Thursday, April 29, 2010

another reason for controversy

dark light The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.

John 7:7


Jesus was controversial because He showed that the natural ends to all the work of a collective of fallen, depraved sinners was evil. He was not about reinforcing some spark of goodness in depressed humanity. He was about confronting sin all around Him. Not arrogantly, for sinners were drawn to Him, but truthfully, so that people could repent and follow Him. The worst sins were done by those who disguised sinful motivations and selfish pride in beautiful religious clothing.


The context of this statement shows tragic human depravity at two extremes. The first is personal depravity represented in the brothers of Jesus. They sinned in refusing to believe in Jesus (John 7:5). And they were pressuring Him to go to the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem to make a huge public spectacle of Himself. They were motivated by pride.


The second extreme, also characterized by pride, was found in the Jewish leaders who challenged Jesus all throughout John 7. They did not believe in Him either… but their reasons for rejection were viewed as “good” even “religious” reasons. They rejected Him as well. His teaching had the unnerving affect of eliminating their profitable market share and destroying their religious livelihood.


So there are two evils to guard against in my heart. The first is my own tendency toward prideful lack of faith, wanting to take all actions, even decisions of faith, into my own hands. The second is my tendency to look “holy” by public religious spectacle, rather than to let God make me holy through private obedience and submission to Jesus. Both of these are evils that Jesus exposes in the world and in me. Only by faith, trust, and obedience to Him can I find that Jesus will heal me of them.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Stop eating candy!

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

John 6:35


candy corn Jesus is my soul’s satisfaction. What He offers is complete and full life in exchange for believing and following Him. He is what my soul longs for at all times. But so many times I have sought to satisfy soul hunger with lesser things. I settled for a handful of candy when I could have had a gourmet feast!


Many things promise to satisfy soul hunger, but never really do. Money can’t by happiness. Material things just always deteriorate in need of life-sapping maintenance. Position in life does not deal with the deeper questions of the soul. It just postpones them, only to have them return in great, fearful intensity at the hardest moments. Relationships can be fickle. Lusts and longings still remain.


But Jesus satisfies as the relationship that orders and strengthens all the others. He is the strong anchor for the soul so that my heart does not drift from the place of satisfying joy.  He provides what I need, so that I am not enslaved by passions, possessions, power, prestige, or position. I am truly and fully aware of how Jesus alone truly gives me what I long for… a satisfied heart!


Monday, April 26, 2010

the claim that matters most

sun in hands Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24


This is a remarkable statement from Jesus. It is a claim that He makes that matters most to any person in the world. It states that a relationship with Him (obeying His word) is really belief in God the Father and leads to a new life and a new eternal destiny. He claims to be the only true path to spiritual peace (see also John 14:6), and this is very significant.


Jesus had just performed a miracle that had all of the Jewish authorities upset. He healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath and made a claim to use God’s power, asserting God’s preferences in the use of it (John 5:21). This was a clear demonstration of deity. He had physically renewed and enlivened this man on a day of rest and worship. And only God could do what they had just seen done, The scribes and Pharisees knew this. But they refused both to hear Jesus on the matter and to believe what they had just witnessed.


Jesus is the source of my life and my destiny is to always live with Him. It is a natural part of my life right now and is what eternity will be. The power of Christ that turned cripples into dancers, made the blind see the artistry of God’s world, brought music to deaf ears, and confronted the hard hearts of the religiously indifferent is at work in my heart and life forever! That is a pretty amazing experience… right now and forever.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Well


Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:13-14


I lower a dirty bucket

down way deep

into a hole in my heart

and I draw up dust that

clogs my throat

still thirsty… still parched


And I look for another

place to drink

flies buzzing in the air

but bothered and smothered

in a desert where

no water eases where I suffer


And then You, Jesus, met me

at my usual door to hell

and there you offered to me

eternal life from Your flowing well

I drank from there and knew eternity


And in me now

is eternal life knowing

so that in Christ I found

real satisfaction is growing

and heaven lives as I show

there my Savior is flowing… vibrant streams where fruit grows.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

faith & obedience

hand in hand Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

John 3:36


The New Testament does not separate obedience from faith. When it comes to following Jesus and believing in Jesus, both are necessary for true possession of eternal life. That fact is that obedience to the gospel necessarily follows faith in the gospel. We struggle always with the “correct” degree of obedience.


