Have Tent Will Travel

Today’s reading link:  Exodus 17; Luke 20; Job 35; 2 Corinthians 5

When I first started camping the idea of living in a tent was compelling. Detached from the world back home, for weeks on end, I traveled through the wilderness in reasonable comfort. Over the years I had tents in different sizes and designed for various conditions. Some for backpacking, or canoe camping; engineered to sustain high winds, extreme cold, or heavy rains. I cherished my tents, for without them, traveling into the wild would have been difficult.

In 2 Corinthians 5, our bodies are compared to tents, and like tents, they lack durability. Our earthly bodies are temporary, so inadequate that we groan for something better. The heavenly body we long for will allow us to be in the presence of almighty God, but the body we have now allows God’s Holy Spirit to dwell within — if we choose.

Earthly needs, like food, clothing and shelter are used in the Bible as simple metaphors, which are reflections of more durable, holy things; helping us to understand their better eternal counterparts. Certainly it is a different life that awaits our arrival in the Celestial City, while our present lives offer glimpses of what awaits us in the better one. I believe my eternal citizenship is in God’s kingdom — a place I can choose to dwell today.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. –2 Corinthians 5:1-4

Tents provide the simplest and most portable housing. If we are nomadic wanders, the tent is perfect. But it isn’t until we build up permanent settlements of towns and cities, that we form more advanced civilizations. Ironically, Jesus speaks of, and demonstrates, the simple life of a nomad, while Paul contrasts tents to more desirable, permanent structures. I think this shows that our desire to build something better is often misplaced when we seek to build too much with the things of this life for ourselves.

Our earthly bodies are magnificently designed to serve the present needs of this life, while at the same time, housing our souls, which are destined for eternity. But earthly bodies are something much less than what we would expect of those designed for eternity. Our present bodies are referred to as jars of clay, for they are fragile; but they are also referred to as temples — sacred structures meant to receive God’s Holy Spirit. And by this we are transformed!

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 the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. –2 Corinthians. 4:6-7

Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not  your own; -1 Corinthians 6:19

In this present life we have the opportunity to build earthly kingdoms that fade away. Some fade faster than others, but most, in a sense, are gone in an instant. Alternatively, we can live life by  investing in the treasures that await us in the next. Now in a way this may sound foolish; betting by faith on a the existence of an eternal kingdom, and against the ones we might build here and now. In extraordinary circumstances, people build dynasties that last, perhaps, hundreds of years. What God offers mankind, through Jesus Christ, is a spiritual legacy that lasts forever — and an eternal home. If this offer is true, it represents incredible value. I believe the proof of this is the simaltainious offer of a better life on earth, a life filled with lasting peace and joy in all circumstances. A life of transcendence, directing our energy away from us and to the benefit of others. This even seems to line up with other belief systems; but what they don’t offer is the indwelling, transforming, life giving, power of the Holy Spirit of the living God — the comforter promised to us by Jesus.

In this life, within our tents, we are given the opportunity to experience hope, peace, joy, love, and wisdom through fellowship with the one true God. And in our struggles, when we turn to God, we grow. If we follow God into an eternal kingdom, in our surrender, we become a new creation. This is when we begin to see and experience the world in a whole new way.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! -2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Dear God, your power is supreme and your love is fathomless. Thank you for your wisdom and your Grace. Please help me to know you better each and every day, for the rest of my life eternally. Amen.

Selfishness

I Love Me card with beach background

Exodus 16; Luke 19; Job 34; 2 Corinthians 4

Over the last couple of years, have you followed the story of the Texas teenager who’s attorney’s used an “affluenza” claim in his legal defense for causing a wreck that killed four people? It was a sobering story for me.  Beyond making my heart ache for those directly impacted, it made me stop and think about my children and my approach to parenting.  What am I teaching, or not teaching them, that will impact in their behavior?  Will my influence show up as good or bad choices?

Merriam-Webster defines “affluenza” as the unhealthy and unwelcome psychological and social effects of affluence regarded especially as a widespread societal problem, such as feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, and social isolation experienced by wealthy people; extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships.

