Resurrection

We are going to look at one of the most confounding and embarassing narratives in the Bible, and I’m going to make some suggestions on how we are to understand the story. As a back drop, Abraham has already been promised by God to have numerous offspring through Isaac. These promises came through angels as well as a dramatic experience of covenant in Genesis 15. Abraham has been growing in faith and trust in his relationship with God. Earlier in the scriptures, Abraham is called a friend of God.

Genesis 22:1-18 (ESV)
1After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
15And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

What? This is a crazy story, and if we’re honest we have trouble fathoming God testing Abraham like this. If we take an objective look at this, it appears that God is asking Abraham to murder his son. It’s premeditated. He has intention. He has the knife in his hand. Why would God do this, and what kind of God is this? It seems monstrous on the surface. For those of us with children, it’s really unthinkable. We could intellectually rationalize that this event occurred before the law of Moses was given which said do not murder, and therefore no transgression (violation of a law) was being committed. However, God makes it clear in Genesis, chapter 4, that murder is not OK. Later, in the book of Leviticus, we learn that child sacrifices to a foreign god like Molech are an abomination. We also have scriptures that say God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin, yet that seems exactly what God is asking of Abraham.

The other crazy thing in this narrative is that Abraham doesn’t question God at all. I would ask questions like “Is this you, God?”, “Am I hearing you right?”, “Are you sure about this?”, “Why?”, “Isn’t this the son of promise where our blessings are supposed to come from?” Most of us would ask these questions, even of our spouse or best friend. In the account with Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham bargained with God. Why wouldn’t he do this now, when the son whom he loves and his future offspring are on the line? ‘Olah’ is the Hebrew word used for burnt offering and really means whole burnt offering, but it can also mean to ascend. Did Abraham understand God’s instructions?

I read recently that Abraham’s obedience demonstrated the level of Abraham’s friendship with God, but that doesn’t help me understand it any better. What kind of friend would ask me to murder my son?

Additionally, what about Ishmael? God doesn’t even acknowledge him as being a son in this narrative even though he technically would be a first born. Didn’t Abraham love him, too? He seemed to care for him. I believe that the language is deliberately used to point us to something bigger and more important.

I believe there are three concepts that help us get any kind of resolve in this story.

1) Cultural context.
2) Abraham believed that God could raise him from the dead.
3) The central character of the story is God (not Abraham)

Let’s look at the first concept:

Cultural context

Abraham is in a culture from at least 3500 years ago which seems very foreign to ours. For example, how did Abraham know that he was to use a knife for a burnt offering? The instructions given to Moses in the book of Leviticus wouldn’t come until at least 400 years later. For that matter, how did any of the people before Moses know to bring an offering to God? Culturally, making offerings to appease their gods was common in ancient cultures. Sacrificing children was also common in this age, which is perhaps why we don’t see Abraham arguing with God. He was born into culture, as are we.

Let’s look at the procedure that was prescribed to Moses in Leviticus for preparing a burnt offering (Lev 1:1-9).

1) The offerer was to bring an unblemished male
2) The offerer was to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
3) The offerer was to slaughter the male before the LORD.
4) The priests were to present and sprinkle blood on the four sides of the altar.
5) The offerer was to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces.
6) The priests were to prepare a fire, arrange the wood and pieces.
7) The offerer was to wash the entrails with water.
8) The priests were to burn all of it as a burnt offering as a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

I don’t know about you, but I would venture a guess that most of you haven’t done anything like this. Deer hunting is about as close to this as most of us get. I don’t even like preparing a turkey. This kind of procedure was fairly common to the culture.

As mentioned, ‘olah’ is a Hebrew word for whole burnt offering. How is the burning of animal flesh pleasing to God (it wasn’t bacon)? 🙂 In ancient cultures, animals were provision and a reflection of what you owned. You might say meat was money. This offering was essentially setting their money on fire and watching it burn and go up in smoke. This seems ridiculous to the world, but the kingdom of God is upside down. ‘Olah’ as mentioned, also means to ‘go up.’ In the book of Leviticus, when this burnt offering was made to God, the offerer would “watch the smoke and sparks ascend heavenward and know that God had accepted him as he identified himself with the sacrificial animal.” (Hebrew Word for the Day, Dr. J.D. Watson, p.110).

