Monday, February 15, 2016

Valentine's Day and Hindsight and Foresight and Grace

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. And that fact takes me back to one of the first blog posts I ever wrote—almost exactly 4 years ago. The link is here: Valentine's Day 2012 (click those words J), and it would add to this post’s meaning if you perused it before continuing. It proves the statement by KJ-52 in his song, “Can I Be Honest” where he says, “Hindsight is 20/20 so I'm like whatever,” except that in my case I would change the “whatever” to “what’s next?”.
You see, yesterday was a very good day, despite it being the first Sunday in more than three years that I’ve had to work during church. It was the first Valentine's Day in which I have actually spent time with my valentine. The closest I’ve come prior to yesterday was a long-distance “relationship” that maybe included a phone call on Valentine's Day, or the year prior when I might have talked to a girl through text or phone call on Valentine's Day. But yesterday—because past years don’t matter; the question is: what will my future look like?—was so different on so many levels. I’ve been very quick in the past to throw out the phrase, “I love you,” to girls I’m interested in (none of which have lasted more than 3 months from meeting to breaking up) and yesterday marked more than six months when I finally verbalized it. (Maybe the crazy spicy Indian food I ate at dinner made me crazy, but I doubt it.) The thing is, my past translated “I love you” into “I love what I can get from you,” but Jesus defines love on the cross and John explains in 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us; in the same way we also ought to love one another.” If I’m going to love anyone rightly (and I tried to explain this to her, but might have done a bad job in the moment) I need to remove myself from the picture. (Which I almost literally did while driving after saying those words; thank You Jesus for warning bumps on roads!)
But that’s all as far as that is concerned. Worrying about relationships four years ago this week and stressing about them for the three and a half years that followed, has been turned into a lesson in hindsight being 20/20. The girl God has graciously placed in my life is a gem of an individual in so many ways. I don’t know if she even has a clue how much she means to me. (And as she reminded me yesterday,) God would still be perfectly good if He took her out of my life, because God is infinitely worth more than any human being, even though it’s often hard to see it in that light. I do pray that yesterday was the first of many Valentine's Days that we will spend with each other.
But that’s not all. Four years ago today I was in the place of trying to figure out the rest of my life—not just who my future wife would be. And now, four years later, I have a much clearer picture of a lot of things in my future. Four years ago I was wondering what to do about school after junior college: I went to Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri and got a Bachelor’s of Arts in Biblical Studies. Then, because of the girl I speak so much about, I decided to move to Bolivar, MO and look for a job. Seminary is hopefully in the future, along with church planting, but I found a job—a really good job—much sooner than I ever expected at the Walgreens directly across from SBU. With this job, I have the potential to be transferred just about anywhere in the United States, which I can use to my benefit to plant a church somewhere that needs it and fulfill my ultimate desire to be a pastor someday.
I remember four years ago sitting in Starbucks and writing that post. I remember how unsure I was about the future. I remember how depressed I was at the lack of “romance” in my life. And I know where I am today: dating a fabulous, godly woman; working and making more money than I’ve ever made before; in the process of joining a church; serving guys that I know who are still at SBU; and worried about the future not looking like I want it to look. However, reflecting back on my post from four years ago reminds me that God has the whole world in His hands, which does not exclude my life, and if He can prove faithful over the past four years, even though I struggle daily with walking in His will and trusting that where I am walking actually is His will, then He will prove Himself faithful over the next 2, 4, 6, 8, 20, etc. years.
To go back to the KJ-52 song I mentioned earlier:
I'm not perfect I serve a God who is
I serve a God who lives who says that I'm His kid
When I shoot for the mark but I shoot and miss
I serve a God who gives a new start and He forgives
And takes every thing I ever did
Then He throws it in the sea of forgetfulness
See I'm just being honest I hope your getting this
Cuz He's my promise the reason that I live
The apostle Paul concludes Romans 11 well, and they are words that I must daily remember:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of [Yahweh], or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Three Tiers of Temptation

