Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ruined


What does it mean when something or someone is "ruined"?  Not a pleasant thought, is it?
Today's text is Genesis 6:11-13 (ESV).  Notice the word "corrupt" in this passage, because a more accurate translation of it would be "so corrupt that it was totally ruined".1  (The NET version, in fact, uses the word "ruined".)  We've now returned, here in the blog, to the book of Genesis!

11Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh,c for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

Some of us question God's actions in this story, because we cannot fathom how "bad" things were.  Surely, we reason, things could have been turned around or repaired.  After all, the Bible is filled with other stories of how God took the most extremely sinful people and the most horrible, seemingly-irredeemable circumstances and did miraculous spiritual transformations.  But, to make this wrong assumption is to demonstrate misunderstanding of how bad things actually were.

In their lust for knowledge and power, mankind had "sold out" to the fallen angelic beings who had come to live among them, after their expulsion from Heaven, after their failed rebellion against Jehovah Sabaoth, (the God of Angel Armies, the Lord of Hosts).  Being thoroughly evil, these beings had intermarried with humans, thereby ruining the human bloodline of every family making that irreversible choice.  And yes, they had a choice.  We see this from the deliberateness of the phrase "had corrupted their way".  The Fallen surely provided a strong temptation, but God never leaves Man without a choice.  (It was the exercise of free will in the Garden of Eden that started this downward spiral, after all.)  The legacy of the "ancient aliens" (to borrow the title of a popular TV show here in America), the demonic Nephilim, the gibborim (Genesis 6:4), was complete, pervasive violence.  They were not a benevolent group of entities.  No, they were hell-bent on destroying the human race, in order to prevent a pure human bloodline through which Messiah would be born.  And, they very nearly succeeded.

Satan and his minions (thankfully, the major architects of the pre-Flood world's ruination are currently locked up tight in Tartarus....2 Peter 2:4) are today still at work, trying to convince us that we are all hopelessly ruined.  Perhaps you have felt that way.  I know that I have . . . and, from time to time, still do.

There is good news, though - - such incredibly good news!  Because of Jesus, and His finished work, NO ONE is hopelessly ruined.  As long as there is breath in the body, there is the potential for God to turn things around, to redeem the broken. There is only one sin which cannot be forgiven2 , and that sin is a deliberate decision on the part of the person who willfully commits it.  (If you don't know what that unforgivable sin is, click on Source 2 below, because it is a whole blog post, in itself.)

When we feel hopelessly, irrevocably ruined, the best thing we can do is to look at the Word of God and cling to His promises.  Here's one of them, that the Lord brought to my mind just now.  Perhaps it was meant not only for me today, but for you also.

12What do you think? If someone owns a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go look for the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that one of these little ones be lost.
Matthew 18:12-14 (NET)

And, one more....

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
1 Cor. 10:13 (NASB)

Yes, God IS faithful!  In the next post, we will examine Noah's Ark and God's promises to Noah, which still apply to us today.

Sources:

1    https://biblehub.com/commentaries/genesis/6-11.htm

2    https://www.gotquestions.org/blasphemy-Holy-Spirit.html

Friday, January 11, 2019

A New Moon

The truth is . . . I had to drag myself here this morning.  As the extended hiatus I've been on since just before Christmas stretched on and on, each day made me less inclined to return to this blog and write.  There are a couple of reasons for my absence, well, three if I'm honest.
The first is that my last child left home and I have been trying to adjust to that new void.
The second is that my house was (I felt) physically in such disarray I could no longer cope by ignoring it.
The third is that I have been, quite honestly, in a state of spiritual funk, where I just felt there was no point, that I have nothing worthwhile to say, etc.
Taken altogether, these kept me away, as I walked through the recent days of both growth and grief.

If God gives you the grace to be an "emptynester", there is some adjusting to do regarding how quiet the house becomes.  You realize that your job, as parent, is largely done - - at least, you realize that if your children are as independent as mine.  That is a sobering and saddening thought.  You acknowledge you should be giving thanks for all God has done in your life and the life of your children.  Knowing something intellectually, however, does not equate to feeling it in real time.

On the bright side, my laundry room, pantry, home office and more generally the rest of the house has been restored to some semblance of order and peace.  I'm not a fastidious housekeeper, preferring usually to do things of more "value" (a deeply personal construct).  It gets to a point, though, where the disorganization is overwhelming.  I reached that point just after Christmas.

