Category: Old Testament

Seeking God’s People

Hosea.
A testimony to God’s steadfast lovingkindness towards Israel and Judah.

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From the start, Hosea tells the story of our God whose unfailing love paves the way for the redemption of God’s people even as they commit adultery with every lover they can find.

Read Hosea 1-2. Note the intentionality of the writing. Pay attention to the meaning of the names. Let the movement of the plot become apparent. Watch carefully what God is doing behind the scenes.

It is astounding. It is delightful. It is transforming.

The book is likely written in the final days before Israel’s exile during the rapid succession of kings (six in twenty-five years). God pled with God’s people through many prophets to turn back from their idolatrous ways to avoid the cleansing God would bring through the exile.

In verse 1:2, Hosea is instructed by God to go take a wife, Gomer, from among to harlots and to have children with her, an analogy for Israel and Judah’s adultery.

Three children are born.

The first is named Jezreel in reference to a massacre in 1 Kings 9-10.

The second child is a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, meaning “she has not obtained compassion.” God tells Hosea to name the innocent this for, “…I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them” (1:6b).

A third child is born. Another son. His name means “not my people.” Verse 1:9 reads:

And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.

Chapter two opens with the two younger siblings instructed to contend with their mother for her harlotry. Hosea writes of how Gomer cheated on the children’s father and warns the father will strip the mother naked and leave her exposed unless she repents of her adultery and no compassion will be had for the woman’s children.

Such brutality is shocking to modern Western readers.

But then something beautiful happens in 2:6.

https://i1.wp.com/brians-walks.co.uk/photos/a-coast-to-coast-cycle-path-cleator-to-moor-row.jpgThe harlot’s husband says something even more shocking!

He tells the children of prostitution that even as their mother pursues her lovers, she will never overtake them. He has put a hedge up along her way. He has walled the paths so that she can run, but she cannot hide from him. She can seek her false lovers, but she will never find fulfillment with them.

‘Then she will say, “I will go back to my first husband,
For it was better for me then than now!”‘

What Israel does not know is that God provided for all her needs while she chased her false lovers. The grain, the new wine, the oil. Even the silver and gold which she and her lovers sacrificed to Baal were lavished upon the her by the harlot’s husband, God.

Still, God says, she will be punished for her unfaithfulness in the sight of her lovers.

But then. Oh, then, declares the Lord, “I will allure her” (2:14b).

Did you hear that? God will allure the bride who ran off after all her lovers, chasing them with God’s own gold and silver, new wine and oil.

God loves God’s bride so richly, so heavenly, that even the ones called “Not My People” and “She Has Not Obtained Compassion” are worthy of God’s alluring efforts.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her
     Bring her into the wilderness,
     And speak kindly to her” (2:14).

And God does. After the adultery/idolatry is removed from the people by means of the exile, the people are brought back to their land. The bride returns to her first love.

“And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi [husband]” (2:16).

See the source imageHosea 2 ends like a letter between two lovers. No more false lovers, no more war. Israel will lie down in safety, betrothed to God forever in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion.

God will betroth God’s bride to himself in faithfulness and she will know the Lord.
And God will respond.
God will respond in the heavens and Israel will respond on the earth.
And the earth will respond with grain and wine and oil 2:18-23.

In grand triumph, the children return:

I will also have compassion on
     her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who
    were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, Thou art my God!’ (2:23 b,c)

(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)


This is the story of God and Israel.

It is my story.
My precious love story with God who allures me.

Yes. God strips me bare and uncovers my nakedness in front of my false gods.
Then God removes those unkind lovers from my lips and betroths me to God forever.

This is also your story.
(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)


God is always seeking God’s people. Providing for them.
Loving you steadfastly and making a way for you to be found.

Let God’s lovingkindness and compassion wash over you.
God calls you God’s people.


christine parker - pic

Christine Fox Parker serves as President/Executive Director of PorchSwing Ministries, Inc., a non-profit ministry she founded to offer healing and safe space to survivors of all forms of church abuse and to educate churches and Christian institutions in creating safer spaces and improving care for abuse survivors. She earned a Masters in Christian Ministry and a Master’s in Counseling from Harding School of Theology.

