“The Good Ol’ Days”

1 Peter 1:14, “Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance…”

As the years go on, one habit that I constantly battle is glamorizing the “Good Ol’ Days.” It is easier to look back and remember when life was “good” than to embrace the struggles of today. But the reality is that life back “when” probably wasn’t as good as I remember. With time, many bad memories and struggles tend to fade. The good memories out-shadow the tougher times of the past.

The same pattern can also happen spiritually. When the honeymoon phase wears off over the months and years after conversion to Christ, there can be a tendency to want to go back to the old way of life. Past struggles and sins can begin to sound appealing again, and the pain and destruction that came from them rarely comes to surface the memory. The flesh tends to glamorize sin.

Peter instructed followers of Christ to not comply with the evil urges that we used to follow in our ignorance. There was a time when we did not know Christ and we were only able to will to sin. Our motives did not consider or regard God’s desires, and we simply did whatever our appetite wanted. But when we were transformed by the Spirit of God, we were liberated so that we can will to do good, to please God. But the problem is that fleshly desires do not disappear.

Life with Christ means that we must discipline ourselves to listen to the Spirit so that we will do good and be good. The reality is that the Good Ol’ Days are always in the present. As we yield our hearts the Spirit of God, the present gives us the opportunity to be changed and to institute change in a way that can bring life.

As we get ready to begin a new year, we should consider our past only as a way of evaluating what we wish to do better. How can we be more faithful this year? What are changes we need to make spiritually? How are the fruits of the Spirit present in our life?

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No Plan B- God’s Concern for Justice

Matthew 12:20, “A Battered reed he will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory.”

This year I have experienced more of a revolution in my thinking about the Christian life than I can remember. Recently, I read 1 Peter 2:21 with my wife. It says, “For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps.” The big takeaway is that we are called to follow in the steps of Christ. I am just learning how radical this idea is.

As I am reading through Matthew, I have discovered that God wants us to be People of the Path. His hand is extended pointing us in the right direction so that we will see the direction to having a full life. One of the markers on this path is justice. God is concerned about justice.

God is concerned about when things are not right. He knows about the orphan in Africa who has no mom or dad. He knows about children being enslaved to sex rings and sex trafficking. He knows about the homeless who are attacked. He knows about the widow who cannot afford to buy good food or medical care. I think the reason why so many of us have a hard time believing that God cares about injustice is because we do not care enough or at all. I know God cares.

Today, I was reminded of all that Christ went through for the sake of justice. Scripture paints Christ as a battered read that would not break off or a smoldering wick that will not put out until justice was lead to victory. Describing the beating Christ endured is another lesson, but we can learn of His great concern for justice by all that he endured for the sake of justice. And we are called to follow in his steps.

The great question that I thought of while I read through this passage is, “What am I willing to endure for the sake of justice?” It is easy to simply pray for those who experience injustice. It is even necessary. But the hard reality is that being a person of the path means that I am doing more than praying. I am the heart, hands and feet that God uses to extend justice.

As this truth has began cracking through the hardness of my heart, I have realized a couple things.

First, if I am going to be a person of the path, I cannot be one who is propagating evil. While I am not involved in beating up homeless or leading a sex trafficking ring, I have to ask myself, “How am I bringing injustice into the lives of others/ where do I fail to love others?” For me, it is turning a blind eye to the homeless that approach me at the gas station. Or it might be in the way I drive. Injustice might even extend from me through the way I would treat those closest to me.

Second, if I am going to be a person of the path, I need to follow the path. That’s not rocket science, but reality. It is easy to think we are on the path because we entertain ourselves with religious habits instead of sacrificial love. Being on the path takes one step at a time. It might begin with prayer and Bible study asking God to show us what it means to follow Him. But it should not stop there. That is only the first step. We must act on what we know. Failure to act is failure to follow Christ.

Third, the path is hard. Jesus was compared to a battered read that would not break off and a wick that would not put out. How long are you willing to sacrificially love the weakest and most vulnerable in our society? I am faced with this question for myself. The reality is that the path is long. It goes until justice is lead to victory. While Christ brought justice to God for our sake, me must ask, “Who are we willing to battle for, and for how long?” Being on the path means that we never stop while we have breath, and this is something that a follower of Christ must embrace. There is no plan B.

Spiritual Wit

Psalm 70

Focus: 70:5 I am oppressed and needy! O God, hurry to me! You are my helper and my deliverer! O Lord, do not delay!

Wit is an old term that refers to mental sharpness and inventiveness. It describes the ability to think quickly. (It also comes more naturally for some than for others.) But in general this tool of leadership is developed from habits of reasoning. Mental sharpness and inventiveness require a baseline knowledge and trust of information. The more such information is used and referenced to, the greater one’s wit will be in a circumstance that requires quick recall and development of thought.

