 10 Nisan 1274 BC
Crossing the Jordan-10 Nisan 1273 BC
Haman's decree-13 Nisan 523 BC
The Exodus- 15 of Nisan 1313 BC
The End of Manna- 16 Nisan 1273 BC
Ester before the King- 16 Nisan 523 BC
Death of Joshua- 26 Nisan 1245 BC
Conquest of Jericho-28 Nisan 1273 BC

AND OF COURSE - We will mark Good Friday and Easter in this precious month.



MARK THE NEW BEGINNING- THE CHANGE- SLAVE TO FREE- DEATH TO LIFE

God tells Moses- this month will be the first of the year for you. There is some debate whether this actually signifies a change in the Jewish calendar- but the application is clear. "I am about to do something that will forever be marked as a new beginning."

For Christ followers, the same is true. We do blow out candles to rejoice in our physical birth. But it is also significant that many point to a spiritual birthday. In fact, I think it is healthy to study conversion and principles of sanctification and then evaluate your life in a way to pinpoint a conversion. I t may not be an exact moment, but it would be beneficial to search out and commemorate a time where you passed form death to life. That is a huge moment- a new beginning!

Write that day in your Bible and mark the time each year as you pass it!

I do have to laugh as a counter point- an answer given by a Calvinist friend of mine. When you ask him when he was saved he answers: 'Before the foundation of the earth' ( Ephesians 1:4). So for him, I'm saying when did he believe he responded to the effective call of God's spirit in repentance and faith.

In verse 14, God tells Moses that this day will become a Holy Memorial Day- and Jews and Christians observe this historic occasion to this day ( more on this later).

WHEN GOD ACTS- IT IS DECISIVE AND SWIFT

At midnight- The Angel of Death strikes. When God says Go- there is no delay.
There will be a day when the Lord will say, No More Delay, and the door of mercy in His Son will be forever closed. What is keeping you from deciding for Him now while there is time. The clock is ticking- your heart is a drum beat to eternity.

THE DAYS ARE NUMBERED

Exodus 12 points out exact timing of entry and exits. Hebrews says 'it is appointed once for man to die'.


What special days are marked in your life?
My prayer is that salvation and new birth is noted and beneficial in your walk of faith.





Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Myth of a Painless Struggle: Pondering Genesis 12

Selected phrases in Gen. 12
'And Abram journeyed on...'
'Now there was famine in the land....the famine was severe'
'When the Egyptians see you...then they will kill me'


My guess is that when we think of Biblical heroes, we think of a picture of perfection, righteous fire from the womb, and a daily personal visit from God.

The reality is that all the heroes of the faith walked hard, painful, sometimes lonely roads full of pain and disappointment. These are men who are as marked by their failures as their successes. And these men spent decades WITHOUT hearing directly from the Lord.

The journey of Abraham is no exception. We think of his highlight, willing to sacrifice his son on the mountain.  We also think of Romans 4 where Paul uses his faith as an example- against all hope, in hope he believes.

But we also need to see Abraham in times of little faith. Was going to Egypt a step of faith? Was lying to save himself a step of trust?

Abraham's initial step to follow God's call is impressive. But there are some commentators who interpret the geneology of Genesis11/12 as possible indication of delay. God calling, but Abraham having to go through a development of circumstances before leaving on his adventure.

Here is an undeniable bottom line: all faith walks involve struggle.

We experience the intensity of this sometimes more from a parental perspective than a personal perspective.

I want my children to walk with Jesus- yet I grieve over any discomfort or pain they experience. I want them to know Christ and the power of His resurrection- but I quickly manipulate circumstances to provide painless protection.

Now, no loving parent purposely puts their children in pain - we don't wish the trials to come- but the Bible clearly says 'when various trials come' not 'if'.

But most quality growth requires discomfort and pain:
Children are born in pain
They learn to walk by falling
They learn righteousness through discipline
Painful experiences teach future safety

Thankfully, we don't always live there. Pain is a part of the curse of sin- but it pulsates. It ebbs and retreats. It often comes in sneak attacks and dreary days- but also can dissipate in the sunshine of music or fun.

