Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Alive To Put Jesus On Display

We were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:4

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
Colossians 1:18
Thank You, Father, that in raising Your Son from the dead and joining me to Him in His resurrection You have raised me to new life so that the life that I now live might make my elder Brother look like the Treasure that He is for Your glory. Please give me more and more grace so that with each day that passes my life would come closer and closer to showing His true worth. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Learning That Seeing Is Not Belieivng

And God said to him, "I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you."
Genesis 35:11,12
Whether dealing with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or anyone else, God remains the same. I am amazed by this as I journey through the book of Genesis. The promise carries from one man to his son, from one generation to the next, and the death of a man in one generation has no effect on the outcome of the promise. A promise unfulfilled in a lifetime does not amount to a promise unfulfilled when dealing with the living God. This is the story of the Bible. Oh, what we can learn for our lives in the 21st century! What might we learn from this about our lives of prayer, that a prayer unanswered in a lifetime does not amount to a prayer unanswered because of the nature of the God with whom we have to do?

Again and again, throughout the book of Genesis I am blown away by the One whom if I could only choose one word to describe Him I would simply call Him this: the faithful God. I was reminded of God's faithfulness yet again, and what it means that He is faithful, in a way that I didn't expect as I read through two consecutive chapters of Genesis.

At the start of Genesis 35, after two of Jacob's sons slaughter all the men in the city of the man who raped their sister Dinah, God tells Jacob to go to Bethel to make an altar for Him. This was the place where Jacob had a dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder that reached from heaven to earth (Genesis 28) and where the Lord had first spoken to him. God made a promise to Jacob at that time. And when Jacob returned this time, God met him again in that same place and once again makes a promise:
And God said to him, "I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you."
Genesis 35:11,12
Jacob then sets up an altar to God once again. But soon after, his wife Rachel dies while giving birth to his last born son and then his father Isaac dies as well. Interspersed in the account of these two deaths in Jacob's family is a record of Jacob's descendants. Twelve sons. That's it. End of the chapter. Doesn't seem like a whole lot is going on.

But do you ever wonder why the Bible writers have recorded what they have recorded in the places that they do? I know that often I feel as though a passage of Scripture is an interlude amongst what I am really interested in. The beginning of chapter 36 begins like this:
These are the generations of Esau.
Genesis 36:1
OK. I can feel rising up in me the feeling that this might be one of those interlude chapters. And sure enough the entire chapter is about Esau's descendants and the land that he inhabited. But look closer. And think about what Moses has just told us in chapter 35.

We are told that Esau settles in a land of his own called Edom, or Seir (v.8). We are told that Esau already has grandchildren (v.11-13). His descendants are quickly growing. We read that Esau has chiefs that proceed from him. We read that Esau has kings in his land, and this before any king reigned over the Israelites (v.31).

Why do we learn all of this after God just got done telling Jacob, not Esau, that nations (numerous descendants) would come from him, kings would come from him, and that he would receive his own land?

Jacob is a sojourner without his own land. At this time, it appears that Jacob only has thirteen descendants (including his daughter Dinah) and no grandchildren. He certainly has no kings. For those of us reading, it seems like God is fulfilling the promise for Esau and not Jacob. What's going on? Isn't God supposed to be prospering Jacob and not Esau? Well it certainly looks like He's prospering Esau and not Jacob.

That's exactly the point. I think these chapters appear consecutively for a reason (surely more than I could ever know). And I think the point is this: the Word of God stands regardless of what we see. And just so that we might be tested, God begins to let the reality in front of us appear as though His Word isn't being fulfilled. I don't know if Jacob could see what we can see when we read these two chapters from Genesis, but I feel as though if I were him seeing all of this the question for me would be: Do I trust my God more than I trust my eyes?

We live in a society in which "seeing is believing." Our eyes can't lie to us and this governs our lives more than we might think, whether we are Christian or not. And though I would never consider that my eyes could lie to me, the sad truth is that I don't put anywhere near as much confidence in my God as I do in my eyes. I doubt Him all the time. Every day. I should be the freest, most joyful, most confident, most satisfied person in the universe (along with all other Christians) at any and every moment if I believed that my God is who He says that He is. But I'm not.

