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Sunday, July 20, 2014

El Roi: The God Who Sees

As Hagar is out in the wilderness by a spring of water it says  in Genesis 16:7 that the angel of the Lord came to her and asked her what she was doing out there.  Hagar mentioned that she was fleeing from Sarai.  The angel of the Lord told her to return to Sarai and that God was going to bless Hagar with a multitude of her people.  She was to name her son Ishmael or “God hears”.
    Hagar responded to what the angel of the Lord said by saying “Thou art a God who sees.”  We were listening to the pastor explain this verse today in church.  He talked about how Sarai could have had Hagar killed for running away from her since she was her servant.  He also mentioned how many of us are like Sarai and instead of waiting on God and his timing we try to help God by doing our own thing and devising our own plan.  It wasn’t a part of God’s original plan to involve Hagar at all. 
    I take some comfort In these verses because due to my own impatience, I can often act the way that Sarai did and try to “give God a hand”.  I get impatient with waiting on His timing and rush ahead.  You notice in Genesis 16 that neither Sarai nor Abram asked God what he thought or prayed.  They simply took matters into their own hands.  And now over several thousand years later the description of Ishmael and his descendants are still true today and Israel still has problems due to this decision that Sarai made.
    I also take comfort in the fact that God sees me exactly where I am.  It is possible that at this moment in Hagar’s life nobody else knew where she was or why she was there.  God didn’t ask Hagar questions because he needed to know something.  Rather he wanted to talk to her about why she was there and where she was going.   Sometimes when people sin they can find themselves in strange places and circumstances.   But, whether it is Jonah in the stomach of a whale or Hagar in the desert you can’t go somewhere where God is not.

Psalm 139:11-12 “If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night. Even the darkness is not dark to  Thee. And the night is as bright as the day, Darkness and light are alike to Thee.”

     When I say that he knows me where I am, I mean more than mere physical location. Sometimes my emotions get so mixed up that I don’t particularly understand how I am feeling.  There is  a status update on facebook that says, “It’s complicated”.   Quite frankly, I feel this a lot.  Life is sometimes complicated.  I’m glad in those times when my emotions and thoughts are mixed and confusing that God sees and really he does understand, far better than I do.  He understands because he has always been with me and always sees me and always has his eye upon me.  He knows my thoughts before they occur. 

    So, even when I blow it completely this doesn’t come as a surprise to God.  Nor does it mean that because I had a “Sarai moment” that God is going to give up on me.   If we learn nothing by looking at the prophets such as Moses or Abram or Sarai we should learn that God can do extraordinary things through the lives of people who were very normal and sometimes got things horribly wrong.  I’m glad for that because that is often where I am.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bloody Hands, Nervous Sheep

     I have been continuing on with my reading about how the Jewish faith and Christian faith relate to each other.  One of the issues that the author Athol Dickson talks about in his book that I mentioned in an earlier post is the paradox of grace verses works.  In other words, what is the purpose of the law.  Is following the law enough to save us?  While the Jewish tradition seems to have a concept called "returning" where a person turns from their sin and begins to walk in a new direction.  The christian issue also requires a turning.  It does appear to me that the Jewish tradition has a more optimistic view of human nature since the Jewish faith seems to believe that we start off in life neutral or good and seem to reject the idea of a sinful nature.
     Dickson makes a good point that I have to remember that I have nothing that I have done or could do to give God anything.  Even our good deeds are like filthy rags to God.  Imagine, wrapping up some old rags and giving them in a nicely decorated box with a ribbon on it as a gift to someone.  They would probably think it was a joke.  Nobody does this.  We don't see filthy rags as a gift.  The actual word for filthy in the Bible is a word for human or animal waste.  I don't want that kind of present.
      Scripture makes it clear that I cannot and do not earn my way to heaven.  This is the purpose of the law.  Imagine going into the temple with an animal that you helped raise and putting your hand on its head before the priest.  You confess your sins on the head of this animal you helped raise and then kill it.  Its blood is poured out at the base of the altar and then it is cut up and sacrificed.  You leave the temple empty handed, tired for the work of confession and then no sooner are you almost home and then you have an unkind thought, attitude or action that requires forgiveness.  Your hands are still stained with blood from the first animal and then you have to go get another one.  If your like me, pretty soon this become repetitive until the altar and temple are a bloody mess, with animals already cut up and waiting for room on the altar to be burned.  Pretty soon you come to the idea that if I am going to be forgiven then I need a savior because this is a bloody, stinking mess.  The blood is running off the altar, down the steps, out the door and down the hill.  I have created a river of blood trying to atone for my own sins.  At some point, I stop and realize that it is hopeless.
       You walk away with bloody hands and nervous sheep in the hills.  They are wondering how much longer they could possibly have to live.  This is the true picture of what the law should have done.  It makes me realize my hopeless situation and hopefully points me to Christ. Galatians 3:24.
        It makes me realize that sin makes my life a bloody mess. 
        In Isaiah 53:4-5 it says,