I prefer to let Jesus Himself settle the matter. It is not necessarily about who we associate with. He was the friend of sinners, yet He perfectly obeyed the Father. And it was religious legalists who only stayed in their own company who could not stand what Jesus did. So the obedience that was found in following Jesus was not rote legalism. It was a life committed to knowing Him. Those who followed Jesus in this way were transformed by Him.


So today, faith in Christ for forgiveness of sin is followed by a willing heart to follow Him. it is not about legalism. But it is always about a serious, life-changing, personal commitment. And the obedience that follows that follows is to Jesus, not human ideas or lists of Christian activities. Without that faith and obedience to the Son, no one will see life or forgiveness of sin. That is clear from this text. Real faith longs to obey and follow Jesus. False professions are not compelled to obey the voice of the Master.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wine that showed God’s glory

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

John 2:11


wine-915This was the first miracle that anyone ever saw Jesus do. The people who really knew about what happened were Jesus’ disciples, His mother, and the servants at the marriage feast. And exactly what did Jesus do? He provided the wine for the party. Given current evangelical sensibilities, what would we have thought of this had we been there? What would we say if we heard that someone like Billy Graham showed up at a shindig bringing with him an ample supply of the best booze? This is sort of what happened at this event.


How did furnishing wine for partygoers show the glory of God in that culture? First, it revealed Jesus as the Creator God with control over the material world. He took a very simple chemical compound, water (H2O) and converted it to a complex, nuanced consumer item and organic compound. Wine ranking is notoriously nuanced and snobbish, but everyone agreed, this stuff was the best ever. So there was something of the artistry of God being displayed. And not once did Jesus need to touch the water to convert it over. He just created with control over the material world.


He was also seen as merciful in supplying joy to the people. In the Old Testament wine is symbolic of joy, not drunkeness (Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 3:10). Jesus provided joy, which is always an outcome of mercy. Wow!


The result of this first miracle was FAITH in Him. His first disciples believed in Him. They knew what had happened by him. What had they gotten themselves into?! This was no mere man, and this miracle proved it.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Springtime Nativity

springtime And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14


This is John’s theological version of the Nativity story. It is about Incarnation. I think thoughts of Jesus entering this world just a few weeks removed from Holy Week reflections about His death and resurrection. But I am not limited to any strict liturgical church calendar guidelines when it comes to thinking about my Lord. And John’s gospel is good for breaking up the typical way of talking about Jesus (it was a purpose behind his writing). I can thin of the miracle of God come to us to redeem us at any time. Why not in spring, when the world is born again?


And I am filled with an awe. I remember the birth of both my children. How wonderful it is to hold a newborn (even though they are just little depraved sinners) and then to think of the perfect Son of God when He was a new arrival… God in a body, full of grace and truth! I find the thought alone just overwhelmingly beautiful!


So the wisdom of God’s plan of redemption is that it stirs us at this deep level. The Father’s glory touches my heart in the place where I am a father. That Jesus came at all is the greatest work that God has ever wrought into human history. I am proud of my kids and see them as my greatest work… how much more does the Father love the Son! That I have access to Him now by faith is the amazing privilege of being Christ’s disciple.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Family Legacy

So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.

Numbers 36:9


family-mulitigenerational The perpetuity of the inheritance in the Promised Land by tribe was prescribed in the Law by Moses. Why? Because the land was God’s blessing. It was home, family farm, and livelihood. And God did not want the nation to become a patchwork quilt of cross-tribal holdings. Keeping land within tribes assured that disputes over what was an important and vital possession would be minimal.


God cared enough for how Israel handled possessions and income that He prescribed common sense regulations to minimize property disputes. He knows that as human beings we get caught up in the stuff we have.


There is also a wonderful picture of the importance of family in this last chapter of Numbers. The daughters of Zelophahad were promised a share of their father’s allotment as long as they married within their father’s tribe. A sonless family could still carry on a legacy and keep its inheritance. This was something unheard of at that time. It speaks to the family’s crucial and indispensible role in society. And it was designed by God to promote continuity in families that obeyed Him throughout generations.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

respect for life & respect for God

baby in hands You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.

Numbers 35:34


This is the only verse from which I find personal spiritual instruction in a chapter detailing how to deal with murder and manslaughter. God is making a point to Israel: senseless, non-defensive taking of a human life disrespects HIS holiness. He would not tolerate it.