I would argue this condition is rampant in America. It extends beyond those who most of us would consider as super affluent, successful or wealthy.  For example, almost every kid in my children’s school has some kind of electronic device, gaming system or smart phone.  They wear designer clothes.  They travel often.  They want for very little.  My children are no exception.  I am a pretty average mother who is trying to teach my kids right from wrong, how to make wise choices, how to be a good friend, to love Jesus, and so much more.  These are really hard lessons to teach and to learn, especially when we are focused primarily on ourselves.  Most of the time, even if we don’t want to be, we are just down right selfish.

When I started today’s reading in Exodus 16, the first two verses hit me with an unfortunate sense of familiarity. Exodus 16:1-2 says …on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. Wait a minute. God rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.  He miraculously parted the Red Sea, overtook their enemies, and led them safely to freedom on the other side.  Less than two months later, they were already grumbling?  Weren’t they even the slightest bit grateful for the significance of what had taken place over the last 45 days?  Like me, their true selfish nature came through.  They couldn’t see past themselves (and their hungry bellies)!

Despite their grumbling, God provided for their needs. He did so in order to try and shift their focus off of themselves to him.  Exodus 16:4, Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

Exodus 16:11-12, And the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

We are made in the image of God, we are created to glorify him, and he desires relationship with us. Even so, we are often unable to resist the urge to focus on ourselves/our wants/our desires and forget that he is the source of everything we have.  As we read on through the Old Testament, we will find the Israelites struggling with this for many years.

Now jump to our New Testament scriptures for today…

Luke 19 starts with the story of Zacchaeus.  He was a wee little man (couldn’t resist singing the song in my head) with a deep rooted history of selfishness.  He was a tax collector who acquired his riches by overcharging/ripping off taxpayers.  Luke 19 doesn’t give a lot of background on why Zacchaeus was seeking to see Jesus, it just states that he was.  After spending time with Jesus, we see evidence of Zacchaeus turning his focus away from himself.  Luke 19:8-10, And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

We don’t have the opportunity to spend time face to face with Jesus. But through his blood, we have direct access to speak to him through prayer all the time.  This is the cure for our selfishness!

Where is your focus today? Will you commit to spending time communing with God, letting him help to shift your focus to him?

There is no one like Him

Today’s reading: Exodus 15; Luke 18; Job 33; 2 Corinthians 3

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11)

There is no one like our God. It was only a few years ago that my human brain and emotions started to grasp this concept, and now every time I say it with all of my heart believing that it is true, I get chills, and sometimes tears. There is no one like him. He created this earth and its inhabitants. He gave us the ability to love. He designed our brains to think, to process emotion, to create, to wonder, to worship, to choose.

The more I know God, the more I love him. The purpose of this post is to share some of the attributes of God so that we may know him better, some attributes of the enemy so that we can be vigilant, and some of our proper responses to who God is and what he has done. The Song of Moses found in Exodus 15 is a beautiful poetic song and extremely robust with content. It is worth reading over and over and taking a deeper dive into. Each bullet point below lists a verse reference from Exodus 15.

Names & attributes of God from this song:

      • Triumphant; has power over the enemy. (1, 4, 5, 6, 7)
      • Strength, song, salvation. (2)
      • Masculine gender. Refers to God as “He” or “Him”. (2)
      • Warrior (3)
      • In control of the earth. (5, 8, 10, 12)
      • Powerful (6)
      • Great (7)
      • Majestic (7, 11)
      • Furious (7)
      • Holy (11)
      • Full of glorious deeds. (11)
      • His love is steadfast. (13)
      • Leader (13)
      • Redeemer (13)
      • Guide (13)
      • His home is holy. (13)
      • Purchaser; he purchased us. (16)
      • Creator (17)
      • Reigns forever (18)

Attributes of the enemy:

      • Pursuer, taker, selfish, ruthless, destroyer (9)
      • Powerless against God. (10, 12, 16)
      • Melts away. (15)
      • Filled with terror and dread. (16)

Proper responses to God: The entire song is their acknowledgement of his many attributes and deeds, but here are a few specific responses within the song.

