Thursday, August 30, 2012

You are not a waste...

I was in Japan when I first realized it: I ask nothing of my body compared to what it's capable of.  What brought on this revelation: watching a "parkour" competition on television.  Parkour, also known as urban running or free running, is essentially where a person goes directly from point A to point B in an urban setting - literally.  I mean they are jumping fences, climbing buildings, leaping rooftops, and everything in between.  In the competition I was watching, there were competitors from all around the world, competing on a fabricated course.  There were various stages to the competition, each with a different course to run.  In order to move from one stage to the other, you had to complete the entire course, without falling "off course," like into the water or off a platform or anything.  What lead me to my realization was that one part of the competition required someone to run across a platform to leap up between two suspended, plexiglass walls.  There was nothing to "land on" between these walls, so the competitor had to open his hands, palm out, as soon as he or she got between the walls, and hold themselves in between the walls through the sheer pressure of their hands against the walls.  They then had to climb inside the walls, again only through the pressure of their hands, to get up onto the next platform of the course.  It was incredible that people were actually capable of doing that.

Incidentally, it is also in Japan that I began to realize my "issue," at least the "issue" I believed I had.  I had the sudden belief that I am not particularly "gifted," at least in a specific sense.  Sure, I'm pretty good at a fair number of things.  But am I spectacularly good at any one thing: I didn't think so.  Back in school, I had good grades, sure... but it wasn't effortless.  I had to work hard to make it happen.  I was pretty good at sports; I was pretty fast and fairly strong.  But I was never God's gift to the athletic world.  As I took inventory, I couldn't really think of anything that people would say, "Man, they're sure impressive at ____."  

About a year or so ago, this thought process unexpectedly surfaced again.  I met this extremely gifted person at athletics.  They had walked on to their college track team and were immediately the fastest sprinter on the team, even though they had never trained for sprinting in their lives.  With the right training, they could have made a name for themselves as an NCAA athlete.  They could start a sport they had never played before, and within a day, be proficient at it to the level that you would never know they had not done it before.  They could watch someone proficient at a physical activity, and very shortly teach themselves how to do that activity.  Even the things I considered myself fairly good at, they could do better without even having attempted to be proficient at it.  What was worse, this person wasn't stupid, either!  They were extremely intelligent, to the point that they sometimes talked over my head without realizing it.  Standing in that light... it was difficult to find any giftedness in myself.  Even those things that I would consider my "gifts," didn't seem that great compared to their's.

I bring this up because I think this is an issue that, in some way, most of us humans struggle with.  As our own worst critics, it is hard to see the value in ourselves, especially compared to someone who has these amazing abilities we admire... and even covet.  When I turn to God about this, though... He definitely has a different view on the issue.

The first passage is one that convicts me, for it reminds me who I am and Who God is:

"But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?" - Romans 9:20-21(NRSV)

I am only a human being, crafted by God, whose entire life depends on God and who only lives for maybe a century.  Who am I to question what God has given me, when He can see the full measure of Time and knows how important my gifts, no matter how small they appear, really are?  Isn't He worthy of trust, if He is all knowing and all good, as we believe?

But God does not leave us with, "Why do you question me, though I have your highest good and the highest good of all humanity at heart?"  He also gives us this passage:

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot would say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear would say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.   If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.'  On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable." - 1 Corinthians 12:12-22(NSRV)

What does this mean?  We, as Christians, are members of the body of Christ.  And we each are valuable to that body.  We were given different gifts, as a body has different parts, and each part has a necessary function without which the body would be incomplete.  Even people who have gifts that seem "undesirable" are "indispensable," just as the bowels may seem unpleasant, but are absolutely necessary for the survival of a human being.

Even more simply:


God has given you your gifts for a reason, and that reason was to be a blessing to the rest of the Christian community, as well as the rest of the world, through your usage of those gifts in the name of Christ.  Maybe you're not a good speaker.  So what!  It's our culture that's telling you to be ashamed of that.  God has an important calling for you!  Maybe you suck at sports.  So what!  Use the gifts you have because each one of us uniquely and specifically impacts the lives of the people we meet.

