Monthly Archives: August 2016

Learning to Love the Old Testament II

Okay, let’s do the second installment of Learning to Love the Old Testament.  This week we’ll be looking at the Garden of Eden.  I’ve realized as I’ve been writing down my ideas that there are SO MANY great things I could pull out of this section.  But this is my blog, so I get to choose what I think is totally awesome!  I hope you will think so as well.

Whew!!  Writing this is taking way more time than I anticipated, so I’ll do it in parts.

READ Genesis 2.  Here is what I’d like to focus on:

God’s deep desire is to give us life and abundant blessings. In this chaotic world of heartbreak, looking at the Garden of Eden does my heart so much good. It shows me that God really does want to give us every good thing. “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (v.9)

fruit

Imagine having all these fruits in one place!

The Garden shows me that God wants us to have LIFE.  He put man right there with the tree of life.

Of course, as we’ll discuss further on, man lost what he had in the Garden.  But the story of the Bible is the story of God making a way to give us what he originally intended.  In Jesus, God gave us the very best.  We can be blessed with “every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Eph 1:3)  We are promised that God will “graciously give us all things.” (Romans 8:32)  Christ himself tells us that he will give us whatever we ask for in his name.  (John 16:23)

God brought us life through Jesus, both here on earth and in the time to come.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  (Gal 2:20)

Heaven will be our complete restoration to the Garden.  It will be a place of perfect blessings.  “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev 21:4)  We can eat of the Tree of Life.  “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”  Rev 22:14

Studying the Garden of Eden reveals much to us about God’s generous heart, and how much he wants to give to man.  It helps us have faith that there genuinely is an amazing place that God has prepared for us.

God blessed us with one another. When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” the whole nature of man’s existence was dramatically shaped. And surprise!  I’m not talking about marriage here, although, of course, I could.  I’m talking about the fact that God made people to be interdependent.

christina

Sisterhood at recent baptism

Many animals were created to have a mate or herd, or to be symbiotic. But God took this to a hugely different level with man in two ways.  First, man wouldn’t just need others to meet his physical needs, he would need others to fulfill his spiritual needs. And second, man was designed to work together to be Christ’s body here on earth.

Ecclesiastes reflects how we meet each others’ physical needs. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”  (Ecc 4:9-10)

Numerous scriptures reflect how we help each other spiritually, verses like, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16), and “Encourage one another daily so that you won’t be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  (Hebrews 3:13)

The description of the church in the Bible shows how we are to be interdependent. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Romans 12:4-5

And Ephesians 4:16 shows how we become stronger individually, and corporately, when we work together:  “From him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:16)  God’s design for mankind is so amazing!!

Note that Jesus sent out his disciples two by two. (Mark 6:7)  His ministry was all about interactions.  He took his best friends with him when he prayed in the Garden.  After his death, his apostles went on missionary journeys with partners.

“It is not good for man to be alone.” God himself is a part of a trinity.  From the beginning, his desire was for us to have what he has, the profound benefits of companionship and synergy.

Are we taking advantage of this, or are we independent?

Let’s pray.  Father, you are SO GOOD!!!    Thank you that you want to pour down your goodness upon me.  Thank you for giving me every spiritual blessing.  Help me to realize this, and not get bogged down during the day when things go wrong.  Thank you especially for these blessings you’ve given to me: ________________.   Forgive me for:___________________.

Thank you that you give us life.  How can we feel lacking, when you have given us vitality here on earth, and a new self which will last forever?  Thank you that you have many, many more good things waiting for us, like presents waiting to be unwrapped.

God, thank you for the brothers and sisters you have put in my life.  They truly are “the saints in whom is all my delight.”  It is my great privilege to know them.  Help me not to be grumpy with them or have attitudes, but instead, to see them for the gift they are.  Help me specifically with this relationship:_______________.  Help me to forgive in this way:_____________________.

Help me not to be independent, but to realize how much I need each of your children.  Help me to work as a team with them to accomplish the amazing things you’ve planned for us, so that we can shine brightly to the world around us.  This is my dream for the church:__________________.  Help me to have wisdom and the heart to accomplish it together with my brothers and sisters.  Help me to do this:______________ today to take a step in that direction.

Not ready to stop thinking about all this good stuff? Listen to these songs and sing throughout the day.  Love you all!

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Restoring Our Souls

Yesterday I listened to a great podcast by John Eldridge on the soul.  It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Eldridge said that our soul is that unique part of ourselves that contains our abilities and characteristics.  It can also be called our “heart.”  It is our inmost being.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  We need to protect our souls.

Because, Eldridge pointed out, the Bible says we can lose our soul, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”  (Luke 6:26)  And he went on to say that losing our soul isn’t just a matter of going to hell.  We begin to lose our soul long before death.  The world steals it away until we are just a pale shadow of what we were.