How dreadful eternal pain will be! We have no comprehension of what that will be like. When we speak of the eternal pain under God's final punishment of sin and rebellion, it will be a pain that doesn't throb or pulsate- it is 100% on- and it never retreats.
As tough as our pain seems- it is still tempered in the day of mercy and God's common grace.
And if it takes earthly pain to avoid eternal pain....bring it on!

It is exactly at this point that many turn away from God. Remember what happened to Jesus? In John 6 Jesus feeds 5,000 offers Himself as bread- but links it in a strange way- He spoke of 'eating His flesh' and 'drinking His blood' as the access point to eternal life. A difficult faith step.

His disciples heard it and acknowledged- 'this is a hard saying" and Jesus said something even more interesting 'no one can come to Me unless it is granted by the Father (vs 65) 'and after this MANY of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him' (vs 66).

What do we do when the hard call comes? What did Abraham do? Eventually, he circumcised himself, fought for Lot, pressed back into God's providence, and was willing to offer his only son in obedience to God's request.

But it took a lot of falling and famine and fear to reach those points of victory.

Job is another great example- pain that leads to God's glory.

Remember how God addressed Job as he was suffering, full of questions? In the storm (whirlwind) God says 'Brace yourself like a man".

And ultimately what Job learns is that sometimes it takes great pain to get a glimpse of the Father that few understand. It is true humility.

When someone looks at suffering and says "I can't believe in a God like that" - it is a sign that their pride still has themselves on the throne of their life. It takes a 'god' to judge God.

And what does God say? I often picture Him saying 'Job suffered for a microsecond in the timeline of eternity and now he basks in my lavish love, adventure, and care.'

So think of Abraham:

He delays..... God says "Just wait, he will be the father of faith."
He lies..... God says "Just wait, his faith will bring me glory for over 4,000 years."
He fears.... God says, "Just wait, his faith will astound the heavens"
He stumbles.... God says 'Just wait and watch him get back up"

And that is how our Father cheers for us if we know Him. If He has drawn us to Himself.

And all of our pain and questions are ultimately answered in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Sometimes I wish there were an easier way to get there- but there are no shortcuts.
Our salvation is free. But it was purchased with great sacrifice and pain.

Our sanctification is filled with toil.

The myth of a painless struggle is perpetuated in a life of fruitless faith. And you know what the old puritans said? Faith that fizzles was faulty from the first.

So as we close our first chapter 12 of 2012- let us be challenged. At what point do we cease striving? At what point do we let go of the cross? Are we just the shallow rooted shoot that withers in the sun of adversity?

Please don't quit! It matters not if you try and fail and try and fail again- IT DOES matter if you try and fail and fail to try again.

You are not saved by your effort- you are not saved by your success- you are not condemned in your failure. That is the goodness of the GOSPEL!

It is so good, that it makes all the struggles of this life worth it. I struggle well as an honor- TO MAKE HIM LOOK GOOD!

And finally, as parents, we have to be steady in the storms our children may find themselves. Comfort- yes! Encourage, by ALL MEANS! Correct injustice? Of course!

But don't move heaven and earth to remove any instrument of adversity- teach them THROUGH the struggle and cheer them as they rise up and walk in pain. Praise them for toughness in adverse situations.

Remember Romans 5: 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.


Keep pushing on in 2012- it is so worth it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Marking Milestones in Alabama's Latest Title

On Friday, Jan 8 2010 I wrote a blog post with this same title- it had been at that time, almost 18 years between wins and the post was about how intertwined my life is with Alabama football and all the memories associated with it.


Now, almost exactly 2 years later- here I sit again and I am amazed how much change has taken place in such a short time. We have changed jobs, moved back to Birmingham, and have our oldest daughter in college!


And how about the state of Alabama? - 3 national titles in a row!


