February 28, 2015

God keeps me, yet I must cooperate

Leviticus 26–27
John 10:22–42
Song of Solomon 8:10–14

When I was in Bible school, the professor of a synthesis class had us study the “blessings and curses” passages in the Old Testament books of Law. He showed how the words of the prophets written later invariable came from those passages. It was fascinating and gave me a greater appreciation for the unity of the Bible, even with many different human authors. A major section of blessings and curses is in Leviticus 26 . . .

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you.” (Leviticus 26:3–9)

“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit . . . . They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.” (Leviticus 26:14–20, 37–38)

God wants obedience and blesses His people when it happens, but disobedience brings trouble. While we could say that doing the wrong things brings those consequences on ourselves, the sovereignty of God does figure into the equation. He is the Lord.

The most amazing part of these passages, both here and in the prophets, is that invariable they end in with a promise of grace. Even though the people did not obey and wound up in captivity or worse, God still promised to pull them out of the messes they were in and remember the covenant that He made with them.

“Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 26: 44–45)

As a child of God under the new covenant, I am so very aware that God still blesses obedience. He also makes life terribly uncomfortable when I disobey. I know I could blame my conscience or say that my foolish choices produced those results, but that is only partly true. He is my God and He is Lord of all. He knows how to deal with His bratty daughter.

Right now, I am thankful for the blessings. The more determined I am to cooperate with Him, the more determined He seems to take care of me, even in ways that I never expect. One of the best blessing from obedience is greater intimacy with Jesus Christ. It is as He said . . .

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27–30)

Christ is the Savior. I am not. Yet He blesses cooperation as He works to save me from sin and keep me in His care. He produces fruit in my life and gives me greater assurance that I am secure. His unity with the Father becomes more precious as I experience greater unity with Him.

This verse from Solomon’s Old Testament love poem reminds me that God purchased me for Himself, yet gives me stewardship also: “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard to keepers; each one was to bring for its fruit a thousand pieces of silver.” (Song of Solomon 8:11)

That is, the Lord makes my life is fruitful for Him, yet bring the fruit to Him. I don’t fully understand how He works in me and I work out what He puts in, but it is a blessed relationship, even more blessed when I cooperate rather than do my own thing. 

February 27, 2015

God smiles on love

Leviticus 23–25
John 10:1–21
Song of Solomon 8:6–9

God has always wanted His people to take care of each other, particularly those in need. He also commanded offerings for sin, but other offerings of worship and sacrifices in His honor. Of course this comes at a price. I noticed the following Old Testament verses today . . . 

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:22) 

“These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord food offerings, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day, besides the Lord’s Sabbaths and besides your gifts and besides all your vow offerings and besides all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:37–38) 

“If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 24:19–22) 

“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.” (Leviticus 25:3–7) 

“And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.” (Leviticus 25:20–22) 

After many years of giving what I can in various ways, I can affirm the truth hinted at in the last passage; we can give without fear because no one can out-give God. He takes care of those who take care of others. No matter what I give away, I will always have enough, even more than enough.

Jesus is the supreme example. He gave His life for His own. Notice, He gave it. It wasn’t taken from Him. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) and “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
And of course, “There was again a division among the Jews because of these words.” (John 10:17-19) They didn’t get it. He was talking about willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for the sake of others, and all they heard was Him calling God His Father, so they argued about that when they should have been getting out their wallets in obedience to His example.

The love of God in Christ can be so easily dismissed in favor of a human spat over issues. I can see some of the farmers in the OT arguing over where their property line began, just so they could take a few extra sheaves of grain for themselves instead of leaving them for the poor as instructed. Maybe some were skimping on their offerings, or bringing less than their best. Maybe a few were over-planting just in case the land didn’t produce enough on the years it was to be left fallow, in a sense arguing with God concerning His promise to take care of them. 

The people of God still have spats about money; where it should be spent, and how much should be kept aside, and on it goes. I’ve sat in on some of those arguments and God had to teach me that I can trust Him with my cash, cash flow, bills, and needs. He is my shepherd. He gave His life for me. How shall He not provide whatever else is necessary?

Solomon knew this. He asked for wisdom instead of power and wealth, and because he did, God gave him all three. He knew the value of money and power too, but he was more impressed by love. He said, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.” (Song of Solomon 8:7) 

It is true today. If someone gives up all he has because he loves God, people may despise him, and if not, they will at least think he is totally deranged. No matter. God knows. He smiles on those who trust Him enough to give and give and give.

February 26, 2015

Sin >>> Death?

Leviticus 20:1–22:33
John 9:35–41
Song of Solomon 8:1–5

In a world where sin is so rampant and largely goes unpunished, the Bible verses that claim those who sin must die seem to be hollow words. Here are some of them . . .

