Category Archives: Loving the Old Testament

Learning to Love the O.T. IIa — The Choice

I love the third point about the story of the Garden so much that I’ve made a whole blog about it. (See my previous blog for points one and two.)  Great stuff!  Here is the third thing that I think is totally cool:

That God gives us a choice.

choose-your-path

It is so amazing that God gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey or disobey.  Skeptics through the ages have ranted against a God who would allow people to make destructive choices.  “How could a loving God not prevent people from hurting themselves and others?” they ask.

But there is such grace in having the ability to make a choice.  It feels so wonderful to do the right thing willingly and joyfully, because we choose to do so.

And God always makes sure to  tell man the consequences of making the wrong choice. He doesn’t let man just walk blindly into harm’s way.  He told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die.

His message to the Israelites expressed this consistent theme:  “Choose today whom you will serve.  This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  Deut 30:19

The prophets echoed this:

Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them . . . . Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you. . . “ Amos 5:6, 14

Incline your ear and come to Me.  Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you  Isa 55:3

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.”  Jer 4:4

Continuing to the New Testament, we see that God gave Jesus a choice. This is crazy amazing.  I mean, just think about it.  God left the salvation of the whole world up to choice.  Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross, but he wrestled in prayer to make the decision to do so.

And when Jesus made this choice, God set in motion his age old plan to make it easier for us to make good choices.  He said through Jeremiah, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.” (Jer 32:39)  With the motivation of Jesus’ sacrifice, and with the indwelling of the Spirit, we do have more of a singleness of heart.  We want to do the right thing.

THIS is the goal for God, that we want to serve him, that we want to make the right choices, “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  (2 Cor 9:7.)  In giving man choice, it gave God the opportunity to have the sweetest delights.  He loves for man to choose good, to choose HIM!   “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

And at the end, when we make it through the finish line, God will rejoice with us as the parable in Matthew 25 expresses, “”Well done, good and faithful servant. . . Come and share your master’s happiness.

heaven

The narrative of the Bible concludes by taking us full circle.   Our good choices (and God’s good grace) will bring us back into the Garden.  “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’”  Rev. 2:7

Pray with me.

Father, thank you that you’ve given us a choice.  I do love you so much, and I want to serve you with my whole heart, and give my life to you, and make you happy.  Thank you that you gave us Jesus and the Spirit, and set us up to win.  Help me to make good choices today.  I really need your help today in choosing ____________________.

Help me remember that there are consequences for my decisions.  Help me not to be lackadaisical.   I so much want to make it through the finish line and run into your loving arms.  I’m only going to be able to make it through dependance on you.  Help me to look to you throughout the day, as I make the little choices that set the direction of my future.  Have mercy on me when I make the wrong choices, and may I not become bogged down in them, but have the energy to pick myself up and move forward.

I praise you for your plan to redeem us and give us an opportunity to joyfully do the right thing, and give ourselves to you.  You are so awesome, and I love you.

In Jesus’ name, amen

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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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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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