I do remember being a little jealous of the people in Alabama in 2010- my family was telling me about all the pandemonium. And even though Nashville is a decent sports town- the excitement over football would be a '4' on a scale of 1-10 with Alabama being a '14'.


So it was special this year- got to watch the 1st half with great friends..ribs..chicken with white sauce..Paula Dean's mashed potatoes- round the clock coverage.


And then the most fun of all- going out AFTER the game and shopping at Academy sports with hundreds of other crazy fans. The trucks were revving their engines and Roll Tide filled the air!


So as I read the blog from 2 years ago- not much is different.
The Passion for Alabama Football- unchanged
The Testimony part would be Tim Tebow (thrilling throw the night before as an appetizer)
And my desire to keep digging is unquenched.


To be honest- the way my Nashville adventure ended eroded some of my confidence- but never my fire. It took the great people of Alabama and the great passion of Alabama football, especially in Birmingham, to restore my winners charge!


Yesterday, I helped take our next year's team through a brutal sandpit workout after a pounding weight workout. They worked hard and fast. People who don't come to Alabama just don't get it- there is an explosiveness and competitiveness here that is different- you can taste it and smell it.


So for any football doubters out there, I am here to tell you...you ain't seen nothing yet!


The post from 2010 is below:


Friday, January 08, 2010


Marking Milestones in Alabama's Latest Title

this is an upload from my blog: www.jayopsis.blogspot.com

As we watched Alabama win the national title last night, I couldn’t help but think about the last time we did this and all the change that has taken place.
The last time I could afford season tickets to the Alabama games was 1992. Lisa and I splurged and attended every home game that season. We never saw them lose. They won ugly back then too- rugged defense and making sure the offense didn’t screw it up. But that is how it has always been done at Alabama for as long as I can remember. Finding a way to win- it is the will to win in the 4th quarter.
One milestone that season was the first SEC championship game at Legion field. I managed to find one ticket and went. That night was the first time I ever talked on a cell phone. It was my friend’s that I went with and I called my wife from the stadium…. Amazed that I could do that. Antonio Langham intercepted Shane Matthews to seal the SEC championship and an opportunity to win the National Title.
And we watched (on TV at home) Gene Stallings carried off the field on the shoulders of his players after the Sugar Bowl victory over Miami. To be honest, I like that ceremony much better than the Gatorade dump. Is there a symbol there?

Now flash forward to 2010. I am living in Nashville, enjoying the win with a household of beautiful girls and thinking how much time has gone by.
These things are markers and memories. These will dim over time. But while it is fresh on my mind I wanted to write a couple of thoughts and hopefully re-read these one day with good, warm thoughts.

The Passion for Alabama Football
People make fun of it, but it is a part of Alabama. I grew up with Leonard’s losers, John Forney radio broadcasts, Sunday Bear Bryant shows, and dreaming of being a part of the Crimson Tide. It is what Alabamians do, and it creates energy and unity – a huge heart for football takes someone at the top who can pull it all into a unified confidence. Is it too much? Probably, but that's what they do, it is in the DNA of the Crimson Tide world. When Ricky Bobby said' If you ain't first, you're last" most people in the nation laughed, people from Alabama said "Amen". Alabama fans cannot be held together by anything less than a coaching persona. How many people are there in the football world that can take on that mantle? So love him or hate him- Saban is one of the very few who can survive and thrive at a place like that.

The Testimony of Colt McCoy
He was so full of emotion that he had to pause twice to answer. He was crushed.
And then he said it- " I always give God the glory, I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life, and if I know nothing else, I'm standing on the rock.” Wow- that guy is a champion!

The Inspiration to Keep Digging and Doing It Right
As a football coach, I get so inspired by the champions and the winners. The things they say are more than clich├ęs. I have to continue to push, press, learn, evaluate and apply. As I write this, I am able to look at 3 state championship rings I was privileged to be a part of. I want to get back there again. And each year, you see what it is- a group of highly dedicated and united individuals, who lay all the selfishness aside and fight with every fiber in their being. They work and compete as champions. Alabama’s title began over a year ago after a humiliating loss to Utah.

