Paul’s Burden

Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things” (Galatians 4:12Open Link in New Window).

I can see that Paul really loved the Galatians. He had concern for them like a father would for his children who had gone out partying and still hadn’t come home even though it was late. “I fear for you,” he told them (Gal 4:11Open Link in New Window). He was worried that they had gone astray. He wanted so much for them to have true freedom in Christ that he pleaded with them to go the way of grace rather than continue in bondage to the law. I can just imagine what Paul’s posture might be if he was there counseling the Galatians. He might be leaning over toward them with a pained expression on his face and gesturing with two outstretched hands, desperate for them to understand and know the truth. In his anguish over them, he said:

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I am going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. How I wish I were there with you right now (Gal 4:19-20Open Link in New Window). 

Paul clearly had a strong burden on his heart for the believers in Galatia. But what was it that was so wrong with the Galatians? In chapter 1, Paul asserts that the Galatians had turned away from the true gospel and were following a false gospel (v. 6-7). In chapter 3, we see that the problem is that Galatians had been duped into thinking they needed to become perfect by their own human effort (v. 3) rather than relying on the forgiveness and grace purchased for them on the cross by Christ (v. 14). For no one can be made righteous based on their obedience to the law (v. 11) because it is impossible for us to obey all of it and therefore we are cursed for failing to keep the law perfectly (v. 10). So the only way to be rescued from the curse is by faith in Christ (v. 13; Gal 2:16Open Link in New Window). But that all sounds so very theological. Surely it’s something that can I can just let go in one ear and out the other. Is it really all that important? Well, it was absolutely critical as far as Paul was concerned — so much so that he went as far as to compare himself to a pregnant woman suffering excruciating labor pains. And if it was of paramount importance to the Apostle Paul, who wrote half of the New Testament, it should make us really stop, open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and listen.

The main issue at hand was that the Galatians were being falsely taught that they needed to follow all of the Jewish customs, and specifically circumcision (Gal 5:2Open Link in New Window), in order to be saved. But Paul claimed that the “cross of Christ alone can save” (Gal 6:12Open Link in New Window). To illustrate, Paul draws an insightful parallel between salvation by works and salvation by grace with Abraham’s two sons: Ishmael, the son of the slave-wife, and Isaac, the child of the promise (Gal 4:21-31Open Link in New Window).

The son of the slave-wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise (Gal 4:23Open Link in New Window). 

God had made a promise to Abraham that He would give him and Sarah a son and that through that son they would have so many descendants that they would be uncountable, like the number of grains of sand on the seashore. God promised that the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham (Gal 3:8Open Link in New Window). But Sarah and Abraham were impatient. They wanted the son and they were not willing to wait for God’s perfect timing so Sarah gave her Hagar, her slave, to Abraham to produce a son for her. And she did: Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. We, too, have promises from God that we want to see fulfilled. And often we, too, are rebelliously unwilling to wait for God’s timing. So we circumvent God’s plan and try to fulfill God’s promise with our own human effort. But finally, God did give Sarah a son just as He promised and so Isaac was born. Praise God for that! But what was the result of the earlier human effort? Ishmael persecuted Isaac out of jealousy (Gal 4:29Open Link in New Window). And today we see the mutual hatred and violence between the Muslims who claim to be descendants of Ishmael and the Jews who are descendants of Isaac. The result of that single decision to have the child of the slave-wife so many years ago has caused thousands of years of strife between nations and continues to be a major source of international conflict in the world today.

There are terrible consequences when we try to accomplish what we think to be God’s will by our own human efforts. The same is true when we seek to be made righteous by our own works rather than by Christ’s blood. Paul goes as far as to warn: “If you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace” (Gal 5:4Open Link in New Window). That is a warning not to be taken lightly. This is an admonishment that should put the fear of God in a believer. There is no grace apart from Christ. There is no forgiveness apart from the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross. It is impossible to please God without faith. There is without doubt absolutely only one single path for us to take: that is to be children of the promise, born of the Holy Spirit (Gal 4:28-29Open Link in New Window), walking by faith expressed in love (Gal 5:6Open Link in New Window).

The crux of the entire book of Galatian can be found, I believe, in Galatians 2:19-21Open Link in New Window:

I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ. I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die. 

Christ died for me. He took the punishment for my sins. He received the curse for my sins as he hung there on the “tree” (Gal 3:13Open Link in New Window). My sinful life has been crucified there on the cross with Christ. And though my sins were as scarlet, by His blood, I have been washed as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18Open Link in New Window). So now, I am not my own. I was purchased and redeemed by Christ’s blood. Therefore I no longer live as the master of my life, but Christ reigns in me and lives His life through me.

Lord God, place the same burden that Paul had on my heart, both for my own walk with You and for that of others. Let me pray for and exhort those who have gone the way of the slave-wife. Christ Jesus, guide us all back to the promise, to the way of the Spirit, to the freedom of true faith in the healing power of Your blood. Never let us stray away from the straight and narrow path. 

Standing in the Presence: Renewing our Vows

Why do we stand to worship God? Can’t we worship lying down in our beds? Can’t we give praise to the Lord slouched in our sofas? Without a doubt! Psalm 149:5Open Link in New Window says: “Let the saints rejoice … and sing for joy on their beds.” There is never a time when it is inappropriate to praise God and give Him honor. From standing to lying down, and everything in between (e.g., sitting, kneeling, dancing, driving, hiking, watching a sunset, adoring little babies, washing dishes) … every moment of the day is an opportune time to express our gratitude and love to the One who made us and saved us. When we are in heaven we are “Never Gonna Stop” giving it up to Him. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same here on earth, anytime and in any posture. But there is a special significance to the posture of standing before the Lord. In church, we stand the entire time as we worship God. Understanding Deuteronomy 29Open Link in New Window can bring a whole new meaning to standing in God’s presence.

