Friday, January 25, 2019

Light in a dark world

I honestly don't know where to start...this world is an upside down, mixed up place. It is dark and broken and confused.

And I don't know why we're all so surprised.

"Now the earth was formless and empty,
darkness was over the surface of the deep"
Genesis 1:2a

A world without God is nothing but darkness. We are living in a world full of empty people, desperate to fill the void in their heart with something--anything--that will make them feel better, feel complete, feel like something, feel like they matter. They search in an empty world, so it's no wonder all they find in emptiness. You can't fill a void with emptiness. You can't ease the aching of your heart with the promises of an empty, broken world.

So people do selfish things, trying desperately to make themselves feel something other than the brokenness. They reach for the next thing and the next thing and the next promise, thinking that just maybe, somehow, that elusive something they are searching for is out there. Maybe if they can just push every obstacle out of the way...get rid of all the inconveniences...control everything...then just maybe they will find fulfillment. Happiness. Worthiness. Love.

And we wonder why they make decisions that hurt other people. Innocent people. We are shocked and outraged that someone could be so selfish, so uncaring, so heartless.

And that's just it--heartless.

Because you can't have a heart for people unless you draw close to the heart of the One who makes people. You can't love unless you know Love.

"He entered our world, a world He made;
yet the world did not recognize Him.
Even though He came to His own people,
they refused to listen and receive Him."
John 1:10-11

We are in a broken world, but there will never be enough laws or rules or regulations to heal it. There will never be an answer that this broken world can give to the people who are struggling to find something to make them feel better.

The world is a dark place.

Our world is getting what it deserves. Mankind as a whole has told God that we don't need Him. We've told Him in no uncertain terms to back off, to stop meddling in our business.We've stood up like petulant children and stared straight into the face of the One who spoke us into existence and told Him that He doesn't get to say what we can and can't do.

We've told Him that life doesn't matter, that His creations are so worthless that we can throw them away before they even draw a breath.

And why not? People can't find a way to fill the emptiness in the very core of their being--why would we expect them to find worth in something weak and helpless?

We don't belong to this world, though. We are children of the Light, the One who can fill the emptiness. The One who can speak into the void and fill it.

 "For you are all children of light.
You are sons and daughters of the day.
We are not created of night,
nor are we owned by darkness."
1 Thessalonians 5:5

His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light--
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched."
John 1:4-5

In the darkness, He is still here. He is watching His children, His heart breaking.

And I'm afraid that He's letting us have what we've asked for, what we've demanded. I'm afraid He's saying, "Fine--I've been protecting you from yourselves, but I'll give you what you want. You don't want Me to interfere, to tell you how to live your life."

And, with tears for His lost children, He's watching us destroy what He's created.

But He's still here. He's still waiting for us to turn to Him, to fall before Him and admit, "Father, I've messed up. I can't do this on my own. Life is hard, and I'm not as good at handling it as I thought I was. I'm tired of the emptiness, of the searching. I give up. I give You all of it."

And in that moment, in the middle of all the brokenness and emptiness and heartbreak, He pulls us close. He lets His love overflow and cover us, filling that empty place.

"Listen! The Lord, the Eternal, the Holy One of Israel says,
'In returning and rest, you will be saved.
In quietness and trust, you will find strength."
Isaiah 30:15 


Monday, January 21, 2019

Are you perfect?

"You're enough! You don't have to be perfect."

The words are all over the place today. You hear them in podcasts, from the pulpit, and in everyday conversation from well-meaning friends. They are feel-good words, the type that make us feel better about ourselves. People tell us to stop the "negative self-talk" and focus on all the good. And while there's some truth in that, those words irk me.

Because, you see, if I'm enough, then what was the point of the cross? If I, in all my humanity, am enough, then I don't need a Savior.