    • Sing to him. (1)
    • Acknowledge him as our strength and savior. (2)
    • Praise him. (2)
    • Exalt him. (2)
    • Tremble (14, 15)

God’s ultimate act was to send his son Jesus to this earth, to become human but yet still God, and to sacrifice his life for our sins. How can our response to this even compare to the magnitude of what he has done? We cannot repay him so we must do what he designed us to do, worship him, praise him, acknowledge him, and with trembling hearts in awe of what he has done.

The Biggest Miracle

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Exodus 14; Luke 17; Job 32; 2 Corinthians 2

As we have seen throughout the story of Exodus, the Israelites are stuck. Stuck in part from their circumstances of slavery and partly stuck because of fear. How so? Consider their choice in living a life of slavery, making bricks for an oppressive ruler over a life of freedom. This choice often led them to death. As we read through Exodus 14, we see that they finally choose differently. They choose freedom. The result? They become trapped; hemmed in by the Red Sea in front of them and the entire Egyptian army not far behind. Not only that, the Egyptians were on horses and in chariots, brandishing spears, arrows, sharp swords and all other life removing apparatuses. They could feel their impending slaughter. It would be easy.

What do the Israelites do? Chicken out! Reverting to their old behaviors, they rely on their own, severely limited, understanding. These limitations create fear, causing them to regress to their old ways. They discard the hope they received, replacing it with the relative comfort of what they know; slavery. Thankfully, God intervenes in their weakness. He really is patient and has a deep desire to see all of us live a free life in Him (2 Peter 3:9)

The rest of the story is obvious. God steps up in a way that nobody else could, performing the life-saving and  mind-blowing miracle of dividing the Red Sea. This act enables the Israelites to walk to freedom on dry ground. Now, if you are like me, you will give a quick shout out for the Israelites and a fist pump for an awesome victory. But… it doesn’t really impact my life today. Or does it? This is precisely where our journey collides with the Israelites.

In many ways, I find myself standing around waiting for God to move between me and the enemy, so that I can live the life that I have always wanted. He waits; patiently. I am allowed to remain in slavery, maintaining the habits and lifestyle that I have always tolerated because I fear the unknown. Today, I am sure that the hitch in my Spirit is God telling me that He has something more if I will only follow. He tells me that I can be freed from my slavery in an instant, but it’s not the way that I expect.   In fact, I have been looking for a 12-step plan or a 21-day program. Instead, he provides my own life-giving and mind-blowing miracle. This miracle, however, is bigger and better than the parting of the Red Sea. God sent his only son to suffer, die and rise again. Why? So that I might be free to live life abundantly (John 10:10).  Re-reading Exodus 14 with my miracle in mind, I see:

the Lord saved ME (Israel) that day from the hand of slavery (the Egyptians), and I (Israel) saw the enemy (Egyptians) dead on the seashore. I (Israel) saw the great power that the Lord used against my enemy (the Egyptians). (Exodus 14:30-31 ESV)

Do you see it too?  Can you hear God calling you to the Cross? Remember, He has risen! It is time. Move forward. “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. His promise gives firm footing, not in mud, but on dry ground. True Freedom! (Exodus 14:15 ESV)

Where He Leads Me ~ Twila Paris

Stewardship, the Shrewd Manager and Heavenly Rewards

Today’s reading: Exodus 13; Luke 16; Job 31; 2 Corinthians 1

March 2nd, 2016

The parable of the shrewd manager can be quite strange at first glance. Only found in the gospel of Luke, here we have a master commending his servant after he steals from him and Jesus telling us to look to the thief’s example:

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. – Luke 16:9

When I read this parable this morning I felt like I was reading it for the first time. I was lost, so I went looking and found a sermon that I have tried to summarize below. For the full version, I encourage you to check it out here: Luke 16 – The Shrewd Manager by Phin Hall

An overview:

  • Lesson; v1-7, story of a clever thief who uses what he’s been given to provide for his future.
  • Problem; v8, thieves are more aware and clever about providing for their future than the the saved.
  • Solution; v9, be aware that using worldly resources to help people is tied to eternity and be shrewd in this eternal value proposition.
  • Incentive; v10-12, treasures in heaven.
  • The Root Issue; v13, because these two are fundamentally at odds, you can not serve God and stuff. Do not love stuff, steward it for God.