Don't ever make the mistake of looking at anyone and believing that they have it easy or "all together".  I am supremely grateful to "giants of the faith" like Charles Spurgeon, who was open about his emotional struggles.  I've not been doubting my faith, although God forgives even that.  I've just been sad in my deepest heart of hearts, and I'd appreciate your prayers about that.

Well now, after that rather lengthy (and probably distracting) introduction, let's examine some Scripture together.  Presently, we will return to the book of Genesis in this blog's ongoing exegesis.  However, today is not that day.

19He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows when to set.
Psalm 104:19 (BSB)

Earlier this week, leaving the house after nightfall, I spotted the new moon in the night sky...just the tiniest sliver!  Some have compared the people of God to the moon.  This is because, although there are times the moon is not visible, yet it is still there.  Some nights are "dark as night" as a result; others are nearly as bright as midday, when the moon is full and in close perigee to the Earth. 

The Jewish calendar(s), {and of course, there is debate about which "one" is "the one"}, share this feature in common.  They are lunar calendars, whereas the Western, Roman calendar is a solar calendar.  And, the beginning of each month is marked by the spotting of the new moon, Rosh Chodesh.  However, in the more ancient times, Jews would search the night skies for that sliver of hope, that new moon, to declare a new month had begun.  "In ancient times Rosh Chodesh was declared by the beit din (Jewish court) only after two credible witnesses would testify that they had seen the new moon. Since the fourth century, however, it has been determined by a preset calendar."1

This week's most recent new moon has ushered in the Jewish month of Shevat (or Shvat).  Although it occurs in the dead of winter, it is seen as a time or rebirth and new beginnings - - a harbinger of spring.  Thanks be to God that the days are gradually "getting longer"!

If you feel you are wandering in the dark today, look for the new moon.  If you are a Christian, you are not immune from apogee and perigee.  There will be times you will feel like you are stumbling in darkness, others when you are dancing in the light.  God, your Father, Christ, your Savior, and the Holy Spirit within you are no more "with you" or "far from you" at either time.  His presence is not dependent upon your cares or your moods or even your legitimate life circumstances.

He has promised to "be with you always", if you have accepted and trusted Him as your one and only Savior.  On that His children can always depend.

Source:

1
https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1928828/jewish/What-Is-Rosh-Chodesh.htm


Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Favorite Christmas Ornament



18Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. 20When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, 25but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 (NET)

Do you remember when you found out you were going to be a parent?  I remember that pregnancy test home kit, and seeing the blue check mark.  But, most of all, I remember my husband's reaction. Basically, he was so overwhelmed with emotion at the prospect he was "zombie-fied" for about 3 days.  I imagine that is how Joseph must have felt:  a carpenter who dreamed of the birth of God.1

Today, Christians talk about Jesus' return, and we say we believe this to be a certainty.  I'm sure that the Jews of Mary and Joseph's day felt the same about the coming of Messiah.  But, I'm equally sure they felt that "someone else" would be chosen to be His earthly parents.  What a shock this must have been!

The mystery of the Incarnation.  I can't wrap my mind around it.  A friend of mine wrote a Christmas song in which she tried to express the unfathomable fact that Mary gave birth to the One who had created her, who had known her before her own birth.  "We Have Met Before" :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u568DbaOyZc

"Newborn Son, yet Ancient of All Days"...

God the Father gives to us God the Son.  This is the essence of Christmas:  God gives us the only path to soul salvation, His very own Beloved One, His Only Begotten. 

Do you have a favorite Christmas tree ornament?  I do.  It is the subject of the picture at the top of today's post.  It is not a particularly beautiful ornament, in the aesthetic sense.  In fact, it looks out-of-place, nestled in the "front and center" of our tree.  The ornament is a long iron stake, a "nine-inch nail", if you will, suspended by a scarlet red ribbon.  What is the meaning there?  It symbolizes the culmination of Jesus' first Advent, the stake mimicking one that nailed his wrists or feet to the harsh wooden beams, the red ribbon symbolizing His precious blood, spilled for me.

