Category: Theology

I wouldn’t build a golden calf..or would I?

the-golden-calf-idol

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. (Nehemiah 9:13)

What does it mean to keep the commands? Should we even care?

As New Testament Christians, since we are in an age of grace in Jesus, it is easy to look at the Old Testament and say oh, it’s just a bunch of legalistic rules and regulations. I don’t have to worry about obeying.

But in today’s passage Nehemiah is giving his people a reminder of something that happened for them many centuries earlier. He reflects on who God is, and what God did, back in the times described in the book of Exodus. Obedience is connected to what God is really like: God is just, God is right, and God is good. Obedience gives us a taste of all three of these wonderful qualities of God.

But Nehemiah understands quite well that we do not automatically obey.

 “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. (Nehemiah 9:16)

They deserved to be left alone by God. But, amazingly, we hear,

…… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:17b-19,emphasis mine)

But, what if we rebel and make an image of a golden calf and worship it?  As modern 21st century people we say “Who, me?  I wouldn’t make a calf. I’m not like those primitive people.”

But think about this: Jesus says, “He who loves me…keeps my commands.” Doesn’t the calf stand for anything we treasure more than keeping Christ’s commands? Aren’t we worshiping that thing more than Christ?

Nehemiah gives us a wonderful preview of God’s forgiveness for us in Christ.  Because of God’s great compassion he does not abandon us in the wilderness even when we make an idol; instead he sent Christ to rescue us.

Through Christ giving us the Spirit, we can reflect God’s justice, righteousness, goodness—-and love. And because God’s love outweighs his anger, Christ always keeps the door of repentance open.

Father, we thank you that you do provide rescue for us in the person of Jesus, that because of your great compassion you do not abandon us.

You’ve Saved the Best Till Now

And the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:9-10)

You have just enjoyed a pleasant meal out at a restaurant. You think you are all done and ready for your check when the server appears with an exquisite, fancy, tasty dessert. She announces “Courtesy of the chef. This dessert is on the house”.

Your surprise and delight with the dessert is only a tiny taste of what Jesus wants to do.

In the John 2 narrative the water jugs represent tradition, the law, the old way of doing things. The jugs were part of the purification rituals under the old Jewish law.  But by obeying Jesus the servants were putting these traditional objects into a new use.

The miracle: Jesus has turned the water into wine.

The significance: The wine represents the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

Think again of what you have counted on for fulfillment that left you empty. Keep in mind that Jesus may or may not change the circumstances around the emptiness but he WILL give a new way of experiencing them.  Christ, being the new wine, gives a replacement that goes beyond anything we can try on our own. Dwell on what the Psalmist says in 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

What is the area of your life where you want to taste and see that the Lord is good? Where do you need a supernatural attitude adjustment?

Give thanks that Jesus gives the new wine and ask Him to transform that area of your life.

A feast with no wine and a plane with no pilot

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  (John 2:3-4)

On a December flight from Des Moines to Denver a few years ago came two disquieting announcements. First

“Does anyone in the cabin have medical training?”

And then, ominously,

“Does anyone in the cabin have flight experience?”

A plane with no pilot.

A feast with no wine.

A life with no hope.

Now what? Can anyone handle it?

Somehow Mary thinks that Jesus is the answer to the wine problem. She understood part of why Jesus came to earth back then, but now we understand the full story of why he came.

Jesus gently rebukes Mary because He is not ready to reveal at this point what you and I now know:  that He was the Messiah who would go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and be resurrected to redeem us and give us eternal life.

I don’t think Mary was expecting Jesus to give a point by point procedural, 5 steps to take when the wine runs out.

Nor would we expect that Jesus gives us a list of 5 things to do to replenish our empty joy tank.  Rather, when we are out of hope, we see that Jesus does not have the answer to the problem, he is the answer. In John 10:10b He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

By the way, the pilot in our opening vignette had had a heart attack. But in this case, no disaster. Turns out a talented nurse saved the pilot and and the co-pilot knew how to land the plane after all.

Today, focus on who Jesus is. Give thanks that only Jesus, who rescued us from sin and death, is able to give us true joy and fulfillment.

What a Hope and Future Really Means

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

fired

As a new Christian, did you have a rosy view of your new Christian life? I know I did. And Jeremiah 29:11 was one of the first verses I heard as a new Christian. It was easy to think that meant that from now on I would always prosper and never get harmed.

It took a while to realize I was misunderstanding God’s promises. God’s promises did not mean I was magically protected from broken relationships and being fired from a job.

Today’s verse comes from a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the Jews who were carried away into exile, away from their home in the promised land. These Jews longed to go back home, and many despaired, thinking they never could go back. So, the context of this verse is Jeremiah preaching during calamity. Deep in exile they are told that God will take care of them to give them hope and a future.

So, the promise gives us encouragement of God’s sustaining presence during life’s trials rather than a promise that we will avoid all trials.

How easy it is to overestimate how much God will perfect now, and underestimate how much he will do later. Even when we have been Christians for quite a few years, it is still easy to grow impatient and want the change now.

So, broken relationships, being fired from a job, and having loved ones die are inevitable parts of this life. But today’s verse is an antidote to entering despair or escapism. We have something in common with those Jews. Like them, we Christians now are living in exile from our true home.

The book of Hebrews expresses that truth beautifully, as Christians going through tough times were encouraged to keep persevering and holding on to their faith.  They too were encouraged to look to a future hope:

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Hebrews 13 :14)

What an encouragement for us today, anytime we struggle with the gap between what’s going on now and the fullness of all that God has promised will happen !