You are standing here today to enter into a covenant with the LORD your God. The LORD is making this covenant with you today, and he has sealed it with an oath. He wants to confirm you today as his people and to confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you, and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But you are not the only ones with whom the LORD is making this covenant with its obligations. The LORD your God is making this covenant with you who stand in his presence today and also with all future generations of Israel. (Deuternomy 29:12-15, NLT). 

As the people of Israel stood there, they weren’t merely tolerating meaningless religious babble. Something of eternal substance was going on … something holy, something that put the fear of God in them. The sacred act of standing there in the presence of the Lord entered them into a covenant relationship with God: He as their God and they as His people. This covenant they entered into there that day wasn’t new, but renewed. It was a confirmation, or a renewal, of a covenant that had already existed before when God had established it long before with their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not only did God confirm the covenant with them, but also confirmed it with all who would come after them, even us who were grafted into the spiritual nation of Israel through the faith of Abraham (Romans 11:17Open Link in New Window). And every time we come before the Lord and stand in His presence we get the humbling privilege of renewing our covenant relationship with the Lord: He as our God and we as His people. We get to stand with each other and with all of His people throughout all the ages, now and in the future, even with the angels and all creation, and say together with one unified voice of conviction, “Yes, Lord. You are our God and we will obey You.”

Does that grip your heart? It rips me to the floor. The holiness of God and the cosmic privilege of being part of His incredible family are overwhelming. I want to cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5Open Link in New Window). When Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on the throne, exalted, and the train of His robe filling the temple with glory, he couldn’t help but be cut to the heart, deeply convicted of His sin, when in the awesome presence of the Holy God. But God sent an angel to touch a burning coal from the altar to touch Isaiah’s lips, remove his guilt and forgive his sin. Then God made Isaiah into His messenger and used him for His kingdom. God did the same for us when He sent His Holy Son from throne down to touch us and take away our sins. Now He is sending us out, like Isaiah, as His messengers to make disciples of all nations, teaching them obey all of the Lord’s commands (Matthew 28:20Open Link in New Window).

But let’s get back to Deuteronomy. Something deeply significant happened there that is still relevant to us today. To understand it better, let’s take a step back and look at the surrounding events of that day. The very first verse of Deuteronomy tell us that the book was a record of the words Moses spoke to the people of Israel on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. They had been wandering in the desert for forty years as punishment for the previous generation’s unbelief. After the stunning, miraculous deliverance from Egypt and those forty years of wandering, God was finally going to let them enter the Promised Land. God divided the Red Sea and let them cross on dry land to save them from Egypt. And in Joshua chapter 3 we read that God divided the Jordan River and let them cross again on dry land to bring them into the Promised Land. The entire book of Deuteronomy occurred just before their miraculous crossing of the Jordan River on dry land. Now because of Moses’ misrepresentation of God in Numbers 20Open Link in New Window, God wasn’t going to let Moses enter the Promised Land along with the people. In fact, God had him die in the very last chapter of Deuteronomy and Moses knew he was going to die. Moses knew that this was his last chance to speak to the people of Israel and plead with them to follow the Lord. This was his last opportunity to speak into their lives and urge them not to abandon the Lord, but to obey Him. Like an NFL coach giving a final pep talk to his team before the Super Bowl, Moses had prepared his exhortation to the people of Israel on the eve of their return to the Promised Land, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham so long before.

With the context of that momentous occasion established, let’s look at how the people of Israel may have been feeling just then while they were standing before the Lord, in His presence, in Deuteronomy 29Open Link in New Window. If we read chapters 27 and 28 we see that Moses laid down the facts before them: blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. They had one simple choice to make with two possible outcomes. The blessings were wonderful and extravagantly generous. But the curses were harsh and horrifyingly terrible. The law was clear and the choice was theirs. In Deuteronomy 30Open Link in New Window, Moses pleaded with them to make the right choice:

This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand or perform.

The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! Choose to love the LORD your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for he is your life. Then you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuternomy 30:11, 14, 19-20). 

The same choice is before us each and every day of our lives. Will we choose life or will we choose death? Each time we stand for worship at church, it’s not merely because everyone else is standing or because we like to sing. We stand before the Lord with conviction knowing full well the solemn choice of blessings or curses before us. We stand in the presence of the Lord and in doing so we renew our vows to Him that He is our God, that we will obey Him and worship no other. We stand before God knowing full well the uncountable cost of the blood that the Lord Jesus suffered to save us. We stand in His presence knowing full well that we do not deserve His sacrifice that we humbly receive and that we were bought at a price and are no longer our own. We stand in the Holy Presence of the Almighty God knowing full well that He is more than able to make the way for His children cross the Rea Sea and the Jordan River. We stand and lift our eyes up to the heavens watching, full of faith, for the return of the Lord Jesus because we know that His resurrection power is able to make us also cross over from earth to heaven, from death to life, from perishable to imperishable, from mortality to immortality (1 Corinthians 16Open Link in New Window). And when we have entered into the heavenly Promised Land, we will stand before the Throne of the Lamb in His glorious presence and worship Him over and over again saying, like Joshua and the Israelites after they had taken the earthly Promised Land, “We will serve the LORD our God. We will obey him alone” (Joshua 24Open Link in New Window).

Lord, please reveal Your holiness to me as I stand in Your presence. Reveal the blinding light of Your majesty that it may burn away every impurity in me until I stand before only by grace alone. And as I stand there in Your presence, give me a zealous passion to champion Your honor and I strive with all my energy to life a life that is pleasing in Your sight and brings You honor. You are so worthy, Lord, to receive all glory and honor and power! Use me to reflect Your light that others may worship You and glorify Your holy name! May I become less and You become greater. May none of my flesh glory in Your presence. And through humility build unity in our worship team, in our church, and in the Body of Christ to worship You with a single voice of passion and commitment. Confirm our covenant with You. Hallelujah! 

