Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Good morning my friends,
The LORD God was very specific about what was “clean” and “unclean”. When you look carefully at the items you are able to realize that he was protecting his people from spreading disease. Perhaps it was a time when they were unable to prepare the food in a proper manner, unlike today, so many of the animals mention were scavengers and would eat off of dead and diseased carcasses.
It is not unlike parents telling their young children not to touch things like knives and glass objects. They are preventing them from hurting themselves because they are too young to know how to avoid hurting themselves. Most of us now understand not to touch a hot burner on the stove but did we understand this as a child?
We still have a strict code of conduct that we are suppose to follow as believers. There are more reasons for this code then just the fact we need guidance in our living. Sexual promiscuity can bring with it many consequences. It can destroy families and the lives of young people. It can bring with it diseases, some of which can end in death. Murder is more than one person taking the life of another person. When a person takes a life something in him dies as well. It changes him and scars him for life. Unforgiveness is a disease in itself which eats away at the heart of the sweetest person, bringing the crippling disease of bitterness.
Much of our code of conduct has been given to us so that we can be “disease” free and lead a joyful and abundant life:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:5-17)
This keeps crippling disease from our heart and keeps us healthy and well. Our LORD God is still looking after us, wanting to keep us from getting “burned”. The beautiful thing is that he is also into restoring. If we do not follow his instructions and we become “damaged goods”, made ugly by a crippling disease, he is willing to heal us and restore us back to a creature of beauty. Many of us need restoration. Many of us need to take seriously again the LORD’s instructions. He knows better than we do.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Good morning my friends,
Wow, God is a demanding God. Nadab and Abihu did not last long in their roles as priests. I am not sure we could consider it like making a mistake at McDonald’s on your first day and being fired. Perhaps it could be considered more like showing off on your first day by giving away free food and being fired for it. Regardless, they did not follow the precise instructions of the LORD God and ended up paying for it with their lives. It is because their role was an important one in
"You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses." (Exodus 10:9-11)
The role of the priests was not simply to make sacrifices on behalf of the people but also to teach the people the difference between right and wrong according to God’s laws. They were to do this with more than just mere words; they had to set the example as well. They could not drink before going into the Tent of Meeting because this was a common thing which was not to be mixed with the holy place of the Tent of Meeting. However, that is just one small example of the many things that would need to be taught. This required the humble attitude of a servant who saw his life no longer belonging to himself but to the LORD and the people.
We, the Church, are a nation of people belonging to the royal priesthood. We demonstrate to the world by example the difference between the “clean and unclean”, “the holy and the common”. We show them that a life given to the LORD is different than the life lived for self. More importantly we demonstrate the love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, of the LORD to the world. This is why it is important that we hear the instruction of the LORD so we do not blow it like Nadab and Abihu.
I speak to my students now. You have an opportunity to make a difference as individuals and as a collective group of youth. You do not have to follow the “sins of your fathers”, making the same mistakes of the generations that went before you. You can make the decision now that you will follow the ways of the LORD, listening to his instructions, seeking his glory and showing the world what God can do with someone who is completely given over to him. Remember these words written to a young evangelist:
Command and teach these things. Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:11-12)
Some people want to write you off as being too young, too immature, too common. Yet I say to you that you are the raw materials from which God works his miracles. Jesus did not leave us here to entertain ourselves. We have been left in this place to serve him and to represent him to the world. We live in an exciting age where technology has opened many doors of opportunities for us to communicate, support, encourage, lift up, urge on and to reach out. That same technology can be used to hurt and destroy. You have the opportunity to show there is a different between “the holy and the common”. I urge all of us every day to allow the LORD to show to the world that he is prepared to take the common and make it holy; to take the unclean and make it clean. He just needs our willingness
Too many common people have lowered the standards of tools like the Internet. There is far too much ugliness available out there with not enough alternatives. We are craftsmen, skilled according to the grace of God. We are poets, writers, designers, story tellers. We have been skilled to produce great works. We need to start producing things of great quality, using our imagination and flooding the Internet with great material to show the difference between the Holy and the common. This is a call to arms. Let us take back the Internet in the name of the One who gave us all things Holy.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Good morning my friends,
Consequences are difficult to swallow sometimes yet every action we take has a consequence. The question is, is our character strong enough to stand and face those consequences be they good or bad? It seems few people are willing to do that these days. We look for quick fixes, short cuts, back doors, anything to avoid facing the consequences of our actions. This is what we have taught our youth.