The Lesson. A manager is tasked to steward his master’s resources. When the master hears that the steward is wasting his resources, he gives fires him. This word ‘wasting’ is the same word used in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son spends all the inheritance on himself. When the manager is told he can no longer steward the resources he is given one last job, to hand over the accounts. True to form the manager, with this last window of opportunity, goes to his master’s debtors and debts them to him. Saying, “quick, take your copy of our records and change $50,000 to $25,000.” And I’m paraphrasing of course but the amounts were thought to be in similar neighborhood in today’s dollars. By doing this the steward again uses his master’s resources to provide for his own future. Ensuring that after he has handed over the account he will have prospects with his new friends.

The Problem. When the master learns that the manager is again using his resources for himself, he calls him in. But instead of the response we might expect, he actually commends the manager. He points to how shrewdly the thief used this last window of opportunity to provide for his own future.  We see that the steward feels hopeless and so he contrives and acts on a scheme to lie and steal and cheat his way into a secure future. And the rich man commends him for it. Interesting. Seems odd right? “Fine work ol chap, that was quite the display of thievery. Way to look out for good old number one.” But to understand what is really happening here we need to continue on.

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. – Luke 6:8

And there we have it. Sons of light, the heaven bound, are being reprimanded for being put to shame by the thief. The rich man is commending the traits the thief displayed. The sons of this world do not think of anything but the temporal and here the rich man is saying, boy is he thinking of the temporal well and positioning himself for the temporal well. The dishonest manager had forethought, and cleverness, he leapt at the window of opportunity, he acted swiftly with all he had; and this is what is being commended. The problem is that the heaven bound, children of light, ought to know better. They, knowing of eternity, ought to have forethought enough and be clever enough and spring to action and use all we have been given to store up treasure for ourselves in heaven! If we only applied these characteristics to what has been revealed to us of eternity.

The Solution. 

And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. – Luke 16:9

First let us consider that Jesus is not telling us to lie or steal or cheat. Unrighteous wealth is simply worldly resources. The things that will not last. The things that are not to be trusted. The things that will not survive the baptism. The things that will fade away. Jesus is telling us here to use all these little itty bitty things like, money, and status, and knowledge, and power, and ego, and your retirement to make friends. The same way the shrewd manager sprang to action and used everything he had to make friends that would then help him later, we are told to use all the stuff that we have been given to steward to make friends that will testify to our stewardship on the final day. I have come to believe, this is what ‘make friends’ here means. Like a cup that overflows, we are to steward the resources we have been given so that we ensure the cup is filled and then overflows. That the overflow is to be used to make friends. To help those who need help.

The Incentive. Be a faithful steward with little and you will receive much. Be a faithful steward with the things that will pass away and you will receive heavenly treasure that won’t. All throughout the Bible God is incentivizing us to receive a reward. The gift of salvation is freely given and can not be earned but there is indeed something more that I believe God desires us to earn. This offer God makes us to earn heavenly treasures is so important. God cries out to us time and time again in scripture, imploring us to hear for our own sake; that we might come to work for Him; that the cup may overflow and that the good work might be done. 

In the past, when the topic of heavenly rewards has come up in conversation I have been foolish and said something of the sort. “I just want to be with Jesus.” As if wanting anything more was selfish or somehow wrong. And while it may have sounded super spiritual, I believe it came from my being deceived. God save me. How foolish it was of me. Thank God for His word!

“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Mat 5:12a). “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Mat 6:20a). “And thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Mat 6:4b). “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Mat 16:27). “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor 9:24-25). “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Rev 22:12)

Let us have a look at this from another perspective in hope it will shed some light. Imagine a you sees a man on street, homeless, broken and without hope. You invite him in, offering him shelter, warmth, food and friendship. There is nothing the homeless man can do to earn being these things you are offering him; he has no money to pay you. This is freely given and freely received. But then, in due time, you say to him “I have some work for you. If you would look after the lawn and clean up a bit around here, I will pay you generously.” How would you feel if this were the man’s response, “Oh, I don’t want to make any money, I don’t want to earn anything or do any work, I just want to be with you.”  What?!? This would be an unthinkable response, would it not?

