A Lesson from a Priest

December is the month when we hear a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

She was an unwed mother who gave birth to the Savior of the world.

Those two things don’t belong together, do they? You’d think God would have chosen a woman from the ruling class in a palace with a jeweled cradle.

In fact, he chose the opposite. IMG_7835

Mary was ordinary.

Mary was poor.

Mary was humble.

And she was chosen.

God chose her. Of all the women in that day, he chose her. Why? For the same reason he chooses us. Because he wanted to. Out of love. To show forth his glory.

And what made Mary stand out was her faith. She believed the angel Gabriel’s outlandish message that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son and he would be “great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

I wish I could be more like Mary and say everyday, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

But I’m more like Zechariah, the priest when the angel told him he was going to have a son. (Luke 1)

If only Zechariah had noticed the parallels of his angel’s visitation and announcement with the one Abraham had back in Genesis 15 when God promised him an heir. And buoyed up by Abraham’s faith Zechariah should had followed suit. After all he was a Jew. He was clergy. It says he and his wife, Elizabeth were both righteous before God, but they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and now they were well advanced in old age.

The story begins when Zechariah’s shift came up and he was in the temple serving God. His assignment was to burn incense while the multitudes outside the temple were praying. How much more spiritual can you get? (Incense is mixed with the prayers of God’s people. See Revelation 8:3-4) That’s when Gabriel showed up, Zechariah was paralyzed with fear, and Gabriel told him to relax. Perhaps Zechariah thought he wasn’t adhering to the rules of burning incense quite right. Or maybe he was scared Gabriel would find him unworthy for the duty he was performing. Instead, Gabriel reassured him that he had come to deliver a pretty cool message. That God had heard his prayer. What prayer? The man was old. He must have prayed a zillion prayers in his lifetime not only for himself and his wife but for the nation of Israel. No, it was one specific prayer that was in view here – that of having a son. Now, I’m sure at both his and Elizabeth’s old age, they had given up praying for a son. When you’re old and grey and your bones creak, you don’t keep praying for things that are way past your prime. And yet here we hear Gabriel telling Zechariah that he and his wife would conceive and bear a son. (As an aside, God doesn’t forget any one of your prayers! However, don’t expect his timing to necessarily fit your calendar.) So does Zechariah jump up and do a dance? No. He questions Gabriel and wants to know the details. Just like me. Instead of clinging to the promises of God by faith, no matter how many examples I have in Scripture of others having done so, I question God. So Gabriel mutes Zechariah for his unbelief and during his wife’s last trimester he’s forced to communicate in hand motions and a tablet. I should be living life flailing my arms and writing text messages, too.

But God loves me. He chose me like he did Mary to be filled with a new life in Christ. Mary gave birth to the Son of God so that the Son of God could give birth to me. And you. And then give us his perfect record. And die for our sins. And clothe us in his righteousness. And adopt us. And love us. Forever!

Go out and tell somebody and dance with them!

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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Tent Living is a Temporary Affair

“By faith he (Abraham) made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” – Hebrews 11:9 NIV

I read that verse this morning and thought about how this applies today. Nothing came to mind and then, Pow! The Holy Spirit opened up the heavens.

Here’s what he taught me:  Tents

This is true of us post-moderns as much as those tent dwellers in Abraham’s day.

Abraham and his family made their home in the promised land like strangers in a foreign country. While they lived there, they didn’t belong there. Their citizenship was in the new heaven and the new earth, just like ours is. Whatever country we live in, that’s not home. Home is with Christ.

Abraham and his family lived in tents. They were mobile homes, able to be set up and taken down whenever necessary. We live in tents, too. Paul calls the body a tent, and when we die we step out of our tent and into a new immortal body, just like Christ’s. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

We, along with Abraham, the father of the faithful, and everyone who calls upon Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, to be living one day in the new heaven and the new earth, in new bodies, breathing pure air.

And where is this new world going to be? Right here! Every step we take on this solid ground we call earth will one day be renewed, made clean and pure and holy, inhabited only by saints washed in Jesus’s blood and sacrifice.

Don’t think of your salvation as an individual gift only. Salvation embraces the entire universe! Jesus’s perfect life of obedience and death on the cross restored the created order, including you and me.

Question: When you groan in your tent here what do you do about it?

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

Mind the Gap

If you’ve been to London and taken the tube you’ve heard the recording that says, “Mind the Gap” that comes on at every stop. It’s a mantra. That’s because there is a space between the subway car and the platform large enough to lose a shoe in. I’ve seen it happen.

The idea of a gap between two realities is also prevalent in the bible, and it’s not a tiny space like the London tube. It’s immense. It’s as large as earth to Mars, only bigger. It’s the tension of the now and not yet. We are saved now but the reality of its fullness is not ours yet. That comes when Jesus returns or we die and go to be with him, whichever comes first. photo (8)

We see this tension fleshed out in the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 16. Here we see Sarah’s impatience with God to give her a son, so she takes matters into her own hands by suggesting to Abraham that he sleep with Hagar, her maid, and produce the child that way, something that Abraham did not resist, by the way.

We see Sarah’s struggles with God’s timing, which reveals Sarah’s doubt of God’s character. Why is he taking so long? It’s been ten years already and nothing’s happened. Can I continue to trust him? Underneath it all is a suspicion of God’s goodness. Can’t you hear the same echos of the devil saying the same thing to Eve in Genesis 3?

Here we see Abraham and Sarah living in the gap between what God had promised and their unfulfilled expectations.