While our culture is now very different, the matters of the heart remain the same.

The burnt offering showed their love for God. They gave up something of value (essentially their money) for God, and in turn believed that God would accept their sacrifice as an expression of that love.

If you believe and follow Jesus, a new covenant has been presented where we don’t have to slaughter animals anymore to believe that God will accept our sacrifice. Jesus is the only sacrifice needed (by faith) to be acceptable and pleasing to God. Scripture also writes that obedience is better than sacrifice (Jesus was sacrificed once for all time).

That said, there are things we can do in this present age and in light of a new covenant.

‘Qorban’ is the Hebrew word for any general kind of offering (Lev 6:13).

I believe we bring an offering to God whenever we walk in faith, hope, and love. Especially if it costs us something.

Obviously, we can bring an offering to God with how we give (with our money, time, resources, and gifting).

We can love God by how we steward our hearts, how we spend our lives, and our choices with our bodies.

Romans 12:1 (HSCB)
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.

A sacrifice costs us something, but when directed by the spirit, brings God pleasure.

In a cultural context, perhaps God was inviting Abraham into a familiar experience (child sacrifice) to teach him first hand that child sacrifice is not the way any more, and that God will provide the Lamb needed to make atonement.

Secondly, let’s look deeper beyond the culture and the sacrifice. This is really about faith in a resurrection.

Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead.

The writer of Hebrews is speaking to a Jewish audience and writes this:

Hebrews 11:17-19 (ESV)
17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

How do we know that Abraham knew that God could restore Isaac from the dead in the book of Genesis? We don’t, but I would suggest that it is only through Christ, that we see the possibility of a resurrection from this text.

Jesus suggests that Abraham actually was looking forward prophetically to the time of the lamb coming as a substitute.

John 8:56
Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.

In the 1970s there were toys for little kids called “Weebles”. Their tag line was that “weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” If you knocked a weeble over, it would wobble, but bounce right back up. Abraham somehow believed that God would make things right. Abraham had faith that God had resurrection power. Even toward the very end, Abraham is expecting God to provide a lamb in his place. He has to look “up” in order to see it.

One of the characteristics of God that we don’t hear much about any more is that God is a jealous God. He wants relationship with us above everything else. Jesus was angry with the Pharisees because of how difficult they were making it to have any kind of relationship with God. Above the people and things we love, and even above our understanding of the promises He’s made, God wants relationship with us.

Finally, let’s look at the even more profound idea that God is the main character of the story and not Abraham.

The central character of the story is God (not Abraham)

In this story, we will substitute our heavenly Father for Abraham and Jesus for Isaac.

In the Genesis 22 account, Abraham doesn’t finish the slaughter. In the case of God with his son Jesus, he does finish the slaughter, allowing him to be crucified. Rather than just being a burnt offering, Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Through this sacrifice, relationship with man can be restored.

John 1:20 “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”

Abram means exalted father. Abraham roughly means father of a multitude. Our Heavenly Father wanted to move from exalted Father to Father of a multitude.

John 1:12 (ESV)
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Isaac means laughter in Hebrew. I wonder if God the Father had to sacrifice the laughter and mirth He had with His Son in order to redeem mankind from his sin and in three days get it back.

In Genesis 22:2, the echoes of the “only son whom you love,” point to God’s love towards Jesus as revealed in the New Testament (Mark 1:11, Matthew 17:5). God reveals this in the baptism of Jesus (as well as his transfiguration), highlighting his divine nature and the quality of the relationship between them.