And finally, remember this:

 "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(NIV) 

You are a wonderful, incredible work of God.  And we know God does "all things for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28a).  When God made you, He knew your gifts were for the "good of those who love him," both yourself and others.  Take comfort, then.  You are not a waste.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To save lives....

In Ephesians 6:17, the word of God is called the "sword of the spirit" for Christians.  In Hebrews 4:12(NIV), the author writes, " For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  What is the point the writers of these two books were trying to convey: the word of God is as important to a Christian as a sword is to a warrior.  What does that mean?

Well, think of it this way.  Samurai were some of the most respected swordsmen of their day, and even today command a vast respect for their dedication and skill in their art.  They started training with the sword at the age of 5, and continued to train throughout their lives, knowing their skill with the blade meant life or death in a society where honor was easily slighted and only regained through combat.

If the the sword for a swordsmen is compared to the word of God for Christians, than that means our lives as Christians need to involve regularly training in the Word of God.  This isn't just so we can answer the questions the world throws at us about our faith.  It is also because, as we study the word, God speaks to us to guide us in our lives and even to affirm us as we walk the path of faith in this life.  This came home to me very pointedly, recently.

My spouse and I decided to get out of town and see nature, recently.  We had spent too much time in civilization for our tastes, and we needed a little fresh air and quiet.  The plan was sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing, and we didn't really have a plan on where we wanted to go.  As we were driving, though, we saw a sign for an area to get out and walk and just decided to get off the road and go.  We parked, and had only just opened our trunk to get our sunscreen out when we were approached by a young man about his religious beliefs.

As we talked with him, it was amazing how he would say something, and these bible passages would just leap into my head regarding the topic he was discussing.  It was also amazing to me how clear it was that God had prepared us for this moment.  One example would be that I had just recently written a blog entitled "The Foolishness of God", discussing a bible study on 1 Corinthians 1:20-2:5.  In this passage, it discusses God sending Jesus for our sakes being called "the foolishness of God" because "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).  In other words, to the world, Jesus' actions don't make sense because He chose to live and die for people that didn't love Him, didn't do anything He wanted them to, and didn't benefit Him in any way.  This young man we were talking to professed a faith he said Christians would find no problem with, and at first discussion, it was difficult to find the differences... but with having recently done a study on the "foolishness of God," it became clear there were actually significant differences.

What was more amazing, though, was what happened that night.  My spouse and I were doing our regular, nightly devotions.  The ones for that night were on Ephesians 5:6-21 and Psalm 96.  In Ephesians, verses 6-9, it says:

"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrathcomes on those who are disobedient.  Therefore do not be partners with them.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)"

Then, in Psalm 96:4-5(ESV):

"For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens."
(In this religion the young man followed, it springs from Hindu
practices and is named after one of the Hindu Gods.)

My spouse and I were just amazed by how God had spoken to us through scripture, not just in the situation itself, but afterward to affirm and encourage us in having stood up for our faith.

What I want you to understand and learn from this is that being active in studying the Bible will protect you, just as a swordmaster uses a sword to protect himself.  In 1 Peter 2:1, the Apostle Peter warns us there will be false teachers who come into this world, and in Colossians 2:8(ESV), Paul writes, "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."  By understanding your sword, the Word of God, you will be prepared to face whatever "philosophy and empty deceit" that face you, and by the grace and power of God in His word, you will be the "fragrance of life" (2 Corinthians 2:16) to "those who are being saved" (2 Corinthians 2:15).  For as God says in Isaiah 55:10-11(NIV):

"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

And what is that "purpose"?  Jesus in Luke 19:10a(ESV):

"To seek and save the lost."

Friday, August 24, 2012

What we refuse to believe...