Why Worship?

He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. That is why all glory belongs to God through all the ages of eternity. Amen.” (Galatians 1:4-5Open Link in New Window).

I am still humbled by this profound truth. God loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son to rescue us from evil. There was no way that we could have rescued ourselves. We were trapped in slavery to sin. But God sent His Son to die for us. We can never repay this great kindness, this incomprehensible gift. I cannot begin to understand the horror of what Christ suffered for us, taking upon Himself all the curses of all sin ever committed. God deserves to be worshipped simply because He is God. But this amazing grace, this awe-inspiring love is more than enough to make us want to worship Him forever. He deserves all the glory for ever and ever through all the ages of eternity.

The cross is the reason for worship. What Christ did for us on the Cross is what should fuel all pure worship. We will never be able to truly worship God until we understand the grace we received from God through Christ’s sacrifice. We won’t be able to understand that until we have been convicted of our sins and have fallen upon God for grace which He gives us through the blood of Christ. When we know the deep gratitude of a forgiven sinner, then we will know why all the glory belongs to God. And we won’t just know it, we will also be filled with a passion for thanking Him, for praising Him, for worshipping Him through all eternity. We will be seized with a zeal seek after God with all our hearts, throwing off every hindrance to dwell richly in the courts of our Savior.

So how do we prepare ourselves for worship? I think it begins with calling out to God with the desperate cry of a heart that needs His grace. It continues with repentance of any unconfessed sins. Then we need to thank God for every sin that He forgave and recount every blessing we have received. This is how we thank God for the grace given to us on the cross through the bloody sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Then from profound heart of gratefulness we can lift up our faces to praise and worship Him for He truly deserves all the glory for ever and ever. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Lord, help me never to stop thanking You for what You did for me on the cross. Please bring me back daily to the same depth of gratitude for Your forgiveness and love as I felt on the day I was saved. Renew my passion for You, Lord Jesus. And help me to give You the glory that You deserve for all the ages of eternity!

Witness of Glory

What a wonderful thing it would be to be invited by God to have a mountaintop experience with Him! Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him to the top of a mountain where they got to see Jesus transformed into the brilliance of His true glory. They got to see Christ’s human skin supernaturally superceded by the unmistakable light of God’s awesome glory. What an amazing privilege and blessing they were given! Who could even scarcely wish for such an honor? Only a handful of human beings has ever been graced with the privilege of seeing God’s glory. One thing is sure: it struck terror into the hearts of those three blessed men. They were given a visible manifestation of God’s glory and they were stricken with a terrible fear. It seems that human beings are always stunned with given a glimpse of God’s glory. Ezekiel was sat down for seven days, overwhelmed after a great vision the living creatures, the sparkling wheels and God’s glory sitting on a sapphire throne (Ezekiel 3:15Open Link in New Window). Isaiah was gripped with a holy fear and terrible sense of guilt because of his own sin when saw a vision of the Lord in His temple filled with the smoke of His glory and the living creatures flying and singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty! The whole earth is filled with His glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-6Open Link in New Window). The shepherds were quite shaken when the angels appeared in the radiance of the Lord’s glory to announce the birth of the Savior (Luke 2:9Open Link in New Window). Saul was knocked to the ground and became blinded after the brilliant light of Christ shined down on him (Acts 9:3-4Open Link in New Window). When John saw the risen Jesus Christ in all His brilliance, shining as bright as the sun, John fell at His feet as though he were dead (Revelation 1:17Open Link in New Window). Even the simple three words that Jesus said when He was arrested, “I am He,” were so powerful that the leading priests, the Pharisees, the Temple guards and the battalion of Roman soldiers ALL fell backwards to the ground! (John 18:6Open Link in New Window). It seems that even the slightest revelation of God’s glory to mortal men is enough to knock us off our feet.

So why does God do it? Show us His glory, I mean. Or, why doesn’t He show us more? All He would have to do to convince this entire planet of weak minded wretches with poor morals of their necessity to repent of their sins and to worship God is to just unleash the brilliance of His unfettered glory upon the whole solar system, or entire universe for that matter. He could do it. We would probably be reduced to a thin layer of biological residue on the floor, but He could do it. God in His unapproachable wisdom obviously has other plans. In His understanding and in His perfect timing, He has given the human race time to mature and grow. He gives individuals time to repent and then to learn obedience. And in that slow, and sometimes painfully slow, process we have the potential to become pure. It’s a purity that is solely derived from the work of Christ on the cross. It is a purity completely devoid of self-reliance, but only simple trust and obedience. In the cosmic scheme of things, humans may have been roaming the earth for six thousand years or more. Only God knows how long, but it must be at least six thousand years according to biblical history. If it has taken God that long to even bring humanity this far, He must have a timetable for our lives as well. It may not be what we expect or want. But I suspect that much of our ability to grow is limited by our willingness to put aside our selfish ambitions and yield to the yoke of Christ and take up our cross daily.

Moses Strikes the Rock

Not that I’m making excuses for Moses, but it must have been hard for him. The Israelites were constantly complaining and he had to bear the brunt of it. Of course, in reality, they were complaining against God and rejecting God, but since Moses was there in the flesh, they blamed it all on him. Poor guy. In Numbers 20Open Link in New Window, they were grumbling about not having any water to drink or grain, figs, grapes or pomegranates to eat. If we examine the history, we know that it was really their own fault that they were stuck there in the desert. If they had trusted God earlier, then they would have already entered the promised land, defeated the inhabitants, and taken their land that was flowing with milk and honey. But because they did not believe God and did not trust Him enough, they were stuck there in the desert until they died. God had already pronounced this judgment against them. But instead of self-recrimination, they blamed Moses. Poor guy. I can understand why he and Aaron would have been frustrated when this happened.