But the question is, what is your response to God’s call to do His good work?God is offering us good work with good payment. Take hold of your temporal resources, grow them, and use the overflow to help people in need. Perhaps even draw them nigh to Him. Be shrewd to this end. Have you accepted the job God is offering you? What are your goals and plans with this job? What does your eternal retirement look like? 

Shrewd Manager

The root issue. In closing Jesus tells us what this parable is all about; that we can not serve God and mammon, often translated as money. Mammon is all the stuff. All the temporal stuff we looked at before that will not last. All the stuff that in the past I have been mislead to believe I own. When in fact, I will never own anything until, God willing and by His grace and by the shrewdness He affords me, I receive my reward. These two things are fundamentally at odds. The love of stuff is at odds with God’s work plan for his job opening. 

God would you help us? We need you LORD. Would you help us to be good stewards with the resources you have given us? Would you help us store up heavenly treasures and accept all Your good works with shrewdness? God would you bless us indeed and increase our territory, that Your hand may be with us always and keep us from evil? Would you protect us from the deception to trust in mammon. Thank you God! Amen.

Parables of Truths

Today’s Readings: Exodus 12:22–51; Luke 15; Job 30; 1 Corinthians 16

“He began to teach them many things in parables.” (Mark 4:2)

I love Jesus’s parables. Simple images and characters from everyday life to create a story and help illustrate His message to us. Parables were shared for those who would have “eyes to see” or “ears to hear” and in order for us to have a clearer understanding of His messages. There are three priceless parables in Luke 15. The Parable of the Lost Sheep, Parable of the Lost Coin, and Parable of the Prodigal Son. To me they are a reminder of being lost, searching, and rejoicing. Where I’ve personally been and a hope for many who are still lost. Whether you are the lost sheep, coin, or prodigal son; through Christ we are found.  (Amen) Three verses that I want to highlight in each of these parables helps me to understand who God is and what his kingdom is like.

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

” Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-32)

 

So as we enter into our day take hold of the moments of where you may have the opportunity to be the shepherd who finds a lost sheep, the woman who finds the silver coin you have been searching for, or forgiving father who’s son was dead but now alive.  The visual of a father holding his son after he repents is how God holds us. He wants us to respond to sinners in the same way.  For we have all sinned and fall short of God (Romans 3:23). Through God’s will He provides us with divine appointments in our day where you may plant a seed that lands on good ground and will begin to grow. (Mark 4:8)

By no means will this come easy for us. It will come with many submissions from our daily routines or job schedules and take extra moments to focus on others need instead of our own.  When others “mumble or grumble” because of our lack of focus on worldly things know that you are bearing the fruit of the Spirit.  Your love you show to others can provide the opportunity of rejoicing for one sheep that may have been lost but now found. We were all lost at one point – now found, blind- but now see, dead- but now alive. All things are possible through God. (Mark 10:27)

  • Are we trying to rescue like the shepherd?
  • Do we search for those lost throughout the day like the woman?
  • Do we forgive others like the father? 

I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:35)

Dear God,

Thanks for sending your own Son for us. To teach everyone about your instructions for us.  These parables are instructions for our life.  You are a loving Father who gives hope to all.  I pray for you to help me to always be on guard, stand firm in your faith, be courageous about your truths, and to do everything in love.  God help us to open our eyes to others that are lost so we can share the glory of you and your kingdom.  Amen

Beloved through Discipleship

Today’s reading is the same as yesterday due to the leap year: Exodus 11–12:21; Luke 14; Job 29; 1 Corinthians 15

As today is leap day I’ve been invited to “freestyle” in my scripture reflection for Bible Journal. Last week there were so many rich reflections on Passover and the surrounding scripture in Exodus. I’m tempted to write more about the ancient tradition of Passover and it’s representation now in our modern lives. In Exodus 12 the Lord commands Moses and Aaron that the Israelites must slaughter one lamb per household. This lamb must be without blemish, male and be one year old. As I considered this sacrifice and the cost to each Israelite family, I challenged myself to ask: what is our modern lamb? What is it that God is asking of us as individuals? What is he asking our modern households to contribute, in order to be counted among His chosen ones?