The word "love" appears approximately 551 in the NIV translation of the Bible.  If I look up the word "love" in a Bible search, I find verses like these:
  • "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.  In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling." - Exodus 15:13(NIV)
  • "And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." - Exodus 34:6-7a(NIV)
  • "In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” - Numbers 14:19(NIV)
  • "But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery." - Deuteronomy 7:8(NIV)
  • "If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.  The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul." - Deuteronomy 13:1-3(NIV)
  • "Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders." - Deuteronomy 33:12b(NIV)
  • "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." - 1 Chronicles 16:34(NIV)
  • "But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation." - Psalm 13:5(NIV)
  • "The unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken." - Psalm 21:7b(NIV)
  • "Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies." - Psalm 36:5(NIV)
  • "For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave." - Psalm 86:13(NIV)
  • "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you." - Isaiah 54:10(NIV)
  • "Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail." - Lamentations 3:22(NIV)
  • "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” - Zephaniah 3:17(NIV)
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." - John 3:16-17(NIV)
  • “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." - John 13:34(NIV)
  • "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." -John 15:9(NIV)
  •  "I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." - John 17:23-24(NIV)
  • "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8(NIV)
  • "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 8:35&37-39(NIV)
  • "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." - Galatians 2:20(NIV)
There are so many more passages.  Passages that fill me up no matter where I am in my life.  I think you see the point:


There is nothing - ABSOLUTELY nothing - that can stop, change, reverse, compromise, undo, damage, destroy, halt, or any other synonym that!  Don't you know that when God was sitting around, doing whatever God did before He created this place, He was fully, completely, intimately, and totally aware of the exact depths of your worst possible thoughts and actions?  Don't you know He saw the lies you would tell, the people you would have sex with, the drugs you would do, the tests you would cheat on, the laws you would break, the love you would deny others, the horrible, corrupt, evil things you would do over and over and over again, even though you knew, deep down, that you shouldn't??  YES!  God SAW those things!  And you know what???




I leave you with one last passage.  One that has meant so much to me.  It is Ephesians 3:16-19(NIV), and my prayer for you today:

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Foolishness of God....

Yesterday, I was prepping a Bible study, part of which was on 1 Corinthians 1:20-31.  In verses 20&23-25, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?... but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength."  As I read this passage, I got to thinking about the dual concepts of the "foolishness of God" and "man's wisdom," and what wider concepts came from that.
Obviously, verse 24 tells us that "Christ crucified" is a "stumbling block" and "foolishness" to people, yet is the "power of God and the wisdom of God."  Essentially, the "love of God" is foolishness to this world, for the very saving act of Jesus in this world is the definition of love in 1 John 4:10(NIV) "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."  

The "foolishness of God" sent the flawless, perfect son of God, Jesus, into this world to live a perfect life, be falsely accused, illegally tortured by religious leaders, and then executed by the state via a brutal, slow death... to save people who didn't love Him or know Him.  To save people who would claim to love Him, but would turn around and do the very things, again, Jesus died to save them from.  The foolishness of God continues to make perfect people out of those who constantly and daily fail to be all God has called them to be.
The foolishness of God in Christ doesn't end there, though, it calls us to action in bringing His love to other people.  Our very identity in Christ is marked by our actions toward others, for as Jesus said "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love on another" (John 13:35). And not only are we called to love one another, but in 1 John 4:19-21(NIV), the Apostle John writes "We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."  Further, in Matthew 5:43-45a(NIV), Jesus states, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."  

It's here we see clearly why the world thinks this is "foolishness."  The world can trick people into thinking this story of Jesus never really happened... but it can't trick people into being unable to see Christians serving and treating with love everyone, even "enemies."  So it calls it foolishness, because the law of the world is to only do what benefits number one; the big M-E.  The world tells us to only give our time and energy to those we care about, or to those who "deserve" our time, energy, and resources.  Yet not with the Children of God... not with us, Christians.  We are to love what God loves... those for whom Jesus died.  And according to John 3:16&17, Jesus died for all people.  God did not make a "special" people list, where only certain people were allowed to be saved.  What right do I have to make that list myself?  To pick and choose who should learn that the all-powerful creator of the universe loves them and gave everything to be with them?  God's "Will" is already written, and He has written that He "wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).  As his follower... I am merely the executor of that will.  

This is a message I need to be reminded of every, single day.  Loving people is not easy. A  lot of times it is painful, even perilous, work.  We are called to love people who do not love us... who may even hate us.  We are called to love those whom we may dislike or even hate.  Therefore, I have to understand that love is a choice I make... that we all have to make.  Our culture tells us love is merely a feeling we have for others.  It is so much more than that.  We must choose to act lovingly toward people, even when our hearts tell us to do anything, but.