The saddest thing is when we won’t even admit that the consequences are a result of our actions or words, or even our thoughts. We blame other people or circumstances or anything to avoid taking the ownership of those consequences. It is one thing to sin; it is entirely a different thing to blame someone else for that sin. I use the word sin but maybe you feel that is too strong a word. Perhaps you would prefer I use the words “Error in judgment”, “misguided action”, “well intentioned”, mistake.
In our reading this morning we found that God had a simple solution to the problem of his instructions not being followed. God expected his instructions to be followed precisely as he gave them. In some of the simplest things the consequences were exact and severe:
And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal. If anyone eats blood, that person must be cut off from his people. (Leviticus 7:26-27)
To go against God in some of the things that God considered major instructions resulted in being cut off from God’s people. Why? Because the instructions were clear. To not obey them was a deliberate act against God which was sin and God could have nothing to do with sin. That speck of sin had to be removed from God’s people. This is how precise and demanding our Holy God is. It is the reason that none of us could make it under this law. It is the reason we needed the grace of God in the form of his Son sacrificed on the cross.
We live in an age where science and medicine are working hard to help us avoid natural consequences of our sins. Science is coming up with cures to sexually transmitted diseases. Medicine is dong away with unwanted pregnancies. Families split and psychologists spend years trying to put the children back together so the male and female do not have to face the consequences of their sin. We have lawyers who try to make judges believe their twisted version of the law so their clients can avoid facing the consequences of their sin. It goes on. We are left to freely pursue a life that is contrary to the will of God. We are a people with little character to stand to face the consequences of our actions; to own them; to try and make restitution; to apologize and seek forgiveness.
Yet, here is the truth of this entire matter; we cannot avoid God’s judgment of our actions. There may be natural consequences here and now that we try to avoid but there is a much more severe consequence that is coming that cannot be avoided. Even if we manage to not “pay” for our actions here we will still have to “pay” for it. That is going to be such a terrible day for so many people. Too many people think they will get off on a technicality. They think that the good they do will out balance the bad. Listen to the words of Jesus:
"Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'
"But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evil doers!'
"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. (Luke 13:26-28)
There is only one way to be redeemed from our sins against God. He knew our hearts. He knew the impossibility of us living according to his holiness. He knew so he gave us the perfect sacrifice. To receive this sacrifice means we have to die. We must die to what we want, to our sinful nature, our tendency to do all the things contrary to God’s will, and to live for Jesus Christ. It is only in this manner that we will make it through the Day of Judgment that is coming. If not, we will have to live for eternity with the consequences of our sin and if you think it is hard now to live with a guilty conscience just wait until you feel the weight of it for eternity.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Friday, February 22, 2008
Could you imagine the Church Treasurer standing before the congregation saying, “You people are giving too much. Please, we have enough. Stop already!” Could you imagine a people so possessed by the love of the Lord that they could not stop themselves from giving time, talents and money? It is hard to imagine because we are such a self-centered, self-absorbed society in the Westerner World. What philosophy did we grab hold of that turned us from communities of character to such a cold and individual society? Israel was still in its infancy as a community and was exuberant in its expression of adoration and thanksgiving:
Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done."
Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: "No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary." And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work. (Exodus 36:2-7)
It is really hard to imagine a people that would have to be restrained from giving. Most Christian communities feel like they are pulling teeth to get anyone to do anything. Our Christian community is no longer the center of life. We no longer look to it for friendship, support, encouragement. We no longer try to express our adoration of God through this community. Gone are the many community building activities. It is even hard to get people to come out to a simple thing like breakfast. The idea of community has been replaced by individual activities like mp3’s, mp4’s, television, movies, computers, online communities.
