Friday, June 22, 2018

Christ and the battle for the Promised Land (pt. 1)

To My Friends, Colleagues, Church Fellowship, Curious People everywhere and especially my Grandchildren,
Always know that you are fully loved by God and you are loved by me. I pray that you remember our purpose is to reflect the entire Glory of God.

At some point in our spiritual growth and our faith development, we need to examine our beliefs in relation to Christ's command in the book of Joshua that calls for the destruction of entire cities.

Joshua 8:1,2
"Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai.  I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.  You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king."

Let's go back a few verses and find out exactly what Christ is telling Joshua to do.

Joshua 6:20,21
"When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in , and they took the city.  They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it - men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys."

On many occasions in my ministry these verses have become the fuel for very heated debates about Christian morality, justice and love.  How do we as people of faith in the justice and love of Christ, speak to the love of God while proclaiming the unchanging nature of God in Christ and the authority of all scripture as inspired by God through His Holy Spirit?

In all honesty, in our modern world, I have lost these debates more often than I have won.  In other words, my reasoning did not convince those I was speaking to.  At the end of the day those gathered for the discussion decided to either question the authority of scripture or they decided in many cases to believe that the God of the Old Testament had changed and we as followers of Jesus Christ are living under a new covenant and a new testament.  Out with the old and in with the new!

I continue to believe that Christ is unchangeable from Old to New Testaments.  I continue to believe in the inspired and inerrant nature of scripture.  I continue to believe that the character of God in the Father, is the definitive character that defines for us the very concepts of love, justice, mercy and grace.  At the risk of losing the debate once again, let me share my reasoned response to the question of Christ's absolute love in the face of a very harsh command that is responsible for the destruction of entire cities and peoples.

It is important to note that people's struggles become progressive in this debate.  If only the men had been destroyed there was very little struggle.  Men die in war...that is a given.  Women being destroyed is more of a struggle but still not totally out of bounds.  It might be a justice issue, but at least the women had lived and were responsible for some of their actions.  The real struggle happens when we get to the destruction of children and babies.  This is totally inexcusable in most modern minds.

Let me begin with an observation.  Most people who want to challenge my more orthodox view on this topic want to begin in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua.  My first question is, why become indignant about this type of destruction so late in the story of God's people?

Why not begin with the story of the flood?  Remember this portion of scripture?

Genesis 6:5-7
"The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth and His heart was deeply troubled.  So the Lord said, "I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created - and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground."

I can see the hearts of men being evil and can even imagine the hearts of women, but children?  Why destroy the children along with the evil adults?

What about becoming indignant about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Let's get beyond the question of the "why" (which is the usual reason for indignation) they had to be destroyed, and ask the question about the destruction of innocents.  Surely the 10 people Christ was looking for, if He were to spare these cities, could be found in the innocent hearts of children, and yet the children are destroyed along with the adults.  You can find this story beginning in the 18th chapter of Genesis.

A more accurate place to begin our biblical discussion happens after these two events have already taken place.  Armed with this information it should at least not come as a surprise that Christ is willing to deal with the enemies of His people in this manner.  We may not agree with Christ or understand His purpose and justice yet, but it should at the very least, not be a surprise.

Authority is very important to me in this world.  Perhaps it is a part of my military background, but I want to know if something is a lawful order from my ultimate authority or an order that has become a matter of practice but is open to interpretation.  In the military, this concept is drilled into a soldier during basic training.  It is important to learn how to determine if something is a lawful order.  Lawful orders are to be obeyed while common orders can be manipulated to suit a situation.  Disobeying lawful orders can get you court-marshalled.

In scripture I consider all words that come directly from God in any expression (Father,Son,Holy Spirit) to be lawful orders.  It is important to me as I read scripture to determine if someone is speaking on behalf of Christ or if Christ Himself is speaking.  I tend to underline in the Old Testament the parts of scripture that are direct words from Christ.  This has been done for us in many "Red Letter" translations of the New Testament.

I ask this question about this debate.  By who's authority is this practice of total destruction put into place?

Deuteronomy is heavy with Moses speaking to the people about what Christ expects.  The question is whether this is Moses's understanding of what Christ expects or has Christ specifically told Moses these expectations.  I find no evidence in the books of Moses to support Christ literally telling Moses this is the way Israel will move into the promised land.  I have searched and do not find a command from Christ to Moses about total destruction of cities and people.  This then is the understanding Moses has in encounters or information he has received apart from the recorded words of Christ in the first five books of the Old Testament.  For the record here is what Moses believes Christ expects.

Deuteronomy 20:16,17
"The cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them."

Is this a lawful order?  Just because it appears in scripture does not make it a lawful order from Christ.

Joshua obviously considers it a direct (lawful) order from Christ.  This is the manner in which he deals with Jericho.  We come back full circle to the passage in Joshua where the practice of total destruction is confirmed by the direct word of Christ.  So that you don't have to go back to the beginning I will print it again for you.