Thinking about these things has been very good for me, because I realize that I’ve been too much focused on getting my self esteem from what I do, and not enough from who I am.  I keep thinking that I need to be productive to prove I am worthy.  Instead, I need to realize that I already have worth.  God created me to have a very special blend of positive attributes.

Several years ago I wrote down a summary of who I am:  I am someone who loves poetry, music, the majesty of God, truth, creativity, intellectual stimulation, celebrating life, and the infinite importance of each individual person. I am someone who dreams and believes that there is hope.

I wrote that because it’s so hard to remember who I am.  It really is true that the world steals our soul and we forget who we are.  I start focusing on being the way I think I should be, doing all kinds of good things, keeping a nice house, saying the right things.  And after awhile, I’m lost in the “shoulds.”

I get focused on my shortcomings.  I forget that with each gift of character God gives me, there is a propensity for weakness.  I tend to be a perfectionist.  That helps me to achieve, but it also can make me controlling.  I have deep emotions, but they can lead me into depression and anger.  The things I dislike about myself are actually a result of the GOOD way God made me.  It doesn’t mean I am flawed.

One of my new favorite songs is “She Used to be Mine” by Sara Bareilles.  Look at some of the lyrics and see how the character in the song feels like she is losing herself:

It’s not simple to say
That most days I don’t recognize me
That these shoes and this apron
That place and it’s patrons
Have taken more than I gave them
It’s not easy to know
I’m not anything like I used to be
Although it’s true
I was never attention’s sweet center
I still remember that girl

She’s imperfect but she tries
She is good but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up
And baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone but she used to be mine

One thing I like about this song is that the woman in it loved herself, even though she saw she was broken.  And it helps me to appreciate myself and the mess I can be.  Yes, I want to keep growing in the good parts of my character and not give into the weaknesses.  But sometimes I am going to be a mess as I grow.  And that’s okay, because I still have the person who is me inside, my soul.  It’s better to be an imperfect mess, than try to be perfect and lose who I am.

So how do we restore our souls when the world has been like a vampire sucking them dry?  The podcast didn’t say, it was just Part I, and Part II wasn’t on the web site.  Bummer!!  Eldridge did a great job of pointing out that we go to all of the wrong things to restore our souls — we have an alcoholic drink, we zone out watching television.  But I didn’t get to hear what he thought were the right things.

However, we can get some ideas from the Bible.  If you have some thoughts, please share them with me!

Ps 23 reads, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”  I think that if we will SEE how God is meeting our needs, giving us green pastures and water to drink, it is restorative to our souls.

“He guides me along the right paths.”  There is such a sense of peace in trusting that God is leading us in the best way.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  God gives us gifts in our days, signs of his abundance, that will refresh us.

Trust, gratitude — these things replenish us.

Another thing I would like to mention here is the benefit of just being out in nature.  I think we can feel so close to God and restored if we will spend some time in the beautiful outdoors.  Perhaps it is no mistake that David was inspired by verdant pastures and pristine waters.

My husband mentioned that he feels it is restorative to the soul to serve and give to others.  I have to agree!  Even though it takes my energy, I feel so much better when I do something meaningful.  I volunteer for hospise, and I confess, sometimes before I go to visit someone, my heart isn’t in it.  But then once I look into the patient’s eyes and interact with them, such a deep sense of value comes over me.  THIS is what is really important.  It’s funny, because Ken and I went to Japan and exhausted ourselves serving all day every day, but we came back so energized!

A couple of other ideas — any time I spend a longer span of time on my knees in prayer, I feel restored. Singing praises fills my heart. Fasting almost always leaves me feeling restored.

Okay, I am out of time.  But think about this and vow to appreciate more the soul God created within you.  Let’s guard our hearts and find good ways to be restored!

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.  Ps 36:7-9

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Learning to Love the Old Testament I

The more I read the Bible, the more I love it.  It doesn’t get old.  In fact, it gets better.  Because the more I read, the more I see how it fits together.  The more I get a vision of God’s over-arching plan.  The more I am amazed and inspired by who HE is.

I want to start a series on learning to love the Old Testament.  I think for many of us, it’s hard to study this portion of the Bible.  Sure, we’ll all read bits and stories.  But many of the books can feel tedious and uninspiring.

I think this is because we haven’t learned to see all we can see in what we’re reading.

Imagine watching two actors performing a scene on a bare stage in everyday clothing.  Your heart is somewhat moved, and you think, “That’s good.”  But now imagine seeing that same scene as you watch the whole play, complete with scenery, costumes and music.  It means so much more.  Your heart responds so much more.  You think, “That is incredible.”

That’s what I’d like to try to do with the Old Testament.  I’d like to help you get a feel for the whole grand, amazing production.  We’ll look in chronological order at key events in the Old Testament and show five ways that they are a part of the whole narrative, reflecting themes that go throughout the Bible and revealing the awesomeness of God.

So, let’s start!  Read Genesis 1.