In an attempt to recapture some of what we have lost and to allow for busyness we have attempted to create virtual communities. But these communities are stop-gap measure, filling in for a short time what for the immediate we cannot have. This is great for remote people, the sick, the elderly, even shift workers. These communities were never intended to replace the face-to-face personal encounters in community. I think most people know that I enjoy technology and like trying to apply it to every day life, but it has its limits.
The Church is only following in the footsteps of our society. People no longer live where they work and we do not bat an eye at that. Children are bussed out to other communities to attend school. People tend to sleep in one community, work in another, play in another and worship in yet another. There is no possibility to build community like that. Our society is trying to recapture the idea of community but it may be too late. Why talk with your neighbour face-to-face when you can be anyone you want to be on the Internet and talk with someone from the other side of the world. Perhaps that is the secret of the Internet. In community we are accountable, people know us, they know our faults and weaknesses along with our strengths. Yet, on the Internet we can be the perfect person with no accountability for what we say and do.
Regardless of what our many faults are as the community of The Servant’s House Church / School, we are no different in this struggle than any other community. What it will take are a few good people to be brave enough to push past their selfish tendencies and be willing to build bridges into other people’s lives. A few people can change a lot of things if they are willing to move forward in their exuberance. Think of the early Israelite community in its generosity of all things. Think of the early Church in its generosity of all things. What got in the way? Selfishness. People stopped loving the Lord with all their being and their neighbour as themselves.
The Internet is great but it should be no more a distraction than the telephone. In fact, it is like an elaborate telephone. It can be more than that but do we want it to be? It is great to use it to share special moments, testimonies, pass on information, communicate with family and friends at great distances but it cannot replace the fellowship of community. Every time someone stops entering into that fellowship they end up dying to that fellowship and community. Such community building does not rely, cannot rely on one person. We are all responsible for this.
If Jesus Christ remains at the center of that community; if it is his cords of love that bind us together; if we do all things with exuberance for him, we will find the joy of community again.
Photo Source: http://i0002.photobucket.com/albums/0002/TheDarjeelingLimited/Elisha.jpg
Thursday, February 21, 2008
I want to continue with yesterday’s thought as we look at the end of today’s reading. Moses has just given instructions to Israel. They are not of his own thinking but are the direct command of God. Israel is to be a separate people, set aside for the purposes of God, to be a nation of priests who represent him to the world. Then they are told that the community needs things like gold and silver, materials such as fabric and wood. Here there is no command. Here there must be a willingness to give:
“Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses' presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the LORD. (Exodus 35:20-22)
The only sacrifice and offering that is acceptable to the Lord is that which is given freely and cheerfully. That is what we touched on during Sunday’s teaching. We are never forced to serve our God. We are not forced to give. In fact, if we offer ourselves and our possessions with reluctance our God does not want them. He wants a generous and cheerful people to bring what their hearts compel them to bring. Now consider this:
Then Moses said to the Israelites, "See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers. (Exodus 35:30-35)
This picks up from yesterday’s thought. There are a few words I want you to consider: “the LORD has chosen”, “he has filled him”, the Spirit, skill, ability, knowledge, “in all kinds of crafts”, to make, to cut, to set, to work, to engage, “the ability to teach”. Do not think for a moment that creativity is not a skill. In fact, it is a skill given and ordained by God. It is a gift. But it goes beyond the actual doing. Along with the ability to do God has also ordained some to teach. This is directly from the LORD just as he has ordained some to preach, to heal, to prophecy. Those who have the ability to work with their hands, to mould materials into beautiful things, who are able to draw, paint, create, who see patterns and designs in the world around them and who can recreate these for others to enjoy, have a special calling. They are wrong to ignore it or think it is not worth much. What such things are worth are beyond measure.
If these craftsmen and artist do not step forward into their calling then how will such things be passed on? We are not all called to such things yet we all have some desire to craft things with our hands. We are not all skilled but we all enjoy doing it. Those anointed by God have the ability to teach us how to be better at it. We need to be taught. How will we ever know if the “greats” still walk among us if they refuse what they have been called to? We need them. We need them to walk in faith, to trust that the LORD will look after them as he looks after the preachers and evangelists. They need to see their calling to be just as important because our God speaks with more than just words. In fact, words often do not convey the deeper truths of our existence with him. Some are great with words, others with numbers, others with ideas and others with their hands.
You know who you are. You know what God has given you the ability to do. You know that you are good at these things. Now accept the purpose of the Spirit, the skills, the abilities and the knowledge. Step forward and take the risk of criticism as the preachers must. Step forward and be willing to walk in faith as the evangelists must. Allow yourself to be guided by the Spirit and see what works of beauty God wants to birth through you. Come to him with generosity in your skills and with a willing heart to serve him in this manner. Come with your sacrifices and offerings.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
As I am studying early history and even looking at geography with my students I am finding it fascinating to see how societies organized themselves. From the very beginning our societies placed value on craftsmen and artisans. These were people who could invent, build, design, and fashion raw materials into things that were pleasing to the eye. Craftsmen are still highly valued to this day, but maybe more so by some than others.
Knowing this is very much in my fore thoughts I found it interesting that the Spirit would point out this passage this morning:
‘Then the LORD said to Moses, "See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you.’” (Exodus 31:1-6)
Eezalel, Oholiab and many others were given the skills by the Lord to be able to make the things that the community or society of Israel required. Suddenly these people were able to work with precious metals, were given the knowledge to cut stones, could work in wood and any other material that was necessary. These were skills and abilities that God gave to them.
It is sad to see that we have allowed the world to take over much of this while we have neglected it. The church is good at music but not as skilled as it was from many years ago. We make good choruses but gone are the years of the great symphonies. What of the great artists; the painters, sculptors, photographers, playwrights? What of the great architects? Our churches are dull and boring. Absent are the great works of art, the incredible designs, the rich colours. Now we have boxes that we worship in.
Some or perhaps most people would say that the church is not a building. Amen! I agree 100%, but neither are we told to strip our lives of everything beautiful. From the beginning God has inspired man to great things. He has been the inspiration behind most of the Masters and any of the great works that we value today. Does God not raise up the craftsmen any more? In this age of technology have we left behind the value of beauty? Did God intend for us to ignore his great works of art? Do we not feel inspired to great things as we look at his handy work? Do we not have that deep desire to express the deep things in us that words cannot touch? Has God really intended us to set aside the aesthetics of life? I do not think so.
I think we have gone down the wrong path, misguided by wrong understanding. I think we have allowed the busyness of life and society to strip us of the aesthetics that bring so much pleasure to our soul. I think we have allowed the garbage that passes as entertainment to desensitize us to that which is true beauty. When is the last time you sat quietly and simply listened to Mozart? When is the last time you read a great classic like The Pilgrim’s Progress? When is the last time you visited the museum of art or took in a theater production? When is the last time you watched the sunset or the sunrise, or sat by a mighty river or a quiet lake? When is the last time you read a poem or perhaps written a poem?
Our God loves beauty and he birthed in us an appreciation for beautiful things. He birthed in some of us the ability to fashion things into beauty. We should encourage these people. We should value them. We should splash our world in colour, music, and things of great worth that celebrate our God. God gave us the craftsmen so let’s enjoy them.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
You look tired. Did you find there was too much detail in this morning’s reading? As we read Exodus 29 and 30 you might find yourself yawning or contemplating skipping this section; others do. I encourage you to press on. As I said yesterday, there is significant purpose behind each one of these things that are being described to us. However, if you do not have time today to research all of these items then consider this one thing: it is good that our God is into details.
Let us consider another item that he gives great detail to; us. He knows us so well because he is into details. In fact, he knows us far better than ourselves. The great company Google also knows us better than ourselves as they keep tabs on what we search for on the internet and then they know what ads to throw our way. However, the Father knows us far more intimately than this and for a better reason.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
Now there is detail for you. As a child I imagined there was one angel assigned to every person just to count their hair every day. Now I imagine my angel working more with subtraction than addition. The fact is we change; the number of hairs, our height, our weight, our preferences in food and friends, our goals, our ideals and so on, yet God is up to date on everything. This is what we cannot forget about our God:
O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD. (Psalm 139:1-4)
Before it is even on my tongue he knows the words I will speak. Some people find this unbelievable but we all do it, to a lesser extent. When we know someone really well we can often guess what they will say before they say it. This can be extremely funny between parent and child because they know each other very well. With the Father it is even more so because he has known the details even before they existed:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)
Not even a parent knows their child this well. The Father is privy to our most private, secret and embarrassing stuff. He does not read our diaries and journals; he does not need to. He is actually right there experiencing every moment with us. He has done this from the beginning. Some things he has rejoiced in with us. Other things he has abhorred and he remembers those who have harmed us. He knows it all and that is why we read:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Even though he knows everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, Jesus Christ still went all the way for us. He went all the way because the Father knew there was no other way to rescue us. He knew we were enslaved and there was no way out. He knew that no matter how hard we tried we could not rescue ourselves. He knew the details of our difficulties and he did something about it.
I for one am very happy the Father knows the details. I am glad he knows the good and the bad. I am glad because his attention to these details reminds me that he loves me beyond any love I can experience from anyone else. It also means he will help me take care of the bad stuff. It is better to deal with it here and now than when we are standing before him on that day of judgment.
So be glad and rejoice. He is God. We are his people. And he is here with us.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
If there is one thing most people can quote from the Old Testament it is the “eye for eye” bit. This has been used out of context so often that people assume they know what they are talking about when they quote it. However, it is more often than not a simple excuse for revenge. The death penalty advocates often use this verse out of context. I am opposed to the death penalty because I believe only God has the choice over life and death. You rob a man of his life and you have robbed him of the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. What I find important with verse is that it reveals to us the holiness of God and what sins he finds to be particularly repugnant.
We only find reference to the “eye for eye” three times in the Old Testament. Once is in Leviticus 24, in the context of personal injury. If I hurt my neighbour then I would need to be hurt in the same manner. In Deuteronomy 19 it is used in the context of a malicious witness who was perjuring himself to try to get someone in trouble. He was to have done to him whatever the judgment would have been against the one he was lying about, including life for life.
The third one, which was actually the first that I left to last for dramatic purposes, is found in this morning’s reading, Exodus 21. It may surprise some people to see the context in which it is found. It is used in the case of someone injuring a woman during pregnancy and something happening to the baby. Note how I refer to baby and not fetus. This was a crime that our God thought to be important enough to apply the “eye for eye” ruling. Perhaps some people would be surprised by that.
I have not often spoken of our society’s attitude toward unborn babies. I have not had a lot of personal cause to do that. However, in recent months abortion has come into my hearing on a number of occasions and I am reminded of the evils of our society that are accepted without much thought. Some would not call it murder because they have dehumanized the baby by referring to him/her as a fetus. Our laws do not even protect this precious gift. If I injure a pregnant woman today I would have to face charges for her injury but not for any injury incurred by the unborn child. My harm to the mother could result in the death of that child and I would not have to answer for it; or, at least not in this present place.
This debate has gone on for a long time and as long as the rights of one individual are held up to be more important than another person’s there will be no end to the debate. Under the law women have the right to choose. After all, it is their body. Our laws do not recognize that the unborn child also has rights that should supersede the rights of the woman upon whom he/she is dependant. Instead the law sees this child as an appendage of the woman, life a kidney. If she chooses to give away her kidney no one will stop her. However, that is not how the Word of God tells us to consider this unborn child.
We have come up with so many ways of “aborting” this new life. There are the traditional methods of going into the doctor and having the baby surgically cut out or vacuumed out of the mother’s body. There is also a pill that women can now take that will do the same thing chemically so that the woman can just flush the new life away. It sounds gross and it is. Our callus attitude toward it is horrifying. The thing is, it is something that matters to our God. He is responsible for life. He says who will have life and when that life will end. Anyone who takes that into their own hands is acting like God and there is a penalty to be paid for that.
The fact is we live in a hurting world. We live in a world where people are looking for the wrong things in the wrong places. We live in a world where no one wants to face their mistakes and they believe they should be able to just wipe their messes away instead of dealing with them. We live in a world where young girls are hurting, lost and confused and are just adding confusion on to top of confusion. Kids are playing adult in the same way that some play with matches. When you play with things you are not equipped to handle bad things are going to happen. Unfortunately too many of us choose to ignore it. But our God is not ignoring it.
Understanding the context of the “eye for eye” puts things into a better perspective. Respect of life matters. Respect it by not injuring your neighbour physically or maliciously. Respect it by protecting it from the moment it begins to the moment when God brings it to an end.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
God is here. God is good. God is kind. God is faithful. This is what we believe. We repeat these things to each other to remind ourselves of the character of our God: “God is good all the time; All the time God is good”. But do you always feel that? Do you always believe in every situation of your life that God is active in it? That he is watching out for you? After all, Jesus taught that if we take care of the things of the Kingdom the Father will take care of our needs.
How quick we forget the promises of our God. How quick we revert to our own strength, our own desires, our own will. How quick we return to living in the world of “What you see is what you get”. We may say that we worship the unseen Creator of all things but we act as if he does not exist. We really are no better than the down trodden Israelites; in fact we are worse.
When Moses and Aaron first came to the elders they were so thankful that God cared they dropped to their knees and began to worship:
Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. (Exodus 4:29-31)
Did you notice the part where it says “they believed”. It did not last long. As soon as Moses and Aaron delivered the message to Pharaoh and Pharaoh reacted by pulling the straw from the Israelites, the people began to react differently to Moses and Aaron. Perhaps they had been looking for quick results. They could not possibly comprehend what God was doing. They reacted with the mentality of “What you see is what you get”:
The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble when they were told, "You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day." When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, "May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us." (Exodus 5:19-21)
Their reaction was enough to discourage Moses who went out and asked God what was up:
Moses returned to the LORD and said, "O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all." (Exodus 5:22-23)
This is pre-plague Moses. His faith and trust has not yet developed, but it will. His resolve with God is not yet there, but it will come. First he has to face the fears and doubts of the people. What I find amazing in this is that God actually took Moses into his counsel and told him what he was doing. He had not yet truly revealed himself to mankind but he was about to in a spectacular way, for the benefit of his people. Knowing this now Moses went back to the people and they responded as we might imagine:
Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage. (Exodus 6:9)
It is hard to compare ourselves to this young nation because they were at a great disadvantage. They had not heard from God for generations; they were enslaved; they had no personal involvement with God. We however have had centuries of involvement with God. We have the stories, the eye witness accounts, the recording of miracles, signs, wonders. We have God’s written Word, his personal testimony. We have the Holy Spirit. We know God’s character and we know how he often works. Yet, we still exist within the mentality of “What you see is what you get”.
Oh, I know what we say but I also know that what we say does not match what we do. We say that we trust God. We say that we believe his promises. We say that we live by faith as we have been instructed to do. We say we do not belong to this place but to the place prepared for us. We say lots of wonderful things that sound great and match the vocabulary of the Bible. So why do we use credit cards when we run out of cash? Why do we put such an emphasis on “things of the world” instead of the things of the Kingdom? Why are we so “enslaved” to this place and ourselves when Jesus has set us free from all things that would keep us in bondage?
If we truly want to be renewed as we have said we want to be; if we truly want to serve him like we say we do; if we truly want to live the life Jesus called us to, we need to be honest before our God. Just like the desperate father who sought help from Jesus for his son, we need to cry out to God, “We believe! Help our unbelief.”
In the quietness of our spirit we need to gently whisper in the presence of our God - O Lord, revive us again – and then prepare ourselves for what will follow.
"Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.' " (Exodus 6:6-8)
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." (John 14:1-4)
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
It is amazing how different the children in the same family can be. They have the same parents, live with the same rules, eat the same food, and live in the same house. Yet each of the children sees those things differently and responds differently. In my family we have some children who spring out of bed in the morning and others that we have to use sticks of dynamite to get moving. We have some children who eat everything put in front of them and others that are very particular and do not appear to eat enough to stay alive. The differences continue.