Joshua 8:1,2
"Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai.  I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.  You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king."

This then for me is the proof that this is in fact a lawful and direct order from Christ about how Israel is to deal with the enemies of God.  It is not a misunderstanding by God's people.  It is a command given straight from the character of Christ Himself.

This brings us to the question of why.

Moses gives us the why.  If Moses was right about the practice it makes his answer to the why credible for me.  It does not make it definitive, but it means I must take it very seriously and give it due consideration.

Deuteronomy 20:18
"Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God."

The argument Moses makes in scripture for total destruction, is that any sin left behind will lead you back into rebellion against Christ at some point.

But what about the children?  The implication is summed up in this "saying" stated by a member in one of my studies.  "As goes the parent, so goes the child".  In other words, children will grow up and by virtue of their upbringing they will learn the character of the parent.  Some might break away from the practice, but most will follow the lead of the parent.  Simply destroying the parent and leaving the child will leave a legacy of evil in the promised land.  What about the babies?  Take it from an adopted child who came from an orphanage, at some point all children want to know where they came from.  When those questions arise and you learn that your parents were destroyed there will be consequences for the future of that child.  I would say that some of you will argue with this idea (and rightly so).

Let me further make my case from scripture.  We actually have an example of this in scripture.  If you read the book of Esther you read the story of a very courageous woman who saves the people of Israel from certain destruction.  What most people are not aware of is the context.  Why was Haman so intent on the destruction of the Israelites?  The answer, he was one of those children from the promised land that was not destroyed but his parents were.  He harbored this resentment in his heart and acted on it when he acquired the power to strike back.

I have had many teachers attest to the fact that "as goes the parent, so goes the child" is in fact a true statement.  Not one-hundered percent true, but true enough that it is the norm and not the exception to the rule.

This then seems to be the wisdom of Moses as he understood it from God.  Destroy everyone or expect that in the future they will lead you back into evil practises and will seek your destruction.

The occupants of the Promised Land at the time of the exodus were not the original inhabitants of the land.  The tribes living in the Promised Land were the descendants of Ham.  They had taken by battle the cities built by the descendants of Shem.  It was the descendants of Shem that came from Abraham and Christ was leading them back and reclaiming the land He had given to Shem by the blessing of Noah.

No, those occupying the Promised Land at the time of the exodus were not the owners of that land.  They might have conquered it, but that just means there is no real cause for cries of justice when they themselves are conquered as the original inhabitants take it back.

I'm sure there are many lessons to be learned and many discussions to be had, but let me share one in particular.

When Jesus Christ comes in the new testament and promises that sin or evil can and will be conquered in our lives, did He mean just some of the sin?  Will it not be Christ's intention to bring victory in our lives over all sin and all evil?  We may never be rid of the influence evil can exert on our lives, but a life with Christ will push that sin and that evil to the outer boundaries.  It will be Luke who records the encounter Jesus had with the demon possessed man.  The demons ask if Christ has come to "destroy" them.  The expectation is that they will be destroyed.  In Revelation 11 Christ will come and destroy those "who destroy the earth".

Christ did not promise to only deal with some of our sin.  He promised to destroy all the power sin had over our lives.  From Old Testament to New Testament, it is Christ who will lead the battle to destroy that which is against His character and His purpose.

I echo the words of Paul in 1 Cor. 15:57 "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ".

Yol Bolusm,

Friday, June 1, 2018

Christ and the Ordinance (Law) of Sacrifice

To My Friends, Colleagues, Church Fellowship, Curious People everywhere and especially my Grandchildren,
Always know that you are fully loved by God and you are loved by me. I pray that you remember our purpose is to reflect the entire Glory of God.

As we leave behind the drama of the wilderness journey which became for Israel what they will forever call the Exodus, we move into a day of conquest and settlement.  Before we dig into the presence of Christ in the future events of Joshua and Judges, I think it might be wise to have a conversation about the nature of the sacrifices Christ called for in the laws and ordinances of Leviticus and Numbers.  We have talked about the reasons for offerings and tithes but we have not talked about the means of these sacrifices.  In our modern culture that leaves at least me with an unfinished theological foundation.

Let me state my question simply.  Why so much blood?  Are these not the pagan practises of those who worship the very false gods that Christ is warning His people to avoid?

Israel has been immersed in an Egyptian and world culture that is filled with the worship of Baal and Astarte who were chief among a pantheon of gods in the world.  The warrior like culture of the tribes descended from Ham, (shem-ham-japeth, sons of Noah) had filled the middle eastern region with the worship of these deities.  Remember the story of the tower of Babel?  This was a story connected to Ham and his descendants as they led the middle eastern world into the worship of many gods rather than the creator described to us at the beginning of the book of Genesis.  From the beginning He named Himself as Elohim and Yahweh.