Mark 1:11 (NLT)
And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

We know Jesus wasn’t offered up as a burnt offering, but rather for the sins of the world (John 1:29, John 3:16). Additionally, Jesus was placed on an altar in the shape of a cross. Like Isaac, Jesus didn’t open up his mouth to complain (Is 53), and like Jesus, he seems to be innocent. While Jesus was innocent, we aren’t told of any sin that Isaac commited to warrant the death penalty.

Genesis 22:12 – “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me”

It was God’s obedience to fulfill his word. Does God fear God in this context? It’s an interesting concept to think about. We know from Isaiah 11, that Jesus would delight in the fear of the LORD and would even have this as a double portion (Isaiah 11:3).

God, in obedience did not withhold his only son from the slaughter (in the form of a brutal crucifixion) (Gospel accounts, Romans 8:32).

We are blessed because of this obedience and what the sacrifice made possible.

In Christ, the New Testament reveals that we are grafted into being part of Abraham’s seed and part of the blessing.

Galatians 3:29 (HCSB)
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Did Abraham have to sacrifice Isaac to receive this blessing? Studying out the previous chapters in Genesis, the blessing that God had already promised to Abraham was already pronounced, with one exception. The additional blessing reads “And your offspring will possess the gate of his enemies and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” We have these as an additional blessing because of Abraham’s obedience and God’s fulfillment of this blessing through Christ.

We are blessed because of Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to raise his son from the dead. We are blessed because Jesus’ resurrection made a way for us to be grafted in to the seed of Abraham, regardless of lineage.

In Christ, you are blessed. Your family name is blessed because of it. You are blessed because of Abraham and God’s obedience (yes, I know that sounds funny). You have authority over entry points of the enemy (gates). Give thanks for the blessings you have received. Walk in them. Use them for His glory. In realization of the blessings that we have received, we can go and be a blessing to others. That is our calling.

The 4 C’s of Love

I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled with how to define love and how to know what love is.  I believe everyone must work out their understanding of love through scripture and through the lessons of life.

When looking for a quality diamond, there are four aspects (4 C’s) to consider – color, clarity, carats, and cost.  In a similar manner, I have learned what I call the 4 C’s of love, and that they are in progressive measure – compassion, caring, commitment, and covenant.

Compassion:
The first level of love (compassion) is situational, but it does not necessarily involve any kind of relationship, great cost, or commitment.  Nevertheless, the recipient will often feel cared for as a result.

Mark 1:41
Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. “I am willing,” He told him. “Be made clean.”

Compassion is represented by the Greek root spl├ñ’nkh-non meaning from the spleen or bowels (G4698), and by the Hebrew root racham (H7356), meaning from the womb (as if cherishing a fetus), from the bowels, having pity or mercy on someone.

Most of the healing and miracles that were recorded in scripture were done out of compassion.

I am not someone who has a natural bent towards mercy or compassion, but if my heart is soft, the LORD’s compassion can flow through me from time to time.

I am learning to try to be more available for the LORD’s compassion to move through me.

Caring:
The next level of love is caring.  This goes beyond being compassion towards someone in a moment of need.

Last year, I had been wrestling inside with the probing question of whether I loved or cared for people.  Shortly after that time of wrestling, a situation came up affecting my rheumatologist whom I had known for the past sixteen years.  We had gotten to know about each other’s lives, families, and she had let me share my faith with her.  I had prayed for her and her family daily.  She had recently been diagnosed with a rare immune disorder of the blood, was in the hospital, and nobody knew if she would be coming back.  I was furious.  I was ticked off at SatanΓÇÖs strategies to steal, kill, and destroy.  He couldn’t have her or take her life.  Out of this, I realized that I do care.  I stepped into the gap and stepped up interceding for her for a period of six months.  After that season, the burden lifted, and sadly, she has since gone to be with the LORD.  I believe she came to know Jesus before she passed on.  She was a blessing to me.

I can think of no better example of caring in the scriptures than the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Luke 10:33-36
33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion.
34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’

Commitment:
The third level of love is commitment.  It is easier to say I love you and much harder to do.  Spend three days with me and then see if you still love me.