But they were blessed, too. In response, they turned to God and fell faced down in the ground before the Lord. And the Lord appeared in His glorious presence and spoke to them. If I was given the awesome blessing of God’s glorious presence and was given the privilege of hearing His audible voice, I think I would be stunned and overwhelmed. For sure, I’d be grateful and would be telling everyone about that experience until the day I died. But for Moses, I think this experience was kind of “old hat.” God had spoken to him untold numbers of times. He had spent 40 days on the mountain with God, two times. Perhaps Moses had become familiar with God’s presence and voice. Perhaps he was just too frustrated. But unfortunately for Moses, he did not exactly obey what God told him to do. God did not tell Moses to criticize the people or pronounce judgement on them. He just said to command the rock to pour out water. But Moses when and berated the people verbally and then struck the rock twice with his staff. Water did come out, but God told Moses and Aaron that they did not trust Him enough to demonstrate His holiness to the people of Israel. As a result, their punishment would be that they would not lead the people into the promised land. What a severe punishment. The adults of that generation also received the same punishment of not being allowed to go into the promised land. God promised that they would die in the desert before God allowed the people to enter the promised land. Now because Moses did not represent God well and the Waters of Meribah, He pronounced the very same judgment on Moses and Aaron.

What a severe punishment! They did not trust God enough to demonstrate His holiness to the people. They did not trust God enough. What was it that they did not trust God for? Was it that they took their eyes of God and put them on the people? Perhaps they were so overwhelmed with the burden of leadership and the people’s complaints that they did not trust that God could help them continue in leadership. What is this about demonstrating His holiness? What is it to be holy? It is to be set apart for God’s use. Definitely Moses and Aaron were set apart by God to be used to lead the people. I suppose that leaders in God’s house are to be set apart to represent God to the world, to the congregation. They are God’s spokesmen, their representatives. They were to accurately represent God’s intentions and desires and mood and purposes. They are like ambassadors. Moses did not represent God well to the people. Instead of commanding the rock to give its water, he yelled at the people: “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water from this rock?” He used the work we, which I take to mean Aaron and himself, rather than him and God. Instead of representing God, they represented themselves. It may because of frustration or it may because of incredible pressure, but they did not trust God enough to demonstrate His holiness to the people.

Lord, as a leader, please help me to trust You enough to demonstrate Your holiness to the people. Please help me to represent You well and to be an accurate and very clear vessel for Your Kingdom. Shine Your light and words through me. Let me totally fade out and let Your glory shine through that You may be glorified in me. Help me to trust in You completely. Give me the strength to trust in You even through incredible pressure. Help me to believe in You even when everyone that I have been trying to love does not love me in return. Help me to truly serve only You. You alone are my God. 

Sabbath Year

The Sabbath year is a wonderful thing. How nice it would be to take a vacation for a full year, every seven years. I can just imagine all the fun things I could do with a whole year off. That’s a blessing that is just unheard of in our day. But taking a whole year off requires faith and, in today’s economy, a lot of faith. The Sabbath year is like the tremendous blessing of not having to be anxious for anything but trusting in the Lord for everything. How wonderful it would be to enjoy such perfect peace. But that’s another treasure that takes faith to enjoy. I wonder if the Israelites really practiced the Sabbath year. But I can imagine if they did how many of them would be racked with anxiety that whole year. They may have had faith enough not to plant their fields a planting time. Perhaps it was social pressure that kept them from planting. After all, if no one else was planting and it would look like they had no faith if they did plant. So they didn’t plant their fields. But as the months went by they may have gotten restless. Fears that their food supply would not last might have crept in. They may have gone out and quickly planted a few rows of vegetables. What a big thing it would be: to trust God for a whole year of provision. It’d be like God calling you to be a missionary in a foreign land and having to trust God for financial provision, not just for yourself but also for your spouse and children and every other financial obligation. But the difference is that those who go away as missionaries normally have a somewhat greater faith than those who do not. In the case of the Sabbath year, God was commanding the entire community trust Him for a whole year every seven years. I often find it difficult to just rest a single day per week. I can hardly imagine an entire year.

But the crux of the matter, the secret to thriving in the Sabbath year, is to trust what God promised: “I will order my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a bumper crop, enough to support you for three years” (Leviticus 25:21Open Link in New Window). Well, then, I guess the Sabbath year doesn’t require that much faith after all. If God provided me a $200,000 in the sixth year, and it was sitting in my bank account, I think I’d be able to obey Him enough to not work for the seventh year. That means that in the seventh year, the Sabbath year, the people had already received the extra blessing. They had already received a bumper crop and they had already reaped the harvest. Their granaries were topped off and their wine cellars were full. God had already provided. At that point, they didn’t even need faith. Their food supply was already in hand; they could see it with their eyes and feel it in their stomachs, each and every day. But I wonder how often the Jews kept the Sabbath year. I wonder if they still do it today. I wonder.

I wonder how the Sabbath year applies to our lives as Christians. In a sense, God has already commanded the blessing in our lives. He commanded that His Son be executed for our sakes so that we may receive the bounty of God’s forgiveness and redemption. Now we have the blessed Holy Spirit living within us. He is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance of eternal life (Ephesians 1:14Open Link in New Window). Jesus proclaimed: “It is the Spirit who gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing” (John 6:63Open Link in New Window). The war has already been won for us. Sin and death is defeated and we can now rest from our striving. We lay down our heavy burdens and accept the light burden of the Lord. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28Open Link in New Window). He wants to us to enter into His rest. He wants us to have not only a year of Sabbath, but to enter an eternal Sabbath .