A popular speaker and teacher across the country, Christine co-edited and contributed to Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for God’s Broken, published by Leafwood Press in May 2018.

Connect with Christine on her websites at www.porchswingministries.org and www.christinefoxparker.com .

 

 

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Should Christians Read the Old Testament?

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What am I Seeking when I Study the Old Testament?

The short answer to this question is “God.”

I was first moved to study the Old Testament by a scholar who exhibited a communion with God through the text. He was a poet and convicted me of the inexhaustible wealth of the Hebrew Scriptures. He showed me that it was more than just a series of books that talked about God, but it was a meeting place to come face to face with the Creator of the universe.

The purpose of Bible study is experiencing God and growing into his mission. This goes for scholarly and devotional reading alike. No matter our exegetical abilities, when we read the Bible we ought to concern ourselves with knowing God. Ideally, close readings, attention to detail, and scholarly inquiry only deepens our understanding. Certainly, God is beyond our comprehension, but we are not left without a clue. The more we study Scripture, the more opportunity we have for knowing the fullness of God.

I seek to know Scripture like I know an old hymn. I want to know the lyrics, the historical references, the metaphors, the poetic rhythms. But it is not just for study sake; I want to sing the song. As the great Zion song says, “I heard their song and strove to join.

Admittedly, I sometimes find myself devoting vast amounts of time to the study of the minutia of Scripture that does not seem to have much to do with knowing God. I sometimes miss the forest (God) for the trees (particular texts), but the right corrective to this is not to ignore the trees. Even the minutia, properly framed, filters up to knowing God more fully. I will attempt to illustrate with a few examples.

Wrestling with God through text criticism

wrestle God comicText criticism gives us a window into ancient interpretation. [There’s a good explanation of text criticism HERE.] Sometimes variants in the manuscripts are just scribal errors, but often variants reveal disagreements or shifts among interpreters. For example, Job 13:15a, is translated by the NRSV as “See, he will kill me; I have no hope,” but the ESV has “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” The reason for the difference is a textual variant: the Hebrew word here is lō’ meaning “not,” but another ancient tradition reads meaning “to him.” The two Hebrew words sound identical. So does Job say that he does not have hope or does Job say that he will still hope in him? I think that it is fairly clear that the NRSV is more in tune with the book of Job and the variant “in him” is a later effort to make Job seem less despairing. But back to our question, what does this variant have to do with knowing God? Simply put, we cannot make the big points without observing the details. In this case, we get an insight into how our ancestors in faith heard and wrestled with the character of Job. Job is a book about the human experience of suffering and how one relates to God in the midst of suffering. This small little word matters to the portrayal of despair. In my experience, it contributes to my own wrestling with God as I observe injustices and resolve to speak to God without restraint. So the text critical question filters up to wrestling with God when the realities of injustice hit home. One can certainly wrestle with God without knowing Hebrew or this text critical issue, but the closer we look the more we bring to the table.

The awe and wonder of wordplay

I love wordplay and a good poetic turn of phrase. For example, in Isaiah 5:7, a parabolic song about a failed vineyard concludes with God expecting mishpat (justice), but getting mishpaḥ (violence), expecting ṣedaqah (righteousness) but getting ṣe‘aqah (an outcry). This pair of wordplay is obvious in the Hebrew and contributes to the richness of the poem. What I love about close study of the Old Testament is that it slows me down and draws my attention to the creative detail of Scripture. God is a poet. The better we understand His poems, the fuller our communion with Him.

I do not study the Old Testament to prove or disprove its history or to contradict science. In my experience, these are unfruitful and misguided pursuits for the most part. Additionally, my primary reason for studying the OT is not to establish doctrine. Doctrine is important, no doubt, and the Old Testament certainly espouses doctrines, but these are typically secondary gleanings from the primary story of God among His people.

