Monday, 18 February 2013
Originally by Karl Johnson at A Radical Journey
How often have you prayed this prayer?
Lord Jesus, please take (insert circumstance here) from me...
Lord Jesus, please fix (insert problem here)...
I know this prayer well; I've said it all too frequently. I'm sure most of you have as well.
When we find ourselves in a situation - often of our own creation - our response is to ask God to fix it, to take it away.
See the thing is, we don't like pain. Shocker, I know, but we don't like experiencing those difficult times; we just want them to go away.
We are not alone in this: the Israelites prayed the same prayer. When they sin by speaking against God, they are not happy with the consequences, and they ask God to take those consequences away.
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. - Numbers 21:4-9
"Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents."
Nobody likes being bit by poisonous snakes.Nobody likes snakes.
The Israelites want the snakes gone.
But God doesn't take the snakes away.
God doesn't remove the problem.
I think this is the key here, and is what really impacted me in this reading of the story: God does not change their circumstances, he doesn't remove the consequences of their actions.
God leaves the snakes where they are.
Yet even though God doesn't remove the problem, he provides a way through it: if anyone is bitten, they can look upon the bronze serpent and live.
You'll still get bitten, but you will live.
I know this is something that is so true in our lives: even though God doesn't always take away the problems or remove the circumstances, He is faithful to provide a way through. Whether it's peace in the midst of the storm, knowing God is with you; people God has placed in your life to provide support and encouragement; or knowledge of the hope we have in Christ, God will provide a way through.
That doesn't mean it will be easy. God's going to give you more than you can handle on your own, so you learn to rely on him. But in his strength, we can overcome.
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. - Psalm 34:17
The biggest obstacle in our lives God is sin. No matter how much we pray God to remove sin from our lives, it will always be present.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. - 1 John 1:8
But, as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent for their salvation from the venom of the serpents, so we look to the cross of Christ for salvation from the sin that stains our souls.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18
There's a line that's stood out to me in the song I posted about here, Whom Shall I Fear [God of Angel Armies] by Chris Tomlin:
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still
Whatever we go through, God is there beside us, providing a way through, even if He doesn't provide a way out.
What troubles have you asked God to take away? How has God provided a way through those troubles? What stood out to you in the reading?
Sunday, 17 February 2013
Originally by Karl Johnson at A Radical Journey
Center - Charlie Hall
You’re the center of the universeYou hold everything together
Everything was made in You Jesus
Breath of every living thing
Everyone was made for You
You hold everything together
Christ be the center of our lives
Be the place we fix our eyes
Be the center of our lives
We lift our eyes to heaven
We wrap our lives around your life
We lift our eyes to heaven, to You
As I'm sitting here thinking of the second chapter of Numbers, this is the song that pops into my head.
In this chapter the LORD is directing Moses on how to organize the Israelites' camp whenever they stop. He has Moses set up the tabernacle in the center of camp, with the Levites directly surrounding it, then lays out the rest of the tribes of Israel surrounding the tent of meeting. While there is definitely some significance there, the part that stood out the most to me came in verse 2:
...They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. - Numbers 2:2
So not only was the camp arranged with the tent of meeting in the center, all of Israel was to orient themselves facing the tabernacle. It was where they were to "fix their eyes," if you will.
The tabernacle was where the presence of God dwelled.
The tabernacle was the center of the camp.
The tabernacle is where they were to orient themselves towards.
This has been a theme I've noticed consistently throughout the last few books as the presence of God has moved to dwell amongst the Israelites: they were to look to God for all direction. They looked to the presence of God to tell them when it was time to move on, and when it was time to camp (Exodus 40:36-38), and now, the LORD is ensuring that His presence is the center of their lives.
It's amazing what a difference it makes in your life when you make Christ the center. One of the things I've been open about from the start is that I have struggled with consistency in centering my life around Christ daily, and I've noticed the effect it has over time: I become more easily depressed, more likely to compromise my beliefs, more likely to talk badly about others, and overall more likely to slip into old sin patterns. And I really do believe it is a daily thing: to daily make the choice to fix your eyes on Christ.
This struggle is a significant motivation behind this blog and the bible:365 project: to daily, consistently, make Christ the center of my life. It's amazing what a difference it makes.
This is a year of trying again: recommitting to spending time with God daily through prayer, worship, and reading through the Bible. I haven't been perfect, but it's been an improvement. And isn't that the best we can hope for? Nothing's going to be perfect. But when this day is better than yesterday, that's progress. Progress is good. And in that progress I've noticed I'm living a life more filled with joy than before, more filled with the Love of Christ, more aware of his presence, and knowing the peace that comes with it. It's not perfect, but it's better than before.
So, my encouragement to you is that making the choice to daily center your life on Christ is worth it; better today than yesterday is progress, and progress is good; there are others on this journey as well, and we can be here to lift each other up.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [fixing our eyes on] Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:1-2
Have you struggled with making Christ the center of your life every day? What can we do to "fix our eyes on Christ?"
Thursday, 07 February 2013
Originally from Karl Johnson at A Radical Journey
I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind...
Sometimes we really just need a reminder that the God of angel armies is on our side.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:31
Such a good song, give it a listen if you haven't heard it. Or if you have.
Be encouraged at the faithfulness of God. I know I am.
Tuesday, 05 February 2013
Originally from Karl Johnson at A Radical Journey
What does it mean to be holy?