What are our heavy burdens? They may be sins. They may be other desires that block us from enjoying full fellowship with God. They may be our religious effort to please God in our hopes that we can earn His favor. That’s like the Israelite who went out into the fields to plant vegetables in the Sabbath year. He didn’t fully believe that God’s bountiful harvest from the sixth year would last until the harvest of the eighth year. So he went out to plant more crops. We’re like that when we try to do religious works and expect those things to redeem us more than the powerful blood of Jesus, which God has already provided. But God knows that we are of little faith. That’s why Jesus continued gently by saying, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:29-30Open Link in New Window). He wants us to surrender our sins and religious works and sit at His feet, resting and listening to His teaching, just like Mary did (Luke 10:42Open Link in New Window). He wants us to lay down all our burdens and enter into His forever Sabbath. But that yoke he talked about is a yoke of submission. It’s about bending our neck and letting Him put His yoke upon it. That is the only way we can truly learn from Him. That is the only way we can trade our heavy burdens for His light burden. There is only one way to the Father and that’s through the Son. And the only way to learn from Him is to humble ourselves and submit to His yoke, His Lordship. Psalm 25Open Link in New Window says that the Lord “leads the humble in what is right” and that “friendship with the LORD is reserved for those who fear Him.” Our only responsibility is to fear God, to trust Him and to humble ourselves before Him. Then he not only teaches us to way to true peace and rest, but also extends His friendship and love to us as well.

Sabbath is a wonderful thing. Lord, please teach me to enter into Your eternal rest. I humble myself before You. I desperately want to learn from You and be free from all my wicked ways. I want to please You and honor You. Lord, You know that I can’t do this with my own strength. I can only trust in the power of Your precious blood. Lord, please let Your blood cover me. Help me to trust in the power of Your blood and to cease my striving. 

Bread of Presence

“You must always keep the special Bread of the Presence on the table before me” (Exodus 25:30Open Link in New Window).

“Aaron and his sons will keep the lamps burning in the LORD’s presence day and night. This is a permanent law for the people of Israel, and it must be kept by all future generations.” (Exodus 27:21Open Link in New Window).

There is something eternal about His presence. There’s something that God wants me to understand about His presence. What is it about His presence that is so powerful? Why is His presence to important? What is presence? Presence is to be in close proximity. So is it just being close to God? To be near God? His presence is a sense of His awesome power. It is an overwhelming revelation of His greatness and my smallness. How does His presence relate to the bread and the lamps? Lord, please give me wisdom.

In chapters 25 to 27 of Exodus, God gave very exact instructions on how to build the Tabernacle. These were very precise measurements and plans. And among these instructions were two things that were to be perpetually present. The Bread of the Presence was on the table. And the table and lampstand were just outside the curtain to the Most Holy Place. So the Bread of the Presence and the lamps on the lampstand were perpetually there very close to the Holy of Holies. And the special bread was always there and the pure olive oil was always to be replenished for the lamps. This Bread of the Presence was to be replaced regularly with fresh bread (1 Samuel 21:6Open Link in New Window). Once Ahimelech the priest gave this holy bread to David and his men to eat, as long as any of them hadn’t slept with any women recently. Apparently this special bread was reserved for the priests to eat (Matthew 12:4Open Link in New Window). But David and his men ate it, breaking the law. But I suppose they did so understandably for some higher purpose. Anyway, I’m getting off on a tangent here. There is something important about the Bread of the Presence and the lamps.

Jesus told a story about the wise and foolish virgins and their lamps. They needed to have enough oil in the lamps to last until the Lord came back to open the door and invite them into the wedding feast. We also need to have enough oil in our lamps. We need to oil so that our lamps will be brightly lit until that final day. In Revelation, the blindingly bright and shining Son of Man was standing in the middle of seven gold lampstands, which are the seven churches. I can’t imagine that there with Jesus’ face shining as bright as the sun, that the lampstands would be out. No, they’d be shining brightly, too. Jesus taught on earth that if we are given a light, we shouldn’t hide it but let it shine. We are to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth. Day by day, in the desert God provided the manna. He provided this daily bread. This daily sustenance is what God provides. I believe that today, He wants me to eat the Bread of His presence, which is for the priests. But His vision is for a kingdom of priests. And by the blood of His Son, I am redeemed and may eat of the true Bread from Heaven: the flesh of His Son. And I may drink the true drink, the precious blood of the Lamb. I must commune with God. I must be with God in His presence. He must live in me. I was bought at a price and I am not my own. I am crucified with Christ and no longer live. It is Christ who lives in me, who loved me and bought me with His own blood. This is the bread, His flesh which I must eat always. Lord, let Your Word dwell richly in me! And I must have pure oil to burn brightly. I must have the Holy Spirit’s anointing oil to flow freely within me that I may shine brightly for the Lord’s glory, like Stephen did, like those lamps did perpetually. I must shine brightly like our Lord did when He was transfigured, when He rose from the dead, when He was seen in Revelation. When the Israelites fled Egypt, God gave them light no matter whether it was night or day. They had the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. They could travel whether night or day (Exodus 13:21Open Link in New Window).

Lord, let me eat the Bread of the Presence daily. And let the pure oil flow within me that I may burn brightly for You. I want to stay close to You. I want to live just outside the Most Holy Place. Actually, I open my heart: Live and reign in me, Lord! Come closer, Lord. I draw near to You. 

Two Faced Yeast Mongers

“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (Mark 8:15Open Link in New Window).

The disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about. Jesus got pretty frustrated with them and said, “Won’t you ever learn or understand? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? You have eyes-can’t you see? You have ears-can’t you hear? Don’t you remember anything at all?” (Mark 8:17-18Open Link in New Window). The poor disciples really didn’t get it. And I didn’t get it either for a long time. But Jesus gave them some hints. He reminded them about the two times that he multiplied the fish and the loaves. Each time there were many baskets of leftovers. Those leftovers were the proof that Jesus didn’t just boast with empty words. He actually had the true, awesome creative power of God Himself. His gospel was confirmed from heaven with signs and wonders. His teaching was backed up with the highest power anywhere in the universe. He didn’t need no yeast to puff up those fish and loaves. He multiplied them and they weren’t just filled with air.