I know how Jacob's and Esau's stories play out. And that's why I stand in awe of the God of Genesis. Because He intentionally ordains lives in such a way to show that He is more reliable than eyes. He knows that for me "seeing is believing" and it seems like everything in the Bible is there to prove to me that this is not so with Him. I think His faithfulness in our lives shines forth most brightly when although we are forced to come face to face with a visible reality that seems to contradict what He has promised, we stand with complete confidence. We wait quietly, patiently for Him to act with His victorious right arm. Is this not why we often read about the psalmists' struggles with seeing the wicked prosper while the upright seem to be forgotten (e.g. Psalm 73)?

This God is who He says He is. He will do what He says He will do. Whether my eyes see it or not. And surely when they fail, He won't stop working.
"The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
Romans 9:12
Father in Heaven, I thank You that You are the faithful God who remains faithful to a sinner such as myself who lives so often as though You are not faithful. I thank You that You have made promises to me that You will fulfill not because of anything good in me but because it pleases You to do so. I stand in awe of You because not only are You patient with me, but because You are the One who gives the grace for me to trust Your Word when I am inclined not to. Indeed, all things are from You and through You and to You. And so I delight for You to get all the glory. I pray that one effect of such profound truths would be an unceasing, perseverance in prayer, prayer for You to glorify Yourself in doing the impossible. Your Son told us to pray and never lose heart. He also told us that whatever we ask in Your Name, You would do so that You will be glorified. And, Lord, are You not most glorified in the salvation of sinners? I think so. So please help me to pray for my brother and sister and the most hardened and hopeless unbelievers as though their salvation is a certain future reality despite current rebellion, as certain as the fact that Your name will be exalted in all the earth. Is this not why Daniel and the psalmists' often pray "for Your name's sake"? May the prayers of Your people always be for Your name's sake so that Your name is always exalted in the answer of our prayers. And may we know that such prayers are never wasted, even if answered 100 years after we die. For Your faithfulness stretches far before and far beyond our lifetime. Indeed, it is the reason we believe in the first place. In Jesus' faithful name I pray, Amen.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

O Lord God, How Am I To Know?

"O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"
Genesis 15:8
How am I to know? This was how Abram responded after being told by the Lord that he would inherit the land to possess.

I love the Bible. And the more I read the Bible, the more deeply I feel this. It wasn't always this way. There was a day when if you had asked me why I read the Bible, my response would have been something along the lines of "because I'm supposed to." There were often days when I would read my Bible and before the day was halfway over there is no way I could tell you what I had read. I had no clue why I was reading the Bible but I still did it anyways.

Why do you read the Bible? Today, if you were to ask me that question I would answer by saying that I read the Bible so that I can be reminded of who God is, how He interacts with man, and how He desires man to interact with Him. These things shape the way I live my life from day to day. When I come to the Bible each day, I'm really looking for something of these three things and all I need is one verse or idea out of a chapter or two of reading to lead me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Psalm 23:3).

We are a forgetful people. We must continually be stirred by grace to love and good works. And that's why I know that I need these tangible reminders daily (the truth is, I need it much more than this). There probably was a time when I wouldn't have dared to miss a day reading my Bible because I was a Pharisee who did so to boast in my self-righteousness. And though I know that there are still remnants of that in me today, the reason I dare not miss a day reading my Bible now is because I know that yesterday's bread is simply not enough to sustain me today. I will perish from hunger and I fear that more than anything else. I need a fresh supply of spiritual food because though my head may not have forgotten so quickly, my heart surely does and the Holy Spirit must supply new stirrings of grace in my heart the way that the Israelites needed God to provide a new supply of manna each day because the bread that they were given was only to be their portion for that day (Exodus 16:4).

So when I come to Abram asking the Lord how he is to know that these things promised to him will come to pass, I listen intently to God's response as though it were me asking. Because the truth is, it is. How am I to know that You will make good on Your promises? How am I to know that You will withhold no good thing from me? How am I to know that You will give me the desires of my heart? Could You give me some sort of confirmation? Some sign? Some assurance?

This is why I am all eyes and ears when I read my Bible. Every situation that the people in the Bible find themselves in, either I have found myself in or am currently finding myself in or will find myself in at some point in the future. That's why all of it is useful "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). What am I to learn from Abram and God's response to him so that I can know how I am to know as Abram seeks to?

All of a sudden little details begin to matter and I'm paying attention to every word I read. And then I realize that instead of explaining the how, God simply adds to the what:
"Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
Genesis 15:13-16
Now if I were Abram at this point, I would probably be too fearful to say it but I know what I would be thinking: "Lord you didn't answer my question. Now instead of just wanting me to know, You want me to know for certain. How am I to know?"

And of course God knows what I am thinking just as much as He knew what Abram was thinking. That's why He did what He did before and after He responded to Abram with those words.

Yes, God answered Abram's question. But He answered by His actions rather than by His words. The Lord made a covenant with Abram that He enacted when, after Abram cut a bunch of animals in halves that opposed each other so that there was a path formed between them, He passed between them. God was the initiator and God was the guarantor. God didn't have to initiate the covenant. But He did so because He desired to according to His lovingkindness. And in this, Abram could have had no greater guarantee that God would make good on His promises. It didn't depend on Abram doing anything and it didn't depend on God giving Abram an advance payment, but rather it depended on the unimpeachable faithfulness of the One who promised. And in God's mind, this was all that was necessary to sufficiently answer the question Abram asked and thus quiet his soul. So the question at the end of the day for Abram was simply this: did he believe God or not? Did he trust God's unquestionable faithfulness or not?

The same is true for me. The same is true for all of us who call God our Father. Day after day, the question isn't so much what will we do, but rather, regardless of what we see or experience, what will we believe? This is true because 1) we can control what we believe while we can't control what we see or experience, 2) our believing is always what informs our doing, and 3) a day is coming when we will not have any ability to do but only the ability to believe. What will we believe if we are relegated to a hospital bed or wheelchair without any mobility? Will we believe that He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all will also freely with Him give us all things (Romans 8:32) and is doing so in that moment? Will we believe that He will never turn away from doing good to us (Jeremiah 32:40) and is doing good to us even in that moment of unbearable pain? Will we believe that He is irrevocably for us (Psalm 56:9) and never will stop? Do we believe so today? Because, as controversial as this will sound, God is more interested in what we believe than in what we do. Why? Because what we do always reveals what we believe.
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6
Oh Father, we believe. Help our unbelief! We know You so little. Grant that we would feed on the manna of Your Word daily so that we might know You, so that we would be a people who don't just believe general ideas about You but rather specific statements about Your character and Your promises. Forgive us for being a forgetful people and therefore having little to believe. Forgive us for filling our hearts and minds with so much of the things here on the earth that there is no room to fill them with the milk of Your Word. Make us to hunger and thirst for Your Word so that we come eagerly day after day, and even multiple times a day, searching Your Word to find something, even a morsel, that will give us a better understanding of who You are in Your infinite faithfulness and how we ought to walk with You. And may You enable us to dare not trust the sweetest frame within ourselves, but to wholly lean on Jesus' name, the One through whom we inherit the promises by faith. Thank You that Your answer to us is always Yes in Him. So when, like Abram, we seek assurance and confirmation that You will keep Your word to us, may we say Yes with open arms when You offer to us Christ as our portion instead of the answer we seek. In His sweet name, Amen.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Walk It Out

Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
Genesis 5:24

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.
Genesis 6:9
In chapter five of Genesis, Moses gives us a record of several men and the great number of years that they lived. All of the men spoken of in this account are said to have died except for one, Enoch, of whom we read that "God took him." There are two things in the Genesis five account that separate Enoch from all the other men, one positive and one negative: he didn't die and he walked with God.

In chapter six of Genesis, Moses writes of the corruption of all men on earth being so great that God purposed to destroy His entire creation. And then, set in contrast to all this he tells us about Noah. Three things set Noah apart from all the other men in his generation: he was righteous, he was blameless, and he walked with God.

It cannot be a coincidence that the two men who stand out from everyone else in these two consecutive chapters had this one thing in common: they walked with God. That's it. We know absolutely nothing about the life of Enoch from Genesis five except that he walked with God. God could have told us more about what Enoch's life was like but He desired to tell us nothing more than that Enoch walked with Him. Being blameless and righteous describe the type of person that Noah was, but they don't describe how these characteristics manifested themselves in his day to day life. Just like Enoch, God tells us only one thing about Noah's actions: he walked with God and this was enough for him to find "favor in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:8).

It's interesting to note that after Adam and Eve had sinned against God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Moses tells us "that they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden" (Genesis 3:8, emphasis added). But they had hidden themselves. And when God calls to Adam asking him where he is, this seems to imply that God expected that they would be out walking with Him. Adam and Eve weren't walking with God the way they were supposed to be, the way God had planned from the beginning.

Enoch walked with God. Noah walked with God. Simple sentences. But there is so much to be learned in them. God just wants us to walk with Him. It's fitting that the Lord would impress this upon me as I begin anew walking through His Word from the beginning at the start of the year. There is a sense in which I just want to devour the Bible. I want it all at once and in eagerness to absorb it all, I am missing the point. God wants me to walk as I go.

Consider what it means to walk. There is a slow, constant, steady, patient rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other. When you walk, you aren't usually in a hurry. When you walk, you don't usually slow down and speed up. When you walk, you don't usually have to stop to take a break because you are so tired. When you walk, you learn to wait. You are moving in such a way that you aren't missing all the things around you but rather you can observe your surroundings. You can take things in.

God has designed us to walk with Him. The life rhythms of waking and sleeping, eating and drinking, and so on make much of our lives a repetition of the same activities. And yet, we don't want to walk. Walking is boring. We want to sprint because we feel like we are more productive that way. We want more excitement in our lives so we feel like we need to be out doing things. We are always looking for something new. We want adventure. We want novelty. We want "fun". But sooner or later in this life, walking is all that we will be able to do. We should learn to do it now so that we don't eventually find ourselves in a self-imposed misery, if not already.

Life with God isn't supposed to be complicated. But we make it to be. This year doesn't need to have magnificent aspirations for it to surpass last year and not be a failure. Our days don't have to be filled with significant events in which we deeply touch the life of another person. That would be sweet and we should want that. But much of our lives are just the ordinary, regular day to day functions that we are used to with little variation and we shouldn't see this as a disappointment. Rather, we should ask the Lord for grace just to continue to walk with Him and to give us eyes to see His glory in it all as having originated from Him. And we should receive it all as a gift while standing in awe of the fact that the eternal Lord of heaven and earth would walk with sinners such as us, and mere creatures of dust. If we were to do this, we might learn that it's easier to please God than we often think.

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
Hebrews 11:5
Heavenly Father, thank You for the unimaginable privilege of walking with You. We sleep and we wake, and we are still walking with You. What wonder! Lord, help me to feel this more deeply so that it completely changes my experience of all of life, so that walking with you would be the joy of joys that makes it impossible for life to ever be boring. For surely, it is this kind of mentality that frees one to go and lay down their lives living as the hands and feet of Jesus amongst the poorest of the poor in the world. Lord, free us from the need for activity. Free us from the need for entertainment. Free us from the need for the latest new gadgets and gizmos. Free us from the need for exotic vacations. Free us from being like the rest of the world. And simply grant that we would walk more closely with You. May life be about nothing more than being in Your Word, communing with You in prayer, killing sin, loving Christ as we see more and more of His glory, and being transformed into His image so that we can love You and love people. May these be the regular rhythms of our lives that we never grow weary of day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, until Christ comes or calls us home. We don't need new year's resolutions. We just need more of Christ. Please grant us to walk more closely with Him in 2008. In His awesome name, Amen.