That principle holds true for today because it is rooted in relationship with God. That exists now, though in a different dimension than that which Israel experienced as a theocracy. Taking of a human life defiles what God desires. And Israel was to obey God in judicial handling of human justice in these matters, which really is the whole point of Numbers 35.


So the principle is simple but impacting: human life is treated as special and important out of reverence for God. Remove any reverence for God, Who is truly holy, and human uniqueness devalues as well. Voila! We have today. In a truly secular society there is little basis of human life being valued. And today their reigns a growing disrespect for human life all the way from conception to the last breath in old age.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Knowing your future.

Moses commanded the people of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you shall inherit by lot, which the LORD has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe.”

Numbers 34:13


crystal-ball All of Numbers 34 is about the boundaries of the Promised Land of Canaan. There is a verbal map directed to Moses that let the Israelites know the extent to which God had given them a new possession. But it also meant that territory had to be conquered. It was great to know God’s will for the future. Yet, there was responsibility with that knowledge.


With the knowledge of God’s revealed will there comes about a necessary human responsibility to obey it. We cannot shirk away from this truth. Yes, God was giving them this geographic territory that was not theirs. Yes, it was God’s will that they have it. But receiving the gift meant entering into battle and eradicating the idolatry of the existing Canaanites in order to possess the promise of God.


God does not make easy promises today. We know heaven and eternity with Christ await us. But we don’t get to sit back on that fact. We tend to be starry-eyed as evangelicals. We put on our rose-colored glasses and insist that “believing in Jesus is so easy, a child can do it” (sounds like a Geico commercial!). But it takes manly faith and outward demonstration of childlike faith to live like we should. Sanctification happens to us when we receive the holiness of Christ, but we must also WORK OUT our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). That sounds like sweat equity to some degree, not for salvation, but because of it. God always expects commitment with His gifts.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Idol Factory

canaanite idols Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places.

Numbers 33:51-52


God wanted the idolatry of the Canaanites eradicated. Israel was supposed to do this fully when they moved into the Promised Land. God warned them that if they did not obey Him in this matter, idolatry would lead to their own regrettable demise (see Numbers 33:55-56).


By now in the story, this generation of Israel should have had ample opportunity to have this taught to them. They had grown up with the Ten Commandments. The first two of these explicitly deal with the exclusivity of a relationship with God and forbid any semblance of idolatry (Exodus 20:3-6). They had seen their parents flagrantly disobey with the golden calf. They had seen the more recent Midianite flirtation with idolatry and sexuality and how it devastated the camp. This warning was quite real.


The propensity of the human heart for idolatry is enormous. We always want to make our own god that we can control. We want tangible gods with tangible results. And this is not just an Old Testament warning. The apostle John warns us today of the idol-making and idol-following ways of the human heart (1 John 5:21). Left to myself, my heart is an idol-making factory looking for something other than God to worship. I have to shut it down in real worship and obedience to God my Father!


Monday, April 12, 2010

2 & a half tribes: selflessness & sacrifice

tribal allotments We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.

Numbers 32:18


Two and a half tribes found the land the land east of the Jordan that had just been conquered by defeating Midian to their liking. Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh were all predominately herdsmen, and the land east of Jordan was suitable to their herds and livelihood. They wanted to settle in and start enjoying permanent possession of the land. But before the farms and towns went up, they would be men of honor and courage.


They also realized that they had an obligation to the nation of Israel, not just their individual tribes. Most of their countrymen had hard work to do to win full possession of all the land that God had promised. That is why they made the commitment to stay in the fight until all their brothers received the inheritance they were claiming now. They vowed to stay in the battle until then.


I am encouraged by a faith that fights not just for itself. My culture is so obsessed with personal pursuits that few people would make these kinds of selfless commitments. We want the American Dream first, a society somewhere distantly down the line. The mantra of most is “what’s in it for me?” But there is none of that kind of thinking in the what these Reubenites and Gadites say. It is about God being honored first, working to see their brothers blessed second, and then personal concerns coming further down the list. And they trusted God for the outcome of all this hope. That kind of refreshing commitment could certainly use a resurgence!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

The end of a prophet for hire.

Behold, these, on Balaam's advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.