So I am ready to run after it again… today.. in every area. Knowing that I too am standing on a rock.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Blessed to Bless- Pondering Genesis 12

Genesis12 nAnd I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. oI will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Luke 6:38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put linto your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 
John 4:13“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but kwhoever drinks of the water that I will give him lwill never be thirsty again.2 The water that I will give him will becomemin him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

Has God blessed you? If salvation were the only thing He had ever given you, you would still have reason to praise Him forever! But He doesn't stop there....I have life and breath, a brain... stop and look at the engineering of your hand! The ocean breeze. Music.

Does someone love you? Have you ever shed a tear of joy? Has someone ever hugged you face to face when you were weeping in sorrow?

Blessings......

It is so interesting that the blessings have a string attached. Not as a payment to the Creator- but a weightiness to share the blessing. But it is a two way channel of healing and blessing.

And to turn your back on the giver? I still grieve over the sad ending to Christopher Hitchens. Not only did he refuse to acknowledge the Giver of good gifts, he likely shut the hearts of many followers in the process. He was a beautiful man with amazing talent...but it was never a channel of ultimate blessing.

Douglas Wilson tried. In a debate, Wilson pleaded .....


A favorite quip of those who promote atheism is to say, "God has not given me enough evidence".In a debate with Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Wilson addressed this excuse:"Actually, I believe I can present evidence for what I know. But evidence comes to us like food, and that is why we say grace over it. And we are supposed to eat it, not push it around on the plate—and if we don't give thanks, it never tastes right. But here is some evidence for you, in no particular order. The engineering that went into ankles. The taste of beer. That Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just like he said. A woman's neck. Bees fooling around in the flower bed. The ability of acorns to manufacture enormous oaks out of stuff they find in the air and dirt. Forgiveness of sin. Storms out of the North, the kind with lightning. Joyous laughter (diaphragm spasms to the atheistic materialist). The ocean at night with a full moon. Delta blues. The peacock that lives in my yard. Sunrise, in color. Baptizing babies. The pleasure of sneezing. Eye contact. Having your feet removed from the miry clay, and established forever on the rock. You may say none of this tastes right to you. But suppose you were to bow your head and say grace over all of it. Try it that way.You say that you cannot believe that Christ's death on the Cross was salvation for the world because the idea is absurd. I have shown in various ways that absurdity has not been a disqualifier for any number of your current beliefs. You praise reason to the heights, yet will not give reasons for your strident and inflexible moral judgments, or why you have arbitrarily dubbed certain chemical processes "rational argument." That's absurd right now, and yet there you are, holding it. So for you to refuse to accept Christ because it is absurd is like a man at one end of the pool refusing to move to the other end because he might get wet. Given your premises, you will have to come up with a different reason for rejecting Christ as you do.But for you to make this move would reveal the two fundamental tenets of true atheism.One: You say There is no God. Two: You hate Him.
The covenant promise to Abraham stands firm today...God blesses those who bless and curses those who curse.

But if you have been blessed...it is so you can bless others!

How can we do that?

One is to be cognizant of people around us- be willing to step in when you notice. Be active in conversations and get involved.

Secondly, be an encourager in the ways and words of God. I can't tell you how much it makes my day when someone says I encouraged them. It may just be a smile or a touch.

Third- put feet to your prayers. Initiate help and get r done. My mom used to take groceries to a family in need. Our Sunday School sent a servant of God to Hawaii with his wife to see their son who was on leave from the middle east. Give..give...give- it is the greatest joybuilder in the world. Are you down or depressed...find someone and pray for them, serve them and give- the depression will vanish.

Finally, shine the light of the gospel. The gospel of salvation through Christ is the greatest power in the universe. It has the power to set the captive free. Think of all the people in the world oppressed by religions that require duty or ritual to please an absentee God with a big billy club. The good news is on a victory lap around the globe- you have received it freely- give it away.....what a privilege!