One of the first things I discovered while reading this Psalm is that it begins with “For the music director; by David; written to get God’s attention.” It recounts a time when David was in a circumstance where he quickly needed to hear from God. He desperately sought for God’s attention and help from at least 2 things: physical danger and spiritual danger. (We know this because of Psalm 40.)

Many of us might find ourselves in the same situation. For some reason, we might find that we are “oppressed and needy” because of a physical ailment or spiritual attack. Circumstances like these are common in our broken world, but what is most important is that we can respond like David. He had spiritual wit. He was able to quickly align his thoughts and heart to immediately petition the Lord to help him in his time of need.

Battles can be won or lost because of wit. This is true in every area of life. Throughout his life, David had built habits of turning to the Lord in times of need. He recognized Yahweh as his helper and deliverer. Having such spiritual confidence will not come with an absence of a baseline knowledge and trust in God. It is crucial to develop this foundation if you want to overcome the challenges that can debunk your walk with Christ!

There are several ways of learning about God: 1.) Be in community with other believers who are seeking after Christ 2.) Study God’s word 3.) Spend time in prayer 4.) Memorize scripture 5.) Meditation 6.) Rest 7.) Serve others 8.) Tithe. There are a slew of other ways to learn about the Lord, but this list is to help get started.

When one begins to build habits of learning and studying God, an information base of reference will be embedded into the heart and mind. This is key to developing the same kind of wit David had. When the “Mac Trucks” of life hit, you will not be pummeled to the point where you turn to hurts, habits and hangups to rescue you from pain. Rather, your quick instinct will be to turn to the Lord for His deliverence.

Distant Lord

4/4/09 10:00pm

Judges 11-16

Pericope: Judges 11:29-31

If anyone seriously studies through the book of Judges, they will come across some serious problems that should bother them. Israel seemed like a bunch of idiots, and I get tense as I can imagine the Lord’s frustration with His people. (It is amazing that He did not completely wipe them out!) Of course I have to chill a little because I know that I have probably tested the Lord’s patience with me in my own foolishness. Jephthah is the character in this particular passage that really seems to symbolize the leaders and people of Israel as a whole. He may have been Israel’s judge for 6 years, and God’s Spirit may have come upon him. But that does not mean much. Baalam’s donkey spoke through God’s Spirit too! Jephthah reflects a man who is wallowing in the stench of a wicked culture. He was the son of a prostitute and was a hooligan who lead a team of bandits.  His view of God was severely twisted. It was sick. His view of God is the natural outcome of a people who did what was right in their own eyes, who did evil and prostituted themselves to foreign gods. So it is not at all surprising that Jephthah made a foolish vow to sacrifice a human in exchange for military victory, even though this was forbidden in Torah and is described as detestable and something God hates. So was it God who lead Jephthah? YesNo! Yes, in the same sense that God was leading Pharaoh and using Balaam’s donkey. God was not absent in this story. No, because God detested such wickedness as the foolish vow Jephthah made. In Judges, and in this particular story, what we see is a fulfillment of God’s promises in Deuteronomy. Israel was unfaithful, so God’s hand was not upon them. He, in a sense, is a distant God in the book of Judges. This is a time when God is allowing Israel to suffer in the muck of their choices so that they could eventually repent and come back to him. Israel was a sick community outside of the presence of God. An application to this is that we must be careful in how we allow culture to shape our view of God. God is transcendent to any culture. We must be careful of allowing our culture to lead us into wickedness and calling it “good.” We must be careful to destroy the opportunity for polluted world views and distortions of what God wants for our life. This means we ought to be in fellowship with other believers. We ought to be students of God’s word. If there has ever been a time when we are at risk as a community of Christ, it is now when our culture is much like that of Israel in the book of Judges. It is critical for the Church to evaluate and see where we have prostituted ourselves to foreign gods and ideas imputed by a godless culture. And then we should cut off and destroy any idea and opportunity that offends the name of Christ. Otherwise, we will be in the same boat as Israel. We will elect leaders (in the church and culture) who will appear to save us, and we will think that God is with them. But in the end, God will be distant allowing for the muck of our choices to lead us to repentance. And that does not sound particularly fun to say the least. If we wish to have a close Lord who is near to our hearts and actively blessing our lives, then we must become a healthy community of Christ followers. True spiritual health is found by living in pure devoted community with the God through Christ by the power of the Spirit working in us.