An insurmountable task this seems, and it certainly is!  You are completely and totally incapable of showing this kind of unconditional love to other people.  Just like me and everyone else on earth, you are a fallen, imperfect person.  But as a Christian, that is not the summation of your identity.  How did John say we are capable of loving in 1 John 4:19?  He wrote, "We love because he first loved us."  And in 1 Corinthians 1, what did Paul write is the power of God that we have access to: "Christ crucified."  And once again, as the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:10, Christ crucified is the very nature of love.  We are able to love others because of God's love for us, shown through what Jesus did when He walked this earth.

Ultimately, you will fail to love people perfectly.  God knows I do every day, but I live in the love of Christ, as all Christians do.  So when we fail, there is still Christ, standing alive after His death, and leaving our sins in hell where they belong.  

Go in peace and serve the Lord.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Jeremiah 1:4-9...

During the installation service of our new pastor this past weekend, the first reading was from Jeremiah 1:4-9.  A part that particularly stood out to me was verses 6-9(ESV), "Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God!  Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.'  But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, "I am only a youth"; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.'Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, 'Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.'"  

From what I understand, we do not know exactly how old Jeremiah was when he says "I am only a youth."  However, judging from the perceptions of the time, he could have been anywhere from his mid-teens to mid-twenties when God called him as a prophet.  Let me type that again: he was the age of a high schooler to someone just completing college.  Let me say that another way: he was in the age group of people that are thought to "know nothing" today.

Where am I going with this?  You can probably see where I'm going, but I'm going to type it out anyway: you are never too young to make an impact for the Gospel.  You are never too young for God to use your faith to change peoples' lives.  Want to see proof of that?  In Matthew 18:1-6, Jesus uses a little child to teach the disciples humility and about how we should approach faith, and in Matthew 19:13-14, He states that the "kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" about children, teaching us we should have the sort of trusting faith that a child does.

Now some of you may be saying, "But Jeremiah was a prophet.  They're a special sort of believer."  Granted, Jeremiah was called for a specific purpose, but that does not mean you are not similarly called to reach others with the Gospel of Christ.  At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles as tongues of flame, Peter said this prophecy of Joel was fulfilled "In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams" (Acts 2:17).  Just as God gave Jeremiah the ability to speak, so, too, God entered believers through the Holy Spirit in order that they would be empowered to speak the truth of Jesus to all people.  And this Holy Spirit was not just given to the Apostles, for Peter goes on to say, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:38-39).

Ultimately, the point I am making is this: as a Christian, God has called you to reach out to anyone in your life with the good news that God loved them so much that He sent his son, Jesus, to live a perfect human life and die a gruesome, human death, in order that when Jesus rose from the dead, He would ensure that all believers in Jesus would not be condemned for their failings, but would spend eternity in the presence of God.  It doesn't matter what age you are.  Don't be afraid.  Let your life as a Christian speak the truth of Who God is to the people in your life.  Trust that God will take your efforts, whatever they may be, and use them to change lives.  After all, remember whose Spirit makes you able to speak: the Spirit of God.  As the creator of language, He'll figure it out for you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Self Worth....

I'm going to take a brief diversion from my current pattern of blogs to do a specific one.  I often struggle with self worth issues, but what brings me to writing today is the frequent encounters I have had with Christian people struggling with low perceptions of their own self worth.  The issue springs from their perception of what the Christian life should "look like," and their own interpretation that since their lives and choices don't perfectly reflect this idealized image, they must be terrible people of whom God is ashamed.  However, because they don't want people to know they're not perfect, they often hide behind this "perfect image" they create of their lives, never letting people know that they are dying inside.