This question is central to an accurate reading of the book of Leviticus, as holiness is the key theme of this book. Not only does God tell the people of Israel what places and things are holy, he charges them repeatedly to be holy themselves.
For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. -Leviticus 11:45
The Lord wants his people to emulate him in his holiness, a call which he puts forth relentlessly.
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. - Leviticus 19:2
Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. - Leviticus 20:7
You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. - Leviticus 20:26
This focus on holiness reminds me of a thought I had while reading Exodus. In the passages explicating the consecration of the priesthood, a particular phrase stood out to me.
Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the LORD by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come. - Exodus 30:20-21
"So that they will not die..."
The priesthood's role was to intercede with God for the people, to offer sacrifices, and enter into his presence. The ordination and cleansing rituals were to prepare them to enter God's presence by making them holy, only then could they be in the holiness of the Lord's presence and not perish.
The majestic power of God's presence is enough to obliterate any unholiness.
After God calls out to Moses in the burning bush, what is the first thing the Lord says to Moses?
Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” - Exodus 3:5
They took the holiness of the Lord's presence seriously.
Do we take our sandals off for holy ground? Do we give enough reverence to God?
Sometimes I think it is an attribute of God we don't focus on very often, his holiness.
We talk a lot about God's love and compassion. We may even spend some time on God's wrath. But I wonder if the truth of God's holiness gets passed over.
A.W. Tozer address this problem in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy:
[The message of this book] is called forth by a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse. I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawares only makes the situation all the more tragic (Tozer, vii).
The holiness of God is something you and I cannot fully understand on our own.
We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it (Tozer, 104).
So what does that mean for us being holy?
Holiness in the Old Testament was important for the entire nation of Israel, but for the priesthood, it was paramount. The priesthood was called to a higher standard of holiness. So how does this relate to us?
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ... But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. - 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9
According to Peter, we are now all priests.
Does that mean we are held to the same standard of holiness that the Israelite priests were held to? If we want to "be in God's presence," or to "invite his presence among us," should we cleanse ourselves of all unholiness first?
Thankfully, as a people surrendered to God, we do not have to worry about our own holiness, for our holiness comes from another:
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption - 1 Corinthians 1:30
So, in the face of God's majestic holiness, what can we do?
We must like Moses cover ourselves with faith and humility while we steal a quick look at the God whom no man can see and live. The broken and contrite heart He will not despise. We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of God passed by. We must take refuge from God in God. Above all we must believe that God sees us perfect in His Son while He disciplines us and chastens and purges us that we may be partakers in His holiness (Tozer, 107).
So, let us take some time out of our day to meditate on the One-Beyond-Comprehension, He-Who-Is-Set-Apart, the Lord-Most-Holy, and give thanks that our righteousness is in Christ.
Do you think the holiness of God is overlooked too often? How can the Church regain its awe at the majesty of God? What did you learn from Leviticus?
Monday, 04 February 2013
Originally from Karl Johnson at A Radical Journey
So, it's confession time, and it's as much a confession to myself as it is to you.
I have been having difficulty with sitting down and writing for the blog.
It's not that I haven't been keeping up on my readings this year. Surprisingly enough, I'm on schedule. Which I find remarkable, considering we just finished Leviticus today.
Actually, I have to give a lot of credit for my consistency to my friend Luna who writes over at My Jar of Rocks. She has joined me in a journey through the Bible this year using bible:365, and the company has been greatly valued. She has been my accountability in this journey, checking in regularly, asking where I am in my reading, if I'm on track with my goals. Honestly, I don't think I've ever had accountability like this; any "accountability partner" I've had in the past has always started out with great intentions, but the execution was always lacking. So, as it turns out, real, consistent accountability does work!
But, back to my confession.
At first I thought my writer's block was related to the reading. How can I find something of interest to write about in Leviticus? The subject wasn't sparking any brilliant notions, so I figured there was nothing there to write on.
Then today I was reading through my blogroll, and came across Jon Acuff's post, "Forgetting that you are famous."
In it he talks about the explosive growth of his blog, and how he came to a point of admitting to God that fame was something he desired.
When God speaks, it's often equal parts awesome and painful. Awesome, because the God of the universe has deemed me important enough to pass along a message. Painful, because that message is usually shining light into my darkness.
Turns out, I had lost track of why I started this blog.
The primary purpose of this blog was for me to work through what God is teaching me.
Secondary was the hope those lessons would be of some use to others on the journey, and that conversations might begin that would be sources of strength and support.
Somewhere along the way I got those two priorities switched. I didn't want to write a post because I thought it wouldn't be interesting or engaging enough for other people.
I had thoughts throughout the readings: ideas, questions. But they seemed too jumbled, too disjointed, to make into great posts. So I just moved on.
So there's my confession: I allowed the publicness of the blog to influence my writing decisions.
I wanted to look brilliant and insightful.
Who am I kidding, I still want to look brilliant and insightful.
I suppose this means I struggle with the sin of pride.
Or is it wrong to want to look good? At what point does wanting your work to be excellent turn from producing quality work, to pride?
Maybe it's when your focus moves from the work, to what other people will think of it.
So, we come back to humility. What does it mean to be humble? How does humility overcome pride?
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. - Matthew 23:12
This is a tough one, because it's a hard one to pin down; sins of the heart are much more difficult to identify and overcome than actions. Thank God for the grace found in Jesus Christ.
At what point does taking pride in your work become a sin? How do we let humility win in our lives? Have you ever lost track of why you started?