Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Month: October, 2017

Some Late Night Thoughts About Being a Father

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I preach every Sunday.  There are so many times that, after I’ve finished, some young mother apologizes to me about her toddler shouting/crying during the sermon. I always try to comfort her by saying that it didn’t bother me at all. And that really is the truth, because well, I just never hear it. Maybe I’m going deaf at a young age. Or, more likely, while those mothers are struggling to make sure their kids don’t ruin the service, I’m up in front struggling to make sure that I don’t ruin the service. I suppose I’m just focused on other things and a baby’s cry never even registers in my mind.

Except for one. There is one child that it seems no matter what I’m doing, I immediately recognize his voice.  Tonight, while I was preaching, I heard this little voice in the back of the auditorium shouting, “Da! Da! Da!”  I immediately recognized it. I hear it all day long. It was the voice of my 1 year old son, Oliver (the little guy pictured above). I had to struggle not to break into a smile and forget my train of thought.  I had to struggle not to say, “What’s up, buddy?” (my normal response when he calls for me).

In the middle of a sermon my mind is usually pretty focused.  But that one little voice can steal my attention in a moment. I like hearing it. I love when my son calls for me.  When I get home from the office, he crawls to the door shouting, “Da! Da!”  When he wakes up in the morning, I walk into his room to get him and he shouts, “Da!” Now that he’s started walking a few days ago, he’ll walk to me, fall in my arms, calling “Da!” It makes me feel special. Loved.

From what people are always quick to tell me, this doesn’t last long. Kids grow up quickly.  They find other hobbies and other interests. They make friends, move out, go to college, get married, all in the blink of an eye. But my nightly prayer with Oliver always contains the line, “Please help Oliver to always know that we love him very much and for us to always have a close relationship.”

I pray every night for our relationship to be strong and loving and last a lifetime. I never want him to drift away or get bored of me. (By the way, right now, I hear him giggling in the other room with his mama while he’s supposed to be going to sleep, it’s cracking me up). Simply, I love that kid.  I will always make time for him and I hope he grows up making time for me.

That said, as children of God, we have a Father also. There’s a heart breaking passage in Hosea 11 about God’s child, Israel, drifting from Him as he grew older. “When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son…They kept sacrificing to the Baals And burning incense to idols. Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; But they did not know that I healed them” (Hosea 11:1-3).

I never want to put God through that. I don’t even want to imagine the child I love so much, that I taught to walk, that I took in my arms, growing to neglect me and trade me away for other things.

God longs to hear from us.  He longs to hear our voices. He recognizes the cries of His children.  He wants us to make time for Him.  What a tragedy it would be for us to grow and drift away from Him. To focus more on our hobbies, careers, and retirements, than we do our Father.

Today, make time for God. Call out to Him as your Father. Tell Him how much you appreciate Him.  Spend sincere time in prayer. Communicate openly with Him. Build your relationship.  I want mine and Oliver’s relationship to grow stronger with the passing of time, not drift farther apart. God desires the same thing with us. Make time for your Father.

A Fig Tree, a Temple, and God’s Purpose

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Remember when Jesus cursed the fig tree in Mark 11?  That was weird, wasn’t it? You know what was particularly weird about it? Jesus cursed it because “He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13).  Why in the world is Jesus cursing the tree for not having figs, when it wasn’t even the season for figs? Well, I think if we pay really close attention to what is happening in the surrounding context, we may get ourselves an answer.  And it might not be so weird after all.

Jesus had just entered Jerusalem and He immediately entered the temple and looked around.  Since it was late and He wasn’t staying in Jerusalem (but a small suburb called Bethany) He left the temple to retire for the night.  It’s on the next day while He is making His way back to the temple that He sees the fig tree with no figs.  He curses the fig tree for being out of season by saying, “‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And His disciples were listening” (Mark 11:14).

Whenever you read a seemingly insignificant little detail like “and His disciples were listening” it probably isn’t insignificant, and it probably means you should be listening too.  You should probably begin searching for a deeper meaning in the story than what appears on the surface.

After this incident with the fig tree, Jesus returns to the temple.  This time, He doesn’t just look around, but He creates a huge disturbance. “He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple” (Mark 11:15-16).

Jesus makes it impossible to conduct business at the temple. He stops the things that were essential for the temple to fulfill its purpose. People need to purchase animals in order to sacrifice animals. Many traveled from afar and rather than risk losing their animals along the journey, they would arrive at the temple to purchase an acceptable animal, then the priests would offer it. That way they are still offering up their best to God, but if they didn’t own a proper animal or couldn’t travel with one, they could purchase one.

The sin is not that people purchased animals at the temple, but that God’s “‘House shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’ But you have made it a robber’s den” (Mark 11:17).  Notice two things.  First, it is supposed to be a house of prayer “for all the nations” (Mark 11:17; Isaiah 56:7).  The temple was not opened to all the nations.  It was for Jews only.  Secondly, it was made into a “robber’s den.” This might imply that there was cheating and dishonesty taking place in the selling of animals.  Or it might imply that the House of God which was for “all the nations,” became a place for people who hated all the other nations. The word “robber” could also be translated as “insurrectionist.”

The temple should be a place of worship for all the nations, but instead it is full of dishonest people who hate the other nations and, like insurrectionists, want to overthrow them. This is one of the very reasons that Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah was repudiated.  Rather than overthrowing the Romans, He was crucified by them!

The major point is that the temple is not fulfilling its intended purpose.  When Jesus looked around the temple, He didn’t see a place of prayer for all the nations. He saw a den of robbers. Because of that, the temple was producing no fruit.  There was once a time when God’s temple was fruitful, but that season had passed.

Are you starting to see the connection between the temple and the fig tree? The fig tree produced no fruit, its season had passed, and it was cursed by Jesus. The temple produced no fruit, its season had passed, and it was condemned by Jesus.

The evening after the disturbance in the temple, Jesus and His disciples were leaving again for Bethany.  As they walked they passed that same fig tree. Peter looked at it and said, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered” (Mark 11:21).

After Jesus cursed the fig tree it withered and never produced again.  Years after Jesus cleansed the temple, it was destroyed and never produced again.  The temple scene is sandwiched between these two discussions about the fig tree.  They represent one another.

The fig tree is an illustration. It illustrates what happens when one fails to produce. Those listening must ask, what am I producing? Unlike the fig tree and the temple, our season has not passed.  We are in it right now.  It is our responsibility to be the temple of God, a place for all the nations.  We are challenged with producing fruit for the kingdom. We have a purpose as Christians, to live as the body of Christ, taking His message and ministry to the world. Are you fulfilling your purpose in Christ?

God Loves You

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It might sound relatively simple. You might (hopefully) hear it often in churches. It might (hopefully not) even begin to sound cliché. But when you sit down and reflect upon it, it is life changing. God loves you. The God. The majestic God, creator and sustainer of all, looks down and actually cares about us.  Weak, fragile, sinful, us.

This thought needs to be at the forefront of our minds.  Daily, we need to reflect upon it and glory in it.  It is a dangerous thing to forget.  The book of Malachi is about people who forgot this divine truth.

These people had experienced a rather turbulent recent history.  Their fathers had been in exile, their city and temple destroyed, and God allowed it all to happen.  In fact, God takes full responsibility for it happening (Jeremiah 25:11).  As punishment, God destroyed their land and homes through Nebuchadnezzar, and they were captives in Babylon for 70 years.

But when Malachi writes, captivity has ended and they are home again. Their temple has been rebuilt and sacrifice has been reinstituted; however, things are not all well.  God is not pleased with them. Again.

Malachi sounds a lot like a QnA session. God makes an accusation against the people, they challenge the accusation with a question, and God answers their question by spelling out all their sins. For example, God says, “O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised You name?’” (Malachi 1:6), and, “You are presenting defiled food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’” (Malachi 1:7), and, “You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, ‘How have we wearied Him?’” (Malachi 2:17), and again, “You are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?” (Malachi 3:8). This cycle is repeated throughout the book.

Reading this it becomes painfully clear that their hearts aren’t in it.  Like a bad case of senioritis, they are just turning it in hoping for a passing grade. They sacrifice to Him, perhaps to avoid another punishment, but they’re not about to give the best they can. They give sick, blind, dying, stolen sacrifices (Malachi 1:7-14).  The priests corrupted the covenant and lead people astray (Malachi 2:8).  They abused their fellow people; even their own wives whom they should love and honor and cherish, trading them for foreign women (Malachi 2:10-16).  They love their money more than God, robbing Him by withholding tithes (Malachi 3:8-12).

They don’t trust God.  They don’t even consider Him good anymore. They say things like, “‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (Malachi 2:17). They obviously aren’t going to give God their all, because they see no point in serving Him. They say, “It is vain to serve God.” (Malachi 3:14-15).

Obviously this is a problem.  They don’t serve God fully because they don’t trust that God is good.  They don’t trust that He is good, because they forgot that God loved them.  In fact, the very first cycle in the book of Malachi, where the people challenge God with a question, isn’t in response to an accusation. It’s actually in response to God’s love.  “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2). In the same way that they repeatedly deny their sin, they also deny God’s love for them.

This is the real problem. Their pitiful sacrifices, unloving marriages, stingy giving, and lack of trust are merely symptoms. The major crisis is that they forgot that God loves them.

It’s hard to trust and serve God when you forget He loves you. It is hard to rejoice in the goodness of God when you forget He loves you.  If you view God as a righteous guillotine, our necks protected from His wrathful blade only by the rope of our good deeds, then obedience becomes self preservation rather than a response of love.

But when we remember that God is a personal, loving Father, who truly cares and longs for us, then we can respond in sincerity. When we remember the love demonstrated on the cross (Romans 5:8) then we can serve with thanksgiving.  When we remember that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), then we can love, “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Rejoice and serve faithfully, because God loves you.

God and the Unexpected

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God has a way of keeping us guessing.  He’s not very predictable. Throughout the Bible and throughout our lives, God works in ways that transcend social customs and human rationality, thus earning the epithet: “He moves in mysterious ways.”

Beginning in Genesis this notion is already evident.  Who does God choose to be the parents of a great nation? Not the young, fertile, newlyweds; but the old man and his barren wife.  Abram and Sarai strive to bring (or even manipulate) God’s plan into reality by introducing Hagar into the situation. This only complicates matters.

Consider also God’s choice of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim.  What do these men all have in common?  They are all younger siblings.  While ancient society would select the firstborn to be the true heir, God often chooses the unexpected.

This idea is central to our understanding of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God as a whole.  Who is the greatest in the kingdom? The child. The servant of all (Mark 9:35-37). Who is the blessed? The poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the hated (Luke 6:20-23). Who is the true King and Messiah of the whole world? The man crucified by the Romans between two criminals.  To many, this idea is foolishness or a stumbling block, but to those who trust and follow God, it is the very demonstration of His power and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

So here is a helpful tip that we can all stand to benefit from: spend less time trying to figure God out and spend more time simply following Him. Don’t try to predict His path or run ahead of Him, just follow and see where you end up.

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