It’s explained in Luke 12:1Open Link in New Window that the yeast of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. The Pharisees had just demanded in Mark 8:11Open Link in New Window that Jesus show them a miraculous sign to prove that he was the Christ. But of course Jesus refused because they didn’t believe, and then he left them. The Pharisees made like they truly believed and followed God. But in reality, they have very little actual faith. They pretended to serve God, but really only served themselves. Just as yeast is used to puff up bread and make it look bigger, the selfish ambition of the Pharisees filled them with pride, haughtiness and self-satisfaction. But that pride is based on a false sense of power, because like bread their stature was based on empty pockets of air, without any real power from God. This made them feel threatened by Jesus, who they realized had true power. They were afraid that someone would discover that they were just really full of hot air, poke them with a needle, and they would deflate like a balloon in a very undignified manner. But they continued to go about their lives, living in hypocrisy. Jesus teaching was backed up with baskets full of real food; the Pharisees teaching was only backed up by their hot breath.

Jesus warned the disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod because he didn’t want them to fall into the same trap of hypocrisy. He wanted them to serve God and God alone. That’s why he later said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross and follow me. If you try to keep you life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life” (Mark 8:34-35Open Link in New Window).

Lord, help me to lay down all my selfish desires. I want to worship You alone. I don’t want to serve myself. I want to be completely Yours. Please fill me with faithfulness to honor You as You deserve. You are righteous, holy and worthy of glory. Help me to take up my cross today; I want desperately to follow You and You alone. 

Digging for Gems

“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand” (Mark 4:9Open Link in New Window).

In public, Jesus taught only using stories and illustrations. His purpose was to conceal the secrets of the Kingdom of God so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled that the people will see but not perceive, hear but not understand and so not repent of their sins and be forgiven (Mark 4:11-12Open Link in New Window). Jesus also said, “Don’t give what is holy to unholy people. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you” (Matthew 7:6Open Link in New Window).

I think it is difficult for people to understand God and his ways. Jesus’ disciples needed extra explanation in private in order for them to understand the parables. Even then, they didn’t quite understand who Jesus was-that he was God in the flesh. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been surprised when the winds and the waves obeyed him and the fierce storm went suddenly calm. They didn’t understand that Jesus had to die, even though he told them he would be killed. They didn’t understand that Jesus would rise from the dead either. Even the disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t understand what the prophets had said about Jesus, so He had to explain it to them. I know for myself, it’s so hard to understand and follow God’s ways. We are spiritually stupid … stupid like sheep. So we need the Teacher to explain things to us.

But if we are so slow , why would Jesus want to make the secrets of the Kingdom even more complicated by concealing them in parables? Why wouldn’t he want people to understand, repent and be forgiven? At the end of his parable of the sower, Jesus exclaimed that anyone who was willing to hear should listen and understand. I think God presents the mystery before the people to see just who is hungry enough to really dig down deep to mine out the truths of God. The goal of all this is real understanding and true wisdom. Out of true wisdom, we will know God and to know God is to have eternal life (John 17:3Open Link in New Window).

And God really does want us to have eternal life and to live with Him forever. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9Open Link in New Window). “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8Open Link in New Window). And Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32Open Link in New Window). So God does love us. He is not some capricious cosmic ruler up there in heaven playing the carrot-before-the-horse game with us, dangling eternal life in front of us but keeping the truths of it a secret. But he is making more difficult than a cruise course in college where everything is spoon-fed mush that only needs to be regurgitated for the test. Learning the truths of God and his kingdom requires a willing heart, even a desperateness to know God and to do all it takes to understand.

This makes me think of the story of the Syrophonecian woman. She went to Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter. Three times Jesus resisted her. First he ignored her. Then he made some racist excuse. And third, he compared her to a dog. And yet the woman humbled herself, still trusting in Jesus. Then Jesus praised her saying that she had great faith and he healed her daughter (Matthew 15:28Open Link in New Window).

I think that God tests us sometimes to see just how far we will go, how faithful we will be in hard circumstances. He conceals his great truths because he want us to seek him with all our hearts, hungering know him and thirsting for righteousness. God hides his secrets from the ungodly, but He wants everyone to come to repentance. He tells us as much as we need to know that we should seek after God. And he has given us the entire Bible to dig through and search for truth. Plus, he has given us his Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, as we are ready. All we need to do is be faithful to seek Him with all our heart.

Lord, I am willing hear. Let me listen and understand. Holy Spirit, please guide me into Your truth today. Guide me and lead me. Help me to obey. Help me to understand. Help me to be humble and persistent like the Gentile woman. Increase my faith. Give me an urgency in my heart to pursue You and to know You. I love You, Lord. You have loved me first and I want to be faithful to You. I want to worship You in deep knowledge of You. Hallelujah!

Steady Gaze of the True Worshipper

Sometimes in life tragedies happen. We don’t understand why they occur, but they are a fact of life here on earth. We may be tempted to dishonor God by blaming Him for not preventing those tragedies, but that would be a mistake. That would only prove that we lack faith in Him. It would show that we don’t truly believe that He loves us. But His love for us was proven once for all, beyond a shadow of a doubt, when He sent His only begotten Son to die for us. Faith is the substance of things not seen. No matter what happens, we have to hold on to that faith.

The apostles were preaching in the Temple and were imprisoned and tortured for serving the Lord. When they were released, they left rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41Open Link in New Window). After Paul and Silas were unjustly stripped and severely beaten by the order of Philippian city officials, they prayed and sang worship songs in prison. When Stephen was being stoned by envious Jewish leaders, he did not get mad at God, but rather kept his chin up, gazing steadily at Jesus standing in the glory of God. In all three examples, they worshipped God in the worst of circumstances. They were the kind of true worshippers that the Father is seeking. They had faith to see beyond what they were going through. And they worshipped God even though they were suffering.