This poignant ornament is there to remind me that Christmas was only the beginning of Jesus's earthly ministry. If He had only been born and then had lived a life marked by sinful choices, or if He had refused to fulfill His purpose here, there would be no spike ornament on my tree, nor would there be any reason for a Christmas celebration at all.

God With Us...Immanuel.  You can't take the Babe without the Broken and Suffering.  You can't worship the Newborn without embracing the Triumphant King.  There is no worship of Jesus apart from embracing His finished work on the cross and His earth-shattering emergence from the borrowed tomb.  He loved us ... to death, and back again.

Even after He returned to Heaven, to sit at the right hand of our Father God, He did not leave us comfortless.  Through His Holy Spirit, God is still with us, with those of us who have believed and confessed, "I am His and He is mine."

As he lay dying, the renowned 18th c. Methodist evangelist John Wesley is said to have uttered these words:  "The best of all is, God is with us."

Amen and amen.

Thanks be to God, for His indescribable Gift!  2 Corinthians 9:15

Source:

Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Advent Number 1? Number 2?


The word "Advent" means "the arrival of a notable person".  In the case of the Christian church, it means the arrival of Jesus Christ.  And, this "arrival" usually refers to His birth, which some refer to as His "first Advent".  Interestingly, in today's Advent meditation from A.W. Tozer (see source below), he focuses on Christ's second Advent.  I found that a curious focus, until he hammered me.

The essential point Tozer makes is that celebrating Christ's first Advent was important to the early Church, but the anticipation of His second Advent (sometimes called His second coming) far eclipsed the first in their hearts.  Why, do you suppose?  In modern day Christianity, the birth of Christ receives far more attention...

There's certainly nothing wrong with anticipating the celebration of Christ's birth.  Doing so, meditating on prophecies of His birth, celebrating the amazing work God did in sending Christ to us, adds richness to this special season.  Tozer doesn't take anything away from that when he states that the return of Christ is "all but dead among us".  Do you believe that to be true today?  Is it true in your life?  I had to ask myself if it is true in mine; I didn't like the answer.

Members of the early Church expected the Lord to return to Earth during their lifetimes, at any moment, in fact. They were mistaken about the time of His return, but they were not mistaken in their attitude to expect it at any moment.  (Were they?)

Tozer poses several reasons for why the longing that burned in the breasts of the early believers seems to have "burned itself out" today.
1.  A relational love for Jesus Christ has been replaced with a detached, contractual obligation.  Love will carry you where mere duty never will.  Unfortunately, modern-day Christendom has overemphasized the "duty" of faith so much that the adoration of the Savior has fallen away. The drudgery of "taking up the cross" in discipleship has squeezed out the beauty of the One who died upon it.
2.  Conversely, many Christians are so comfortable in their cocoons of this life that they have little desire to leave them. This is especially true in parts of the world where faith in Jesus Christ exacts no extreme personal cost.  As long as we are healthy, happy and able to practice a "safe faith", a faith that can veer off into mere "religious entertainment", why should we forsake it for a world about which we know little?  Why should we long to be with Christ, face-to-face?
3.  And then, some just frankly don't really believe He will return at all.  "Certainly, if such an advent would occur, it won't occur for years and years....far after our generation is long gone..." Right?

A gospel song we used to sing when I was a child was called, "Will Jesus Find Us Watching"?  I've reproduced the lyrics at the bottom of this post.  I can't recall a single, modern-day song sung in church today about the second Advent, actually...can you?  Leave the title in the comments section of this post, if you can.

I don't know about you, but I always find thoughts of Jesus' second Advent very personally convicting.  "Am I loving Him as He deserves?  Does my love for Him translate into spending my days WELL?"  How would our daily lives be different, if we truly were looking for Jesus' return any day now? Would priorities re-align?  I'm quite sure they would.

Sources:

  Tozer, A.W. From Heaven. 2016. Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL.

http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Will_Jesus_Find_Us_Watching/

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Runner and The Chaser



Imagine you are able to go back in time to Bethlehem and have the privilege of approaching the stable to kneel at the manger.  Can you picture it?  Can you see yourself?  What are you wearing? Are your clothes spotless?  Is your body clean?  Do you smell good?  At Advent, this is something we do: in our hearts, we approach the manger, to worship the King.  And, this is good and right.  