I study the Old Testament to learn from Israel’s witness to the character and actions of God, so that I might more fully understand the wonders of God’s work in the present. I want to sing the song of the Old Testament, which not only requires me to learn the lyrics and the tune, but also to join the chorus. The text hymns its King in strains divine. I hear the song and strive to join.


 Lance Hawley - picLance Hawley is an Assistant Professor of Old Testament and biblical Hebrew at Harding School of Theology in Memphis. His research focuses on the book of Job and Hebrew poetry. He also has a major interest in biblical law and biblical canon as essential topics of study for followers of Jesus. Before joining the HST faculty, Lance served as a church planter in Madison, WI for ten years. He has a passion for the spiritual formation of missional communities.

Lance and his wife, Laura, have three children.

Seeking the Good of Others

You can listen to the sermon this blog post derives from, HERE.

My attention was captured by a phrase in the last verse of the book of Esther. How does the book end? With Esther living happily ever after as the hero in the story?

No. It concludes with the summary that “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.

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“The Triumph of Mordecai” by Pieter Lastman (1583-1633)

Mordecai may have worked for the good of his people, the Jews, but he wasn’t the Jewish Ambassador to Persia. Mordecai was the second in rank over the entire Persian population. He may have advocated for the Jews, but he would have only kept his position by being a responsible ruler for all people.

In accepting his promotion to second in rank to King Xerxes, Mordecai was choosing to work for an ungodly king. Persia may have treated the Jews and Jerusalem better than the Babylonians (who destroyed the city), but it didn’t make them godly. Paganism would still infiltrate all areas of palace life.

Mordecai was choosing to work with an empire that expanded rapidly and destroyed nations in their path in a manner similar to the treatment Judah received.

Mordecai chose to work for and with the enemy.

Yes, his niece, Esther, was married to Xerxes, but she didn’t have a choice in the matter. That’s pretty much the point of the whole book!

Mordecai provides an example of living out the counsel the prophet Jeremiah had given years earlier,

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  ~ Jeremiah 29:5-7

That last verse is a tough one. Seek the peace and prosperity of the city you land in. Pray for the city, the pagans, the people who burnt your city, the soldiers who carried you in chains to Babylon. Pray for your enemies. Your prosperity is tied to theirs. Jeremiah’s thought is a precursor to the saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

Most of my readers haven’t been exiled to your current city, but this verse should challenge us. It sounds nice and fuzzy to seek the peace and prosperity of the place I live. Perhaps I’ll get to experience some of that prosperity. Then I realize that I’m to pray for the peace and prosperity of the WHOLE city.

I naturally want to limit that prayer. I want to pray that the government makes wise decisions for the good of the citizens. I want to pray that my church will expand. I want to pray that the good people will be recognized and rewarded. I want to pray that crime will decrease. I want to pray for people I like: people like me.

But when Jeremiah says to pray for the city, he’s referring to the Jew’s enemies. He wants the Jews to pray for the people who’ve captured and brought them to this place. He wants the Jews to pray that the pagans may experience peace and prosperity. He wants the Jews to pray that the cruel king may live in peace and prosper.

SW city 02

What does that look like for us?  Maybe, we also need to pray…

  • that followers of other religions in our city will experience peace and safety.
  • that the homeless and destitute in our city will find security and prosperity.
  • that supporters on the other side of the political divide will live in peace and that they will prosper.
  • that those intent of crime and violence will find peace and a constructive object for their energies.
  • that those in leadership will prioritise the peace and prosperity of their citizens while pursuing it in their personal lives also.
  • that those in captivity may return to their families and experience peace and well-being.

As Christians, we believe that ultimate peace and fulfillment in life comes from Jesus. We should certainly pray for the expansion of his kingdom in our city. We also need to recognise that Christians have a responsibility to contribute to our communities in a way that “sinners” will benefit from our presence. God doesn’t give us the discretion of choosing who receives our kindness. This illustrates why Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is still so radical and fundamental to our faith. God’s children are to seek the good of the whole city.