Carrying Another’s Burden

3/21/2009 8:45pm

Leviticus 16-21

Pericope: Leviticus 16:20-22

One of the greatest things we can do in life is capitalize on the opportunity to help others on their journey. As Christians, we have been commissioned by Christ to carry one another’s burdens. Carrying burdens of others is often exhausting but proves to be one the greatest opportunities for preaching the Kingdom of God. In Leviticus 16, the stipulations were given for the Day of Atonement. On that day, 2 Goats were presented to God. By casting lots, one goat was chose to be offered as a sacrifice for sin. The other goat became the scapegoat. It escaped death. They both had a unique role. The goat of sacrifice provided atonement for God’s people. On the scapegoat’s head, the priest would lay hands. He would confess the sins of the entire community and “impute” them to the goat. The goat was sent out into the wilderness were it would eventually die, and it would carry the sins of the community with it. Thus, the sins of the community were removed from the camp of Israel. To me, this is beautiful imagery of the work of Christ on the cross. He became the sacrifice of atonement and he also had the sins of the world imputed on him as he suffered the wrath of God. Christ, in the most ulitmate and complete way, carried the sins of the world. He carried our burdens of sin so that we may be free to enjoy God in his community! Now I have the unique privilege of telling others about this ministry of Christ, thus being a tool that God will use to carry the burdens of others. The greatest concern I have now is what it would look like for me to carry another’s burdens? How can I love others in the best way so that I may share Christ?

Clean and Unclean

3/20/09 8:45am

Leviticus 11-15

Pericope: Leviticus 5:31-33

Have you ever wondered about those weird passages in Scripture where it talks about bodily infections and discharges? What relevance does that have for today? Leviticus 11-15 discusses how Israel is to distinguish between what is considered “clean” versus “unclean.” I believe that Leviticus 5:13 spells out the reason for these awkward laws: “Thus you are to set the Israelites apart from their impurity so that they do not die in their impurity by defiling my tabernacle which is in their midst.” These laws were about protecting the dwelling place of God. Certain physical conditions God considers “unclean.” This does not mean God loves one any less when they have such conditions. One does not become devalued or worth less because they may have a discharge or emission from their body or because the have a disease or illness. However, all of these conditions are effects of the broken world produced by sin. They exist because of unwholeness or incompleteness that will one day cease to exist. These conditions do not exist in the absolute presence of God. So, when God wants his people to distinguish themselves from their uncleanness, he wants them to understand the seriousness of the consequences of His glory in contrast to the presence of their condition. The closer one comes in proximity to God’s presence the more “set apart” one must be- that is, the more “different” or “wholly different” one must be. Failure to comply means that one would die. God was protecting his people in their earthly physical state which is effected by the conditions of sin that cannot exist where He physically dwells. God’s glory overcomes death and disease. It destroys death and produces life. In him there is light and no darkness at all. His holiness cannot be profaned or defiled or tainted by what he considers to be uncleaned or imperfect. So what does this mean for today? I am thankful because the blood of Christ purifies me in my unclean state (2 Cor 5:21). Because of the finished work on the Cross, I have access to the Father by faith in Christ. One day I will be able to dwell in the physical presence of God and to know Him with all His glory. For those in ancient Israel, they were able to experience a taste of God’s glory as His dwelling place was in the Tabernacle. They had to become physically set apart/different in order to enjoy God’s presence. Today our access to the Father comes by the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our life as a guarantee of the things that are yet to come!

Wholly Different

3/19/09 8:25pm

Leviticus 6-10

Pericope: Leviticus 10:9-11

I think that one of the most difficult things to do in the Christian life is to distinguish between holy and common. Holy simply means, “set apart.” Another way of defining holy is “wholly different.” When instructions were given to the Levites, the Priests of God, there were certain activities that they could not engage in. There also were certain activities that they must perform. Why? Because priests were the mediators between God and his people. God had set them apart; he had chosen them to a special task of making atonement for His people. The priests had to be holy (set apart) because God is holy. The closer one came toward the presence of God, the more holy they had to be. In other words, they were completely and utterly different than common people. Today we are to be wholly different, just like the priests of yesterday. The challenging part for me is knowing what freedoms that I must willfully surrender so that when people look at me they say, “He is different. He is not like the average person. He is like Christ.” Holiness is not about being spiritually “priviledged” so much as it is about being a vessel that is useful for God’s purposes in fashioning the community of His Kingdom on the earth and culture in which we live.

Allyson Black Testimony from Steve V on Vimeo.