Numbers 31:16


This chapter is about a battle to eradicate an evil influence. God directed Moses and the people of Israel to annihilate the Midianites. They had successfully defeated Israel, not in battle, but by enticing the nation into idolatry. And that influence could not be allowed to stay active. These were harsh measures against an insidious social degradation. It was the spiritual duty of Israel to obey God’s command in this matter.


One of the casualties of this war was Balaam (Numbers 31:8). It is undoubtedly part of his influence on Israel that even though he could not prophecy against Israel, he could align himself with those who enticed Israel into sin and judgment from God. It was for this deed that he was eliminated. Ultimately his pragmatic practices were his undoing. He died with the ones who paid him the most for his spiritual duties. Not a great end.


That is the real lesson from this chapter. Israel is back to obedience, and a false prophet is judged for his disobedience. He sounded pious when he refused to prophecy against Israel, but in the end his actions of aligning himself with Israel’s enemies showed that profit was his motivation, not prophecy. Human fame and fortune are not enough in the end. They never are.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Broken promises by broken people

If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

Numbers 30:2


broken_promise_by_don_paolo God expects and appreciates complete honesty in keeping the commitments we make to Him and to other people. That is why pledging an oath is very serious business. God is truth. And He expects human beings to be truthful. It is the clearest sign of our fallen depravity that we find the keeping of an oath so very hard to do and so easy to shirk off as unimportant.


But today oaths are pointless and broken without much thought. We casually promise. Vows are cheap and easy as well, which is why divorce is rampant and marriage is disdained. The culture of “hook-up, shack-up, and break-up” (Mark Driscoll) exists because no one will commit the moral backbone to enter into a real commitment in a relationship. Often it is the guy who is spineless and the woman who is frustrated but enables it anyway because in her mind it is better than nothing.


People will not commit to God at all and they will not commit to each other without a string of lawyers in tow. What chance do we have at remedying this? There was one person who fulfilled God’s promises to save us: Jesus. He can redeem all our sins and broken promises. He can salvage souls and make us people of our word. He can mend marriages. He can fix families. He is a real and living hope in a world of broken promises made by broken people. 


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The inadequacy of public devotion

free car These you shall offer to the LORD at your appointed feasts, in addition to your vow offerings and your freewill offerings, for your burnt offerings, and for your grain offerings, and for your drink offerings, and for your peace offerings.

Numbers 29:39


This is the final footnote summarizing two chapters of details about public sacrifices. It serves to clarify that in no way would these public displays of national devotion during feasts supplant the need for individuals to practice the offering of personal sacrifices. Both were necessary for true obedience to God and His Word.


God has always wanted individual devotion from the heart to mark His people. It is no different today. Although I am thankful for “high attendance” at Easter services in churches around the world, I do not see those attend one or two public services a year as truly Christian. And I don’t think it is good for the culture in the long run. Here is why… these people have a nominal interest in spiritual things. They may uphold a tradition of public worship. But privately other things are much more important to them than God, and they may be deceived into thinking that they are doing just enough to make Him happy and get into heaven. And the church is encouraging the practice by giving away free cars… really!


Jesus said to truly follow Him and be His disciple, one has to practice a significant self-denital and take up a cross daily. That is private, personal and sacrificial. And that is the practice of Christianity at its core. It is about trusting Christ, following Christ, and living for Him in every dimension of our existence. It is a significant personal commitment to a substantial powerful Savior!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

continuous sacrifice

lamb It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD.

Numbers 28:6


Atonement for sin was a costly procedure in ancient Israel. Every day two lambs were offered to the Lord at the altar as public sacrifices. That does not even count private, individual offerings. In addition, on Sabbath, two more lambs were offered beyond this. Monthly on the first of the month (like today) two bulls, a ram, seven lambs, and a goat would be added to the tally. During feasts, that “first of the month” formula kicked off the the feast.


So sacrifice was a blood-soaked litany for Israel. It was part of the daily experience of worship at the altar. There was never a break from the constant atonement for sin. The tabernacle was a literal slaughterhouse where this occurred over and over, day after day, in obedience to God’s command.


This has led me to a significant Maundy Thursday reflection for this week. Jesus, my Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed once for all (1 Corinthians 5:7). I don’t need to have my focus fixed on how I will atone for my sin. Instead, I look to a Savior Who died and rose again to end my estrangement from God and forgive my sins.This is significant. I celebrate the completion and not the action of sacrifice. I trust in His saving work and celebrate it daily by offering Him the living sacrifice of my life (Romans 12:1-2).