Elijah & Elisha

The account of Elijah’s final days found in 2 Kings 1 -2 tells a story with echoes to other characters and themes of Scripture. This blog post will differ from my usual style as I explore some of these “echoes”.

Elijah 02

ELIJAH = John the Baptizer

Malachi 4:5 predicts that “[God] will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes“.

Jesus himself in Matthew 11:14 says of John, “If you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.

Like John, Elijah spent a lot of time as a lone voice in the wilderness. Even the description of Elijah sounds a lot like John:

  • He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.” (2 Kings 1:8)
  • John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Matt 3:4)

Elijah’s primary ministry was challenging the ungodliness of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. John ultimately died for challenging the ungodliness of King Herod and his wife.


ELISHA = Jesus

Unlike Elijah, Elisha spends a lot of time mentoring a large group referred to as “the sons of the prophets”.
Miracles were a mainstay of Elisha’s ministry. In 2 Kings 4, Elisha multiplies food and brings a dead boy back to life. In chapter 5 he heals Naaman of leprosy and in chapter 6 causes an axehead to float on water. Even in death Elisha’s grave gave new life to dead man. (2 Kings 13:20-21)

While John had some disciples, Jesus had his famous group of 12 disciples and his less well know group of 70. He didn’t locate his ministry in the wilderness. He went to the people.
Jesus’ ministry was also characterised by miracles. In Matthew 14 after the death of John the Baptizer Jesus multiplies food to feed 5,000, then walks on water. In chapter 9 he raises a dead girl back to life, heals blind and mute men, and casts out demons. Jesus’ empty tomb promises life top all humanity.


ELIJAH = Jesus & ELISHA = Disciples

  • Elijah calls Elisha to leave his oxen and come follow him. (1 Kings 1:19-21) Jesus calls his disciples to leave their fishing nets and come follow him (Matt 4:18-22).
  • Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit” from Elijah. (2 Kings 2:9) Jesus promised his disciples the presence of the Holy Spirit after his death. (Matt 14:15-19)
  • Elijah was taken up to the heavens while Elisha watched. (2 Kings 2:11) Jesus was also “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:9)
  • The sons of the prophets could recognise that “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” (2 Kings 2:15) Likewise, when Peter and John were hauled before the court, the religious leaders “saw their courage… and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
  • Receiving Elijah’s spirit meant that Elisha would continue his ministry. The church as the body of Christ continues the ministry of Christ even to this day.

ELIJAH = Moses

Elijah’s consistent opposition to King Ahab mirrors Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh. When Pharoah was defeated and his son died, Moses left Egypt passing through the Red Sea on dry land.

2 Kings 1 opens with the death of Ahab and his son Ahaziah. With Ahaziah dead Elijah leaves the land crossing the Jordan River on dry land. This was a triumphal kind of “exodus moment” for Elijah.

Both Moses and Elijah’s lives end on the eastern bank of the Jordan River leaving their replacements to complete the mission.


ELISHA = Joshua

Joshua entered Canaan to claim it for God by crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. Elisha also commences his ministry to reclaim the soul of Israel for Yahweh by crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. (2 Kings 2:14)

Joshua’s first stop in Canaan was to destroy and curse Jericho so it could never be rebuilt. (Joshua 6:26) Elisha also headed straight to Jericho only this time God used him to heal the land and provide pure water to the city. (2 Kings 2:19-21)

Joshua’s next conflict was with the city Ai. A close reading shows that the battle took place between the cities of Ai and Bethel. Bethel’s men fought with Ai to resist Joshua. (Joshua 8:9-17) Elisha’s next stop was also Bethel where young men opposed him and challenged his role as God’s prophet. God was again victorious. (2 Kings 23-24)


In light of all these comparisons, the presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus at his transfiguration make more sense. Not only are Moses and Elijah great men of God, but their lives tell similar stories that came to fulfillment in Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-13)

 

 

Seeking a New World

Abraham seekingThis year my church adopted the annual theme “What Are You Seeking?” Now that it’s September, I’m finally getting around to preaching on the theme, and thus also blogging on the theme.