Commitment has an element of loyalty.  Most of us have limits of how long we will be loyal to a person, institution or cause.  In the Hebrew, the word ‘chesed‘ (H2617) sometimes translated as mercy is best described as the intersection of kindness, goodness, and steadfastness.

Long-term friendships, children, and marriage are good examples of loving commitment.

In a marriage which is a long-term commitment, one of the ways we show our love for one another is our commitment, fidelity, and our faithfulness to one another.  Marriage is God’s design for sexual expression, faithfulness, and commitment.  There is a level of commitment in a marriage (how many times must I forgive?), that aren’t in most relationships.  Jesus had the following to say:

Matthew 19:4-6
4 “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,”
5 and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?
6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

In the new covenant scriptures, the Greek word ‘agape‘ is introduced.  It is commonly described as unconditional love.  However, when love is tested, this is really difficult to do.  ‘Agape’ is also described as God’s kind of love, for loving anyone unconditionally often becomes impossible when the going gets tough.

John 13:34-35
34 “I give you a new command: Love (agape) one another. Just as I have loved (agape) you, you must also love (agape) one another.
35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love (agape) for one another.”

For example, I can purpose in my heart that I will always love my daughter.  However, there are times as a teenager that my love and respect are tested and for a while seem to disappear.  I have learned that I need the power of the Holy Spirit for me to forgive, to soften my heart, restore the relationship, and to love again.

When Jesus over on the earth as Son of Man, He demonstrated love in different ways and measure.

John 21:15-17
15 When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) Me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love (phileo) You.”  “Feed My lambs,” He told him.
16 A second time He asked him, Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love (phileo) You.”  “Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?”  Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, ‘Do you love (phileo) Me?’ He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love (phileo) You.” “Feed My sheep,” Jesus said.

Peter had previously learned that his efforts to be faithful, ultimately would fail (he previously denied knowing the LORD three times).  When Jesus asked Peter, will you love me without condition (agape), Peter knew in his heart that loving him as a friend (phileo) was the best he could offer.

It has been said that it takes God to love God.  There will be life events that we go through where we are disillusioned or disappointed.

I would also submit to you that it takes God to love someone without condition.  There are ways we are treated (e.g. disrespect, betrayals of trust, disappointment, unmet expectations, harsh words, sinful behavior, being condemned) that on our own we simply can not tolerate.  All that we can do is to forgive and pray for those who mistreat us.

Covenant:
Covenant is the fourth and greatest level of a love commitment.  Covenant requires the shedding of blood to ratify it.  It goes beyond a contract which is legally binding; it is to be a commitment that is to last for the life of the one making the commitment.  Marriage is to be an example of this kind of loving relationship.  At an even more profound level, Jesus offers his own blood to bind our hearts to His as an everlasting covenant.

Many books have been written on the subject of covenant.  I recommend studying the book of Hebrews.  I would suggest the following to summarize the covenant that Jesus offers to us, knowing that any attempt will be complete.

1) The forgiveness of sins

Matthew 26:28 (HCSB)
For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.

2) Establishment as a first-born son (there is no gender in the spirit), and being considered, and called family

Hebrews 8:10 (HCSB)
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.

3) The faithfulness of God

2 Timothy 2:13 (HCSB)
if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

Hebrews 10:23 (HCSB)
Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 13:5 (HCSB)
Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.

Conclusion:
Like a good diamond, love has different facets, ways of expression and ways of considering value.  I believe that Jesus showed different levels of love commitment, depending on the context that He was in.  He demonstrated the 4 C’s of love (compassion, caring, commitment, and covenant), and invites us to do the same.

 

Teach us to see

2 Corinthians 5:14-16
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.

Love does not see the faults and weaknesses of others. If you love and care for someone, one can overlook their faults. You don’t even see them.  The adage ‘love is blind’ has some truth to it.  On the other hand, if you don’t like someone or even hate them, you will have no trouble seeing their faults. In fact, their faults are all that you will see.