You talking to me?

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (Luke 12:1b-3)

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It’s easy for me to read today’s verses and say “Ha! Jesus is talking about the Pharisees. I am no Pharisee! But, I can sure think of some other people that do need to hear this!”

However, a good rule of Bible interpretation is that rarely, if ever, does scripture give us the luxury of relaxing with a self-satisfied smirk as we bask in the feeling of security that our own moral superiority gives us!

So, I need to back off and ask the question that Travis Bickle did in Taxi Driver “You talking to me?” And to that question I might add: “You mean my secret stuff?”

Yes, there is no thought, action or attitude I have that God does not hear or know about.

Now, that truth used to seem rather ominous to me: that one day I would be confronted with a videotape of all I thought I could get away with! But there’s been a change in how I look at it. I no longer want to push the edge of what I can get away with before it gets recorded on the tape.  This is partly due to fear and awe of God, but even more from sensing something wonderful about how God’s love works.

Psalm 139 sums this up beautifully:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.     (verses23-24)

This Psalm shows that God is highly benevolent and loving, not a gotcha judge. Indeed, he loves us too much to let us stay where we are at, so he wants to lovingly correct when we have thoughts, feelings and actions that don’t match his will.

So, while it can be painful, I am learning to welcome it when God disciplines and corrects me.

From Fog to Sunshine

For  God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

On a recent morning, my home in the valley was enveloped in thick fog. I planned to go for a run in Mountain Lakes. Its elevation is several hundred feet higher than where I live. To get there, I first drove  uphill through the town of Boonton. As I climbed in altitude, suddenly I left the fog and burst into bright sunshine. All the scenery that was hidden from my view suddenly became bright and clear and filled with color!

My climbing out of the fog illustrates two different things about how we relate to Christ. First, before we knew Christ in the first place, we were walking around with scales in our eyes.  God unblinded us and had the scales fall from our eyes to invite us in to believe in Christ. Before the apostle Paul got baptized, when he was still called Saul, he was temporarily blinded after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus—and then:

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. (Acts 9:18)

Second, once we have decided for Christ, we still have remaining sin and deception in our lives. Often, this kind of deceptive sin is something we are not even aware of. (Even if it is obvious to everyone else!)  I am praying for someone who has an attitude that subtly puts people down.  No one even dares to mention it any longer, knowing how defensive this person is: “What gives you the right to say that and judge me!” But at the right time, God will bring them out of their fog and they will say, “Yes, Lord, you are right.” Then, they will have the beautiful experience of seeing how God’s sunlight replaces the fog as the scales fall from their eyes.

Just as it was for Paul, scales in our eyes are only temporary. It is wonderful when God causes them to fall! I know I have plenty of them left and most likely you have some too. Let’s pray that we both get freed from them.  Then, like when I climbed the hill into Boonton, something that was hidden from our view suddenly becomes bright and clear and filled with the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.

Does God run our world like a clock?

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:15-17)

As we move towards Spring, I have noticed the daily increase in daylight, enjoying both the brighter mornings and brighter evenings that occur in late winter each year.

public sunrise

In the 1700s, there was an explosion of interest in and discoveries in natural science. Scientists discovered that there are orderly “laws of nature”. It looked like the universe displays an intricate machine-like order—indeed, the exact times that the sun will rise and set as the seasons change, or when the next eclipse will be, can be charted out years in advance.

Coming out of this interest in natural science, some thinkers created a new view of God. Picture an old-fashioned Grandfather’s clock that has been carefully designed and crafted. You wind it up and set it running….it will run for many days with no further intervention required. This new view of God said that he is like a clockmaker who set the universe in motion, but who now has a hands-off attitude towards personal intervention in the creation. This new view changed God from being a powerful, intimate, supernatural-acting moment-by-moment sustainer, to being an impersonal Creator who never intervenes in supernatural ways.

But let’s push back against the clockmaker God. What if the laws of nature only keep working because of the second-by-second personal decree of God? Note the end of today’s passage: and in him all things hold together.   This implies that the laws of nature only continue the way they do because of Jesus’ good pleasure and grace.

Another amazing implication of today’s passage: God reserves the right to overrule the normal order of operation of anything at his good pleasure. There is no guarantee that the laws of nature will continue to run indefinitely as they do now. Indeed the Bible seems to say that they will not—-especially when you read passages about stunning celestial changes during the end times:

All the stars in the sky will be dissolved
     and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;
 all the starry host will fall
     like withered leaves from the vine,
     like shriveled figs from the fig tree. (Isaiah 34:4)

I don’t exactly know what’s going on in this passage, but somehow I don’t think your local TV weathercaster’s description of when sunrise will be will be on that day will be particularly valid!

How does this affect our daily lives? Well, it sure is easy for us to drift into a clockmaker mode of living, where thoughts of God go to the back of our minds. When that happens, we still know that he exists, but we lose the sense of his intense personal caring about what is going on in our lives, we lose sight of it being God and not scientific farming and our great economy, that provides our daily bread. We may even think our economy, our country, will go on pretty much the same and not change………..or even that we don’t need to change !

For now I am glad that when I am flying in an airplane, God is keeping the natural laws like the laws of aerodynamics working, so that the plane does not fall from the sky. But these laws come far from explaining everything, and I am glad that there are times when God overrules the normal ways that things work—look how often answered prayer defies the natural explanations for things.

The more we experience how much our loving God is no clockmaker, how he sustains us by His loving grace moment by moment, the more we can grow to better express who he is, and through the grace of Jesus, love those he brings into our lives.