Over the next few months I’ll be looking at Biblical “seekers”. This cast of characters all share a restless spirit of discontent. In some instances these people demonstrate a ‘holy discontent’. In other cases we’ll look at examples of people reaching for forbidden fruit.

The urge to seek, to keep moving forward, seems built into the core of human nature. From the beginning of Biblical history we find Adam and Eve seeking, and reaching, for more than they had… even when they had everything.

Hebrews 11:9-10 describes Abraham, “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents… For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Verses 15-16 expand this thought, “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.”

It appears to me that the author of Hebrews is attributing some specific thoughts to Abraham that he may not have had. Concepts of life after death steadily evolve throughout the Bible. The quest for a heavenly country seems to come from a time period well after Abraham. However, Abraham’s motivation to leave Ur and travel to Canaan certainly reflects a greater desire to pursue God than material comfort. This urge for fellowship with God is what Hebrews commends.

At first glance, Abraham was obsessed with finding a new land. He left all that was familiar and traveled thousands of miles seeking it. While he traveled up and down the land of Canaan and saw all there was to see, the promised land never belonged to Abraham.

On one level, Abraham spent his life window shopping.

Over time, while Abraham was seeking a new country, he stumbled upon a new world. He discovered God’s world: Yahweh’s reality. Once he caught a glimpse of God he was hooked. He traveled up and down Canaan, not seeking a land, but faithfully pursuing the God who had revealed himself to Abraham.

Christians face the temptation to conclude our pursuit of God the moment we’re saved. Many of us find ourselves wrestling with the question, “I sought and found God. Now what?”

I believe the answer is to keep seeking God. Seeking is built into the core of human nature. Even when we accept our need of God’s presence in our lives, our quest to continue to grow into his image never ends.

We’re not seeking a country. We long for God.

We seek for earth to reflect heaven: a New World.

We seek for our lives to reflect God.

Or do we?

I wonder how often we say that we’re seeking, when really we’re wishing. Just as Abraham lived in tents waiting for his arrival at the city of God, seeking requires movement. Seeking requires action. Seeking God demands that we follow Jesus, that we allow ourselves to be molded and shaped by the Holy Spirit.

Wishing, on the other hand, requires only that we we dream.

Dreaming works best when we’re still. Don’t move. Don’t look. Just sit… and wish.

As you consider your past 7 days, were you a seeker, or a dreamer?

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. ~ Jesus

Case Study 2: Killing Locusts

The final article in our Summer Blog Tour is written by Scott Johnson as he describes what it means for his church transition from a sedentary faith to an Unshackled Faith. I hope this story encourages you that transformation is possible. God still works when we take the risk to live with our Faith Unshackled.

Faith Unshackled 01

Change is terrifying. Whether its work, school, marriage, or grocery store layouts, change is never fun. When our congregation at Crosspointe Church of Christ faced the fact that we were a hospice church, a church on life support, and we had to move. Fast. Over 10 years our attendance had decreased by two-thirds.

Through a long, agonizing series of events, we begin to seek God’s direction. Where did He want us to move next? We had several congregational meetings that only gave us confirmation that things were bad. We either had to seek out a resurrection or pull the plug. There were no other options. Change had to come.

We had less than a month before we had a final meeting with the entire church to reveal what was next. Taking the church off life support was not an option. So we were relaunching. We were moving to a new mission. I was asked to craft it. I was hopeless. So I sat down to write.

I remember sitting at my kitchen table one night. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t pray. I was beyond frustrated and angry. As I watched the laptop cursor blink, as I stared into the white screen, I gave up. I quit. I stopped. I walked out.

pexels silhoutte night sky-LoRez

I went out onto the back porch and looked at the sky and begin talking to God. I told Him how tired I was. I told Him how discouraged and angry I had become. I told Him that I was sick of it. I told him I quit. And then I told Him that if He had any ideas, I’d love to know them.