I recently coached a volleyball team where one of the players and her mom had taken up an offense with three other players on the team, and had begun labeling them as bullies.  After a particularly difficult match, their judgments and wounds surfaced in the form of anger, tears, and blame. Both the daughter and the mom had been nursing a wound for months and had become bitter. I counseled the mother and daughter to forgive them, but they couldn’t hear me through their shared offense.  Ultimately, they ended up leaving the team as they were unable to forgive.

In seeking to understand the situation, the Holy Spirit took me to this verse.

Hebrews 12:15
15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

Even though I didn’t want to share in their offense, I inadvertently began to see the faults of these three players and began to lose the ability to see their good qualities.  I lost the ability to love them.  In the player and mom airing their judgement of the players as bullies, I became defiled by it.

There is a Hebrew idiom that talks about whether your eye is good or bad (Matthew 6:22-23).

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.
23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness, how deep is that darkness!”

This idiom of contrasting a good eye – ‘ayin tov’ with a bad eye – ‘ayin rah’ applies to someone’s attitude towards others.  A good eye or one that is ‘single’ is one who sees generously.  A good or single eye is an eye which sees the treasure and value in people and does not really ‘see’ their faults.  A bad eye or one that is ‘stingy’ is one who sees critically and sees the faults and makes assessments and judgment of others.

We see this same reference in Proverbs 22:9.

He who has a generous eye will be blessed, For he gives of his bread to the poor.

The reference to a generous eye in Hebrew is the same, ‘ayin tov’, or a good eye.  The eye represents the condition of the heart.

Certainly this refers back to Deuteronomy 15:7-11, which deals with our heart towards those in need.  Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Adonai Jireh (Genesis 22-14) has been unfortunately translated as the ‘God who provides’ instead of the ‘God who will see’.  When God sees our need, He will respond.  In this regard, we are called to be like God.

How will we see?  Will we see a persons’ need and good qualities through a good eye or will we see through a critical lens?

Recently at a spiritual retreat, a good friend of mine shared that “any time, we are walking in judgement of someone, fear, or anger, we have stepped out of love and are walking in darkness.”

I would suggest to you that statement is true, and encourage you to search the scriptures to confirm it.

1 John 1:7
7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

What are the antidotes to seeing in the flesh and making a bitter root judgment?  There are at least two.  Forgiveness and the sober warning not to walk in judgment.

What most of us miss are the words Jesus spoke right after teaching us how to pray.

Matthew 6:14-15
14 “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.
15 But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.”

And

Matthew 7:1-2
1 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.
2 For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

The name Daniel means God is my judge.  Humility is required to let God be judge instead of ourselves.  Without humility, we won’t find favor with God (James 4:6).

The call to each of us is to not see through the eyes of judgment (the flesh), but rather to see generously and see the way that God sees a person and their need.

As an application, I would ask God this question, “How would you like me to see this person in light of their need?”

The one who walks in the light walks in love.

LORD, help us to see the way that you see.

 

The Heart of a Servant

 

Phillipians 2:4-7

4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.
7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.
 

Susan Cain writes in her book “Quiet”, that in the early 1900s we shifted from an age of character to an age of personality.  It takes time to get to know someone’s character and understand their heart.  I’ve found that those who inspire me are either authentically thankful people, or they demonstrate their genuine love for Jesus and desire to serve him with their lives.

 

Recently, I learned of a common misunderstanding in scripture from Pastor Dave Love (Calvary Castle Rock).  This misunderstanding comes from a poor translation of Hebrew into English.  The context is that the Hebrew people were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years and that Moses was to be their ambassador for God’s deliverance.  Moses is instructed to speak the following to Pharaoh:

 

Exodus 7:16
16 Tell him: Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me in the wilderness, but so far you have not listened.

 

 The word poorly translated as “worship” numerous times in the book of Exodus does not mean to worship, but rather comes from the Hebrew word “avad” meaning to “serve“ [H5647].  The word has common undertones of bond-service and a master/slave relationship, including the ear as a symbol of their allegiance.  The picture of a bond-slave was given right after the commandments were given to the Israelites in Exodus 21, which I believe emphasizes their importance (i.e. now that I’ve set you free, this is the kind of relationship I want with you).  However, the heart of the instructions come out more clearly in Deuteronomy.