Laying on of Hands

3/18/2009 10:35am

Leviticus 1-5

Pericope: Leviticus 1:4-5

When people in the evangelical community think of “laying of of hands,” they more than likely will think of some sort of activity associated with prayer over a sick person or over one who is being commissioned to the Lord’s service. The original biblical account of laying on of hands comes from the Torah. In Leviticus, God graciously provides a means for his people to be in right relationship with Him. The sacrificial system was instituted as part of this means and instructions were given on who, what, why, how and where of the sacrifices. When a member of the community brought an animal (the best animal in his herd; in this scenario, a bull) for offering sacrifice, each worshiper then placed his or her own hand on the animal’s head. The laying on of hands signified a transfer of guilt from the offender to the innocent. The worshipper then had to kill the sacrifice! The life of the sacrificial animal was substituted for the offender and, in essence, God’s wrath (justice) was poured out on the animal. The implications are enormous when you think about personally having to slit the throat of an animal and to hear and see it die. Imagine looking into its eyes as you are laying your hands on its head just before you killed it- it dies because of your sin. It makes me want to cry thinking about it. The guilt would be transferred to the animal. It would die in your stead. One could not help but to be reminded of God’s mercy and grace as the penalty of sin, death, was transferred to an animal. What a miracle that, at that time, the death of an animal could take your place. If that was miraculous, then thinking about what Christ did on the cross makes my heart wrench even more. As God was sovereignly providing salvation for His people, Christ was offered as the recipient of the transfer of guilt. Every individual who desires to be part of the community of Yahweh must participate in having the guilt of his sins transferred to Christ. That this is even a possibility is truly amazing grace!

God’s People and His Plans

3/4/2009 10:15am

Deuteronomy 26-30

Pericope: Deuteronomy

I remember growing up as a child. I was like most other kids when it came to obeying parents. For the most part, I did well when everything was going as I wanted. If I was playing, life was always good until mom or dad wanted me to stop what I was doing to help clean up, or take a nap, or eat, or whatever it was. Then I would throw a fit! I wanted to have things my way! But in the end, mom and dad knew what was best, even when I didn’t get what I wanted. Mom and dad knew my heart and where I needed discipline. They knew what was good for me

The same is true when it comes to God and his plans for his people. When God created man, there was open fellowship between God and man, between man and woman.  But since the fall in the garden, mankind has been living in the midst of the consequences. Thankfully, God has been gracious and provided a plan to redeem His people back unto Himself and to save them from the consequences of sin.

In today’s passage, I read a lot about the stipulations of God’s Covenant with His people. In part of His plan of redemption for Israel, he included blessings and curses. Blessings and curses are common to find in the stipulations of covenants in ancient times. In essence, God provided rewards and punishments. When God’s people are loyal to Him, there are inherant consequences that are good. On the contrary, when God’s people are disloyal there are inherant consequences that bring harm. I have already mentioned in one of my previous journal entries that God knows the hearts of his people. He knows what his people need in a broken world where there are spiritual battles. Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy the lives of God’s people. But God has brought life. He is life. Especially through Christ, his people can have the fullest life! God’s people must look at the circumstances around them and know how God is using everything to help his people remain faithful to Him so that they would inherit the blessings He wants to give. If there is suffering, then there may be something that God wants them to learn. Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered. If there is blessing, then all the more should his people remain faithful and thank God for what he has provided to enjoy!

Wholly Different

2/28/09 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 11-15

Pericope: Deuteronomy 11:22-25

Last year my dad called me to thank him for an expensive gift he thought that I had bought for him. It turns out I never bought a gift. What he received was a product that he apparently purchased. Actually, it was purchased under his identity. My father was a victim of identity theft. Luckily, it was botched and he received the expensive item that was mis-mailed under his ID. He was able to ship it back to the source and the money was returned to his account.

Identity is huge. It determines access and privileges. We all have an identity. Our last name guarantees an access and privilege to our family. Our citizenship gains us access and privileges in our country. Our identity will gain us access to our jobs and allow us access secured information. Identity must be protected.

Identity was even more important for God’s people. In the stipulations section of the covenant between God and His people, God was laying out a picture of what it meant to identify as a person in His community. God wanted for his people to be holy, that is, wholly different. Their life was to be sanctified, set apart, for God’s purposes. In being faithful to obey God and observing his commandments, God’s people would enjoy the benefits and privileges of being God’s people. To identify as God’s people was a guarantee of strength and blessing and prosperity. Ultimately, identity with God is cemented to having complete faith and trust in God. In return for observing God’s commandments, living according to God’s standards, and loyal love for God, God promised to go before his people to secure His promises. But failure to live as a people wholly different, failure to identify with the Lord would bring about curses which would be disastrous for God’s people.

God is looking for a people to be holy, to be set apart for His work to restore right relationship with community with God’s people and communion with God. These two entities were lost because of sin. If we a want to be identified as God’s children and to experience the blessings that come from Him, then we must live wholly different. Christianity is about trusting Christ to secure the promises of God for us. Will we be willing to let God fight our battles for us?