Job was a man of God, too. But he didn’t know why he was suffering. At least in the three New Testament examples, they knew they were suffering for the name of Christ, who had already suffered for their sakes. But it was different for Job. He had been faithful to the Lord for his whole life. And without reason, everything he had was ripped away. He didn’t know why. Sometimes bad things happen and we don’t know why. But even then, we must remember that God is good. He has proved that to us through Jesus Christ. Even when we suffer for no apparent reason, we must fight the good fight and keep the faith.

Lord, please give me the faith of a true worshipper. Let me learn to keep my eyes on You through every circumstance, large or small. Let me worship and rejoice to be one with You, whether in honor or dishonor. Praise You, Lord. You are awesome in power and amazing in love and patience. I long to know You deeply.

Leaping Calves

“For you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2Open Link in New Window).

One day God is going to arrive suddenly in His Temple to judge His people. “Who will be able to stand and face Him when He appears?” the Bible asks (Malachi 3:2Open Link in New Window). On that Judgment Day, the Lord will be like a blazing fire, like the intense, super white-hot nuclear fusion reaction of a sun. But He won’t be far away like a twinkling star in some distant part of the galaxy. He will be right here on earth in His Temple in all His awesome and fearsome power. We who believe in Christ are Christ’s body; we have become His Temple here on earth. When Christ returns every eye will see. God will return in unimaginable power. His fire will burn away wickedness to purify His people. “The arrogant and wicked will be burned up like straw on that day. They will be completely consumed” (Malachi 4:1Open Link in New Window). The Day of the Lord will be a terrible day for those who do not fear God.

But it will be a day of healing and exuberant joy for those who fear God’s name. In heaven, God has a Book of Life (Rev 20:12Open Link in New Window) with the names of those who fear God and love to think about Him. They listen when God’s sends His messengers and they talk with each other about what God says (Malachi 3:16Open Link in New Window). When God finally comes in power, on that Judgment Day, He will rise as the Sun of Righteousness, the scripture says. For the people who fear Him, the intensity of His Righteous Light will not burn or destroy, but bring healing. And like calves that were penned up but then are released, so we shall also burst out with joy when we are finally released. In a blink of an eye our earthly mortal bodies will be instantly transformed into heavenly immortal bodies that will never die. We will be like those heifers frolicking for joy because that “healing in His wings” will finally give us eternal life. And then we will completely free from the power of sin and death (1 Corinthians 16:51-57Open Link in New Window).

Lord, You are so righteous and awesome. Help me fear Your name as I should. Let me love to think about You like those do whose names are written in the Book of Life. I can’t wait to be forever released from sin and death. Lord, thank You so much! Words cannot express the joy and freedom we will have on the Day You return in power. Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon!

Feces on Faces, yuck!

I will rebuke your descendants and splatter your faces with the dung of your festival sacrifices, and I will add you to the dung heap (Malachi 2:3Open Link in New Window).

Talk about disgusting metaphoric imagery … that’s gotta be in the top five most putrid of the Bible. God can be pretty expressive in His communication style. I love the fact that God always cuts right to the chase. But all kidding aside, He was giving the priests a very severe warning. Why would a loving God wish such an unsanitary and degrading fate on anyone? The fact is God does love us and wants to bless us. But in His justice He cannot bless what is wicked; He can only curse wickedness. His warnings are given to help us repent and turn back to Him so that we can receive His blessings. In His amazing kindness and mercy, He extends time for us to repent and turn back to Him.

Getting back to the dung splatter … why would God threaten to do that to the priests? Let me tell you, it was not in the least unprovoked. The Father God expressed His love to the people of Israel and their response was like a stinging slap in the face: “How have you loved us?” What a selfish and rebellious response! It makes me think of how I used to be as a rotten, rebellious kid. “What have you done for me lately?” You would think that all someone would have to do is think about how Christ suffered and died for us to know just how much God loves us. I was so horrified to hear a struggling Christian say recently, “Jesus didn’t suffer that much. He died a quick death.” I could scarcely believe that came out of her mouth.

How have you loved me? That question belies a complete lack of respect for God. Out of this contempt, the priests did many things that dishonored the Lord. First of all, they don’t serve with a servant’s heart. “It’s too hard to serve the Lord,” they say. If someone is going to just grumble when they do something for me, I’d rather they not do it. God feels the same way (Malachi 1:10Open Link in New Window). Second, they offered defiled food on His altar. The animal to be sacrificed were to be perfect and without blemish. Instead, the priests only gave God the blind, decrepit or diseased beasts. And even that, they only gave begrudgingly (Malachi 2:13Open Link in New Window).

As priests they were supposed to guide the people to follow and serve the Lord. But they themselves weren’t doing that. Jews were not to marry foreign women because those women would bring foreign idols into the homes of the Israelites and teach their children to do the same. Doing so would pollute the people’s faithfulness to the Lord. But even the priests married foreign women (Nehemiah 13:28Open Link in New Window). Even the Temple itself wasn’t safe from pagan infiltration. Amazingly, one priests even cornered off a Temple storeroom for the use of pagan government official (Nehemiah 13:5Open Link in New Window).

And after all that, they had the gall to question God’s justice. Probably when some tragedy occurred, they would shake their fist at heaven and ask, “Where is the God of justice?” That’s just what people still do today. They show contempt for God in their lives and when something bad happens that blame God.

I am so grieved to think how we human beings have repeatedly disgraced God ever since we were first created. How can I love God? How can I honor Him rightly? First I need to repent. Then I need to seek Him with all of my heart, not begrudgingly with grumbling, but with a joyful and humble heart of a servant. And my sacrifices are to be the very best I can give. How contemptible some of my previous sacrifices have been! I know that the best part of my day is early in the morning when it is still quiet. I must give Him my very best, not my leftovers. If I waited until past midnight until I finally tried to read the Bible and pray, I’d be so tired that I’d only be able to offer a pitiful sacrifice and that only begrudgingly given because I’d rather sleep. So I need to give Him my very best part of every day. And in every area of my life, I must live sanctified unto the Lord. Each part of my life must be consecrated and set apart for the glory of God. I must be very careful not to allow the slightest bit of compromise.