        "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken. Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him. and by His scourging we are healed."

        And despite how cute and beautiful some crosses are.  It should make me realize that Jesus became a bloody mess for me on the cross.  It was far from beautiful in that sense.  But, there is no way that I could have pulled myself out of that mire on my own.  There is no gift that I can give God to impress him.  There is no amount of work that I can do to make up for the wrongs already done.  I cannot add anything to the cross of Christ.
        I want to add that this doesn't mean that works has no place at all.  It all comes down to motive.  In other words, most of the religions of the world work in order to please God.  In order to try and turn God from his anger and please Him.  But, in the Christian faith, I work because I love God and want to please him.  My motive is not fear, but it is love.  It isn't to try and earn God's approval, but out of gratitude. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Paradox in the Bible

    I've been reading over the last week, a book by Athol Dickson called "The Gospel According to Moses: What my Jewish friends taught me about Jesus."  In it, the author speaks about his time in what he calls Chever Torah, where he meets with Jewish people and a rabbi to discuss the Torah.  It sounds more like a discussion group where ideas can be discussed.  In this group, the author comes to understand the Bible and its background in new ways.  One thing that he mentioned that really struck me which I hadn't seen before was how many paradoxes are in the Bible.  I will mention some of the ones the author mentions and some that I thought about about.  I wonder if you see any others?
1. The Paradox of Fertility- so many of the promises of God start out with a woman who was barren.  Think about it, John the Baptist mother, Samuel's mother, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel.  Yet, from these wombs the promises of God come forth. What do you suppose God is telling us through that.
2. The Paradox of Obedience- In one instance, Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac.  To commit murder by sacrificing him.  He has to disobey one law to obey the command of God.  To his credit, Abraham doesn't hesitate.
3. The Paradox of Promise- The Israelites spend forty years crossing the desert only to find the promise land occupied by the Canaanites.  It is a gift, yet they have to pick up their swords and destroy another people to obtain it.
4. The Paradox of Omnipresence- God is said to be everywhere.  He sees all things and is present everywhere at the same time.  Yet, the Bible also speaks of God being distinctly present at some times more than others.  For example, when God appears on Mt.Sinai in the cloud or the Mount of Transfiguration. 
5. The Paradox of Free Will vs. Being Chosen- Maybe one of the more difficult ones that I could think of.  How we both have free will and yet are chosen by God.  This has led to a lot of debate over the years and for some to not be very evangelistic since if someone is going to be saved regardless than why work hard to make it happen.  How to reconcile these two things together which are both affirmed in the Bible.
6. The Paradox of Lost vs. Saved.  In order to find my life, the Bible says that I must lose it.  That I must be willing to follow Jesus and to give it away to others.  Matthew 10:39  and then maybe the most significant of all
7. The Paradox of the Life Giver- Here we see Jesus, the author of life and all that exists having to die on a cross. The one who did no wrong, in order to save others from death.  The greatest paradox of all, God in a grave.
Can you think of others?
I would welcome your thoughts.
If you get a chance to read the whole book by Athol Dickson I would recommend it.  He is a deep thinker and it will enrich your life.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A lesson from the Ultimate Warrior

James 4:14
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

     Back in the 1980's, the WWF wrestling federation at the time was coming into it own and stars like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were well known.  At the time, another character came along named the Ultimate Warrior.  He was known for his face paint and running to the ring and shaking all the ropes.  He was a huge man with muscles in places I didn't even know had muscles.  He was big for a while, even beating Hogan for the heavyweight championship of the world and then eventually he disappeared.

     Until about a week ago, nobody heard much from him and then he was inducted into the WWE wrestling hall of fame.  I didn't watch any of it, but I did see a little clip from Monday night where he mentioned that if a man is remembered by his fans, even if he dies, he is immortal.  I thought it was ironic that he would say that because less than 1 day after that statement he died.  He was walking to the car with his wife when he collapsed and died.