I gave you that short paragraph to say we have a competition going on for the hearts and minds of the Israelite nation in terms of what we have come to call "worldview".  The world they had been living in since the middle of the book of Genesis, when Christ called Abraham to separate himself from the polytheistic worldview of the middle east, was to be replaced with a monotheistic worldview of the Creator God.  (This was actually a return to the earliest beliefs in our creation narratives.) The "period" (end of sentence) was put on this clash of civilizations and worldview by 400 years of forced captivity in Egypt.

Let me ask my question in a different way at this point.  Why would Christ set in place laws of sacrifice that mirrored the very practises of these ancient pagan worship practises?  I can't believe I am the only one curious about this at a basic level.

All of these other religions were steeped in bloody sacrifices of both animals and people.  It would have been more comfortable for me to believe that to set His people apart and show the world just how different they were, Christ would have charted a new course into the future.  Instead, I find laws that begin centuries of practice where the Israelites are to bring animals to the priests to be slaughtered as a means of obedience, thanksgiving and atonement for sin.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not calling this into question in regards to Christ's Holiness, I am just interested in the "why".  Christ does nothing on accident or a whim and I can't believe this is the exception to that reality.

I have heard many explanations in my years of ministry and study about these early Israelite sacrificial practises.  Most of these have centered around this biblical statement.

Leviticus 17:11
"the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar."

There is also, in this 17th chapter, an admission that they (the Israelites) have been sacrificing to the "goat god" min.  The Israelites are told in Leviticus 17:7 to no longer offer these sacrifices to the "goat idols".  They are instead, told to offer this sacrifice to Christ.  Anyone's eyebrows going up yet?

In the explanations I have explored, the one that seems the most plausible goes back to the the killing of animals for the clothing of Adam and Eve.  In this explanation Christ killed animals and used their skins to cover the nakedness or the sin of man's original rebellion.  In this teaching, Christ is just bringing back the reality that the "life blood" of the animal is used because there is a real consequence of sin.  Death is that consequence and rather than Adam and Eve dying, the animal died.  Rather than the people of Israel dying, a perfect animal is used as a substitution of that death.  Rather than you and I dying, Christ who is the perfect sacrifice died in our place.  I think you get the general picture of this explanation and argument in relation to the blood sacrifice.  Christ is simply calling the Israelites back to the original purpose of the sacrifice He Himself instituted after the sin of Adam and Eve.  By the way, this explanation lays the foundation for the sacrifices that Cain and Abel are bringing to Christ in Genesis 4.  This explanation leaves much to be discussed and debated, but it moves us in a biblical direction for understanding.

There will even be poems and songs throughout the Old Testament that will talk about the "blood" of the grape being it's juice.

Deuteronomy 32:14
"curds of milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernels of wheat.  You drank the foaming blood of the grape."

In other words, by the time we get to the New Testament, we have a language that will allow us to talk about Christ's blood in relation to the juice that comes from the grape as it surrenders it's life.  All of these sacrifices, become an opportunity to talk about and point us towards the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ who will die in our place to free us from sin and spiritual death.

It is important to note, that if this is close to a valid explanation, Christ has corrected one very important aspect of the sacrifice.  No where does Christ ever institute the sacrifice of people.  Neither children or adults are fair game for the sacrifice.  This is a purely pagan practice that will be instituted by the descendants of Ham and his barbaric worldview, but prohibited by Christ.

I still need to share an interesting observation that did not go unnoticed by me.

We do not seem to have any proof that the blood sacrifice lasts for more than a few hundred years.  Certainly by the time of the rebuilding of the temple under Ezra we no longer hear or see evidence in scripture or in history that there are literal blood sacrifices going on in the temple.  Christ does not even seem overly concerned by the absence of this practice that He Himself instituted about 1400 years before He came as God incarnate.  It almost seems in scripture, that the movement through history of this practice, is designed to diminish until the ultimate sacrifice which can only be understood if we understand the original laws of sacrifice in Leviticus.  I believe, there is absolutely no foundation to understand the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, if we do not study and attempt to understand the animal sacrifice in the tabernacle.

I also want to make an observation about the ability of people to understand things that are to far outside of their worldview.  Christ uses that which the Israelites know to lead them in the way He wants them to go.  Christ does the same thing with the first commandment.  He does not tell the nation of Israel there are no other gods, He simply says they will have no other god before Him. (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6)  I believe Christ knew that to challenge to entire worldview of the Israelites was more than this fledgling nation could withstand.  They struggled to keep the commands Christ did place before them.

I think the blood sacrifice is a part of a sacrificial system that they could understand.  Christ was claiming what they already knew and in truth what He Himself had instituted in more ancient days.  To speak of atonement or forgiveness without the act of sacrifice was in many ways incomprehensible for Israel.

I hope these foundational, historical and theological ideas of the sacrifice leave room for conversation around a variety of ideas associated and attached to them.  Feel free to reason and debate with me about any and all of my ideas.

Until next week!

Yol bolsum,

Friday, May 25, 2018

Christ in Deuteronomy (The Witness of Moses)

To My Friends, Colleagues, Church Fellowship, Curious People everywhere and especially my Grandchildren,
Always know that you are fully loved by God and you are loved by me. I pray that you remember our purpose is to reflect the entire Glory of God.

It is important for me to begin this week by sharing how I think the first five books in scripture were written.  I think we can safely attribute the actual writing of Genesis and Deuteronomy to Moses himself.  I believe we have to be a bit more circumspect about the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.  I personally believe these were written accounts by Joshua (in coordination with Moses) as he accompanied Moses up the mountain and down into the dessert with God's people.  For Moses to have the actual conversations and participate in the experiences of these three books while at the same time maintaining such a precise accounting of the details seems a bit dubious to me.  This leaves Joshua as the only one who was always there and we know he will eventually write the book of Joshua for himself.

I make this point, because it matters to me as I read the book of Deuteronomy.  This book sounds different than the previous three and it just feels different.  It sounds and feels more personal.  In the laws, ordinances and offerings we get a first hand view of how they were practiced and not just recorded for posterity.  It has the same feel for me as the Federalist Papers in our own history here in the United States.  Our constitution is a cold and hard document.  It is supposed to be.  It is designed to be a guarantee of rights and processes.  The founders were not explaining or defending the laws and processes, they were enacting them.  The Federalist Papers on the other hand, are personal and alive with debate.  Why the laws were passed and how they were intended to be lived out were the topics of these papers.  That is Deuteronomy, it is a book written by Moses that gives us personal insight into the journey he took with God and the journey he took with God's people.  He will get some things right and quite frankly he will get one key thing wrong. I hope this is not too shocking.  We all get it wrong sometimes.  Isn't it wonderful that we have the records of both in relation to the people of God.

I would like to use the blog this week to talk about one of those places I believe Moses got it wrong.

Let me take you back to Israel in the dessert of Exodus 17.  We are not far into the journey with Christ when the people of Israel are thirsty.  They are not shy telling Moses of their discomfort.  Christ tells Moses to strike a rock with Aaron's staff the same way he struck the Nile in Egypt.  Moses does, and water comes from the rock to quench the thirst of Israel.  Another proof for the Israelites that they can in fact trust Christ to deliver them in their time of need.

Fast forward to Numbers 20 and we are faced with the same situation.  This time, one would imagine, that the Israelites would be a little further along in their faith.  God has been delivering them and traveling with them.  The only casualties have come from the result of rebellion on the part of Israel and punishment from a Holy God.  In numbers 20 the people are thirsty again and Moses is frustrated.  Christ once again tells him to take the staff of Aaron but Christ changes it a bit this time.  Instead of striking the rock, Christ tells Moses to simply speak to the rock.  If you are tracking with me you remember what Moses did and Moses said.  Listen to the account.

Numbers 20:8 - 13
"Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together.  Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water....Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?"  Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff.  Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank."

Do you hear the third person narrative going on in this story?  We have just received the simple facts of the story.  Christ said, Moses did and then Christ responds.  God is not happy.  Here's the thing, this is not even the mistake I am talking about!  To be sure it is a terrible mistake that Moses has just made, so severe in fact that Christ will deny him entrance into the "promised land" of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but it is not the mistake I want to talk about.

If we go a little further we find ourselves at the beginning of Deuteronomy.  Right at the front of Moses's first hand account of his journeys he is going to talk about this very occasion.  He will back track and pick it all up from Egypt to the last battle he will fight with Israel, but he begins with what is probably the most troubling episode in his life.

Deuteronomy 1:37 and repeated in 3:21
"Because of you (children of Israel) the Lord became angry with me and said, "You shall not enter it, either."

Moses has just blamed Israel for his mistake of disobedience to God.  Let's be clear about what exactly that mistake entailed.  Christ told Moses to simply speak His word over the rock.  Moses decides to make a statement about himself and Aaron instead.  The mistake is nothing less than Moses setting himself up in the position of provider and savior of the nation of Israel.  Remember the words? "Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water..."  The heart of Moses has slipped.  He has not lost favor with Christ.  He has not placed himself in a position that Christ cannot use him to lead the Israelites.  What he has done is make a mistake and allowed his heart to move away from the presence and the will of God.  In my language, Moses has failed to live out his basic purpose which is to reflect the glory of God.  Moses has chosen to reflect his own glory.

The real kicker for me, is when Moses recounts this story, he has not yet reconciled his heart to his own mistake.  He blames others for the condition of his heart and his actions in relation to God.  I understand this very well.  There have been many times in my life when I could have used a scapegoat.  A major part of the maturity of person hood, just like maturity of faith, is our willingness to accept responsibility for our own mistakes, shortcomings and sins.

For me, there is no other response here except to say, Moses got this totally wrong.  There is work to be done in his life in relation to the people of Israel and in the condition of his heart towards Christ.

Allow me to compare the response of Moses to the response of Christ in relation to the hardness of Pharaoh's heart.

 It is absolutely true that had the Israelites not complained and rebelled, Moses would have had no reason or opportunity to take this glory upon himself.  Would you agree with me in this situation that there is in fact a cause that we can point to for this action?  Would you also agree that no matter how dynamic that cause is, we cannot remove from Moses his personal accountability for his own actions? He was still the one that acted contrary to the word of Christ.

Is it not equally true, that Christ Himself is responsible for the plagues that set up a win lose scenario for Pharaoh?  Would you remove the responsibility for the choices Pharaoh makes from him?  Are you willing to totally blame Christ for Pharaoh's actions?  I am not, and yet Christ steps up in the book of Exodus and boldly claims responsibility for His part.  I hear in the words "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" as the admission that Christ's unwavering judgment played a huge role in why Pharaoh was not able to turn back.  Christ never backs away from righteous acts or judgments.  He always takes total and full responsibility and yet does not alleviate the reality of personal responsibility on our part.  He has chosen and so must we.

Is this not the same story that will be told at the beginning of the book of Genesis, when first Adam and then Eve try to mitigate their responsibility by bringing other's actions to their defense.  For Adam it was Eve and for Eve it was the serpent.

Could it be to this idea that Christ will go in the gospel of Luke, when He says that to "everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded"?  Is it this same idea in the book of Revelation 20 where John records the book of life is opened and "the dead are judged according to the things written in the book, according to their deeds"?

The idea is not that we make no mistakes or commit no sin.  The idea is that we take responsibility for our mistakes and sin (confession and repentance) just as Christ takes responsibility for His Holiness and standards of expectations for us.  It is in this way that the people of God in the Exodus learned to walk with Christ and become holy.  It is in this way that we learn to walk with Christ and become holy.

For those who know me well.


Yol bolsum,

Friday, May 18, 2018

Christ in Numbers (Feeding the People)

To My Friends, Colleagues, Church Fellowship, Curious People everywhere and especially my Grandchildren,
Always know that you are fully loved by God and you are loved by me. I pray that you remember our purpose is to reflect the entire Glory of God.

We, who are modern Christians, have been taught from the earliest days of Sunday School and inspired by the numerous Pastoral messages concerning the New Testament miracles where Jesus Christ feeds the 5,000 or the 3,000.  But, have we made the connection between the more modern occasion of this miracle (about 30 A.D.) with the first miracle of its kind that was performed by Christ at least 1,300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ as God incarnate (God in human form).

This is not an event where Jesus Christ in a New Testament Israel is reenacting a miracle that was performed by His Father in the Old Testament before God the Father retired and left the family business to His Son.  (I certainly hope you get the light hearted humor I am trying to introduce into this.  I am not trying to be sacrilegious, and please forgive me if that is the way it comes across.  I am trying to point out that many modern Christians take just this point of view when they think about the relationship of Jesus Christ to the Father.)  This Old Testament miracle recorded in Numbers 11 is foundational, in that Christ as He leads His people in the wilderness will act consistently in both this situation and in those that are to come when He walks this world in human flesh.  With that in mind I call our attention to the details of both events.

During the wilderness years about 1,300 B.C. the people of God are grumbling and rebelling because of a lack of meat in their diet.  They are hungry for meat in a diet that consists of manna.  Christ speaks with Moses and instructs him that he is to tell the people to consecrate themselves, for tomorrow they will have meat to eat.  Not just enough meat for tomorrow but enough meat to eat for the entire month.  Numbers 11:18,19  Moses understandably responds to Christ with these words, see if they sound familiar.  "I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, "I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!"  Would they have enough if the flocks and herds were slaughtered for them?  Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?"  I'll ask again, does this sound familiar.  Let me take you to a response by God's servants that might be more familiar.  In about 30 A.D. Christ has been teaching for the day and everyone is hungry.  The disciples ask for Christ to send everyone home and Christ tells them feed the people.  Mark 6:30  "This is a remote place, they said, and it's already very late.  Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat."  But Christ answered, "You give them something to eat."  They said to him, "That would take more than half a year's wages!  Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"  In 30 A.D. Jesus Christ is going to take two fish and five loaves of bread and feed 5,000 people.  We look upon this with awe and wonder at the power of God in the Jesus Christ, and yet 1,300 years before this Christ is going to cause a wind to blow from the sea and provide quail that will fall 3 feet deep outside the camp of Israel.  The people of Israel could walk the entire day away from their camp and the quail were still piled up 3 feet deep.  Three million people ate quail for the next month until they were sick of meat.

This, along with the mana from heaven, is the original miracle of the feeding of God's people.

There are many differences between these two miracles and yet the common theme is the incredible nature of the miracle that leaves we as God's children speechless as God asks, "Is the Lord's arm to short?" Num. 11:23.

When we doubt the power of Christ to speak into our lives in ways that bring forth miraculous results, we answer God's question with a tepid shrug of our shoulders.

We would do better to share with each other the bold faith of Paul when he tells Timothy, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day." 2 Timothy 1:12

"Is anything to hard for God?"  Genesis 8 and Jeremiah 32

I was blessed this week when I read this encounter and immediately heard it's echoes in the centuries to come as God comes into the world to save us.  I continue to be amazed at the reality of God that is the same in Christ yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Yol bolsum,
Pastor Tim

Friday, May 11, 2018

Christ in Leviticus (The Offering and Tithe)

To My Friends, Colleagues, Church Fellowship, Curious People everywhere and especially my Grandchildren,
Always know that you are fully loved by God and you are loved by me. I pray that you remember our purpose is to reflect the entire Glory of God.

I want to share with you what I saw as the basic structure of the offerings Christ instituted.  To do this we might as well tackle the big one first.  The Tithe.

All offerings culminated with the "Tithe".  When we talk about giving in the church these tend to be the questions.

What is the tithe?  How much is the tithe?  Is this really in the bible?  Is this still an institute of the modern church or was it only for the nation of Israel in the Old Testament?  The questions are numerous and perhaps you have asked some of these questions yourself.

For me to give these questions fair answers I begin in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers which we are currently reading.  

Before we attempt to bring clarity to the questions of offerings and the tithe, permit me to clarify the difference between the ordinances Christ is instituting and the offerings He is asking His people to bring to the tabernacle.

Remember that the tabernacle is a part of the agreement Christ made with His people so that He would (not "could" but "would") travel with them to the promised land.  Christ had stated He would not go with them to the promised land, because in His holiness he would destroy them before they arrived.  He was Holy and they were not.  His will, was that the people of Israel would move into the land He had promised for them.  He knew they would be continually drawn to the building of idols in this world and the response of Christ would be harsh.  Christ told Moses He intended to keep the promise of giving them a land of their own but He would send an angel to lead them.  Moses asked for Christ to reconsider.  Moses asked that rather than leave them to be led by an angel why not teach them how to live in relationship with Christ as they journeyed together.  Christ consented to this and the tabernacle is built.  Ordinances and laws are put in place and offerings are required.  All of this is a part of the process Christ will use to teach His children what it means to be Holy in the presence of Christ Himself who is Holy.  This brings me to the basic difference between a law that is to be followed and an offering that is to be given.  This is the basic difference.  Christ will use the ordinances and laws He is instituting to direct and teach us about His holiness as we observe and follow them.  He will use the offerings and the tithe to bring us into right relationship and fellowship with Him as we repent, give and serve.  

Let's begin in the latter part of Exodus as Christ begins telling Moses about several types of offering he is to institute.  Let's do a quick overview of these offerings and their purpose.

Burnt Offerings - these were offerings to atone for sin
Sin Offerings - for sins that could not be atoned for
Guilt Offerings - for sins that could be atoned for

  • Without doing a thorough study of the offerings we can see at a basic level these offerings keep us connected to Christ even when we fail to live up to His Holy Character in the ordinances and laws.  Were it not for these offerings we could not stay in right relationship with Christ.  Even if we can't live by the standards of His Holly character we can show we want to by our repentant hearts that obey the offerings.  Both conscious and unconscious sin is dealt with in these three offerings.

Grain Offerings - these were offerings given in gratitude for abundant crops

  • These offerings were a constant acknowledgement that everything Israel had comes from Christ.  These do not mirror the Egyptian offerings that were given so that you would have a good crop.  These offerings were given regardless of the bounty of the crop.  They were given from good crop harvests and the same is required even in a poor harvest.  All that we have comes from Christ.

Fellowship Offerings - these were in honor of our fellowship with God

  • These were instituted as a reason for all Israel to come to Christ just to be in His presence.  Not because they had sinned or failed, but rather because He wanted to be with them and they wanted to be with Him.  A part of these offerings were the things they brought to the tabernacle to sustain it and the things they brought to the tabernacle because they were the people of Christ.

In addition to these offerings there were the offerings of our gifts and talents.  Everyone had something they could do to work for God and His temple.  Writing, Sewing, Woodworking, Metalworking, Music etc…  Everyone was encouraged to contribute for the temple in their work.

Here was the catch.  In most of these fellowship offerings we were to give freely as we felt called.  There were annual offerings that had to happen but in relation to individuals it was between you and God when you brought one of these offerings to the temple or the church.  In these times you came to just be in the presence of Christ and to be in fellowship with Him.

Here was Christ's decree in all of these offerings.
Exodus 34:20 - Christ says, "no one is to appear before me empty handed".

This brings us to the questions of a tithe.  Leviticus tells us the tithe happened in a couple of ways.  Whenever your land or your flock or your occupation increased you brought the “first fruits” of that increase to the temple. You were also asked every three years to not totally gather your fields and your flocks so that those who were poor (usually the orphans and widows) could use your produce to help feed and clothe themselves.

Why the "first fruits"?
Numbers 3:11 tells us the "tithe is His because He set aside the firstborn of Israel for himself in Egypt when He struck down all the firstborn of the Egyptians.

Why 10%
Leviticus 27:30 Christ tell us that the tithe is one tenth of everything that is first in your life.  Crops, Animals, money, etc...

I have continued to say in these blogs that Christ in the books of the Old Testament must agree with Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

In the new testament (Mark 12 and Luke 21) we have Jesus Christ honoring a poor widow who was bringing an offering to the temple.  It was a very small amount and yet she brought it.  In the midst of very wealthy people giving offerings in the temple Christ called attention to this one small offering from the widow.  He said to His disciples that this woman’s offering was more pleasing than the large amounts the wealthy were giving. Christ did honor and promote the idea of giving an offering and tithing in the New Testament.

The early church also practiced both offering and tithing.  The bible tells us that people went and sold items or brought money to the church for the common fellowship and purpose of the church.

In our modern era when we receive an increase in our income on at least a monthly basis the idea of a monthly tithe is common.  When we make money we give to the church and the community of believers.

A shoutout to my mother and father.

I have always given at least a tithe and often an offering each week or month since I made my first dime as a paperboy and cutting lawns in the summers at about 13 years old.  My mother and father modeled this for me.  When I began working at the age of 13, each week (that was how often I was paid) 10% of my income went into the offering plate of the church.  As my income increased so did my tithe.  The extra I might give to the church for things that were close to my heart were my offerings.  

Joy and I as the pastor give 10% of our income and we give offerings as well.  In our offerings we support things like sending kids to camp or special ministries.  We support various youth projects in the church.  We support things like Feed My Starving Children.  These offerings are not a part of our tithe or a part of the 10% that we give in the general offering of the church.  In addition to this we help many families outside of the church.  We support the Optimist Club, many school fundraisers and various other community organizations.

I believe in tithing and I practice tithing.  I believe in the offering and I practice the giving of various offerings.  I go back to scripture and I would say again that the bible makes this a very personal decision between you and Christ.

The invitation of Christ is that His presence will move from a tabernacle into our hearts.  This means as we journey towards the promise of an eternal life with Him (which is our "promised land") He will teach us how to be Holy as He is holy.  We will fail in this and yes we must bring a sacrifice of repentant hearts into His presence if we want to be forgiven and restored to a place of holiness so we can have the blessing of His presence with us on this journey.  It also means we bring fellowship offerings to Him in the form of our gifts and the first fruits of our labor.  Christ instituted the church as the body of Christ in this world until He comes again.  When He comes again the church will be obsolete and I will once again bring my offerings directly into His presence.  Until then I give my tithe and fellowship to the church and my fellow believers in Christ.

I would be interested in other interpretations of the ordinances and the offerings from these books of the Old Testament.

I hope this foundation for the tithe and offering is a blessing to my family as it has been a blessing to me.  Thank you mom and dad for teaching me even when I didn't fully understand the scripture supporting the practice.

Yol bolsun,

Friday, April 27, 2018

Christ in Exodus

To My Friends, Colleagues, Church Fellowship, Curious People everywhere and especially my Grandchildren,
Always know that you are fully loved by God and you are loved by me. I pray that you remember our purpose is to reflect the entire Glory of God.

What are we to do with this?

If we consider seriously that God is active in the world at this point through Christ, then we cannot relegate this action of God (hardening Pharaoh's heart in Exodus 7:3) to the responsibility of the Father. We cannot simply dismiss it because that is not the way God acts towards us in Jesus Christ.  Would you at some level agree, that this is the way we have usually handled our questions about the plagues, judgment and the hardening of Pharaoh's heart?  These actions were done by a judgmental God (The Father). In contrast to that fierce, judgmental Father we meet Jesus Christ (God Incarnate), and are introduced in the New Testament to the God of grace and mercy who calls us to love and forgive.

What if I am correct in my reading of scripture, and Christ is always the active presence of God in this world from the first verse of Genesis to the last verse of Revelation.  That makes this action by God the responsibility of Christ, just as surely as we will see God in the New Testament as the compassionate and loving action of Jesus Christ when he heals the blind man or forgives the prostitute.  It also means, that this is the same resurrected Christ who will come again with the judgment of revelation when He breaks the seals and sends plagues to ravage the earth.  This is exactly what I believe is happening in Scripture.

This interpretation begs for an answer in Exodus 7:3.  What does it mean to say that Christ will and does harden Pharaoh's heart?

To explore a possible and I believe plausible answer to this, let me take you back to Exodus 6:6-9.  Christ tells Moses to speak these words to Israel, "I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will take you as my own people."  In verse 9, when Moses spoke these words to the people of Israel, they responded like this, "they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor."  In other words, they were so beaten down and discouraged from the abuse and tyranny of the Egyptians that they did not have the capacity to hear words of hope and deliverance.  I hear in this that their hearts were "hard".  I wonder if you have ever found yourself in that situation.  I certainly have.  I have had times in my life where I seemed so caught and transfixed by fear, pain and sometimes anger, that I was not able to hear words of hope that could have resolved the pain in my life.  I don't think Israel was being blatantly disobedient to Christ, I think they simply didn't have the capacity to hear these wonderful words of hope.  With that idea let me talk about Pharaoh.