 

Deuteronomy 15:12-17
12 “If your fellow Hebrew, a man or woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, you must set him free in the seventh year.
13 When you set him free, do not send him away empty-handed.
14 Give generously to him from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. You are to give him whatever the LORD your God has blessed you with.
15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this command today.
16 But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and is well off with you,
17 take an awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave for life. Also treat your female slave the same way.

 

What was offered to the Hebrew in trouble and what is offered to us is this:  You have tried to go it alone, but are not doing very well.  Do you trust me to take better care of you as your master than you can do for yourself?  This is what God offered the Hebrew people after setting them free from slavery in Egypt (the world).  The same offer is given to us.

 

I can set you free from your slavery to sin and the world (Egypt).  I can give you a better life, although the way may not always be easy.  Do you trust me to be your master (Father) and provide for your needs?  If you have seen my goodness, will you trust me to care for you?  Will you pledge your allegiance to me?  Will you try to do what pleases me (serve)?

 

I get it.  If we haven’t seen the goodness of God due to life circumstances, we may not be ready to trust (Exodus 6:9).  Recently, God did a miraculous change in my heart and marriage, which has given me hope for the future.  Before this, I didn’t have this hope as an anchor for my soul.  If God can heal my heart and enable me to love, He can do anything.

 

In our self-sufficient culture, the term slave is foreign to us, and yet affects us all with the choices we make on a moment by moment basis.

 

Romans 6:16-18
16 Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey – either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?
17 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to,
18 and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.

 

The point of this article is not merely about choices and serving, but rather that out of love and gratitude, we can give or serve cheerfully.  We can look at the character and the heart of Ruth in scripture as an example.

 

Ruth 2:11-13
11 Boaz answered her, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death has been fully reported to me: how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and how you came to a people you didn’t previously know.
12 May the LORD reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
13 “My lord,” she said, “you have been so kind to me, for you have comforted and encouraged your slave, although I am not like one of your female servants.”

 

Peter after his restoration, James, and Jude all called themselves slaves to Christ.  Peter eventually recognized that it wasn’t about his efforts but trusting God to do what only He can do.  Peter learned to trust.

 

Going back to our original text, Jesus took the form of the lowest slave in the household when he offered to wash his disciples’ feet.  The servants with the better positions would do things like prepare food and serve the master’s immediate needs.  The doorman would be responsible for cleaning the feet of the “important people” who got dirty with dust and the dung of walking in this world.  A lot of people don’t recognize that Jesus laid down His right to be God and God-like when He walked this earth.  He wasn’t omniscient, wasn’t omnipotent, and wasn’t omnipresent.  Even more importantly, he didn’t come to be served, but came to serve, which isn’t very God-like at all.

 

Jesus modeled a new concept of what God is like.  That God is love.  That God came to serve the needs of people out of love.  I told some friends of mine recently, that if I get to the end of my life and I am all alone and have failed to love, I have failed at life.  My life would be nothing more than a clanging gong.  A number of prophetic messengers have said that there is only one question that will matter in eternity, “did you learn to love?”

 

Serving is a picture of love.

 

The four-part believer

While at a conference recently, I heard a response that those who believe that Yeshua is LORD, are not three-part beings, but four.  This is not what the traditions of men have taught.  I thought I would search the scriptures to see if this were true.

The idea of a four-part being helps make sense of the following text:

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

Why would our spirit need to be sanctified if this was the same thing as Holy Spirit?  No, this text from Paul only makes sense with the idea that everyone is born with a human spirit, but not everyone has the Holy Spirit living inside them.

This transformation happens the moment we accept and believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough for us to be saved (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As a result, a personal prayer transacted in communion might read something like this.  “This is my body, LORD.  I recognize and thank you that I am now part of your body, accepted by you and a part of you.  You live in me as evidence that I have accepted your body, broken for me.”