And then I hit a watershed moment in my life. I said, “God, you’ve got to show up or Crosspointe isn’t going to make it. She’s your body. You created her. You know what you have in store for us. We give up. I give up. Please, give me your vision.”

I stood there in the silence for a while. And then it happened. God put something into my heart and brain that ignited a fire in my bones.

He brought this Scripture to mind:

“I will restore to you the year that the swarming locust has eaten…” (Joel 2:25a, ESV)

What God brought forth that night has completely re-forged Crosspointe. Sunday we had our first progress meeting since the relaunch one year ago. In that year I’ve seen our members step out in ways I never dreamed possible. I’ve seen more generosity, kindness, and boldness than I ever thought we’d muster. You can follow what this has looked like in the daily life of Crosspointe on my blog https://oldesoultheology.com/.

The years eaten away by the destroyer…have slowly begun to be restored.

Why?   How?

Faith.

God’s people at Crosspointe had the audacity to trust in the God who breathed out the stars… and step out onto the waves. We’re not there yet, but exercising our faith has grown it exponentially.

“We’re trusting, Lord. We know you’ll deliver us. We believe, but help our unbelief.”

Wherever you find yourself in your walk with God, ask the question: What is holding me back from completely trusting Him? What’s my obstacle? And then pray…and kick it right down. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.

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Scott JohnsonScott has been on both sides of the fence: life without Jesus and life with Jesus. He wouldn’t go back for anything. As a former drug addict, he has a passion for sharing Jesus with the world. He graduated from Ohio Valley University in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Texts. He has been in full-time ministry since 2007 and served two churches in that time. Scott is the Senior Minister at Crosspointe Church of Christ in Franklin, Ohio. He resides in Middletown, Ohio with his wife and their two children. He loves to play guitar, drink coffee, help people, and enjoy his family.

Where Does My Help Come From?

Psalm 8 and Psalm 121 both open by recognizing God as Creator. In Psalm 8 the author considers the majesty of the night sky, the moon and stars. In Psalm 121 the psalmist gazes at the mountain tops and praises God as the Maker of heaven and earth.

The psalms then diverge as they consider a human response to the power, majesty and beauty of God.

PSALMS

The author of Psalm 8 focuses upon humility. “God, since you you created the great heavenly bodies, why do you even think about us? We’re so small and insignificant.” The author describes the relationship between God and humanity in terms of power and authority. The remainder of the psalm continues in this vein as the writer compares humans to angels and animals before closing by praising God once more.

This perspective of our relationship with God contains merit. It promotes the virtues of humility and reverence before God. It can remind us that God has given humanity the responsibility of overseeing and caring for creation. God is the Creator and we are its stewards.

Yet there are risks if we depend upon Psalm 8 as our primary prism for relating to God. God’s great power and authority can overwhelm us. Our humility and reverence for God contains the potential that we come to see God as distant and unapproachable. God is maintaining the universe and He’s entrusted us to maintain our piece of earth. He’ll do His thing and He expects us to do ours. Who are we to bother God?

stargazing 02

The author of Psalm 121 takes a different tack. When he looks at the mountaintops and the sky beyond them he too praises God as Creator. However, the next words out of his mouth don’t dwell upon the distance between God and humanity. This psalmist regards creation as emphasising how qualified the Creator is to help his creation.

The Creator will help, not just in big ways, but in smaller troubles we face also. As he lists God’s care for humanity be begins with the line, “He will not let your foot slip“. Of course he can protect you from lions, he can smooth over that workplace conflict, and he can strengthen your marriage, but he’ll also not let your foot slip. In the face of grandeur, God cares about us scraping a knee, spraining an ankle, breaking a hip, or falling off a cliff.  “He will not let your foot slip

Of course, the very premise that we need to call out for help assumes that we will encounter troubles in our lives. This psalm doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free life. It teaches us that God is always with us. He who watches over you will not slumber.

This psalm reminds us that none of our problems and worries are too small for a great God.