I see this played out in my life and in the lives of family and friends. We long for close, intimate and satisfying relationships. Instead we live with distance, misunderstandings, and heartache. We long for satisfying work. Instead we grumble and complain because of the boredom. We want glory here and now, but God says not yet, it’s coming soon.

What can we learn from this? Here are three insights:

1) Living in the gap of the now and not yet tempts us to take matters into our hands. The underlying assumption is that we can fix the problems ourselves like Abraham and Sarah did. But instead of fixing things, we make a mess of things.

2) While living in the gap, we continue to be faithful to what God has called us to. We trust God’s faithfulness. That doesn’t mean we take no action, but it does mean we do things believing God is for us and not against us.

3) God doesn’t go AWOL in the gap and in our messes. He doesn’t flee to heaven and wait for us to figure out ways to make it home. If he did that, nobody would get home. He’s there working in the gap. He’s a God who sees and hears and is in the middle of the mess. That’s what he has promised to do. And ultimately he will fulfill all his promises to us. We don’t know how or when, but it will happen.

You won’t lose God in the gap. There is joy, freedom and laughter there if we trust him for the reality that’s coming.

Question: What are some of the ways you take matters into your hands while living in the gap?

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

Are You Perplexed About God’s Will?

If I were God, and I wanted to get my message to the people I’ve created, I certainly wouldn’t put my best men in prison for years, mistreat them, put them through hurdles, and even kill my best man on the job.

But that’s exactly what God did with Elijah, Moses, Abraham, David, Paul, Peter, John, and of course, Jesus.

“I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” – Jeremiah 10:23 ESV 

That’s an understatement.

It is my experience that God leads and directs in mysterious ways.

The things I most pray for don’t come to fruition in the way I ask.

In fact, oftentimes God keeps me waiting or answers me in opposite ways.

And his answers can be risky and perplexing. They make me ask what God is up to.

They also produce fear in me, and then I realize I can’t fix the outcome, and then I am forced to trust him.

I am no longer in control.

Martin Luther experienced the same thing.

“We need to learn how God guides his people as they grow and develop. I too have often tried to dictate to our Lord God a certain way in which I expect him to run things. I have often said, ‘O Lord, would you please do it this way and make it come out that way?’ But God did just the opposite, even though I said to myself, ‘This is a good suggestion that will bring honor to God and expand his kingdom.’ Undoubtedly, God must have laughed at my so-called wisdom and said, ‘All right, I know that you are an intelligent, educated person, but I never needed a Peter, a Luther, or anyone else to teach, inform, rule, or guide me. I am not a God who will allow himself to be taught or directed by others. Rather, I am the one who leads, rules, and teaches people.'”

I am reminded that since God is taking care of every detail of the universe, surely he will take care of me.

I am learning to rest in that truth.

The Howling Wilderness of our Lives

In the middle of a grueling week of work, a friend of mine stopped by and asked, “How’s it going?”

“Things could be better,” I said. I hurt all over from hours of standing on my feet. My head throbbed from lack of sleep. And I was fighting a cold.

“Listen,” he said looking at me. “This is as good as it gets. Things don’t get any better.”  

Most people would have thought my friend was way off-base. Negative. Cynical even.

For me, what he said was just what I needed to be reminded of.

Living in the wilderness is just that – journeying through a dry and thirsty land where there is no water, no oasis, and no rest.

Think Abraham.

Think the Israelites in their 40 years of desert wandering.

Even Jesus, when he was here in the flesh, lived his life in the wilderness.

He died in the wilderness, just like Abraham did, just like the first generation of Israelites did, just like you and me.

The wilderness is a pilgrimage, where we are not at rest. In fact, it’s a place of hardship and testing.

Wilderness and rest structures the life of the Church.

The First Coming of Jesus accomplished redemption by his death and resurrection.

His Second Coming brings in the Sabbath rest for all God’s people.

In between those two events, is the wilderness journey, in which we all pass through.

No one is exempt.

Not even Jesus.

He experienced the journey for us. He lived it perfectly for us. And that record is put to our account.

So then how are we to live our lives in the wilderness?

First, by not expecting it to be a life of comfort and rest. Just the opposite.

Second, it’s our time to do good works out of gratitude to God for saving us and giving us a future Sabbath rest that is as certain as God himself.

This is the time we tell others the good news of the gospel, where we love one another as the body of Christ, where preaching and teaching and training in righteousness is a daily and weekly habit.

Our happiness is not here.

It’s in a future rest in heaven with our God.

 

 

 

He Knows

Read Exodus 3

When the Israelites cried in their affliction and suffering in Egypt, God knew their condition of helplessness and rescued them. Why? Because they were a great bunch? Because they loved God? Because they deserved to be emancipated? Nothing of the kind. They were a godless, complaining lot of humanity.

The reason God intervened was because they were his people and he was committed to them. His reputation and his name was on the line. He had promised Abraham a land and God always keeps his promises. So while they were yet sinners, he prepared a deliverer, Moses, through whom he would extract his people from Egypt. Moses was a picture of Christ, a man who was raised up to lead the people out of bondage into the freedom of God’s kingdom.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we were blind and spiritually dead. While we were ignorant of our greatest need. While we knew nothing about God. While we were rebels, Christ fixed our sin problem.

Has this happened to you? Has God rescued you from your darkness and sin?

The Old Testament Is About Jesus

Christ in the Old Testament – Tim Keller

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.