One of my prayers for many years has been that “I submit my body and soul to my spirit, and I submit my spirit to you, Holy Spirit.  Have your way in me.”

We as transformed beings are four-part beings, body, soul, spirit, and God.  Christ IN you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Let’s look at a passage in the book of Daniel that has been relegated as historical, but that I believe has prophetic symbolism, pointing to a life in Christ.

To set up the story, let’s look at the context and the meaning of the players in Hebrew.

The context of the story is that the Chaldeans were bringing charges against the Jews, and a Babylonian king, named Nebuchadnezzar had made a golden image of himself, demanding that everyone fall down and worship it.  If all the people didn’t bow down and worship the image, the penalty was to be thrown into a fiery furnace.

Daniel’s three friends refused to worship this “god,” and as a result would have to pass through fire.

Daniel – God is my judge (Belteshazzar)
Hananiah – God has favored (Shadrach)
Mishael – Who is what God is, rule of God (Meshach)
Azariah – God has helped (Abednego)

Babylon – means “confusion by mixing”

Like Bablyon, I believe the new pagan names (Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego) were given to Daniel and his friends to cause them to lose their sense of identity and to forget their connection with God.

Like Daniel and his three friends, I believe we are appointed as overseers over chaos to bring God’s Kingdom order, but it may cost us to get there.

23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fell, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?”  “Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king.
25 He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of God.”

The fourth is like a “son of God.”

I believe that this is a prophetic picture of starting as three-part beings and in trusting God to save us, we become four-part beings.  They passed from death to life, trusting in the power of God to resurrect them.

The king ordered that the furnace be made seven times hotter.  Why?  Seven is the number of fullness and completion.  I believe that seven, in this context, shows that this was a complete work.  Jesus taught that our works would be tested, as if by fire.  Only what is of God would survive a trial by fire.  That which is more precious than gold was their faith (1 Peter 1:7).

28 Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent His angel and rescued His servants who trusted in Him. They violated the king’s command and risked their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
29 Therefore I issue a decree that anyone of any people, nation, or language who says anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be torn limb from limb and his house made a garbage dump. For there is no other god who is able to deliver like this.”

I believe Christ was the fourth in the fire.  If Christ is in you, the revealing will convict the world, just like it did to Nebuchadnezzar.

Godly sorrow producing repentance

Godly sorrow producing repentance (a personal testimony)

2 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV) Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

I don’t know how all of this works, but I believe that this was the verse that the Holy Spirit brought me to, after God did His work in me.  I testify to His work.

The Greek word for repentance is  ‘metanoia’ which means to change one’s mind.

Many people have worldly sorrow, or regret over the things that they either did or didn’t do during their lifetimes.  However, without a change of mind, they would not have done things any differently.

I have been married for twenty years, but until this turning point, I would not have told you “happily married,” as the fairy tales have proclaimed.

Over the years, my heart had become bitter and business-like without much heart-felt affection towards my wife.

At one point a few years ago, my wife and I were going through a marriage video series together.  During this time, I communicated my “non-negotiable” needs for regular intimacy with my wife.  To my surprise, the well of intimacy dried up, really in both of us.  Was this because I had not learned to be content with what I had?  Maybe.  I went through life trying to make the best of it, but inside I was not happy.

Hebrews 12:15
15 Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many.

I had noticed over the past three to five years a lack of patience with people at work.  Even more so than usual, knowing that my overall life happiness probably had something to do with it.

On January 4th, 2016, I expressed my frustration to my wife on how much I felt ripped off.  I felt like there was more affection and passion before we were married than after.  I  also expressed how I have  been “miserable for the last twenty years.”

While my wife was listening to me, I believe the Holy Spirit asked me this question, “what if you have been a miserable person these last twenty years?”  After this, I realized that I have had a choice as to whether to have been miserable or not.  I blamed my wife for my misery.  Hmmm, where have we seen that pattern before?  I began to see this same pattern in my grandma and grandpa, and many other marriages.  I wondered how many other marriages were like this.  I didn’t want to keep being miserable.  I want to enjoy the time I have left on earth.  I confessed that I had been a miserable person for the past twenty years to my wife.

After this confession, the cold bitter wall that had built up in my heart came down, restoring affection and love in our marriage.  It was truly only something God could do.  Holy Spirit led me to the understanding that what just happened was Godly sorrow leading to a change of mind (2 Cor 7).  I believe Godly sorrow that leads to repentance has these key elements:

1) Honest confession of your true feelings (light can not come in when emotions are trapped in darkness)
2) A realization of the part you have played
3) A change of mind
4) Reconcilation of hearts

Where I had no hope for the future with my wife and my life as a whole, I now have hope.

I had always felt like there was more on the following scripture than I could fathom, but I thought that the text was for those “other” bitter people, and not for me.

Exodus 15:22-27
22 Then Moses led Israel on from the Red Sea, and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur. They journeyed for three days in the wilderness without finding water.
23 They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water at Marah because it was bitter – that is why it was named Marah.
24 The people grumbled to Moses, “What are we going to drink?”
25 So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he threw it into the water, the water became drinkable. He made a statute and ordinance for them at Marah and He tested them there.
26 He said, “If you will carefully obey the LORD your God, do what is right in His eyes, pay attention to His commands, and keep all His statutes, I will not inflict any illnesses on you that I inflicted on the Egyptians. For I am Yahweh who heals you.”
27 Then they came to Elim, where there were 12 springs of water and 70 date palms, and they camped there by the waters.

The contrast between Marah (bitterness) and Elim  (palms), represent the bitterness that occurs when our flesh doesn’t get what it wants, versus waiting for God’s provision in His way and timing.  I believe Elim was a place of healing, after moving past the place of Marah.

I wonder how long the Israelites were tested at Marah.  I wonder how many marriages are stuck at Marah.  Ask the Healer of Hearts to do what only He can do.

Meaning of Christmas

 

I know I am in the minority, but for a number of years, I have struggled with Christmas.

First of all, let us be clear. Jesus was a Torah keeping Jew. There are no ordinances described in scripture for keeping either Christmas or Easter. In fact, both of these Holidays have pagan roots with respect to their origin and traditions. There is an ordinance about keeping Passover, but the church has lost touch with its Hebraic roots, in my opinion.

I have learned that I am not one who easily goes along with traditions without understanding the reasons why we are doing something. I have always needed to know the “why” before I can be onboard.

I have learned that I don’t want to be a “Scrooge,” nor do I want to be negative or critical. However, I do want to be authentic and I do want to be sincere.

Philippians 4:8 teaches us to focus on what is true, what is good, and what is worthy of praise. So does love for that matter.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

As I have wrestled this internal conflict this year, I have come to understand that the cross of Christ is the central event of scripture. His supernatural entry into Mary’s virgin womb made a way for that to happen, but this is an entryway into the incarnation of God for humanity and not the culmination of God’s story.

If I can’t give praise for trees, ornaments, gifts, and shopping, what can I give genuine praise about?

I can be thankful that God sent his Son into the world for me. That is the greatest gift I can ever receive. God cared enough to give me the greatest gift of all. The gift of love.

Of course, this gift is not for me alone, but for you, too. Will you discover this gift this year?

John 3:16-17
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I believe that this is the message we should be focused on. 1 John 4:19 teaches us that we love because He first loved us. In knowing how much we are loved, we will care more for ourselves and for one another.

What could be more important than that?

I don’t know what day of the year, his birth actually fell on, but that isn’t that important when compared to love entering the world in order to redeem it.

If Christmas is to be about anything, I want it to be about being thankful. I want to be thankful for the Father’s gift of life for me. I want Christmas to be a time of reflection and thanksgiving, focused on Jesus. When our focus is there, we can love out of an overflow, not out of meeting or managing the expectations of others.

Take the time to know that you are loved. When you get it, please pay it forward.

Be loved this Christmas…