Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Balaam and the Abrahamic Covenant

I've been reading a lot lately through the book of Numbers. When you come to Numbers 22 you find a story that sounds more like Shrek 5 than you do something in the Bible. A talking donkey? For real? What's even more bizarre is that Balaam, a well known prophet, just starts talking right back to the donkey. I mean is Balaam from some fairy tale reality where this type of deal is considered normal? Who strikes up a conversation and responds to a talking donkey?

But if you focus on the talking donkey then I think you miss the point of the whole story. Let me set the context for you...

Israel is on their way to the Promised Land. God's chosen people have been wandering in the wilderness for years now because of their disobedience but now they are beginning to position themselves to enter the land that was originally promised to their forefather Abraham. Now the people of Moab are getting freaked out. The drive to the Promised Land is starting to pick up some steam as Israel is conquering nation after nation on their way. So naturally the people of Moab are greatly concerned.

Enter King Balak of Moab. Knowing that he is probably doomed like the rest of Canaan, Balak makes a last ditch effort to win this coming battle. He summons for Balaam, a well known prophet who is supposedly effective at cursing large groups of people.

Two things to note...
1. Don't miss the importance of v. 2. "They were many" - this side comment has eternal relevance for us as believers. This is God fulfilling his covenant with Abraham. Remember way back in Genesis 12? "I'll make you a great nation." God goes on to say that He will multiply the offspring of Abraham so that his descendants will be like the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. GOD IS DOING WHAT HE PROMISED! "They were many!"

2. Balak sent his men to recruit Balaam for this cursing ceremony. But when the men reach Balaam he tells them he will have to consult with Yahweh. God tells him in v. 12 "You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed." GOD IS DOING WHAT HE PROMISED AGAIN! Remember he told Abraham, "I'm going to bless you." This is God being faithful to the covenant once again.

3. But why is that important? Why should I care if God is keeping promises to Abraham? Because God promised our salvation when He made that promise to Abraham! Remember, God said, "in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." Galatians 3:8-9 tells us how this part of the promise is fulfilled. God planned to save Gentiles (which is most of us) through what He promised to Abraham. Ultimately, Jesus Messiah was promised through Abraham as the ultimate blessing!

So as you read the Old Testament find encouragement in reading it in context of this important covenant. Yes there was a talking donkey...but don't miss the main point of the passage - God's faithfulness! Every time you see God's faithfulness to this covenant, let it reassure you that God is going to be faithful to save you, just like He promised.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Worldly Grief = Death

Have you ever shared the gospel with someone, felt like the person was getting it, and then a few weeks later they seem to have no interest in following Christ? It can be hard to share the gospel faithfully when we continue to see people respond positively, but only for a short period of time. I personally long to see more and more people come to Christ because of my ministry. And I long to see those people follow Christ for the long haul, not just for a few days.

While it can be discouraging to see people reject the gospel, it should not surprise us. Jesus himself had many who heard him teach, yet walked away unchanged and unresponsive to following him. The apostle Paul testified of men he had poured his life into, who abandoned him later in life to return to the things of this world. Many faithful Christians have shared the gospel, only to see people ultimately reject a new life with Christ.

The Bible tells us that this kind of conviction and response is not genuine. II Cor. 7:10 says that some experience sorrow or grief about their sin, but it isn't motivated out of a genuine desire to turn from it so that they can please God. Instead, many people will initially respond to the gospel for fear of hell and punishment. Not that hell and punishment are bad motivations for salvation. But for many, the thought of hell is quickly gone, and after a few days, they become unconcerned once again with the punishment and wrath that awaits them. They initially say "yes" to Jesus out of fear, but once the fear goes away, it is back to loving the things of this world, which will one day lead to death.

Pharaoh, unfortunately, serves as a good example of this type of sorrow. In Exodus 9, God is continuing to pour out plagues on Egypt because of Pharaoh's rebellion and stubbornness. As the hail storm rains down wrath upon Egypt, Pharaoh begins to cry out and acknowledge his sin. He says, "This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I am my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God's thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer."

This would seem to be the response that Moses and God had been waiting on all along. But this repentance isn't real. This type of repentance only comes because there is regret due to the punishment. Once the punishment is removed, the sin and rebellion comes right back. Moses even says, "I know that you do not yet fear the LORD God."

Don't be discouraged as you share the gospel and see people ultimately reject it. You can expect this to happen, as we see it happen throughout Scripture, but in the Old and New Testaments. But you can also expect the opposite. Lest we forget, the book of Revelation proclaims a scene where people from the entire earth, a number that no one can count, standing before the throne of God in worship. People will be saved. And we can expect it. As we spread the seed of the gospel, remember much of it will fall on good soil that will spring up and last. As Paul says in I Thessalonians 1:1-5, when the gospel comes in the power of the Holy Spirit, true conviction will happen and we will be able to rejoice over real salvations.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Have You Ever Worshipped a Golden Calf?

Exodus 32 reveals a startling picture of how "off" many can be in their worship of God. The children of Israel have just been rescued from 400 years of slavery and bondage to the Egyptian people. And this was no ordinary rescue. This rescue operation had been supernaturally engineered by the Creator of the universe. Yahweh Himself had gotten personally involved in the lives of this people, freeing them from a ruthless Pharaoh through a series of miraculous plagues, splitting open the Red Sea so they could pass right through and then graciously providing both food and water in the middle of the wilderness where there was none to be found. And now this nation of Israel has been led to the foot of a mountain, a scene that the Bible describes as terrifying with smoke, fire, lightening and rumblings all providing the backdrop for where Israel will be given the holy standard of God's Law.

As the days pass the people begin to grow restless. Rather than taking the time to know God through His revealed Word, they craft their own version of Yahweh and decide for themselves how he will be worshipped and known. The account of this is astonishing. Notice that in Exodus 32, this golden calf that is molded from gold is not called Baal or any other foreign god name. This calf is called Yahweh. Aaron leads the people in giving credit to this "created god" for their rescue from Egypt. In addition, a worship feast is played for none other than Yahweh, whom they will choose to worship the way they want to worship him, with pagan dancing and activities that they have learned from the world. They aren't claiming to worship a false god, they think they are worshipping the one true God. These people, in their own ignorance, believe they are worshipping the God who is on the mountain, but their worship and knowledge is based on THEIR ideas, emotions and reasoning, not on God's Word.

Have you ever been guilty of the same thing? Have you ever allowed your understanding of God to be shaped by your own reasoning, your own thoughts, your own ideas and your own emotions? Have you ever heard people disregard truths about God by saying "I just can't believe in a God who would do things that way"? Are you guilty of believing things about God that others have told you but that aren't rooted in His Word? Have you been worshipping a calf in your mind, rather than worshipping Yahweh? Have you chosen to "know" God through your own reasoning, rather than taking the time to search the depths of who He is in His Word? Are you sure what you think about God is the same thing that God says about Himself?

I know for myself, especially over the past 5 years or so, that I have had to wrestle with hard truths about who God is and how He runs His universe. It's hard to believe, at times, in a God who judges people with hell, in a God who allows evil and suffering to wreck lives, in a God who does things differently then I would choose to. One thing I've learned though over the years though, I'm thankful that I worship a God who isn't the type of god I would create. I'm thankful that as I search the Scripture to know God more, He ends up being everything that my sinful, selfish, arrogant, prideful self doesn't want him to be. He is a God who loves holiness, who won't let me stay in my sin, who forgives others as much as He forgives me, who is concerned about His own glory more than He is mine, who is concerned with dealing with Satan, sin, pain and suffering in His own timing. I'm thankful for a God who is infinitely better than anything I could ever craft out of gold in my mind. He is everything that I would do differently. And I'm eternally grateful for that.

Let us not be guilty of worshipping a god who doesn't exist. Let us instead shape our minds, deepen our knowledge and worship in truth as we understand the God who has rescued us supernaturally from sin. Know God through His Word. Be challenged when the God you find is something you didn't expect. Be encouraged when you find God doing things you wouldn't do. A God who is hard to understand at times makes more sense than a god we create.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pray Expectantly

I was sitting at Stevie B's Pizza yesterday with Lauren, Jen, Maggie, Jack and my mom. Maggie (3 years old) expressed a desire to pray for us before the meal so Jen suggested some things to mention in her prayer. She was careful to tell Maggie to thank God for the time we were getting to spend with family today and asked her to pray that God would give Adam and Lauren and mommy and daddy wisdom as they make decisions for buying a house.

Maggie's prayer "thank you God for giving us wisdom for buying a house." I love that. Obviously Maggie doesn't understand but I loved the thought of her praying/thanking God for something that He has already promised to give us. (James 1:5). Let us all pray more expectantly in our prayers, especially when we are praying for something that God has told us to pray for and promised to give us when we ask.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Worship Check-Up

A couple of months ago I had the awesome opportunity to study the topic of worship in depth to be prepared to teach a series in MainEvent. In my studying I continually ran across a common theme that seemed to shout..."Everyone worships something!" All people - believers, pagans, thieves, soldiers, children, scientists, etc. - everyone worships. However, this did not mean that humans were created by God with a "capacity" or "ability" to worship. It wasn't that God created the human and then downloaded the "worship software" to be run whenever we wanted to use it, nor was it that He gave us a circuit that we can turn on and off like a light switch on a wall when we are ready to offer worship. No. Instead humans are continuous worshippers always reflecting what we value most. Harold Best refers to us as "continuous outpourers" meaning that everyone was created by God, every single person, as a worshipper who is "continually outpouring" worship to something or someone. Remember worship or "worth-ship" happens when we attribute worth and value to someone of something and allow that value to have an impact on our joy. Whether this is the God of the universe in the face of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, or the latest technological gadget or human relationship that misdirects our loving affections, we all worship.

So... why bring all this up again? Well, I believe that as we daily feast on the Bible, remind ourselves of the Gospel, and preach to ourselves Christ crucified and resurrected, we should also develop the habit of asking the Lord to reveal to us where we might be going in our giving of our affections... our "worship direction" I might say. This is consistent with the Psalmist cry for the Lord to reveal his "hidden sins" (Psalm 19:12). We want the Lord to show us where we might be going wrong before we go wrong. It is like us getting a medical check-up to see if everything is still going in a right way before we see symptoms of sickness; it is like preventative lawn care instead of waiting until your overrun with weeds. We can ask the Lord to help us take a healthy look at ourselves just long enough to see what we have been giving most of our time and affections to as well. We are continually overflowing worship like a fire-hydrant. We need the Lord's help to make sure we are overflowing in the right direction. Let's ask the Lord to help us direct the wellsprings of our souls towards Him, the Fountain of Living Water.

I was looking into a Christian music artist this morning that I have never heard of before and ran across one of his blogs which offered a humbling perspective about true success for music ministers. However, I believe his blog post can serve us all this morning . Whether you are someone who believes God has gifted you to serve His local church with musical gifting, if you are someone who just loves Christian music, or if you are someone who desires sometimes to serve in other ways that are more "visible" in the church, I believe you will benefit from reading it. This post was a good tool for me to use to check my "worship direction" for today. Here are just a few questions I asked myself:

1. When I love, am I giving myself to God or am I outpouring myself to ministry? (Am I a Mary or a Martha? Luke 10:39-42)
2. When I sing, am I in love with the God that the lyrics point to in music, or am I wrapped up the actual music? (Do I think Jesus is awesome or do I think drum fill and electric solo is awesome?)
3. When I serve, do I desire to be used by God in whatever capacity He wants, or do I desire to be used in a place that makes me visible before lots of people?

I was humbled as someone who is involved with music on a more regular basis than some, but I hope that as you read it you can use it to ask yourself healthy questions about your own perspectives about Christian music. However, whether you read it or not, let me encourage us all to have a worship check-up this morning after we have eaten from the Word and drank from the Gospel. Let's ask God to help direct our worship to where it belongs.

This guys blog (while you're there check out his music):

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Salvation? I Do!

I heard Francis Chan say something today that really clicked with me. He equated God's offer of salvation to that of a man proposing to a woman. I began to think of the cost of following Christ. Sometimes people think that salvation or the Gospel offers eternal life freely with no responsibility. It's as though we can accept Christ and enjoy salvation but continue living as we want. We mistake salvation as being free in the sense that we never have to do anything. In a sense we can enjoy the benefits of Yahweh, the God of Israel, while also serving/living for all the other gods we enjoy.

But salvation really is like a proposal. I remember sitting down with Lauren before we made the decision to marry. In fact this conversation happened before we even started dating. I laid everything out on the table for her. Told her my plans and dreams and where I saw my family going in the future. I then asked her if she would consider being a part of that life. Would she be willing to forsake all other men and all other future plans that those men might would have for her and instead commit her life to me as my wife and follow me, submit to me, love me, remain faithful to me for as long as she lives. Thankfully she considered my offer worthy of giving her life to. She weighed the costs and determined that loving me and following me was the life she wanted.

This is God's proposal to us. We are to surrender to him in faith and repentance and enjoy salvation from our sin. But in that proposal is the offer to come and forsake all other gods, to follow him, submit to him, love him, remain faithful to him for as long as we live.

It's not that salvation isn't free. It's as free as the offer to Lauren was. She didn't pay me anything to marry her. I've never asked her for anything. But part of being my wife means that she devotes herself to me. And I commit to doing everything I can for her good. The offer from God is the same. He doesn't ask us to pay anything or earn the right to join ourselves to him. But he does expect our devotion, while he promises to work for our good.