Many times, though, as we come to worship, we have manure on our shoes, and our pits stink.  There are food droppings on our chest from where we've been careless in our eating.  Our hair is tangled or our beards are nasty. There is crud under our nails.

The latter is a picture of our sin, our personal running from God.  It dirties us up so that, when we approach His presence, we are soiled, stained, ruined, in need of salvation, in desperate need of grace.

Ann Voskamp points out that repentance "is the only way to be ushered into grace."

Repentance means literally "to turn around and go in the opposite direction".  In the case of the Old Testament prophet, Jonah, it meant to cease from running from God, then turning around and going toward the pagan city of Nineveh.  In our situations, it means to come to a full stop, turn around and move toward the God who chases, seeking His will in our lives.  

When we move toward Him, our hands cannot bring our beloved sins with us. 

No, in our turning, we must lay them down and leave them behind.  Only cleansed, covered by His grace can we truly bow at His feet in worship.

Jonah not only represents us.  He also pre-figures, foreshadows Christ.  We read Jesus' own words in Matthew 12:40 - - 
"For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish (Greek: κήτους ) three days and three nights,
so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights."

It is because of these words of the Lord that many Bible scholars believe that Jonah drowned before being swallowed up by the great fish, and that after being dead for 3 days, God resurrected him.  I will not debate this point; I merely offer it for your consideration.

Whether at Advent or not, we often find ourselves drowning in life's stormy waters. We cry out, "I can't handle this!"  So true.  We can't.  But God can.  No storm of life can submerge me beyond where His goodness, mercy and grace can resurrect me!

I am so glad that God chased after Jonah.  I am so glad He passionately chases after you and me.  He does so ... not only that we may carry out His perfect plans, but to rescue us, to wash and restore us, to resurrect and bring us out onto dry land. 

It's right there in Psalm 23:6 (The Message) - -

Your beauty and love chase after me, every day of my life.

False gods expect us to perform, to measure up.  Our God comes down to us, in the form of a Baby, and He chases and chases and chases us.  The Hebrew word for "chase" in verse 6 is "radaph", which means "to pursue", "to hunt down".  My God, the Lover of My Soul, never gives up on me.  He chases me to repentance, pursues me with His love and grace.

Stop pursuing your image of "a better life".  Recognize that the Author of Abundant Life is pursuing you.  Stop running.  Allow yourself to be caught today.



Sources:

Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

http://www.aholyexperience.com/2012/08/when-you-are-finding-it-hard-to-keep-up-chased-by-grace/

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Cake



Christmastime, like most celebrations, is a visual feast.  Everywhere we look, people are focused on the glittery and the flashy.  Our family had a college graduation party yesterday for our two sons.  I had ordered a cake, decorated with a little mortarboard, etc.  Very flashy and appropriate for the occasion. In fact, you see those little spindly things?  They moved with the ceiling fan's breeze!  I was told this masterpiece tasted delicious too, which is major.  Really, if the cake tastes bad, who cares how fancy the frosting is?

It is for this reason I have a LOT of trouble with the Christmas season.  Do you wonder why I blog nearly every day of Advent?  At a time of year when there is already SO much to do?  It's because ... I don't want to miss the cake for all the frosting.  In the middle of the massive hustle and bustle, I often find myself craving "cake."  Many days, I don't get to the cake until the end of the day, because I am too rushed in the mornings to sit down, meditate on the Scriptures and blog.  At least, then, it is good to end the day with some healthy heart food, meditating on the Bread of Life, the true cake of Advent.  All the rest is frosting.

Take a good look at the Reason for the Season.

Some of us are hyper-focused on the visual; others are blind as a bat.  Some have excellent gifts of intuition.  Others are clueless as a goat.  I have a friend who is SO good at this - - - noticing how others are feeling, knowing exactly what to say at the right time.  It is hard not to be envious of such a great gift.

The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. 
Psalm 146:8a

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Don't judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.
The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. 
People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

It gives me a little comfort, as one lacking great gifts of discernment and "noticing", that Samuel wasn't so hot at this either.  God had sent him to anoint the next king of Israel.  Like most of us, he was making judgments based on what his physical eyes saw, rather than what the Holy Spirit was whispering to his heart.  

He was missing the cake, for the frosting, you see (pun intended).