Snake River - OClair

Psalm 8 contains an important lesson about God. Humility and reverence before God need to be part of our faith. But we shouldn’t camp out in Psalm 8 as though it’s the end of the story. Our faith needs to grow to a place where we look at the majesty of God and praise Him because he cares about us. In all our relative weakness, He loves us, individually.

sound-waves 01a

After preaching on this topic, I heard this song on the radio as I drove home immediately afterwards. I think it’s a great summary and I’m sure the artists had psalms like these in mind when they wrote it.

 

Creation: God’s Temple

God likes colour.

God likes details.

God likes surprises.

God likes creativity and imaginative design.

God likes grand statements, and intricate whispers.

God likes to reveal himself, and to work invisibly.

We know these things because God reveals himself in Creation. Through nature God shares the things he likes with the people he loves.

This past Sunday our church held our annual Worship in the Park. Each year we enjoy lots of good food and games for all ages. We also worship in the open air surrounded by a wall of trees… and harassed by numerous insects.

My text this year was Isaiah 66:1-2. In preparation for this special service I started reading a new book by Hicks, Valentine & Wilson titled Embracing CreationI’ve really enjoyed it so far as the authors draw attention to God’s love not only for humanity, but creation as a whole.

northern lights - OClair

photo credit: Jeremy O’Clair – Northern Lights

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?
    Could you build me such a resting place?
My hands have made both heaven and earth;
    they and everything in them are mine.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!     Isaiah 66:1-2a (NLT)

The opening lines of this text describe heaven and earth (Creation) as God’s self-built temple or dwelling place. He then contrasts this with any temple or dwelling humans could construct for him.

When we think of Creation as God’s temple, the next logical step is to recognise Eden as his Holy of Holies. Eden provided the focal point for God’s presence and there he communed with humanity.

If God created the universe as his temple, it gives meaning to psalms such as Psalm 148 that call upon all nature to praise God. The temple is a place of praise and honor.

Science does a wonderful job of telling us how bird songs reflect mating calls, or statements regarding territory, or warnings of danger. But Christians also view the world through a more poetic eye. We recognise that birds sing not for our enjoyment, but to praise their Maker.

As the temple of God, Creation’s well-being correlates with humanity’s relationship with God. In Genesis 3 Creation bears the curse resulting from Adam & Eve’s sin.

Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.   Genesis 3:17b-18

In Isaiah 55 God invites his people to renew their covenant with him. If they will return to him he describes the consequences. Notice how God’s Temple, Creation, rejoices as joy and peace once more characterise the relationship.

You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.
Isaiah 55:12-13

It is then unsurprising that Revelation describes nature responding in torment to the affliction of God’s people. As those worshiping in God’s temple are persecuted…

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.  Revelation 6:12-14

I’m not suggesting that every natural tragedy can be paired with a sin. Rather, highlighting how God views the created world. I believe that if we walk through life and walk through nature regarding it as God’s temple, we’ll find ourselves seeing God around us. I believe we’ll interact differently with nature when we have the attitude that we’re engaging the temple of God. How we regard nature influences how we worship God.

Thus in the closing scene of Scripture we again find God coming to dwell upon the redeemed new heaven and new earth. The temple has been purified and humanity is once more invited into the Holy of Holies as God shares what he likes with the people he loves.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  Revelation 21:2-3

Father to the Fatherless

 – The True God who inhabits sacred space
    is a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.
He makes a home for those who are alone.
    He frees the prisoners and leads them to prosper.
Yet those who rebel against Him live in the barren land without His blessings and prosperity.  Psalm 68:5-6 (VOICE)

I’ve been preaching a series of sermons seeking to identify the heart of God. Who is God at his core? What are the values God holds most dearly?

In Psalm 68:5 God identifies himself as “Father to the fatherless”. The name “Father” is often attributed to God throughout Scripture. While it’s true that he is the Father, or Originator, of all humanity, God makes the point that the name is more than a description of origin. He is Father because it’s a role he willfully adopts.

Throughout history children are a footnote. They hold no power or influence. Those without parents have no natural defenders. Those without fathers struggle to find the provisions needed for life. Yet God describes Himself as “Father to the fatherless”. Father to the weakest, to the marginal, to the overlooked and under loved. God is Father.