There are so many things I could mention in the creation story, but here is what I see that is super cool:

God is good and all he creates is good. I feel like this is one of the most important themes of the Bible. God is utterly, wholly, completely and intrinsically good.  Jesus tells us that, “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18) James declares that, “every good and perfect gift is from above.”  (James 1:17)  Paul asserts that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”  (Romans 8:28)  John maintains that, “God is light, in him is no darkness at all.”  (I J 1:5)

God is orderly and works in processes. As much as it seems quick, God didn’t just zap the universe into existence.  He created it in stages.  What he did wasn’t haphazard, it was a deliberate progression of events.

We see this same thing all through the Bible. Abraham didn’t instantly father many nations.  It took years for him to even give birth to Isaac.  The Israelites didn’t immediately gain the land God promised them.  They had to go to Egypt for 400 years, wander in the desert, and then fight for their land piece by piece.  God waits for the right time.  He told his Abraham, “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen. 15:16)

This is also true of God’s plan for salvation.  He didn’t just save man, he allowed man to sin.  He allowed the Israelites to forsake him over and over again.  He sent prophet after prophet to warn them before he finally sent his son.

God’s creation is to be fruitful. God intended that every living thing would multiply.  “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number…”  (Gen 1:22)

And then when God created his own people who would worship him, he intended for them to multiply.  “Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Gen 15:5)   

With Jesus, God intended for his son’s followers to multiply even more. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”  (Matt 13:34-35)

Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  (John 15:5)  And he went even further and said that if we follow in his footsteps of death, fruit will result: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

In this universe where entropy (deterioration) is the dominant law, it is completely encouraging that God has the power of life and growth.

We were created in God’s image.  The amazing thing is that we, as humans, were made for more than being fruitful.  We were fashioned to be like God.  “We were created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:24)  “What is man that you are mindful of him, human beings that you care for them? You made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Ps 8, Heb 2)  Thus, it makes sense that sin is described as falling short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)  Sin is failing to be what we were created to be.

As beings like God, we were created to have a relationship with God.  That is why God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden.  It is why God wants us as his bride. “I will betroth you to Me forever.”  (Hosea 2:19.  Read also Eph 5:25-27) It is why God wants us his children. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”  (I John 3:1)

As beings like God, we were created for more than this earth.  Jesus says our intended inheritance is “the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  (Matt 25:34)  God’s plan was always that we would be with him in heaven.

We have dominion over the earth. The last part of being like God means that he has given us authority over his creation. Ruling as God rules always implies caring for what is under your authority.   Ps 147:8-9 states, “He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.

As we read over the Bible, we see that this principle of caring for the earth primarily extends to caring for one another. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal 5:14) Over and over we see verses like, “If anyone is poor . . .  do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them.”  (Deut 15:7) Jesus entreated Peter to “Feed my sheep.”  He told his disciples to wash one another’s feet.  He said the hallmark of a disciple would be sacrificial love.  “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)

From the beginning, our lives were not to be just about ourselves.  We are stewards.

***

TO CLOSE OUT, let’s pray together and meditate on what we’ve learned:

God, you are good.  You surround us with your good creation.  You send us rain, and flowers, and crops that we can eat.  You give us wonderful good gifts every day, and the best gift is knowing you and drawing close to you in prayer.  May we see your goodness more, believe in it more, and KNOW you are good.  I thank you specifically for these good gifts: __________.  May I see your grace and goodness in this situation that troubles me:__________.

Father, I realize you work in processes.  Help me to be patient.  Help me to trust.    Help me to believe deeply that you have a plan for our lives, and you are carrying this out, and whatever I am going through is a part of the process.  Right now, I struggle to believe this because _____________.  I pray that you would help with this by _____________. Help me to remember how you have worked in my life in the past and brought me to this point, and know that you will bring me to the next point.

God, you created me to be fruitful today.  You want me to drink in all that you are and blossom with the fruits of the Spirit, joy and love.  You want me to go out and do good deeds.  You want me to let others who are struggling in deep dark places know about your light, and the truth.  Help me to be outward focused and make the most of every opportunity.  Help me to die to self and pour myself out entirely for you, knowing that this is what you can use for your purposes.  Help me specifically today to ________.

Father, how amazing it is that you put a piece of yourself in me.  I am made in your image.  May this give me faith that I am made for great purposes.  May this give me faith that I can overcome temptation and weaknesses.  Thank you that your heart’s desire is for me to be your bride, your child, and for me to be close to you forever.  May my heart be set today on heaven more than anything else.

God, as your child, you expect me to take care of your creation, and especially the the precious individuals who fill the earth.  Help me to get outside of my personal agenda and see others and their needs today.  I pray specifically for__________.  Help me to help with this need_____________.

Our hearts swell, Father, with all you are and the hope you give us in your Word.  Open our eyes to see the treasures in it.  Thank you that it transforms us.  Thank you for your grace in giving it to us.  May you be glorified always. 

In Jesus’ name, amen.

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