If you are one of those people who thinks that you have to be this perfect person for God to love you or use your life to help other people... throw that thought right out of your head.  First of all, if you think because you aren't perfect, God is raising the hammer, waiting to crush you or that He doesn't love you, check these examples from the Bible about how you're dead wrong:

1. King David - Had a group of men called his "Mighty Men" that supported him before he was king, when King Saul was trying to kill him.  They were essentially his closest group of friends and body guards.  One of these "Mighty Men" was Uriah.  While Uriah was off fighting a war for David, David slept with and impregnated Uriah's wife, Bathsheba.  To cover it up, David called Uriah home from war so that he would sleep with Bathsheba and cover up that she was unfaithful while he was gone.  Uriah could not bear to enjoy the comforts of wife and home while his men were off fighting, however.  So, David sent him back to the war, carrying a sealed message that told David's general to ensure Uriah died in the war.  Uriah, honorable to the end, never read the message and was killed in the battle when the front line pulled back and left him alone at the front.  Despite this evil behavior, however, God still would say this about David:

  • Samuel 13:14 - God called David "a man after his own heart," knowing what he would do with Bathsheba in the future.
  • 1 Samuel 7:11a-13 - "'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever."
    • We see this fulfilled in Jesus, Himself, who was directly descended from King David (Matthew 1:1).  God used an adulterer, murderer, and liar to bring about the salvation of the entire world.
2. The Women of Jesus' Bloodline - Genealogy in Jewish society was always traced through the men, that was why if you didn't know who your father was, you were an outcast in Jewish society.  You essentially had no identity.  However, when Matthew wrote his account of the Gospel, he included five women in the genealogy.  They were so significant that Matthew listed them, even though technically women had no status in Jewish society.  Yet look at the background of these women:
  • Tamar - Genesis 38: In Jewish society, if a man died before his wife could give him a son, the next-in-line in the family was supposed to marry her and have a son in the name of the brother who died.  Sounds awful for the woman, but in actuality, this was to her benefit.  If a woman had no sons and no husband, she had no one to take care of her and ensure she survived.  Women couldn't just go out and get a job in Jewish society.  Now, Tamar was married to one of  Judah's sons, and he died.  Then, the next son died, leaving Judah with one son.  Judah was afraid to marry his last son to her, so he sent her away, never intending to allow her to marry and essentially leaving her without a future.  When Judah's wife died later, Judah went on a trip, so Tamar disguised herself and sat on the side of the road he would take.  When he came by, he did not recognize her, thinking she was a prostitute, and wanted to sleep with her, promising to pay her later for it with a young goat.  She made him give her his seal and staff as a guarantee and did the deed.  Later on, when it was discovered she was pregnant, the people wanted to burn her for adultery.  She saved her life by producing the seal and staff of Judah, causing him to say "She is more righteous than I, since I would not give her my son" (verse 26).  In other words, her actions, though scandalous, caused him to keep Jewish law.
  • Ruth - Book of Ruth: Ruth was a non-Jewish woman who married a Jewish man that later died.  Her mother-in-law's other son and husband also died, but instead of going back to her homeland, Ruth stayed to take care of her mother-in-law, Naomi.  Every day she would take left-over grain from the field of one of her dead husband's kinsmen, Boaz.  He thought she was beautiful when he saw her, and made sure there was always enough grain left for her to take care of herself and Naomi, and he also ensured she would not be bothered by any of the men that worked the field.  Though Boaz liked her so much, and he was related closely to her dead husband so that he was qualified to marry her, he did not act on anything.  So, with Naomi's encouragement, Ruth cleaned up, dressed up, put on her perfume, and went over to Boaz's after he had a party and went to sleep drunk in the grain barn.  There, she laid down at his feet, and when he awoke and found her there, she told him to cover her with the corner of his blanket, and he asked her to stay until morning.  Now, this would have been absolutely scandalous at the time.  Women were not supposed to talk to men outside their family, much less visit them alone, while they're drunk, and spend the night with them.  It would have been grounds for stoning, except that Boaz protected her identity, and in the end, married her.  She, too, was an ancestor of the savior.
  • Rahab - Joshua 2: Rahab was not Jewish and was actually living in Jericho when it was attacked by the Israelites after they left Egypt.  Furthermore, she was a prostitute who owned her own brothel in the city.  In Joshua 2, she sheltered the spies from Israel that had snuck into the city and helped them escape without being discovered by the authorities in Jericho.  While doing this, she told the spies, in verses 9 and 11, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you...  the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below."  Despite all that her life had been about up to that point, faith in the one true God was still placed in her heart, and her and all her family were the only ones spared when the walls of Jericho collapsed and the Israelites overthrew it.  Now, what is even more amazing to understand is we know that as a prostitute, she was no virgin when she came into the faith.  For her occupation, she would have been an outcast in Jewish society.  However, her life before was not taken into account once she joined the Jewish nation.  She was given a new life, and in that new life was married to a Jewish man and became the ancestor of Jesus.
I could go on about Jesus' bloodline, how Bathsheba was also listed, though she cheated on her husband by sleeping with King David while her husband was at war; or how Mary was also listed, though most of her friends and family would have believed her and Joseph had conceived Jesus outside of marriage, for in Jewish society, a Jewish man claimed a child as his own blood if he married a pregnant woman.  I could go on about other chosen servants of God: Samson, a man who visited pagan brothels, married pagan women, and regularly broke Jewish law, though he was the spiritual leader of Israel; Solomon, king of Israel, who had 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of whom were pagan, though it was against the direct command of God to marry outside the faith.