God the Father wanted us to focus with a laser-like beam on His Son, at His birth.  I think this is why Jesus' birth was so simple and unadorned.  Other than the angelic announcement, which a few straggling shepherds witnessed, there was nothing majestic about His birth.  He knows we are distracted by glittery things. That is why He removed those distractions, so that we could truly see.

In 1 Samuel 16:3, God promised to show Samuel, to open his eyes, so that he could recognize the next king of Israel.  If we but take the time to seek Him in these last days of Advent, open our hearts to Him, He will enlighten the eyes of our hearts as well, open them as only He can.

Lord God, in this Advent season we need to get past the frosting to taste the cake, get past the wrapping, to get to the Gift inside.  Don't let us miss hearts this Christmas, Lord, especially Yours.
In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Minor Characters

One of the many, great paradoxes of the Bible is that the only wise God, the omnipotent, omniscient God is also the God of the Minor.


I am so glad that He is concerned with, what on the world scale, must be considered "minor incidents" or "the little people".  I am so glad that He chooses "minor characters" to become the heroes in history ("His Story").  If He can choose and use Zechariah and Elizabeth, He can use anyone.  Their story is found in Luke 1:6-17.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of the Levitical tribe, that is, both descendants of Aaron, were (beyond that) just an ordinary, old couple.  Most folks paid them little attention, I'd guess.  In a society where most things centered on the large, extended family, this old couple had none.  This is because, while they should have been at least grandparents and perhaps great-grandparents, they had no offspring, no descendants.  They were pretty much alone.  To their credit, we read in verse 6 that, despite what had to be this deep disappointment, they continued to honor God with their lives.  Two ordinary, old people whom God chose to play a leading role in mankind's redemption story, not in their timeframe, but in His.

At the beginning of the A.D. era there were approximately 7000 Levitical priests serving at the Jerusalem temple.  These were laymen, who only served there two weeks out of the year.  One of Zechariah's "weeks" fell during the feast of Yom Kippur, during the year in which this story is set. Of the hundreds of priests serving that week, Zechariah's name was drawn "at random" to go into the most holy place of the Temple ("the Holy of Holies") and make an incense offering.  This was a very rare honor.  Most priests like Zechariah would live all of their lives without having their name drawn. You might say he "won the lottery".  Then, if that were not miraculous or unlikely enough, he sees an angel, who delivers to him a miraculous message.

It is very significant that there had been no "word" from God since the book of Malachi was written, 400 years earlier.  There had been no recorded angelic appearances, no prophets. Don't be fooled, though.  God was not idle, even if He was "silent".  I am sure that many had decided that Jehovah's dealings with the Jews were "ancient history" and irrelevant to "modern people".  Not Zechariah or Elizabeth, however.  Their faith had not wavered.  What an inspiration they are!

Even so, when Zechariah saw the angel Gabriel and heard his message, his faith wavered.  Who can blame him?  Certainly not me!  (Most likely I would have pulled a "Sarah", and laughed.)  At any rate, Zechariah (whose name means "God Remembers") and his wife Elizabeth (whose name means "My God Keeps His Word") conceived and birthed that promised son.  And, Zechariah, who had been struck mute in the most holy place, found his tongue freed to praise the King of Kings and Lord of Lords when asked about the name of his newborn boy.  John - - - an unusual, one-of-a-kind name - - for an unusual, chosen boy.  This boy was filled with God's spirit while still in his mother's womb, causing him to leap for joy there when he heard the voice of His Savior's mother for the first time. God is sovereign, faithful and good.

In today's picture the old woman's hand holds the hand of her toddler son.  There are no "unlikelies" with my God.  Nothing is minor to Him.  You may be praying, as I am, for a Christmas miracle this season.  Keep praying.  God is listening.  He bends down to hear the whispered prayer of the broken, the anguished, the weary.  Keep praying.  He longs to give us not only our needs, but the desires of our hearts.

Oh Lord, Seer of All Hearts, You know our needs.  And, You know our deepest desires.  Your grace begins with giving us more of You, and Your blessings flow from that priceless gift.  None of us, none of our needs are either minor or unlikely.  Thank you for meeting them in the most unlikely of ways.  I love You, Lord, and praise You for Your goodness.  In Jesus' name, amen.  

Source:

Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas