Thursday, November 25, 2010

The God Who Stands Behind His Commandments

In Lev. 23:22 we have a command of God which is one of many in the OT.  Like many others it  ends with the statement "I am the LORD your God.  Lev 23:22  "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God."  

I find this last statement interesting.  On the one hand it is obvious why many of the commandments end like this.  God is their creator and more importantly, their Redeemer.  He has entered into a covenant with Israel which involved giving them a Law to live by.  When he ends a command with the words, "I am the LORD your God", it emphasizes the fact that he has the right to give the command and the right to enforce it and punish those who disobey.  But I am struck with something much more than just that.

This particular command is telling Israel that they are not to make an effort to reap every last kernel of grain when they harvest their crops.  They are not just to let stray stalks stay on the ground but they are to even miss whole rows so that the poor can have a little.  Having worked on farms for several years now, I know that a responsible farmer combines all the field.  First of all, if he left a lot of corn or oats in the field, the poor wouldn't get it, the deer and turkeys would.  Secondly, the other farmers would drive by his field and wonder at his combining abilities.  In our day and age in America this might not make much sense to us in the way we farm but there is a spiritual principle here from which I think we can "glean".

How is it that God can command his people to be "sloppy" farmers and leave money in the fields that their own families can benefit by?  How can he tell us that we don't have to be penny pinchers when it comes to our money and helping those in need?  How is it that Jesus can look favorably on the widow who gave her last "dollar" to the Lord, when anyone would agree she probably needed it more than whoever was going to benefit from it?  The answer is in the last statement of Lev. 23:22.  It is the great qualifier of all God's commands that specifically call on us to trust him completely.

He is saying that he is the LORD, Yahweh, their covenant God.  He has already promised good crops, a quiver full of children, protection from enemies,  healthy bodies and long lives all for just worshiping and loving him as the only true God.  It is because of who he is that they can be charitable and not consumed with making as much money as they can in life because he has promised to take care of them.

He isn't saying to leave some crops in the field whether you want to or not because I told you to; he is saying you can show love for each other and sacrifice for each other because I am great enough and good enough and loving enough to make up for it and then some. 

This is taught in the NT and there is one place where it seems to really stand out.  In 2 Cor. 8 we read, "We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,   for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."  These churches were poor and needy themselves, yet they trusted the Lord to take care of them as they gave to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Then in Phil. 4 Paul refers to them again, "Php 4:15  And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only."  And then in vs. 19 he adds the great qualifier, the New Testament counter part to "I am the LORD your God", "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."  The old saying goes, "Behind every command there is a promise".  Perhaps we can better say, "Behind every command there is a covenant keeping God.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guarding the Garden

In Genesis 2:15 we read,  The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  Since my experience with gardens and farming has always been one of hard work trying to keep the weeds under control, I have generally assumed that in some way Adam and Eve were to do something similar with the Garden of Eden.  Of course, this presents a problem on the pre-fallen earth.  Everything would grow perfectly and since man did not eat meat before the flood, (After the flood we read, Gen 9:3  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everythingNow this is interesting that before the Mosaic Law God said we could eat every animal on the planet.  Therefore the Law was only temporary and it is unBiblical to think of its dietary laws as binding on anyone; but I digress) all our first parents would have to do to eat is pick whatever was ripe.  Obviously they would not be tilling and working to take care of a perfect Garden otherwise how was the curse on Adam to work to produce food any different than what he had before?  In 3:23 Adam is told as he is cast out of the garden that he was to work the ground.  Granted that working the cursed ground would be more difficult than working the precursed ground but is this all there is?  Well, it is easy to provide problems but is there a solution, another way that we might understand this passage? 

The word "work" in the above text can simply mean to use something.  In this case I would see it as a command to use the Garden and by implication the whole earth in a proper, godly sense.  In other words, they were to enjoy creation as a means to glorify God in its beauty and provision and as it manifests the manifold wisdom and power of its Creator.  

You might be wondering about the next command where God also tells them to keep the garden.  That also sounds a lot like pruning dead branches and tilling but whatever it means it would seem to have to be something different than working it.  It is interesting that the word for keep is the same word as is found in chapter 4 and verse 24, He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Here it is used as guarding.  If God was telling Adam to use the garden to glorify his Creator and to guard it and make sure that everyone else does also, then clearly they not only fail to guard it but are the ones who first transgress the garden's (this world's) use.

My point in all this is that we have been redeemed out of sin so that we might live lives as they were intended.  We have been freed from sin's dominion as well as the burden of the Old Covenant laws so that we can use this planet, these bodies and everything God has given each one of us in our own particular situations as it was originally intended, solely for his glory.  We are to use our lives and we are to guard our lives to this end.  We are to be aware of Satan's attempts to lure us away from our First Love and consume our lives in selfishness.  We are to learn all we can about God and be consumed with him no matter what we are doing.  When we do this we "work and keep the garden" as we ought; when we fail, we cease to guard the glory of God and invite those around us to do the same. 

Man was given dominion over this earth to use it as a tool to serve God.  As soon as it became a tool to satisfy the flesh, he fell into ruin.  Our redemption is to restore us to a place that we can live life as it was meant to be lived; with God, not man, at the center of the universe.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why Do Hawks Perch Themselves on Power Lines?

So the other day I am driving down the road on a beautiful November morning and I see a hawk perched on a power line by the road waiting for a field mouse or some such critter to run out into sight in a freshly combined corn field and I begin to think about why he is perched there and why it might matter to me.  I came up with three reasons.

The first one I suppose I learned in grade school so many years ago I can't be sure when I learned it.  Birds of prey keep the rodent population in check along with foxes and coyotes and other things.  God created the earth's ecosystem to function in harmony with each other and a few species can even go extinct and it still works pretty well.  There are some insects though that if they disappeared life on earth would pretty much disappear.  The earth is an amazing place.

Then it crossed my mind that he is also perched there so that I can see it as I drove by and this might be a more important reason than the first.  Hawks are beautifully designed creatures from their looks to their function.  I love to watch wildlife and nature for this very reason.  So such things, actually all things exist so that man can see God's handiwork and have thoughts of praise and worship of God and just sit back and delight in his power and wisdom as he watches his creation do what it was created to do.  The hawk sits there so I can drive by and marvel at God!

Then as I drove further down the road thinking about all this another reason came to mind.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the hawk was sitting there because God finds pleasure in his works as well.  After all as he created this world he kept pronouncing everything good.  God was enjoying the hawk before I drove by but what a privilege to be able to join in.  I think I am going to try and put a little more effort into worshiping God outside the church as I do inside.  Do not all things exist for his glory anyway?  Everything that is going on around us is a reason to praise the Lord.  It might take a little thought to figure out how but believe me everything that happens is so God can be honored especially by the Redeemed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Do You Define Yourself?

Michael Horton and the guys at The White Horse Inn had another outstanding program that I thought deserved a link, so here it is:   The Parables, #5

One point they made was the importance of how we see ourselves or how we define ourselves.  For instance, when you think about yourself or are about to make a decision do you do so based first as an American or  according to your gender or whether you are white or black, young or old, rich or poor?  Of course, as Christians we should always see ourselves first as children of God, redeemed sinners and everything else should be secondary.  What we do should be done because we are servants in the kingdom of God and with the mindset that we are here to further the kingdom and glorify the Lord and not primarily for the considerations listed above. 

It isn't that these other situations are to be ignored.  Being a white American male or wife of a Mexican farmer are the situations God has placed an individual in but always to serve him in a unique way that few or none can do but you.  So if I am rich I cannot see myself as someone who has the world by the tail and my purpose is to have the maximum fun with my money while I can.  Instead, I am to first remember why I am here, Who gave me the money to begin with and that I am just as responsible as anyone to use what I have to honor the Lord.

We might take it one step further.  Suppose you were abused as a child.  You can't ignore or deny it but you must be careful not to define yourself as a abused victim all your life either.  God has given you this in his eternal wisdom to be used for his glory just as he gives riches to one and sickness to another.  It isn't given to let you off the hook in life and as an excuse to be bitter and angry at the world.  If you are a Christian it is your special "talent" (Mat 25:15  And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Mat 25:16  Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.)
that you are to figure out by God's Word how to overcome it and be a special tool for the kingdom. 

I know this is a big subject for a short article and I don't want to come across as if this is easy to do, but we have to consider the alternative if what I am saying is not true.  Then not just the "good" but the down right evil, awful, unfair experiences are beyond God's control and have no higher purpose.  If such awful experiences in our past cannot be used for eternal reward, then how is life worth living?  How we define who we are as humans is extremely important.

Here is a poem by John Wesley that I thought is a good example of how a Christian thinks:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to 
your pleasure and disposal.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why Grace

I was listening the Don Carson speak on the transcendent glory of God recently.  He was comparing the true God with the made up gods and religions of the lost.  Those gods had deficiencies of one kind or another that humans could meet with sacrifices, good works or rites of one sort or another and then their god would reward them with something.  This pretty much sums up most false religions it seems.  As Carson put it, you scratch my back and I will scratch yours; a kind of tit for tat arrangement. 

But as I was considering the transcendent glory of our God I began to see why God can only deal with us by grace if he is going to do us good.  The thought came to me that the "bigness" of God necessitates grace.  Because he is so glorious, he is self sufficient, he is completely satisfied in himself and therefore completely content with us or without us that he has no need of anything that we can do for him.  This is the essence of perfection it seems to me.  The aforementioned gods might be powerful but they can't be perfect by a long shot.  But that which is perfect can only give since it has need of nothing.  There is nothing man can do to "scratch his back".  So if salvation or any blessings must come by us making him our debtor we are in trouble.

It is because God is so great that he can only be gracious.  The only thing that can adequately display his perfection is not us giving him things but him sharing his glory with us.  His "bigness" necessitates his graciousness.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why We Say "Amen"

Every now and then it would do us good to consider why we use the word Amen when we hear the preacher say something we agree with and that blesses our souls.  We find the word used in Isa 65:16  "So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes."  In the Hebrew the word for truth is literally "Amen".  So here it is saying God is a solid foundation and sure; he is utterly reliable.

Jesus is referred to as the Amen in Rev 3:14  "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 'The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation."  Here we can see that he is referred to by the same name and glory as Yahweh in the OT.  It is interesting that when Jesus was about to say something that he wanted to emphasize as very important, so important that you can trust your life on it, he began with the words truly, truly or amen, amen.  It is important that we hear the Word with this in mind.  When He speaks, we listen; whatever he says is truth.  This must be our attitude towards the Bible or we will never understand it or be able to trust it.  God speaking always takes precedent over our teachers, parents or whatever weird thoughts pop into our mind.

But when we use the word "amen" we use it after God has spoken.  He proclaims what is true and we acknowledge his words as true.  We agree with God, confessing his words as truth.  We see this happening in Rev 5:13  And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" Rev 5:14  And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped. 

When we by faith believe and obey what he has said, it will take root in us and produce godliness in us.  There is much in this world I do not understand, much that I am unsure of and nothing that I am willing to stake my life on.  But by faith I will stake my life on what God says even those things that I don’t fully understand.  When he says there is none righteous, no not one; I live my life standing on that truth.  When he says “no man cometh unto the Father but by me”, then that settles in my mind concerning the broad ways that men have come up with.  He says that he created all things out of nothing by the word of his power and so I can walk into the classroom already with more understanding of the origins of the universe than those who will not listen.  Let’s set the Word of our Lord as the foundation of how we think and live and see how he will work through us. Amen!