The point I'm trying to make is this: God does not call perfect people to serve him.  The Christian life is not defined by perfection.  As Paul says in Romans 7:15&21-23(NIV), "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members."  In short, the Christian life is defined by struggle with sin.  You go through life in faith, you sin, you are forgiven, you keep walking, make a good decision, turn around and make another bad one, you are forgiven, God picks you up off the ground and gets you moving again.  Repeat.  But there's the catch right there: GOD picks you up; GOD gets you moving again.  What does Paul say after crying about how he cannot do good?  Romans 7:24b-25a(NIV), "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

YOU have worth, not matter what you've done, no matter how imperfect your life is.  God has written the pages of His faithfulness to His people through the lives of imperfect, corrupt people.  He continues to write that story through YOU.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Job 17-20...

The last few chapters of Job have been a series of discussions between Job and his friends.  Their names areEliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  In Job 2, the passage recounts that they heard all of the horrible things that had happened to Job, and in verse 11(ESV), the author writes "They made an appointment together to come to show him[Job] sympathy and comfort him."  In the following chapters, they offer their "comfort" to Job.  That comfort essentially comes down to them pointing out that God only punishes the sinful, that the righteous are protected by God and prosper.  In other words, they were telling Job that he had brought God's wrath on himself, that he deserved the death of his children and the loss of his wealth for some hidden, evil deed he had committed or was committing.  They went on to say he needed to stop being arrogant and blaming God and repent of the sin that was bringing God's wrath upon him.

The first thing that came into my mind was this: these are Job's friends.  They are among the people that are supposed to love him most.  In our society, friends often play a central role in our lives and decision making.  Starting in middle school and moving on into high school and college, youth and young adults are in a stage of development where they are turning to others for affirmation and support, rather than their parents.  Though the severity of this peer-focus I think has diminished somewhat as I've gotten older, I'm not convinced it's faded entirely.

In Job's society, the opinion of your family and friends was even more important than it is, today.  How can I justify that statement?  While I am not saying that somehow, emotionally, ancient people valued their friends and family more than we are capable of today, I am saying that the necessity of family and friend support was much greater.  There were no "inalienable rights" back then.  You couldn't just travel as you wished and expect not to be treated poorly.  In ancient societies, your family was your protection.  A person without family or friends was the victim, and usually slave, of any stronger man that came along and wanted to abuse them.  Job, having lost all his children (who would have supported him in his older years), and having lost all of his wealth, which would have bought him security in his old age as well, could not afford to alienate his friends.

Yet Job, knowing that his friends were giving him poor advice, did not meekly go along with them, though they were all he really had left in the world.  Instead, he stated boldly to them "miserable comforters are you all" (Job 16:1b) and that he "shall not find a wise man among you" (Job 17:10b).

Who, rather, did he turn to for truth and understanding?  After going through a list of all those who had once loved him, but now can't stand him, Job says in 19:25-26(ESV), "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God."  Job's hope was in God and in His redemption.

This brings to mind 1 John 4:1-2(ESV) "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God."  Just as Job knew to turn to God and His promises for truth, we can turn to the message of Jesus revealed in the Bible to help us understand all the sorts of "advice" that are given to us in our day-to-day lives.  Our culture may tell us we need to be thin, we need to be trendy, we need to have the newest and best technology, we need to be wealthy, we need to be liked, we need to be well-known to be thought a "good person," but as Job turned to his creator for truth and affirmation in the face of what his friends told him... so we, too, can turn to God to learn our true value, "We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Psalm 13...

Psalm 13 begins with the verse "
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?"  Not an auspicious beginning, and if you think about it, kind of an arrogant one.  You have David, the man whose very position is his because of the direct intervention of God, questioning God directly.  You have a mere man, who is born and dies within the window of one-hundred years, questioning the God who spoke the entire universe into existence and still holds it together today (Genesis 1-2; Acts 17:28).  I don't know how your superpowers are doing, but I can't even speak my 4-month old kitten into not attacking my shoelaces in the morning.  As the Word says in Ecclesiastes 3:11(NIV) "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  Mankind cannot fathom all that God has done; yet he seems constantly confident in challenging the all-powerful creator of the universe.  Pick most any significant figure in the Bible, and you're bound to find it somewhere:

  1. Adam and Eve - ate the apple in Genesis 3
  2. Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah) - they both laughed when God, the creator of everything, said they would have a son together in Genesis 17&18.
  3. Jacob - the man God renames Israel and is the one whose sons are the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel physically wrestles against God in Genesis 32.
  4. Moses - whines about not being able to speak well when God Himself tells him to go into Egypt and free the Israelites in Exodus 4&5.
The list goes on.  The point I'm trying to make here is that David is not alone in questioning God.  Despite all we know about Him and how He has revealed Himself to us throughout history... we still can't seem to resist questioning His goodness and motives through our words and actions.  I definitely do this on a regular basis.  I seem to constantly fret about how to make ends meet with regard to money.  I used to always worry about my career choices and whether I was making the "right" decisions regarding the career choices I made.  I constantly fear failing at what I'm doing and wonder why God lets things happen the way they do.  I am not unique in this.  No one is.  After all, the figures I named above are among the most well-known in the Old Testament, and they are all on record, in the oldest known written text, for having complained about God, to God, Himself!

Psalm 13 ends with verse 6 "I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me."  Dealt bountifully?!?  David spends most of the psalm complaining about how God was taking so long to deal with the evil men that were defeating him, questioning God's timing and seeming to try and hurry God along.  I don't know about you, but when I do everything I can for someone, giving them my best and being constantly concerned with their needs, and they still complain... it doesn't really motivate me to stick my neck out for them yet again!  Yet God was bountiful in giving good things to David.

And really... He's the same with us.  We have done just as much whining and complaining as David does throughout the Psalms.  We have done things we shouldn't have, said things we shouldn't have, thought things we shouldn't have... and desired things we'd be ashamed for anyone else to know about. Yet God, knowing every detail of how history would play out "sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10).  

To conclude... God does not deal with us as we deserve.  Because of Christ, we are able to stand in the presence of God, through prayer, and tell Him what's on our mind.  We are able to bring our fears and worries and stressors and failures to Him... and He does not see them as the irritants we see them.  He desires to hear from us, so as in the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17(ESV) "Pray without ceasing."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Job 10-13...

The verse that stuck out to me in today's study is one that has always jumped out at me when reading this portion of Job.  Job has just received a lot of advice from his friends, who came to see him after all the horrible things that had happened to him.  Their advice essentially said that he had somehow brought this judgement on himself, and he needed to repent of whatever wrongdoing he was in so that God would once again bring him into His good favor.  This reflected a common viewpoint of the time that earthly blessings were a sign of God's good favor for a righteous person, so therefore you must have sinned somehow to deserve bad things that had happened to you.  (This view was prevalent in Jewish culture, as well, and is why the disciples asked Jesus "who sinned" about a man who was blind from birth in John 9.  To this, Jesus responded in John 9:3(ESV) "Neither this man nor his parents sinned...but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.")

But to get back to Job, he rebuked his friends for their statements, going on to say in Job 13:15(ESV), "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him."  This response to his friends, as well as the rebuke of his wife to "curse God and die" in Job 2, absolutely floors me.  Imagine yourself in Job's position.  Imagine yourself one of the most renowned people in all the world.  You have more money than you know what to do with; you have the million dollar house with tons of property in the nicest place you could imagine to live; you have every kind of car you've ever wanted; you're married with children who are nearly as successful as you and are very close to one another; you have tons of friends who care deeply for you.  Then, in one day, you lose all of it.  Your children all die at once in a tragic accident, your cars are all stolen or destroyed, your spouse tells you you might as well die, your friends tell you that you are cursed by God for doing something awful when you know you've done nothing wrong.  Then, you become chronically ill.  

But to all this, do you blame God?  Do you lose faith?  Not if you're Job.  Job contends God could go even a step further and kill him, but he would still "hope in Him."  Wow.  I don't know about you, but I have gotten angry at God for not being able to find my car keys when I'm late for work or when petty things don't go my way.  Reading the story of Job really puts things into perspective for me.  Let me type it again:

"Though He slay me, I will hope in Him."

But how do we maintain this faithfulness in a broken world, where it seems like every day the world conspires to destroy our faith?  I remind myself of the promise of God in 1 Corinthians 10:12b(ESV) "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

No temptation, even the temptation to blame God and lose faith, is uncommon.  What is more, as I look at this verse, what stands out is this: 
  1. God always limits what bad things can be done to you.
  2. God provides the means for you to endure evil.
You do not face the darkness in this world alone, but He that created all the universe goes before you into the darkness to show the way, walks beside as you face it, and follows behind you to bring you through it.  No matter what you face... remember that.  The voices of doubt may say that God has abandoned you, that you are alone... but those voices are lying.  You are never alone.

Job so far....

Since I'm starting this blog after having started my study of the Word, I'm going to backtrack slightly to explain what is going on with Job.  Job was an incredibly faithful man of God, about whom God said in Job 1:8b(ESV), "there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil."  Satan contended that Job was only faithful because God had made him wealthy and successful in all he did, with blessings in his family, as well.  To prove that Job was faithful to God out of love, God allowed Satan to attack Job's wealth and family.

Now, to comprehend how wealthy Job was, let me lay it out for you.  Job had:
  • 7,000 sheep 
  • 3,000 camels
  • 500 yoke of oxen (that's 1000 oxen)
  • 500 female donkeys
  • "very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people in the east." - Job 1:3b
  • 7 sons (remember, sons were considered a sign of blessing from God, so for him to have a lot was a big deal in that society)
  • 3 daughters
  • If Job owned all these creatures, imagine how many people it would take to run that kind of property and just how much property and money it would take to sustain that many creatures!  After all, the rough estimate is that someone should have about one acre per six sheep today, so we could say Job would have needed at least 1166 acres just for his sheep!
When Satan began his attack on Job, the following happened all on the same day (Job 1:13-19):
  1. Sabeans attacked and stole all of Job's oxen and donkeys and only one servant escaped to tell him.
  2. Fire fell from heaven and killed all of Job's sheep and servants, except for the one who escaped to tell Job.
  3. The Chaldeans attacked and took all of Job's camels and only one servant escaped to tell him.
  4. His sons and daughters were all feasting together in the oldest son's house when a powerful wind came up and brought the house to the ground, killing everyone inside except the one servant that brought him the news.
So in one day, Job lost all his family but his wife, and all of the livestock that brought him so much wealth, plus nearly all of the servants who helped him sustain his property.  But according to Job 1:22b(ESV) "Job did not sin or charge God with wrong."

God was very proud of Job in all this, saying to Satan in Job 2:3b(ESV) "He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason."  However, Satan contended Job was only faithful because God had protected him from any personal, physical harm.  Therefore, still confident in Job, God allowed Satan to do anything to him, except that he must "spare his life." (Job 2:6b)  The result of this was Job being struck with physical illness in the form of "loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head." (Job 2:7b)

At this point, I cannot imagine myself being able to hold up in faith.  Yet in Job 2:9-10(ESV), "Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.' But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips."