70 Years

God, Grief, Old Testament, Suffering

This is a repost from 3/18/2011:

Grief is a normal part of healthy human existence.  Without the ability to grieve we wouldn’t have the ability to love, to feel connected at a deep level to someone, something, or even an idea.  We can and should grieve the loss of a dream, the loss of our home, or the loss of a person that we love to death or relational mayhem.  It is a God designed part of our humanness.

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Theology Thursday 1.24.2013

Grace, Old Testament

Genesis 31-33: Rachel tricks her father, Jacob overcomes, and God brings relational restoration.

The people that God chooses to follow Him are never perfect. We often are greedy, self-seeking and act for our benefit before thinking of anyone else. Rachel, although she had seen the faithfulness of God, decided that she would try to ensure the blessing she might have gotten from her father Laban by stealing his household idols. Jacob didn’t have any clue that she had done this, but I can’t help but wonder what the outcome might have been if Jacob had set the precedent of trusting God in his family.  Maybe Rachel would have been more inclined to trust God too.

Whatever the possibilities, Jacob finally came to a place where he was willing to pursue God’s blessing from God rather than from some other source, and because of his willingness God blessed him. I love the picture of Jacob and Esau reuniting, which is a direct result of Jacob’s trust in the God he had come to know: Jacob is rightfully worried that the brother whose blessing and rights he had stolen might kill him but he is willing to follow God regardless of the outcome.  Meanwhile, Esau’s feelings towards his brother appear to have changed and his greeting of his brother Jacob is a lot like the father in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:20).  Esau runs to him, hugs him and kisses him on the cheek.  Jacob didn’t deserve this greeting, but God is good to those who are willing to obey Him even when they don’t deserve it.

Let Wisdom Lead the Way

Holy Spirit, Old Testament, Psychology

For counselors who profess Christ it is sometimes difficult to remember that God is at work in the world.  Spending day after day with clients who come into sessions with little to no change in their lives, and carrying the same brokenness around with them.  It is easy to question where God is in all of this mess, and it is easy to feel like we’re alone in the trenches with our clients, getting covered in the slime of a more-than-difficult situation.  Sometimes it feels like our client is in another trench and No Man’s Land is in between us with every attempt to cross the distance rebuffed by machine guns, razor wire, and artillery fire.

Fall Colors

Creation, Gratitude, Intimacy, Love, Old Testament, Sacrifice

Malachi 1:6, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.”

Last Sunday Pastor Jordan preached out of Malachi. A tough book to handle homiletically. It starts off affectionately enough but quickly tailspins into controversy (the whole “I love Jacob but hate Esau” talk) and crashes into the raw nature of a Holy God. The cordial introduction is made quick work of and feels like a contrived setup—though it is far from it—to simply catch its original audience off guard, that being, the Levitical priesthood who were more than responsible yet indifferent towards the corrupted priest-and-sacrifice economy originally designed to showcase a tradition and posture of mercy, of healing, and of worship, but that was instead bastardized by greed, laziness, and mockery.

It is not so much that there was a small margin of error in the selection for a proper offering, it is not as if God expected the priests to choose the “one” sacrifice in the same sense we may erroneously think of there being only one soulmate. There was no perfect sacrifice nor perfect choice, just the cream of the crop. The sacrificial system was to give, not out of the worth of the animal, but in response to the worthiness of God. It was not meant for precision and pressure, but for freedom to worship.

I cannot imagine how a jealous God absorbed the full extent of this insult when the priests deliberately went out of their way to give from the bottom of the barrel and not from the bottom of their heart. It was a spat to the face, and surprisingly enough God did not wipe out the people entirely. He was faithful, even in anger, to covenant love. To illustrate this He reminds them of a scandalous love affair with a conniving, undeserving scoundrel for a patriarch (Malachi 1:2).

And to prove there was no perfect choice, God chose to love Jacob. And to prove their was a perfect choice, God chose to sacrifice His son.

In one sweeping motion the cross unprecedentedly overturns and fulfills, on a cosmic scale, an unfinished system through the sacrifice of One. Done away with forever was the need for animal sacrifices in order to make way for worship in spirit and truth, which, ironically, nonetheless calls us to sacrifice still (Romans 12:1). God did not do away with sacrifice in general, just in particular. As the saying goes, “He who has loved without dying has not loved at all.” Yes, to say Christ is the consummate Sacrifice is absolute; to say Christ is the only sacrifice is left wanting, because then, what must I do with gratitude?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Perhaps this verse is not about calling us to an old law but rather to a covenant Love, an explanation—to help us make sense—of gratitude. Paul does this with a refreshing truth.  Covenant love is not physical circumcision. The heart is the new circumcision. Covenant love is not animal sacrifice. Worship is the new sacrifice.

Gratitude can never do away with worship, in as much as, love can never do away with sacrifice.

Yet, I thought to myself during Pastor Jordan’s preaching, if my body is the living sacrifice, I cannot help but think that I offer nothing but blemish and lameness. With that realization, I could not but resign to sadness.

Then suddenly the Spirit lifted up my eyes and reminded me of something I saw that weekend.

With horchata drinks in hand and a discounted Domino’s pizza already downed, Ben Wagenaar and I created a homies paradise as we roamed aimlessly through the cool trails of the Nature Center talking about nothing new under the sun but enjoying brotherhood through the exploration of God and creation. I motioned for us to stop as we crossed midway over a bridge, as all this was new to me (I had never visited before), and my eyes beheld in shock at the beauty of autumn.

“Springfield is underrated,” I spoke out loud.

Running water trickled calmly underneath but leaped to meet with the falling rain. A few feet away a turtle pocked its head out of the water and stared in salutation. On the horizon, where earth meets the sky, the autumn trees appeared as frozen flames brilliant with warm colors.

I knew this scenery was only possible because a part of Mother Nature was dying. And she did so without fight nor tension. It was her desire to shed her leaves in order to embrace the harsh winter to come. As it is with life in Jesus, when we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we present ourselves as Fall Colors.

Beautiful in dying. Colorful in living.

A couple weekends ago I took a trip to IHOP in Kansas City, coincidentally also with Ben, and I heard Misty Edwards sing live. In one of her songs she sang, almost as if personally to me, during a time when I had nothing of myself worth offering,

I knew what I was getting into and I still chose you.
I knew what I was getting into and I still like you.
I knew what I was getting into and I still want you.
I don’t regret it; I am not shocked by your weakness and brokenness.

If you are not the cream of the crop, of which I never was nor will ever be, do not fret, through Christ you are altogether lovely; your worship as sweet fragrance. Being a living sacrifice is not a beauty pageant. God desires for us to live out a redeemed theology of brokenness and sacrifice, for only then can we can live out worship in spirit and in truth—that truth being, I am weakness and repentance, yet grateful and adored.

At the close of the service I prayed to the Lord as He wiped away my tears, “BE LIVING IN MY DYING.”