Lord, you know how I’ve failed You. I’m so sorry. I want to make a new start. Please forgive me and give me a refreshing from Your Spirit. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You. I don’t want to be like those priests. I definitely don’t want no dung on my face! Help me, Lord, to consecrate every part of my life to You and to offer my very best to You. Let me be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing in Your sight. My desire is to honor You. Help me do that!

Unjust Sacrifice

“The crowd shouted louder and louder for Jesus’ death, and their voices prevailed. So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded. As they had requested, he released Barabbas, the man in prison for insurrection and murder. But he delivered Jesus over to them to do as they wished” (Luke 23:23-25Open Link in New Window).

Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life and yet He died for our sins. He didn’t deserve that. It was so unjust. We deserve to die, but He died for us. I am humbled greatly because of what God has done for us.

But the injustice of Christ’s death goes beyond just Him dying when we deserved to die. He didn’t die in some ritual ceremony in which He was honored for his sacrifice. In stories of villages sacrificing a virgin girl to appease an angry dragon, at least she is dressed up in a flowing white dress with a garland on her head and everyone bemoans the grateful mourning of her life traded for theirs. In the case of Jesus Christ, He was innocent and yet the very people, his own people that he was trying to save hated him. His own people were the wicked dragon. He was trying to save them from themselves. It was unfair. We can understand a sacrifice to save the lives of your family, maybe even to save your friends. The one who gave his life would then be remembered and honored with gratefulness by the survivors. But why would someone sacrifice himself to save the people trying to kill him? It’s unfathomable. It’s not just. And even if he was sacrificing himself for them, you would think that he would at least deserve the satisfaction of them knowing the he was dying for them. But when Jesus died the people who called for his death didn’t understand that he was dying for them. He allowed them to kill him in order that He might save them.

And you would think that you could trust your government to provide justice for the people. But that wasn’t the case for Jesus. All his enemies had to do was hand Jesus over to the governor, make some false accusations and incite a mob to shout really loud. Even though Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent and that Herod had found him innocent, he folded under the social pressure from the mob and agreed to kill an innocent man. It wasn’t that he was deceived as to Jesus’ innocence. He valued Jesus life to little that he bowed to a little social pressure. It wasn’t even peer pressure or pressure from those in authority over him: it was pressure from the people under his authority. Pilate was a weak man. It is so unjust that Jesus had to suffer because the government was led by such a weak man.

But the injustice goes further. Jesus was innocent. The people he sacrificed his life didn’t appreciate him or understand what he was doing for them and orchestrated his execution. The government authorities failed him. But what makes this story even more heart wrenching is that Jesus had the power to free himself and destroy his enemies at any point in time. He is our creator. He has power so great and so awesome that we cannot even comprehend the infinite extent of his power. With a blink of an eye, he could have destroyed his enemies. With a single word, he could have obliterated all of humanity from ever having existed. He could, if he wanted to, have turned all human beings on the planet into simple-minded obedient automatons. But he didn’t. He had the power to save himself, but he let all that injustice happen to him. In fact, he knew exactly how it would all pan out. He was prepared. He had a purpose, greater than what the people could understand, probably greater than we can understand even now. And when he died, he prayed, “Father, forgive these people because they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34Open Link in New Window). In full knowledge of what was happening, Jesus gave his life freely. It was an unjust trade. Nothing about it was fair. But I know now that Christ had the victory. Someday every knee will bow before him and he will receive the honor that He justly deserves.

Dear God, I am so humbled by Your sacrifice. I scarcely even want to say that I’m grateful because my thanks are so inadequate for what you did. But I am incredibly indebted to you. I am humbled. Thank You so much, Lord Jesus. I want to follow You. I want to honor You as You deserve. Help me to do that. I want to bring You glory. 

Bloody Prayer

“He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44Open Link in New Window).

Lots of people probably consider prayer to be a boring activity. They think of prayer as a religious ritual, some incantation to be chanted once a day. They remember their mother reminding them to “say their prayers” before bed. But prayer is more than simply empty words. And it’s not like casting Christians spells at God. Prayer is calling out to God with faith and then something powerful happens. Jesus taught his disciples, “Get up and pray, otherwise temptation will overpower you” (Luke 22:46Open Link in New Window).

On the night Jesus was betrayed, He had the most powerful time of prayer recorded in the Bible. In the spirit, He was preparing for the most crucial moment in all of history. His death and resurrection would pay the way for our salvation. A huge part of winning that battle was accomplished in private the night before. He was about to take upon Himself the full brunt of God’s wrath for every sin every committed and would be committed by humanity. And the huge struggle of that was decided while he was praying. The prayer burden was so difficult that He had deep agony in the spirit … so much so that he sweated profusely and his sweat may have been mixed with blood. Obviously something powerful happened that night as He prayed. He was successful in obeying God the next day because of that prayer.

If Jesus needed to pray fervently so that He would be able to accomplish God’s will, how much more so do we also need to pray to do His will. Jesus taught his disciples that unless they pray, temptation would overcome them. Unfortunately, that’s just what happened. They slept instead of praying and the next day virtually all of them failed Jesus and abandoned or denied Him. It is so easy to be overcome by temptation unless we pray. The reason that happens is because we can do nothing of real spiritual value on our own strength. It all must come from God’s strength. And that only happens through prayer.

Thank You, Lord, for reminding me of how vital it is to pray. Help me to be more diligent to pray through everything You have assigned me to do so that I may be successful and You may receive the glory. 

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