“If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you. For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him. If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:6–10)

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man takes a woman and her mother also, it is depravity; he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no depravity among you. If a man lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. If a woman approaches any animal and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13–16)

“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:26-27)

God gave these and many other commands to His people saying, “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the Lord who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 22:31–33)

The Bible says that the soul that sins shall die. This is literal and very serious. So why do we not stone to death those who break these commands? First of all, they were given to God’s people in those early days in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. Second, and gloriously so, God’s people are now no longer under the law of sin and death, but under grace. This means that Jesus came to fulfill the demands of the Law. He did not sin. Instead, He reversed that curse and set His people free from the wages of sin.

Nonetheless, sin is a serious matter. That freedom and grace is only for those who give their lives to Jesus. But even under grace, Christians still sin and this seriously affects our lives. When I am filled with my I-wants, I cannot hear or answer the call of God to obedience. I lose the joy of seeing Him, walking with Him, knowing Him as my friend, my lover, my brother. All of the wonders of these relationships and more are lost when sin comes between Him and me.

As for death, the Bible says that I died with Christ, so sin did slay me. At first, sin created a spiritual separation from God so I was dead in my sin. Then, because of Christ, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

When that happened, it was as if I had been blind all my life, blind to spiritual realities. Then, because of Jesus, I was given sight. The next reading from John continues the story of the man born blind (just like I was born a sinful person). Jesus healed this man, but the religious people were enraged and tossed the man out of their place of worship.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (John 9:35–41)

Jesus condemns those who think they know and understand the things of God, and gives sight to those who are blinded by sin, in this man’s case literally, in my case spiritually. Once He opened my eyes and my heart, everything changed. I have new eyes and new life, eternal life.

I just smile at the metaphors in the last reading, thinking of Jesus and the intimacy of these words: “Oh that you were like a brother to me who nursed at my mother’s breasts! If I found you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me.” (Song of Solomon 8:1)

Those who despise Christians give me no fear. No matter what threats they make or the lies they tell, I am my beloveds and He is mine. He gave me sight and nothing can change that. He also took me to the cross where I died and where He gave me new life, and nothing can change that either!

February 25, 2015

Idols, sacrifice, and worship

Leviticus 17:1–19:37
John 9:13–34
Song of Solomon 7:10–13

When we were in Thailand, we saw shrines with food placed daily, an offering to idols. I’ve seen statues and other depictions of idols. I’ve also known the idols of my own heart, that is, the things that I honored above God.

A major portion of the Bible addresses the topic of idols. While the word occurs more in the Old Testament than the new, the warnings are just as strong in both. No doubt this is because of our innate spiritual nature with the reality of a need to worship. It is so powerful that if we do not worship God, we will worship something.

Today’s first reading makes me wonder what appeal a goat demon might have to my desire to worship . . . “So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 17:7–9)

A later verse is more specific, “Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:4) Toward the end of the New Testament, John simply writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)

While I hinted at a definition, most people don’t need one. We know what we put in the place of God. If it isn’t the obvious, like another person, or an ideology, or our ‘stuff’ and money, it will likely be our own selves, our wisdom, our self-determination. The worship of self is heard in, “No one is going to tell me what to do” and “I am not stupid, you know.”

Yet I’ve learned (the hard way) that both declarations, and their variations, are a waste of breath. God is sovereign and He is quite able to work in my life so that I will do His will, even without realizing that He is ordering my life. He is sovereign and can do whatever He desires. And as for not being stupid, God does not measure foolishness by the standard IQ test, or even by common sense. He measures wisdom by the fear of the Lord and by obedience. So yes, I can be very stupid, you know.

The NT reading is the argument concerning the identity of Jesus Christ with the man born blind and his parents. Jesus give sight to the man, but some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. (John 9:16) So they asked his parents . . .  

His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) (John 9:20–22) So they found the blind man who could now see and asked him . . .

The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:30–34)

The Pharisees were supposedly the religious wise guys of their day, but they would rather worship the rules they concocted about keeping the Sabbath than the One who made the Sabbath in the first place. Their idol was their smarts and their position, and maybe their power over regulations. Sadly, they would rather trust those ‘idols’ than the One who can heal the blind.

Jesus turned the religious world upside down, and then proceeded to do the same with the rest of it. Everyone has their ideas about how to please God, but will miss it if they never start by loving Him and putting Him first. How foolish (stupid?) to consider rules, customs, and traditions more important.

The love poem of Solomon describes the attitude of the bride (the Christian church) for her lover (the Lord Jesus Christ). One line from today’s reading says, “The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and beside our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.” (Song of Solomon 7:13)

From that, the Spirit of God speaks to me, not about idols, but about worshiping God with a different kind of sacrifice. I must continually give myself and the fruit of my life to my beloved, Jesus Christ.