As I read and re-read the scripture readings for yesterday my heart has continually come back to the idea of discipleship. In Luke 14 beginning in verse 25 Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14: 26-28

 Ultimately, wasn’t God asking the Israelites to cast off the securities of their world; their best lamb in exchange for discipleship with Him? And they, living by the very definition of faith (what cannot be seen or heard) made this corporeal sacrifice without hesitation. Are WE able to do this? Are we as Christians making daily decisions that lead us to discipleship? I often find myself living in dichotomy, my Sunday morning convictions fading into Tuesday and Wednesday’s trials. I am quick to look to my husband, my parents, my friends and my colleagues for discipleship. I imagine that what Jesus is asking of us is to discipline ourselves in discipleship with him. In verse 27 he speaks of “bearing his own cross” which isn’t really related to carrying our own burdens but actually a reference to the Romans forcing a convicted criminal to carry his own cross to his execution. Jesus wanted his followers to understand that committing to a life with him and in him means total submission.

As people we want to feel connected, we fear isolation and loneliness. We stumble through daily life searching for that lasting connection. I find myself looking for it in my marriage relationship, my family relationships and with friends. I also, if I’m being honest, seek it in relationships with things like food, electronics and trendy clothes. Jesus is speaking to us through Luke’s words, reminding us that when we seek oneness with Him then we will finally experience what it means to be beloved.

I’m currently reading a wonderful book by a Catholic priest entitled, “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World” by Henri Nouwen. In the first chapter he defines the meaning of being beloved.

“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well being you desire? Don’t you often hope: “May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.” But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death. Well, you and I don’t have to kill ourselves. We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, spouses, teachers, children and friends loved or wounded us. That is the truth of our lives and the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, “You are my Beloved” ~Henri J.M. Nouwen

 We hear this word so many times in different contexts but to me it is spoken most directly to us in Romans 9

“…even us whom he has called, not only from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea: “Those who were not my people, I will call ‘my people’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” Romans 9:24-25

 WE are his people. He is inviting us to bring our modern lambs to slaughter. He asks us to search ourselves and then discipline ourselves into discipleship with Him. Not in the spirit of penance and punishment but in the seeking of that ultimate joy and relief of being His Beloved. As we live these “Passover days” I like to imagine our heavenly Father sweeping his gaze over our roofs, looking for signs of obedience and genuine desire to be in communion with Him. I imagine what that looks like to Him in terms of surrender of my worldly security for His everlasting love. As we wait patiently for the resurrection, it’s maybe not the cold, dark and grey days suggesting deprivation we are meant to soak in. Perhaps, it’s an invitation to seek an inner attentiveness to His voice.

“Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

 

 

Passover

 

Today’s reading:  Exodus 11–12:21; Luke 14; Job 29; 1 Corinthians 15

Don’t we all want deliverance from something? Maybe not all the time, but at some point in our lives, being set free from some kind of oppression, or being spared some form of hardship, is a big deal. What would it mean for us, if in those times, our problems just passed over us?

In today’s reading, Moses warns of another great plague. This time, Pharaoh is told that death will come to each firstborn throughout the land — simply terrifying!

Moses then instructs the Israelite’s to sacrifice a spotless lamb, and by marking their doors with its blood, they will be delivered from this final plague upon Egypt. Then they are told to prepare and roast the lamb and eat, in celebratation of the first feast of the Lord’s Passover. It is a feast that signifies many things; the connection between sacrifice and atonement, the deliverance of God’s people, and it also marks the fresh beginning of the new year. But the one thing I find most remarkable, is how it foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus, a real person (filled with the Holy Spirit) who came into the world for the purpose of reconciling man to God, delivering us from our sin and the law, and giving us a fresh start. Christians across the world believe Jesus to be the Divine, spotless, sacrificial, “Lamb of God.” 