Our next topic will be 'The Myth of a Painless Struggle'

Monday, January 02, 2012

'Go and Leave' - Pondering Genesis 12

All this year- I will be meditating and learning from all the chapter 12's in the Bible - "All the 12's in 2012"

JAN: Genesis 12

Genesis

12 Now mthe Lord said1 to Abram, “Go from your country2 and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. nAnd I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. oI will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV online)

There is a great argument that this narrative may be the most pivotal moment in the entire Bible. It is from this calling that we have 4,ooo years of human history and a seminal moment of three historic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I personally have been fascinated with this study, especially all the extra-biblical sources and narratives. It would be hard to find another figure in history with more written and re-interpreted content than Father Abraham.

AND it is impossible to be exhaustive in this study because of all the roads to cover: Middle East Geography and History (even into present day), the Abrahamic Covenant, the nature of faith, the narrative as it applies to Moses and his situation.

Of all the sources I looked at (both conservative and liberal) I liked Richard Pratt's approach the best and spent a lot of time praying through his four part outline/application to the narrative: Divine Grace/ Abraham's Loyalty/ God Blesses Abraham/ Blessings Flow Through Abraham.

But for today's post I wanted to pursue this idea of 'Going from and going to' which is an important motif of faith.

If I may piece together some speculative background: Chapter 11 lists a geneology of Abraham that proceeds from a father, Terah, and three sons: Abram/Naor/Haran. Haran dies 'in the presence of his father in the land of his kindred which is Ur of the Chaldeans'. This is believed to be near that fertile crescent of the famous rivers of antiquity  Tigris and Euphrates (modern day Iraq).

After the death of Haran, the clan (including Lot) moves Northwest up through the fertile land to settle at a place called 'Haran' and Terah dies in 'Haran' at the age of 205.

It is in this context that the Lord calls to Abram to "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house TO the land that I will show you".

I have thought a lot about this- God was calling Abram to leave all he knew, all he trusted, all his security to follow God to mostly a realm of the unknown. It is the call of faith... a trust in God.. a holy abandonment to Him... a call to follow His ways, customs, and direction.

I don't want to make too much of this- but it struck me in chapter 11 that Haran died in the presence of his father and Terah died in Haran- and it almost made me wonder about the cycles of sadness and death some families can get swept up in for generations. Most of what we believe about Abraham's descendants were that they were pagan and possibly engaged in child sacrifice- a very common practice among men at that time.


So it is a terrible irony: we don't want to leave the comforts and 'security' of  'normal' life- but we have no clue how decayed, depressed, and dead that way of life really is. We can't let go of the merry-go-round because we really don't see it winding into the ground as a death spiral. We think we are flying on a path of prosperity, but it is an enchanted treadmill- a lot of activity, but no movement or meaning.

I hear the gospel call of Jesus when He says "whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matt 10)" or in Matt. 8 "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead". It is the same call of faith, don't cling to anything in this life...even good things...even life... learn to leave and follow God even to the places that are unknown.

Now this all sounds so good- but how practical can we make this? How objective? And the worst application is how can we know if we are doing it at all? Think how easy it would be to use this as an excuse to cut and run from any undesirable situation. How do we flesh this out?

An example of this is when we decided as a family to pick up and move to Nashville in 2004. There was nothing easy about that decision or move. We pulled up deep roots and moved wife, children, pets into a big unknown. New places and people. I had no clue how to even find my way around.

Now in some way I laugh at this because it wasn't that big of a move- south to south, suburb to suburb, PCA church to PCA church- but it was a huge step into the uncomfortable and unknown- and it was great for us to do so. It meant trusting God to provide.. and He did. It meant trusting Him in ways that we were not accustomed to.. and He did. Was it hard? YES! Did we grow? ABSOLUTELY!

Now comes a tough part of this- after some time of being on the new assignment, we had a sense that things weren't going that well in some areas. We were struggling financially, we had a sense that some were against us, and my "oldest daughter was hurting in the new environment.