This was the case with Jacob’s family. The diversity in such a great family can be seen in the blessings he leaves with them. However, among these brothers Joseph seemed to stand apart. He had always been different from the others but now, after all his experiences he really stood out. Again, we can see this in his father’s blessings:
"Joseph is a fruitful vine,
a fruitful vine near a spring,
whose branches climb over a wall.
With bitterness archers attacked him;
they shot at him with hostility.
But his bow remained steady,
his strong arms stayed limber,
because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
because of your father's God,
who helps you, because of the Almighty,
who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above,
blessings of the deep that lies below,
blessings of the breast and womb.
Your father's blessings are greater
than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
than the bounty of the age-old hills.
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the prince among his brothers. (Genesis 49:22-26)
His father saw all the bitter things that Joseph came through and he saw how it had strengthened him, made his character stronger, wiser. His father referred to the bitterness of his brothers but how Joseph remained steady and he correctly saw this as the work of the Lord. At the end he sums it up nicely: “Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.” It was not because Joseph was once his father’s favorite but instead that Joseph had proven to be of greater character than his brothers. He truly stood apart.
This is amazing when we remember his earlier experiences. It is amazing how he trusted his God and allowed God to forge such an incredible strength in his character. He was forged in the fires of trials. He made that decision not to allow these things to plant seeds of bitterness in him. He made that decision to walk in it. He made that decision to trust God even though he saw no way out of it. These decisions gave him the character that made him “the prince among his brothers”.
The difference is contrasted after his father’s death when Joseph’s brothers began to fear for their lives. They fell back into their old ways, the ways of their forefathers as they lied to try to manipulate Joseph’s heart. Such distrust and deceptive ways from his brothers hurt Joseph. He plainly saw through their lie knowing his father had said no such thing. Again he showed the strength of his character as he overlooked the lie and assured them again of his forgiveness and his willingness to look after their needs. Joseph must have really missed his father at that moment.
We need to arrive at Joseph’s perspective and allow God to forge our character in the trials of our lives. We too must find that determination and resolve to go all the way with our God, even when the darkness is so dark we can’t see our own hand. There are times when we have to turn off our desperate way of thinking and concentrate on the character of our God, trusting that it is better to be facing this difficulty in the will of the Father than to be experiencing sunny weather outside of his will. God’s plan is the best plan. We see the blessings that came at the end of Job’s trials. We see the blessings that came at the end of Joseph’s trials. We see how he stood out from everyone else. Would our Lord Jesus do less for us?
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
What is family to you? Is it just a collection of people who get on your nerves from time to time? Is it a brother or sister you feel obligated to stay in touch with? To my students I ask is it a place of restraints, a place of rules, a place of constant tension? Or is family a unit of people who learn together, grow together and work out differences together? Is it a place where you can be you and feel accepted and loved? Is it a safe place? Is it a learning place? Is it a place of life-long ties?
The face of families have certainly changed over the years. Although two parent families are still the majority in Canada they are no longer the vast majority. Now we have many single parent families, blended families, and grandparent led families. Yet, the purpose of family still remains the same. Some are better at it than others. Some parents put all their energy into it, determined they will have a great family. Other parents are only able to be part-time parents. Some have abdicated their responsibilities to other caregivers. Yet, it is all still family.
Jacob had an interesting family. Twelve sons. I have four sons and I have my hands full. I cannot imagine trying to keep track of twelve of them. According to today’s standards it was a typical dysfunctional family, but then again, what family is not dysfunctional? Perhaps that is the one thing that irks me about our age of gurus and self-help books; people are looking for perfection. We have no example of perfection in the Word of God except for Jesus Christ.
Jacob’s family was a mess, filled with liars, manipulators, would-be killers. Perhaps our family is not this bad but it is most likely a mess as well. There are probably times of heated debates, times of disobedience, times when children put parents in awkward positions. There are children who will fight, lie, cheat at school, steal, and argue with parents. There are moms who will not do what mothers are supposed to do. Dads who are absentee dads. At times the family will not even feel like a family. Welcome to the reality of our lives, to biblical times, to the truth of the matter; we are all mess ups.