      What is stunning is that this man appeared to be such a strong and healthy man on the outside.  I have no idea if he had heart problems or was seeing a doctor.  It makes me wonder if he thought he didn't have a long time when he mentioning dying in the ring.  But, I know that he appeared healthy and was only 54 years old.  He had just signed a big contract to be a spokesperson for millions of dollars.  He had just appeared in front of millions of fans.

     It led me to think about how none of us know how much time on this earth that we have.  We can appear quite healthy and be doing all the right things and be gone in a moment.  The Bible compares this life to a vapor.  We are here and then we are gone.  It makes me think that it is so important to be wise about how we spend our time here on earth.  It speaks to how we are using our time to build up God's kingdom instead of our own.  We can't take any of the things of this world with us.

   I would see that quite regularly as a chaplain at the hospital.  Someone is on their way to work and a truck hits the side of their car and suddenly they are in the hospital fighting for their life.  Or they are painting or doing housework and they suddenly have a cardiac arrest.  I'm not meaning to be a downer here.  I am just saying I think this is a wake up call to some people.  You aren't promised a tomorrow and neither am I.  Make the most of your time, so that you can hear the Lord Jesus say to you one day, "Well done, good and faithful servant." 

   One of the most important ways to do that is to commit your life to the Lord Jesus.  Ask him to come into your heart and to forgive you of your sins.  Ask him to change you from the inside and to give His Holy Spirit to you.  This is what Jesus meant by being "born again".   Jesus comes into the hearts of people who invite him, but you have to ask.  He knocks on the door of your heart and waits for you to respond.

Matthew 6:33
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:32-34


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Abundantly beyond all that we ask

   In Ephesians 3:20 Paul writes, "Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us. . . ."

    Based on what scripture says, here in the above verse and numerous others.  It seems clear that there is nothing that God cannot do.  In fact, according to this verse, our imagination isn't great enough to think of something that God cannot do.  I cannot out ask God in what he is able to do for me.  That's pretty great because I have a pretty good imagination.  What this verse is really saying is that God is infinitely greater than my mind can comprehend.

    So, the question when it comes to our prayers is not whether or not God is able.  I think about the passage in Mark 9:23 where Jesus is speaking with the father of a boy who is filled with a demon.  The man has some doubt since he brought the boy to the disciples and they haven't been able to heal him.  When Jesus hears this doubt he says, "If you can!  All things are possible to him who believes."  And right here I want to affirm this.  I believe God is able to do all things, except violate his own holy, loving nature.

    The question for me when I pray is never then if God can.  I know emotionally and intellectually that God can do anything.  It's his universe, made by Him and for Him and through Him.  He can do anything he wants whenever he wants.  The truth about it is, that I wonder sometimes why it appears that God doesn't.  I have trouble reconciling this with the image of God as the loving father who wants to give good gifts to his children.  I have trouble understanding that pull and tug of how God interacts with his creation.  When good people die in their youth or a young child is abducted and killed.  Or when a teacher stays after school to help a struggling student and gets killed by that same student.  I struggle to understand why these horrible things happen and why sometimes when you really need an answer like "yesterday" God becomes so silent.

    And this struggle required that we walk by faith because there are no simple, bumper sticker answers for that.  I know that that is not God's perfect will.  I know that God is not responsible for the evil that goes on in the world.  I know that God will make it right one day.  But, I struggle to understand God's silence and his allowing it to happen in the first place.  Just like I struggle to understand why God can answer some of my prayers almost immediately and then some linger on for years.

    I absolutely love it how our questions and struggles don't offend the heart of God.  They are even written in the Bible and declared by David and the other writers of the psalms.  If you don't believe me read verses like Psalm 10:1 or 13:1.  God allowed these words to be written down by godly men to show us that these struggles are not new.  And it is okay to have them.  God is not going to strike you down because your struggling.  It actually means that you have faith and it is maturing.

    I think it is important when we struggle to affirm what we are sure of and what we know.  I know that god loves me and didn't abandon me.  I know that he will not forsake me.  I know that he desires to give good gifts to His children.  I know that he sent his son to die for me and that he suffered a horrible death on a real cross.  I know that one day death and sin will be destroyed and that God will judge the wicked and the unrepentant.  I know that one day things will be much more clear.