My wife paused one night and asked the question out loud that I was thinking inwardly- "Did we miss God's call? Did we really hear him or was this some man manipulated step?" After some prayer and review, we had to re-affirm that this was God's call and we had a season of learning about what God means about blessing. And things did improve, but the negative issues finally culminated in my termination after 7 years of honest effort on our part.

(I may get a chance to explore this further in later posts, but we often think of the patriarchs having a daily time in God's presence and then doing great things for Him. We read events in a few short chapters without the context of time. Abraham and Moses went years between visits by God. I have to think that Abraham might be laying wake in his tent, no son or land yet, and wondering 'Did I hear that right?' How long are we willing to wait on God? That is a part of trusting Him as well.)

When God threw us that curveball after 7 years, it led us on a deeper path of trusting Him. Was it hard? YES! Did we grow? EVEN DEEPER!

So the life of faith is a willingness to pick it all up and follow God's call. It means eagerly listening for God to show the next step and being found faithful as we wait on that message.

I guess I need to close this with a couple of applications:

_ LEAVE- "Leaving" may not be geographical. Though some are called to leave and go to other nations or other environments (and all should be open to that leading)- others may need to stay. And moving or still, we are all called to leave the world and leave 'self-rule' to follow the voice of our Great Shepherd. This may be a lifestyle, a pattern of sin, an attitude, an unproductive activity- as you sit alone, just you and God's Word- do you hear Him calling you to leave?

My ultimate metaphor in leaving is a heart statement I tell myself a lot- "I am leaving this at the cross"- It may be a frustration, or unrequited desire, or unfulfilled dream. I try to begin everyday by crucifying myself to Christ- being a living sacrifice to Him- thinking of Galatians 2:20 "I have been tcrucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives uin me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, vwho loved me and wgave himself for me."

_ GO- The best way to put off is to put on. (See Colossians and Ephesians) The best way to leave is to go. I love the idea in Romans where Paul speaks of 're-dedication' not mutilation. (See "A New Light on an Old Problem- link here) It is a more positive outlook on living for Christ. I don't look back like Lot's wife in sadness of what I am leaving, I look ahead to where God is taking me. I don't look at the waves and sink like Peter, I look at the Lamb and His outstretched hand to help. I may not 'see' the end result, but I am confident of the One who is taking me... somewhere. I trust Him enough to follow daily His word. I am willing to be patient on His timing.

So where are we? It is a new year! Are you ready to Go and Leave?

Are you tired of dwelling in the same cycles of sin and shame? 

Then practice a daily abandonment of yourself and live with an expectation that God is taking you somewhere or preparing to take you somewhere.

 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

John Calvin says all of this much better:
John Calvin:
Institutes of the Christian Religion III.7


The principal part of self-denial, that which as we have said has reference to God, let us again consider more fully. Many things have already been said with regard to it which it were superfluous to repeat; and, therefore, it will be sufficient to view it as forming us to equanimity and endurance. 
 
First, then, in seeking the convenience or tranquillity of the present life, Scripture calls us to resign ourselves, and all we have, to the disposal of the Lord, to give him up the affections of our heart, that he may tame and subdue them. 

 We have a frenzied desire, an infinite eagerness, to pursue wealth and honour, intrigue for power, accumulate riches, and collect all those frivolities which seem conducive to luxury and splendour.
 On the other hand, we have a remarkable dread, a remarkable hatred of poverty, mean birth, and a humble condition, and feel the strongest desire to guard against them.
 Hence, in regard to those who frame their life after their own counsel, we see how restless they are in mind, how many plans they try, to what fatigues they submit, in order that they may gain what avarice or ambition desires, or, on the other hand, escape poverty and meanness.


 To avoid similar entanglements, the course which Christian men must follow is this:
 They must not long for, or hope for, or think of any kind of prosperity apart from the blessing of God.

And of course, any productive success in any of this is a gift of His grace. May 2012 find you with an expectation and adventure of following the call of God on your life!