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.” This is an amazing comfort to us as humans, but it is also incredibly convicting, because normally—at least in my experience—we look back (post-fall) and say, “There was a way out there, and there, and there, but I still fell. I’m an idiot!” Jesus clearly shows us the way out in Matthew 4:1-11.
The setting is laid out clearly in 4:1-2. Here it says that Jesus had just been baptized by John, where a voice had come down from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!” (3:17). The very next verse says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil” (4:1). If anybody had a reason to ever make the claim, “I’ve been rejected by God; sin won’t matter,” it was Jesus at this moment. The very same Spirit that had just comforted Him (3:16) was now driving Him into the wilderness for a period of temptation. And Matthew concludes in verse 2 by saying Jesus was fasting for forty days and forty nights. As if that itself wasn’t enough, the setting ends with the words, “He was hungry.”
The Devil comes in verse 3. His first tactic is to get Jesus to doubt His position before God. “If You are the Son of God,” he says, “tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus, of course, was the Son of God, but the point is that the Devil is hitting on a very basic need Jesus has at the time. He is hungry; the Devil says, “Eat!” Our temptations normally first arise because of some physical stimulus. There’s nothing wrong with desiring food; it’s clear Jesus did, but it is wrong to get it in a way that is not appropriate at the time. Jesus’ response sums this up perfectly. He quotes Scripture, saying, “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus knows that the true cure for hunger is God. Eating bread will leave anyone hungry again; feasting on God truly satisfies. When a physical temptation strikes, we must look to God as the superior pleasure and all-satisfying One.
But the Devil doesn’t stop there. Verse 5 has him standing in Jerusalem, atop the temple, and verse 6 has him repeating the question, “If You are the Son of God,” and then adding the conclusion,  “Throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will give His angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’.” The Devil knows Jesus is going to fight him with Scripture, so he tries to turn Scripture against Jesus. He basically claims, “The Bible says it’s okay. Even if You do, God will still save You.” Or, as it gets spoken to us normally, “The more you sin, the more grace there is. Just do it and ask forgiveness later.” And then Jesus, in verse 7, replies back again with Scripture, “It is also written: ‘Do not test the Lord your God’ ” (cf. Deuteronomy 6:16). The Devil had completely ripped the verse (cf. Psalm 91:11-12) out of its context and said, “Jump! He’ll save You.” Jesus knows that there is an element of human responsibility in our living and our choices, so He says, “I won’t. I can’t test God. I must persevere through this thing.” When a verse pops into our head in a moment of temptation that seems to ease the consequences of our intended actions, it’s the Devil tempting us to test God! We can’t give in to these!
Then the Devil takes Jesus to a mountain where he shows Him all the cities of the world (4:8). He tells Jesus, “I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me” (4:9). The Devil knew why Jesus had come. He knew He was the Son of God. His goal had simply been to get Jesus to question it and to test it, thus sinning and ruining His standing before God. When all that failed, He told Jesus to worship Him in order to get what He came to earth to get: the nations. Jesus again responds with Scripture, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him’ ” (4:10; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus recognized this temptation for what all temptations ultimately are when given into: Devil worship. In one sense it was the easiest temptation to avoid because the Devil told Jesus to worship him, and all good Jews know to only worship God. But in another sense it was the hardest temptation to abstain from: the Devil promised Jesus His life’s mission-goal apart from the cross.
If our temptations came to us with the label, “Do this and worship me, signed: Satan,” of course we’d stay miles away from them. However, this is why even if we make it through both of the first two rounds, we still end up failing in the third. The Devil promises that which we think we most need at the time we think we most need it, however, the hook is always hiding.
Let’s say Jesus gave in to this temptation; and let’s also say the Devil gave Him what he promised. Jesus would have all the nations, but sinning and worshipping the Devil ruins His claim to perfection as a perfect sacrifice, so He can’t die for the sins of the world or rise again. He would “possess” all the nations of the world, but they would really still be in Satan’s power and under God’s wrath.
Praise God that Jesus stood strong in temptation. And let’s pray that we can stand strong as well. The first test is often a physical stimulus; the second is a twisted promise from Scripture; and the third is a promise to get exactly what we want, even though the deadly hook is hidden. Trust God, know God, and love God. Pray to Him in time of need! There’s always a way out!
Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fulfilled Completely

Have you ever read something a lot of times, never seen something awesome about it until much later, and then kicked yourself for repeatedly missing it for so long? I’m there right now, but it’s slightly different, because I’m kicking myself out of joy. Allow me to explain...
The book of Leviticus often gets a bad rap for being the thru-the-Bible-in-a-year killer. Genesis—great stories. Exodus—God is powerful. Leviticus—chop this this way, this smells good, blood poured out here and there, cleansing, laws, laws, laws. It’s no wonder most people stop reading their Bibles straight through in the midst of this book.
However, there is something that is greatly missed when we do this, because Leviticus is just as much from God as Genesis and Psalms and John and Romans. And the point of the book is the same as all of the other 65 books in our canon: the supremacy, beauty, and worth of Jesus Christ. Jesus said Himself in Luke 24:44, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Leviticus speaks about Christ. For this reason we are burdened to spend time in it. The fact that it begins with the phrase, “Then the LORD summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting,” tells us that it is God’s words that are meant to be listened to.
I’ve been in Leviticus for the last month, and I’ve been seeking and praying that I would learn about Jesus through it. I’ve also been reading Allan Moseley’s commentary in the Christ Centered Exposition series on the book as I go through Leviticus. You can find it by clicking here: Leviticus; and I highly recommend it. A whole lot of things finally clicked for me today as I read and reflected on the section 5:14-6:7, speaking of guilt offerings.
I read Moseley after I finish the section he takes for a chapter, so since his first chapter is on 1:1-17, I read chapter one after I had moved on to 2:1. Since I haven’t yet finished reflecting on portions of 5:14-6:7, I haven’t read his comments yet, but he has been very good at pointing out different aspects of the sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7 and showing how they are fulfilled in Christ. He posits that the burnt offering of chapter 1 is representative of Jesus’ atonement for our sin (which is the conclusion I’m least sure of given Leviticus 16’s point). He posits that the grain offering of chapter 2 is representative of our response to Jesus’ sacrifice; we thankfully sacrifice our firstfruits back to Jesus.  He posits that the fellowship offering of chapter 3 is representative of Jesus’ death for our renewed fellowship with Jesus and other believers. He posits that the sin offering in chapter 4 is for purification from daily sinning, also fully realized in Jesus.
And I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to make the claim that the sacrifice in Leviticus 5 is also fully realized in Jesus, because He takes away our guilt. All of these sacrifices that had to be offered repeatedly all the time, for all different reasons—atonement, thanksgiving, fellowship, sin, guilt—are all fully realized in Jesus in His one sacrifice on the cross. His offering tells me that I’ve been atoned for. His offering should lead to my grateful response. His offering gives me unhindered fellowship with God and should lead to improve my fellowship with other people. His offering covers my daily sin, purifying me for continued standing as being “atoned for” and continued fellowship with God and others. And His offering takes away my guilt. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified.”
This is the crazy part, and where I’m about to start a preachy ramble, so bear with me. Jesus’ one offering has perfected already those who are being sanctified. Because of all the offerings in Leviticus, I know what Jesus’ sacrifice covers. It doesn’t just cover my initial standing as depraved, wretched, and deserving of wrath. It also doesn’t just cover a limited number of failures into sin. It also doesn’t just cover the first 490 times I feel guilty about a certain sin.
God is love (1 John 4:8, 16) and love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5), so God as the perfect embodiment of love doesn’t count up my sins and say, “Nope, that makes 491 times. That’s one more than 70 times 7. We’re done!” This is good news. Christ’s sacrifice is still sufficient for me. Christ’s sacrifice puts the Levitical sacrifices to shame. Too often I put myself in a place where I say, “I need to do something to make amends for this sin. I need to do penance, offer a sacrifice, assuage my guilt.” I know in my heart that Jesus has purified and atoned for my sin, but I feel like I need to do something about the guilt.
This is why Leviticus 5:14-6:7 hit me so hard today. I finally realized after some foolish decisions in the last week or so that Jesus still loved me regardless, but I was having a hard time getting past the guilt that I was feeling. God’s holy Word, in Leviticus, smacked me up the face and said, “Hey Mr. Mopey, rejoice! When I died on the cross, my sacrifice covered your guilt too. You don’t need to be bogged down under that anymore. Walk in freedom from sin, but also in freedom from guilt! They go together! You can’t do one without the other, which is why My sacrifice is so much greater than the things in this book that you’re studying.”
So my exhortation to you today, is rejoice! Look to the cross. Know that Jesus covered your sin and your guilt when He died on the cross and walk in that truth. Don’t listen to the lies that Satan whispers about past guilt, present guilt, or even potential future guilt. If you know Jesus, you are forgiven and covered. Seek Him!

Soli Deo Gloria

P. S. I would also encourage you to read Leviticus, but as you do, look for ways in which it points to Jesus and screams, "He is better!"