And if we don't have to be perfect, then what do we do with Jesus's words in the Sermon on the Mount:

"But you are called to something higher:
Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."
Matthew 5:48 (Voice)

His words, calling us to be perfect. They aren't easy words to swallow because they mean that we can't just keep doing what we've always done. We can't keep living in the sins that make us so comfortable. When we are God's children, we are called to emulate Him--and that means perfection. These words come after Jesus was talking about fulfilling the Law. He was telling people that just following the letter of the law wasn't enough--He extended the commandments to encompass even more:

~"Don't murder" became "don't even be angry with your brother"
~"Don't commit adultery" became "pluck out your eye if you even look at someone with lust in your heart"
~"Divorce fairly" became "if you get a divorce and remarry, that's adultery"
~"Keep your promises" became "don't ever swear an oath, because you don't have anything to swear by"
~"An eye for an eye" became "turn the other cheek"
~"Love your neighbor" became "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"

You aren't enough. That's the truth that's sometimes hard to swallow. Or at least, I know it's hard for me to swallow. I pride myself on being enough. I want to be able to do everything on my own, and I want to do it to the highest possible quality (unless we're talking about housework, but that's a different story...). I want my life to be enough. To be more than enough, actually. I want to make a difference.

But the truth? The truth is that I can never be enough because I can never be perfect. But the rest of the truth is that God knew I couldn't ever be enough, so He made a way for me. He sent His Son, the only perfect one, to live up to what I never could, and then die in my place.

I'm not enough.
But He always is. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Blood Covenant

I've been blessed with some amazing teachers in my life, from kindergarten through to grad school and everywhere in between. My favorite teacher, coincidentally, has been there since the day I was born--Pop. Though I never sat in his school classroom, he's been teaching be since the very beginning. Sometimes the lessons were easy and sometimes they were hard. Whatever the case, though, I can say that Pop has taught me well through the last 34 years (although whether or not I've learned well is sometimes debatable). Today, I want to share the lesson he taught Sunday morning.

On a side note, if you're around Green Forest on a Sunday morning at about 10:15, come visit our little church. We meet in the little white building across from the sale barn, right next to the car wash. And yes, those are sufficient directions to find us even if you've never been to Green Forest. It's not a big place, but you'll get to learn from one of the best teachers around. We're a pretty casual bunch, and we'll welcome you with a hot cup of coffee, breakfast, and a lot of conversation.

Okay, so back to the lesson :)

Sunday morning, Pop took us to the book of Leviticus to talk about Jesus. I know, I know--that sounds a bit strange. I told you that he's a great teacher, not a conventional one. If you aren't familiar with it, Leviticus definitely isn't one of those books I would suggest starting with if you're looking to get into Bible reading. To be honest, it's a great one to read if you're having trouble getting to sleep at night.

In the first few chapters of Leviticus, God is teaching Moses all about the sacrifices Israel is to make. Let me backtrack a bit first, though. God had made a covenant with Israel. He promised to make them His people, a great nation among all the peoples of the world. They had to hold up their end of the bargain, though. That meant they had to follow the law He gave Moses, down to the last letter. This was sealed with a blood covenant, where Moses poured half the blood from the sacrifice on the altar and sprinkled the other half out onto the people of Israel.

Wait a minute--sprinkled them with blood? That sounds incredibly morbid, right? Well, during that time a blood covenant was common. I'm definitely not an expert, but here's a very quick rundown of my understanding: If two people wanted to seal a really important deal, they would do it with a blood covenant. Part of the ritual was to sacrifice an animal and then use the blood as a symbol. If someone broke the covenant, the other person was justified in demanding the payment of blood. That means if you broke the promise, the person you made the covenant had the right to kill you.

So here's Israel, making a blood covenant with God, telling Him that they would follow His law down to the smallest detail in exchange for His protection. If they broke their promise, He would be justified in demanding their lives.

Pretty weighty stuff, right?

Part of the covenant they instated was the rite of sacrifice. Pop pointed out 4 types of sacrifices: burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, and sin sacrifices.

The first three could be seen as "optional" sacrifices. They are sacrifices of communing with God. The burnt offering is for being in God's presence;
the grain offering is the sacrifice of your labors;
and the peace offering is simply doing something to make God happy, something not required.

The last is the sin sacrifice, and it's the only one that's required. You see, sin demands death. Through the sin offering, God gave Israel a way to pay the price for their sins. He put it in the contract, because He knew His people--He knew they would mess up, and He gave them a way to pay for that right in the contract. Sin demands a spotless sacrifice.

The problem is, God's people broke the covenant. It didn't take long for the promises to follow God and to do whatever He said to turn into griping and complaining about things God wasn't doing for them. In the midst of the wilderness, the Israelites quickly lost sight of everything God had done to pull them out of slavery in Egypt. They forgot how His power had been shown through the plagues. They forgot how the Egyptians had basically paid them to go away, desperate to get on God's good side by freeing His people. Things started to get rough, to not go according to their plans, and they blamed it on God.

Sound familiar? As much as I hate to admit it, it's pretty familiar to me.

So here we are, broken people who broke a blood covenant with God. According to the terms of the contract, He's fully justified in demanding blood to cover the broken covenant.

But God? He knew we would mess up. He knew we would break the covenant. He knew we would owe Him our very lives to cover the debt of blood. Instead of demanding payment from us, though, He took care of it Himself. Remember, sin demands a spotless sacrifice. That means that no matter how much I want to, I can't offer my own life to redeem my kids from the price of blood demanded by the blood covenant. I'm not perfect (big surprise there...). There's nothing I can do to redeem anyone, not even myself.

So God? He provided the contract, gave us a bunch of ways to hold up our end of the bargain, and then provided a sacrifice to cover the demand of our blood for when we failed. He sent the only perfect man, Jesus, to serve as the spotless sacrifice for all mankind.

All we have to do in return is accept that Jesus paid the blood price for us.

Sacrifice wasn't an impersonal thing. The people of Israel were commanded to place their hands on the animal they were sacrificing, to be there with it as they killed it to cover the blood price. Have you ever killed something you were going to eat? It's a totally different thing to buy meat at the grocery store, already cut up and neatly packaged, than it is to harvest a deer after a hunt. You truly see the cost of the sacrifice when you see that one life has been given for another.

The sacrifice of Jesus wasn't an impersonal thing, either. Even though I wasn't there that day, God saw me there. He saw me driving the nails into the hands of His Son, sacrificing Him so that my own debt would be paid.

He saw me,
and He loved me,
and He forgave me.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

One Word 2019--Believe

"You just have to believe."

Just. It's a tiny word with big implications. Just believe. It sounds so simply--just believe, and everything will fall into place. Just believe, and it will all work out.

Sometimes, though, "just" is a really big hurdle to get over. It becomes a mountain looming over me, in between me and... well, whatever lies ahead. Because it seems like that "just" is blocking my view of the road God has laid out for my future.

Don't take this the wrong way. I believe. I believe in God, and I believe the promises that tell me that God planned my place in this world and in His story long before I ever drew my first breath. Sometimes, though, my prayer has to become the desperate prayer of the father in Mark 9:24.

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

It's a short prayer, but I've found that sometimes those are the most meaningful. For me, it means something along the lines of the following:

Lord, I know all Your promises to me. I know You are faithful, and I know that Your promises can't ever fall through. I know You have a plan for my life, and I know that Your timing is perfect (even when it doesn't look anything like I think it should). I know that You are always at work in my life, even in the midst of what I see as chaos. I know You can take all my mess ups and failures and mistakes and use them to orchestrate my life, to turn it into something I could never imagine. I can look back and see how You've pulled everything together for us, how You've worked things out for us by weaving circumstances together in ways that seemed totally random and unworkable at times. I know Your plan for my life is best, and I know that You are still at work.

I believe in You, and I believe that Your words are true. And yet, sometimes my unbelief gets in the way. Sometimes, my doubts and fears creep in and make it hard for me to see all the wonderful things You've done, and that makes me question what You will do. I believe You have plans for my life, but sometimes I start to wonder if I've messed them up. I believe that Your plans are so much more perfect for me than my plans could ever be, but sometimes I wonder if I've gotten in the way and pushed my own plans so much that I've pushed Yours out of the way.

Lord, I believe--but help me to see when my unbelief is clouding the picture. Help me to realize when my doubts and fears are putting hurdles in the way. Help me to get past my focus on my own story so that I can play my role in Your story. Help me get over myself so that I can truly focus on You.

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. 

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