In Between

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In Between

John 3:22–36 (NRSV)

Jesus and John the Baptist

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized 24 —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The One Who Comes from Heaven

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

Some of us have difficulty navigating the times in between great moments of our lives. Today, we have an entire age group named for this particular stage of life called “Tweens”. These are young people who are no longer children, but who are not quite teenagers yet. It is a crazy age where hormones are beginning to fire up at random intervals and growth spurts are occurring, yet the maturity and responsibility we ask of many teenagers may not have come yet. In many ways, it is just some of the most awkward moments of a young person’s life. They know where they are heading – some of it good, some of it maybe not so good – and all they can do is wait.

But wait, is that true? The only thing we are able to do in-between these moments in life is wait? I’m not so sure.

Look at John the Baptist. He had a brief time in between the climax of his ministry: Baptizing Jesus, up to his death in prison for preaching God’s Word. People were coming to him and asking how he felt about all those who had been following him who were now going to Jesus, getting baptized by his disciples, and following Jesus instead of John. John may not have understood everything that was going to happen. Like you and I, he was not God and did not know everything. Yet he knew his own particular role, so he felt he knew enough. John explained that he was like the best man at a wedding, who was there simply to celebrate the wedding of his dear friend, the groom.

So, one thing John could do in between was celebrate.

The other thing he mentioned was a knowledge that Jesus must increase and John must decrease. John was exercising his humility in between his own highlighted moments. In fact, I think this exercise in humility probably helped prepare him for his witness in prison. We do not often talk about humility as a preparation for great things, but I believe it is one of the best preparations. No matter what you are going through and going to, learning and practicing humility will make you more prepared when you get there.

What do you find yourself “in between” today?

How can you practice humility, and how might that help prepare you for your next transition?

Working for rest

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Working for rest

Hebrews 4:1–10

4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore,

‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ”

though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. 4 For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. 9 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Heb 4:1–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

What if each of our lives were works of art painted across the canvas of time? At the end of time, all the artwork would be revealed as God’s great art show. Jesus, the master painter would be there to celebrate the work of all His students. What a glorious and beautiful thing that could be!

We, created in God’s image are creators as well. We take the material God gives us and make new things, shaping our lives to suit our desires. Being God’s craftsmen and women, we all have a desire to look upon our creations and see that they are good. Upon completion, we, like God, would love to look back and say that it is all very good. The time of Sabbath rest following that judgment is not just because we often get tired trudging through the work of life. The rest is a time to celebrate the work we have accomplished with God.

If we choose not to work, or to work poorly however, we will have nothing to celebrate. Indeed, it may bring shame upon us to look back upon our lives. What can I do if my life is not a thing of beauty and goodness? I can ask for help.

Jesus, the master painter is always there to lead and guide us, helping us to grow as an artist of life. He freely gives knowledge and wisdom to those who seek Him. He leads and disciplines us in the practices of life. Although we can learn these things from others as well, it is Jesus alone who can also wipe our canvas clean, taking our mistakes upon Himself, where He can transform them into something beautiful. In Jesus, God has come to us and created a painting of painters, a photograph of photographers, a symphony of composers, and a book of authors – all telling His own story. Is that not what the Bible is itself? A book of authors, all telling part of God’s story?

What is your part in God’s work of art?

God’s War on Terror

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God’s War on Terror

Deuteronomy 7:17–26

17 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” 18 do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, 19 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20 Moreover, the LORD your God will send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed. 21 Have no dread of them, for the LORD your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God. 22 The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you. 23 But the LORD your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great panic, until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand their kings over to you and you shall blot out their name from under heaven; no one will be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them. 25 The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, because you could be ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the LORD your God. 26 Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Dt 7:17–26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The Old Testament can be tricky for us to interpret and apply as Christians. It is hard to know which laws were canceled (or fulfilled) for us by Christ’s sacrificial death. It is often difficult to decipher which prophecies Jesus already fulfilled and which ones have yet to come. Here is a really quick over-generalized perspective on how to interpret these books:

  1. Genesis-Deuteronomy: The Torah, the Law of Israel was written like a combination of national history and constitution given to them by God. If you are not part of that people, and perhaps part of that land in the Middle East, these laws will not automatically apply to you. However, there is much to be learned about the nature of God and people in general, and you will not find a better example of what God’s desires for a holy nation are than within these stories and commandments.
  2. Joshua—Esther: These books are largely historical material about the rise and fall of Israel as a nation. Again, quite instructive about God’s character and the good and bad lessons we can learn from reading about another nation’s experience trying to be faithful to God, but not everything can be taken as directly applicable to ourselves.
  3. Job-Song of Solomon: It’s been debated whether Job is a historical book or not, but either way, it serves as an excellent example of how God’s people deal with suffering. Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes also deal with suffering, and many other parts of the human condition, but in the form of prayer or short teachings. Song of Solomon is a strange book compared to other biblical examples. It is a love poem that some have used as an example of God’s love for His people. For me personally, it may be the hardest book in the Bible to preach and teach well.
  4. The rest of the Old Testament, Isaiah-Malachi, are the prophets. These are collections of teachings by God’s messengers to the people of Israel, and occasionally their gentile neighbors, during the history of their nation and following their fall as they were taken into captivity. Their message could probably all be summarized as “Put your hope in God, not in yourselves and your own strength.” That is a message we can apply directly. The rest needs to be worked through contextually.