Did you take note though of Jacob and Joseph? They started off pretty rough, the two of them born to different times. Jacob went through a lot and he messed up a lot, but after his rededication to God he settled down and things started turning around for him. It was the same for Joseph.
Joseph started off rather arrogant, pampered and full of pride. His life became pretty messed up. Yet, in that mess he found a faith in his God that saw him through the worst of times. In the end he became a man of forgiveness and a man who learned the importance of his family, both immediate and extended. He loved the brothers who had betrayed him. He loved his father dearly. He loved his boys.
The difference was their love for God. It settled them in themselves so they could deal with the reality of their situation. This is the same thing that will give us peace in the chaos of family life. We have to expect that there will be chaotic times because it is a place of trial and error, conducted by a group of people who tend toward making mistakes and messing up. Joseph discovered the best way to handle a family of mess ups; a lot of forgiveness.
We need to face the reality of family life. It is a place of learning and training. Unfortunately the best way many of us learn is by trying, making mistakes, learning from our mistakes and trying again. This does make for a messy place. The best thing for cleaning up such messes is a lot of patience and forgiveness. The family is a place of blessings. In our working out the details of life together we end up blessing each other. If we can accept this, if we can understand the purpose of this, then we may actually learn to relax a bit and begin to enjoy the journey. If you ever visit my family you will discover a lot of mess as we live our life. But I also hope that you would discover a family that loves the Lord and thus love and forgive each other.
It is also good to note this: Family is for life so you better learn to deal with it.
Monday, February 4, 2008
So how grown up are you willing to be? I’m not kidding, it is a serious question and I am asking it of you along with my students; How grown up are you willing to be? There is a time in life when we are permitted to hide behind our mother’s skirt for security, or to hold on to dad’s hand when we need reassurance. These are important times in our life. These are the times when our parents are willing to help us get out of trouble for the silly mistakes we make, like batting a baseball through Mrs. Hill’s front window. However, these times must come to an end and we have to stand on our own two feet.
This is the time when we set aside excuses, get rid of the crutches and stop being Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s son or daughter and become ourselves, with all the responsibilities that come with a grown up life. There is a time when it becomes inappropriate to be hiding behind mom’s skirt or looking for dad’s hand. This is the time when we really learn to live life.
The problem is that most of us are not living life. We are living excuses. We play the blame game. I am this way because so and so hurt me when I was in grade 3. Mr. George made me who I am when he did this or he did that. We are still hiding behind skirts but only now they are the imagine excuses for our failed lives. We are too afraid to stand up and throw away the excuses because if we fail then it would just be us failing; it would not be anyone’s fault.
Joseph had every excuse to play the blame game. He had everything that was important to him ripped away from him. He lost his family, his home, his culture, his language, his position in life, and even his freedom in a matter of minutes. He was a slave in a foreign land and then he was a prisoner in a foreign land. He had so many issues it would be hard to know where to begin. All this because of the jealousy of his brothers. All this because of his brothers.
However, Joseph chose not to play the blame game. He made a choice to forgive and let it go and stand on his own two feet. He could do this because he was a man who matured to the point of being able to see the big picture, God’s picture. Because his head was not stuck in some emotional slop he began to recognize God’s hand in things. He did not blame God. He did turn his resentment from his brothers to God. He avoided this because in standing on his own two feet Joseph also recognized that he could not be focused on himself. Yes, it cost him a lot but look at what God accomplished through it. That was the perspective that Joseph, in an act of mature forgiveness, presented to his brothers and they stood in fear and repentance before him:
"I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. (Genesis 45:4-8)
How many of us are willing to be that strong and mature, to throw away the excuses and recognize God’s hand in it all and praise him for it. Not hold a grudge or demand “why me” but to accept that God is indeed wise in all matters, to trust his faithfulness and his kindness, and accept this life he has given us. He has never intended us to be a people to hide behind the skirt of excuses, he called us to be victorious in our lives. Yet, to have victory you have to have battles.
If we are ever going to see God’s purpose in us fulfilled we need to let go and rise up. We need to grow up. We need a larger perspective:
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
with your right hand you save me.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O LORD, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands. (Psalm 138:7-8)