All followers of Christ should attest to the goodness of God our Father. All of us were fatherless before Christ signed the adoption papers with his blood, called us his brothers (Hebrews 2:11), and through the Holy Spirit welcomed us into the family of God.

If the Spirit of God is leading you, then take comfort in knowing you are His children. You see, you have not received a spirit that returns you to slavery, so you have nothing to fear. The Spirit you have received adopts you and welcomes you into God’s own family. That’s why we call out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as we would address a loving daddy.   Romans 8:14-15 (VOICE)

How close is fatherhood and adoption to God’s heart? According to James 1:27Real, true religion from God the Father’s perspective is about caring for the orphans and widows who suffer needlessly and resisting the evil influence of the world.So how does the church reflect this aspect of our God?

fatherless 02

Here’s a list I’ve compiled a short list of children’s homes and family services affiliated with various Churches of Christ both in the US and around the world. And the good news if you want to practice “Real, true religion…” is that they all accept donations! You can read a good overview of Church of Christ children’s homes HERE. (You can find a longer list HERE, but I have not verified the links.)

Children’s Homes in the US

Adoption & Foster Care Agencies Supported by Churches of Christ

International Child Sponsorship and Orphanages

This list isn’t close to exhaustive, but indicative of the variety of ways Churches of Christ seek to serve God by loving the fatherless.

 

Defining ‘The Way of the Lord’

The instruction “Walk in the way of the LORD” sounds like some solid Christian advice. This past Sunday I recommended it to our 2016 high school and college grad’s. However, I suspect that a quick survey of what it means to walk in the way of the LORD would produce a broad array of answers.

Jungle bridge 01

  • The Way of the LORD leads through the cross.
  • The Way of the LORD is narrow.
  • The Way of the LORD refers to the church.
  • The Way of the LORD means obeying His commands.
  • The Way of the LORD requires following the Shepherd.
  • The Way of the LORD is easy and light.
  • The Way of the LORD demands sacrifice.

In various measures these are all correct.

Most Christians are probably unaware that God himself provides a definition of this term.

In Genesis 18:19 Yahweh describes why he chose Abraham: “I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” (NRSV)

How can Abraham (and us) keep “the way of the LORD”?

“By doing righteousness and justice.”

I’ve never heard it defined that way. Okay, so I’ve never been asked to define “the way of the Lord”. It’s not a concept that all Christians know. Consider some of the other guiding principles Christians regularly recite:

  • The Golden RuleDo unto others as you’d like them to do to you.
  • The Greatest Command – Love the Lord your God with your whole being.
  • The Second CommandLove your neighbor as yourself.
  • The Fruit of the SpiritLove, joy peace, patience, kindness….
  • John 3:16God so loved the world…
  • The Beatitudes
  • The Lord’s Prayer

Perhaps you have other personal favorites, but “The Way of the LORD” isn’t on any list that I know.

Most churches I know also use a variety of items to measure the spiritual health of their members:checklist

  • Attendance
  • Giving
  • Volunteering / ministry involvement
  • Bible knowledge
  • Friendship with leaders
  • Prayerfulness
  • Absence of glaring sins and problems

I’ve never heard a church leader (including myself) describe someone as spiritually mature because they embody righteousness and justice.

I know many people have more detailed and accurate definitions of what God means by “righteousness and justice”, but here’s my working definition to start the conversation:

If we want to keep the Way of the Lord we’ll care for the vulnerable around us. We’ll look for the oppressed. We’ll care for those who are bit different from everyone else. We’ll reach out to those who struggle with life. We’ll stand up for those who aren’t treated fairly and aren’t given the opportunities they deserve. Righteousness isn’t limited to our personal innocence or purity. It means doing the right thing, the just thing, for others.

Who are the vulnerable and oppressed in your community? How is your life involved with theirs? Are you living righteousness and justice? Are you walking in the Way of the LORD?