For more detailed info, check out some of these books

So, if you take all this into consideration when reading the passage above from Deuteronomy, I think we can understand this as a warning to God’s people (Israel), not to be led by fear, rather than a warning to everyone else, not to mess with Israel. It also says specifically that God would do the clearing ahead “little by little”, not that the people were to rush in and conquer everything overnight. Indeed, they would not be destroyed with weapons of war, but by their own fear and panic.

Moreover, this passage begins with a call to remember Egypt and the work God did there. The Hebrew people did not fight a war with Egypt, God did. Not only were the people kept out of it, but God gave the Egyptian leader(s) 10 chances to simply let their Hebrew slaves go to avoid any causalities. Each opportunity was met with miraculous signs. In the end, it was Pharaoh’s own stubbornness in fighting against God that led to his downfall and the release of the Hebrew people.

Does that mean we should never fight or defend ourselves? Probably not. But you won’t find justification for violence here unless it is in regard to cleaning out the idolatry from our own lives. That is one of the few things God appears to have little patience for in the Old Testament.

What enemies cause you fear?

What things in life to you fear to give up?

God and Slavery

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God and Slavery

Titus 2

2 But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2 Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.

3 Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.

9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

15 Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Tt 2:1–15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Proof-texting may well be the death of us all. Some people have looked at passages like this one, noticed the word “slaves”, observed the way Paul does not denounce it as the most vile thing imaginable, and then proceeded to throw out the entire bible as being irrelevant at best and sometimes calling it the root of all social evils in the world. Jesus, once pointed out that it is important to judge yourself first before judging others, something which applies to cultures of the past as well as those of the present. So, if slavery is a hot button issue for you (and it probably should be), here is some of the present data on how well your own culture is doing at eliminating it.

Now that we have taken a sobering look at the problem and realize that there are more slaves in our world today than there were back in the Roman Empire to which Paul was writing, lets look again at what Paul is asking Christians in general, and Titus in particular, to do.

  1. Teach consistent, sound doctrine. Don’t make it up as you go. Contexts may change, but the values and the mission of God does not.
  2. Older men should be temperate (balanced), serious, prudent, and solid in Faith, Love, and Endurance. (It was probably possible to technically be a slave owner in first century Rome and do all these things, but from our perspective, it would probably look more like someone who worked in exchange for housing. By that standard, there are some church pastors, living in parsonages, who would technically be slaves in America today. You could not be abusive to anyone and even be considerate “temperate”, let alone sound in faith, love, and endurance. If your goal is only to abolish slavery, you are setting the bar too low. It is a good start, but it is nowhere near enough.
  3. Older women are taught to be reverent. This means your actions and words should teach others around you how to act… because, whether you want them to or not, they do just that. We can complain about the younger generations but many were raised by parents, and a growing number have been raised by grandparents that taught them everything they know, either intentionally or unintentionally. Do our words and actions shine so clearly that our enemies are frustrated trying to say anything bad about us?
  4. Slaves. What do you tell someone who is a slave to do? Stop being a slave? Stand up for yourself? What if their slavery is paying for the survival of their families? What do we say to the people who have escaped abusive slavery, only to go back and buy slaves of their own to profit from? Paul here says slaves have the unique role of being an “ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior”. I think this points to the fact that Jesus became our slave, took our abuse, and did not retaliate. If you suffer in such a situation, you have the possibility of truly exemplifying Christ in a way that those of us who are free from such suffering are unable to do. Honestly, I’m not sure I could do that myself. I have too much of the impious, rebellious spirit of worldly passions raging inside of me. I may not be enslaved to any one person or institution, but I’m not immune to worldly temptations, addictions, or any other spiritual slave master out there. Too many times I have thought or said, “I don’t have any other choice.”, thus revealing the true master I serve.

What would it look like to be a slave of God, I wonder?
I imagine, as the story of the Prodigal illumines, God treats His slaves better than we treat our own children sometimes.
I wonder if I could do it? I wonder how my perspective on everything would change if I understood and believed that I belonged to God and no one else?

For those who slavery is an unredeemable word, maybe it is time we quit talking about it, stop waiting for our governments to do the work we are unwilling to do, and be like Jesus, paying the debts of those millions of slaves and freeing them from that bondage and abuse, because one way or another, that is what it is going to take… putting our own money, service, and lives where our mouths are.

Airing out

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Airing out

Psalm 32

The Joy of Forgiveness

Of David. A Maskil.

1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

6 Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ps 32). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

One of my favorite stories I heard about my dad was the time he bought vinyl shoes. Apparently they were very comfortable, and he was so excited about them. By the end of the day though, his feet felt like they were on fire because the shoes did not allow his feet to breathe.

That is how our souls can get if we cover ourselves up with too much shiny, plastic faith. It looks good on the outside, but inside, we are burning up and suffocating. This is also how David described his life when he was covering up his sin.

Dad went home, got a pocket knife, and began to cut holes in those shoes. It didn’t look so good anymore, and they did not last long – but at least his feet could breathe again. David also found relief in acknowledging his sin to God. In those days, acknowledging sin meant more than just going off into a dark, quiet room, and whispering to God that you were sorry. It meant repenting of that sin and seeking to restore or heal whatever damage had been done. Then, you had to bring a sacrifice to the Temple in public. While everyone may not know what sin you specifically committed, they would know you had done something wrong. Like going up to the altar for prayer during a church service – everyone saw you.

Confession brought David relief. Instead of worrying about what people were saying about him, he celebrated God’s love and vowed to share this love and way of life with others.

What do you need to air out today?

Is it time to cut some breathing holes or is it time to get some new shoes?