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! -John 1:29

Christ followers are also called to live lives of sacrifice. But what is it are we called to sacrifice (and why)?  In a word–everything. This can be a very disturbing thought, especially if we have a lot of stuff, and we love our lives — the very things that get in our way when we try to get closer to God.  We are called to release our claim of ownership and control of these earthly treasures, as well as our comforts and pride.  Interestingly, by letting go of things that do not give us true peace, or eternal security, we find ourselves better able to receive the wisdom, and the lasting peace promised in the Bible. Ironically, in the struggle to hold on to these things too tightly, we are also able to see and hear from God. For me, this has come in the anxiety of trying to control the world that I want to build for myself, or in the disappointment and lack of deeper fulfillment that results from feeding my flesh, my ego or my treasury.

I declare to you brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. –1Corinthians 15:50

God in His wisdom, through his word, and in the experience of life, is trying to teach us something important. Will we listen? The thing is this; the life of our spirit is eternal, and as such, it is infinitely more important than the life of the flesh.  Our challenge is to focus more on our spirit.  This can be difficult in the midst of this often wonderful, physical, material, sensual life. Lives, which in the present seem durable, while rapidly slipping away.

To discover the spiritual kingdom of God that exists in our very midst, is difficult, especially in the affluence of consumerism. If we have too much, we cling to it, and if we don’t have enough, we either focus our energies to fight for what we want, or we acquiesce. Whether we compete or accede, we become followers of the world order; caught up in the desperate struggle to prove our worth. Or perhaps we give in to hopelessness, believing we have no value.

Surprisingly (as my wonderful wife Heather pointed out after returning from a mission trip to Haiti), in less prosperous economies, people can find true joy even in the midst of poverty. What a lesson that is! Perhaps in cultures that have not bowed down to the false gods of prosperity and self, it is easier to discover and experience the one true God. It is quite disturbing, that in this great land of freedom, an oppressor lurks. It is the false hope of prosperity and fame, that fans the flames of our idolatry. When this dwells within our spirits and our minds, and if we do not resist, then the things we think will bring us freedom and happiness, eventually will enslave us in despair, or worse, eternal separation from God.

Fortunately, it is by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, that we have the power to be released from the treachery of oppression. By placing our treasures, titles and trophy’s at the foot of the throne of Jesus, we receive deliverance as God’s Holy Spirit leads us into a different life. This is the beginning of the eternal life that starts in the throne room of a celestial kingdom with our confession of faith. And it is by the sacrificial blood of Jesus alone that we are all able to enter into the presence of God despite our imperfections and poor choices — no matter what they are.

Then the Angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb –Revelation 22:1

God, thank you for sparing me from the death I deserve under the law. By the blood of your Son, your rath has passed over me and delivered me from my unrighteous path. I pray that you would be the focus of my thoughts, words and deeds. And in these things I would always bring glory to you — that my life would forever point the way to you. Amen.

Hard Hearts

Guardian Sphinx guarding the tombs of the pharaohs in Giza. Cairo Egypt

Exodus 10; Luke 13; Job 28; 1 Corinthians 14

God’s plan to deliver his people out of Egypt is first revealed in Exodus 7:1-5, which we read this past Wednesday.

And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

Today’s passage in Exodus 10:1-2 begins this way:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.”

As I’ve studied the story of Moses, Pharaoh and the plagues this week, I keep dwelling on God’s words, “I will harden [have hardened] Pharaoh’s heart”.  This theme starts in Exodus 7 and is repeated through plague 10, the Death of the First Born.  Why would God do this?  It seems so uncharacteristic of what we know about Him.

“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God, so turn, and live, Ezekiel 18:32

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, I Timothy 2:3-4.

Exodus 9:16 makes it clear why God chose this path, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” To demonstrate God’s power and that his name is proclaimed throughout the earth makes sense, but it doesn’t resolve the inconsistency.  How do you reconcile God’s desire to have all men saved with an action to intentionally harden someone’s heart, which ultimately inhibits salvation?

I think Exodus 8 reveals Pharaoh actually made the choice himself. Exodus 8:15, But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.  Exodus 8:32, But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. Once his choice was made, God carried out his plan and allowed Pharaoh to affirm his choice on several occasions.

This isn’t how I want things to happen. I often find myself asking God to prevent me from making a bad choice, then saving me from the accompanying consequences. However, sometimes God chooses a different path.  Sometimes he uses our sinful choices to achieve his purposes.

Jump forward to the parable of the Fig tree we read about in Luke 13:6-9 today, do you see similarities?

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

If God is represented by the vineyard owner in this parable, Jesus is the vinedresser and we are the vines. God shows mercy on us, gives us time to come to him with repentant hearts.  God’s mercy is the picture of Him we want to see.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance, 2 Peter 3:9

God’s patience will eventually come to an end.  Like Pharaoh, we must not give in to the lure of sin and let our hearts become hardened or we risk God’s wrath (being cut down by the vinedresser).  Again, this is not the picture of Him we want to see, but a reality we must accept.

Romans 2:5, But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Will you join me today and repent of your sinfulness? Confess your need for Jesus.  Ask God to fill your heart with a desire for him.

 

Distinction

Today’s readings: Exodus 9; Luke 12; Job 27; 1 Corinthians 13

The Merriam-Webster definition of distinction includes the following:

  • a noticeable difference between things or people
  • the separation of people or things into different groups

Today’s reading contains several distinctions.  The Bible is rich with distinctions so that it can become clearer to us as to who we are, who God is, and what he expects of our lives here on Earth.

In order to understand the distinction, we need to understand the reason behind it; why God is saying what he is saying or doing what he is doing. Notice that in Exodus 9:1, God doesn’t say “Let my people go, that they may (be happy, spend time with their families, have a party, go to work, relax, eat, drink and be merry, complete their chores, farm the fields, tend to the livestock, etc.). His purpose in rescuing them was so that they (we) may serve him.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Exodus 9:1)

God made a distinction by revealing his will and by saving the livestock of Israel. He was showing them that he had set apart the people of Israel.

But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.” (Exodus 9:4)

There is no one like God, he is holy, he is set apart, he is distinct and he wants us to know it. If there were someone or something like him, we would be confused as to who or what to worship, to bow down to, to humble ourselves out of reverence and awe. We need not be confused, there is no one like him.

For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.

Distinction: Those who feared the word of the Lord, and those who did not. Isn’t it easy to put ourselves in the position of those who paid attention to the word of the Lord and wonder why some people didn’t? Weren’t they there (or at least aware) when the water turned to blood, and the frogs, gnats, and flies plagued Egypt, the livestock died, and everyone had the nasty boils?

After wondering about those who didn’t pay attention I came to realize that I do not always treat him with the appropriate level of fear nor do I always pay attention and obey. I forget or marginalize what God has done on this earth, the source of the beauty of nature, the smell of a spring morning, or even to the magnitude of what Christ did for me on the cross. I too leave my livestock in the field.

Then whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slaves and his livestock in the field. (Exodus 9:20-21)

Distinction: Acknowledgement or denial of Christ. If I do not acknowledge him, am I inherently denying him? It would seem very odd to be friends with someone for a period of time and not acknowledge to the person the fact that I’m married and have children. These people bring me joy.

Similarly to my relationship with Jesus, if I’m not actively acknowledging him before others, I believe I’m inherently denying him. What are the reasons we don’t share (acknowledge) Jesus? I typically correlate this to fear and/or lack of a sound relationship. Jesus tells us not to fear so I need to trust that part, and he’s calling us each day to have a relationship with him, so this part is up to us to act.

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9)

Jesus is coming back, and because of that, we must be ready for his return. This parable makes the distinction between people who are eagerly ready for his return and those who are not. Some severe stuff, especially for those of us who have received and believed the truth, but haven’t acted on that belief.

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. (Luke 12:37)

But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. (Luke 12:45-46)

1 Corinthians 13 distinctly separates love from a lack of love. Today’s reading had a few occurrences that called out wealth and possessions, and where they stand in our lives. The main difference boils down to the object of our love; the things of this world, or God and people. We can possess fine speech, wisdom, and even faith but without love, all of these possessions are meaningless. We can be generous with our possessions but if the intent in the generosity is for something other than love, we gain nothing.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2-3)

Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection was the ultimate distinction. No one else has ever, or will ever do this. He did it to save us from sin, so that we can be distinct in eternity with him, should we choose to follow him, to love him, and obey him.