Is it conceivable, that Pharaoh was in a frame of mind that fear and perhaps even anger was keeping him from responding to the voice of God that would have brought deliverance to Israel and potential prosperity to Egypt.  At the very least, we can conceive this reality, if Pharaoh had listened to Christ from the beginning he would have had an intact nation on which to rebuild their future.  They had received free labor for hundred of years that had enabled them to build one of the most impressive cultures the world has ever known.  Egypt was in a good place and the reality of losing slave labor would have certainly changed their future but not left them desolate.  For proof of this we need only look at the massive step forward the United States of America took when we moved from ideas of nation building on the backs of slaves to nation building by free lives that dream and hope for their own futures.  Is it possible, that the fear, pain and yes even anger which accompanied the call of Christ to set Israel free created a barrier to hearing future hope and framing that voice of Christ in a way that made Pharaoh's heart hard?  I think it is possible, and laying that as a foundation we witness the fight and conflict which develops as Christ will work to free His people and Pharaoh will rebel.  With each successive judgment and plague we watch as Pharaoh considers his options but ultimately chooses rebellion.  In this way, can we not affirm the words of Christ that His actions will harden Pharaoh's heart while at the same time affirming that it is the choices Pharaoh makes which prompt future judgment and plague.  It appears that Christ is ready to relent at any point where Pharaoh is willing to let Israel go.  Is this not a reflection of what Pharaoh has already done to Israel in Exodus 6:9?

For this to be true it must be consistent with the way Christ will teach and act as Jesus Christ.  It must also be consistent with the way our resurrected Jesus Christ will act through the end of time.

To reflect on this, it seems very consistent that Jesus Christ teaches a willingness by God to embrace a rebellious and sinful life the second it will repent (Read Paul's letter to the Romans).  It seems equally consistent to say that Christ did not remove free-will from our lives but left the decision up to us.  In this way we continue to be responsible for our own destiny.  It also makes for an interesting conversation in regards to the "Lord's Prayer" when Jesus Christ teaches this truth.  "Forgive us as we forgive".  In the context of Pharaoh's actions towards Israel, (as they ask to leave and pursue the worship of God in freedom Pharaoh says he will make life harder for them-he takes away even the straw he had previously supplied for the making of brick) we witness Christ making it equally as difficult for Pharaoh.  We certainly see in the book of Revelation the harsh judgments of Christ that once again bring a world to it's figurative knees.  Yet the world will not relent even in the midst of destruction.

I would ask at least an honest consideration of this interpretation for Pharaoh's heart being hardened by Christ.

I am choosing to wait and deal with this fully at the time we study Christ and His words in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  I will pull this part of Exodus and the "Ten Commandments" into that conversation.  All of those Laws were actually given at this time of the exodus, and so it is appropriate to have that conversation in its entirety as we are actually reading the laws.

Until next week,
Yol Bolsun,

Friday, April 20, 2018

Christ in Genesis (pt. 2)

To My Friends, Colleagues, Church Fellowship, Curious People everywhere and especially my Grandchildren,
Always know that you are fully loved by God and you are loved by me. I pray that you remember our purpose is to reflect the entire Glory of God.

God in Christ, calling Abraham (Abram), marks the beginning of a conversation we can have about obedience and faithfulness.  Abraham leaves his home with his family and travels to a land God has promised to give him.  With this land comes the promise of descendants and a family that will fill the land.  From that area Abraham will bless the entire world.  There are, however, a few "if's" in this promise.

Abraham actually had to go where God called him to go and do what God called him to do.  The mark of obedience will be circumcision. (Gen. 17)  By this act, God (and the world) will know that Abraham and his family were active participants in a covenant that would bless them and bless the world.  Circumcision will become for future generations the mark of the covenant.  This covenant will not end when God comes into the world as Jesus Christ (God Incarnate).  The promise of all God says He will do for Abraham is linked to the new testament through our baptism.  No longer are the people of God required to observe the covenant by circumcision but rather they were to be baptized.  Even in baptism Christ Jesus Himself submits to John so that the sign of the covenant can be fulfilled in the humanity of the Incarnate God (Jesus Christ).

I believe an interesting place to begin a discussion on obedience comes from watching Abraham interact with the world as he tries to be faithful to the covenant of God.  Normal situations in the world happen and Abraham must decide how to handle them.  A Famine occurs in the area God has called Abraham to live.  What is he to do?  Here is a quandary.  Abraham is where God has called him to be and doing what God has called him to do and yet bad things are happening to him.  Is there not a thought in our lives that if we will be faithful to what God has called us to do and where God has called us to be that bad and hurtful things won't happen to us.  That does not seem to be the case for Abraham.  I think he responds the way I might.  He moves to Egypt where they have plenty of food.  Sounds reasonable to me and God actually seems to watch over him.  Abraham is frightened of Pharaoh because Sarah his wife is beautiful.  God warms Pharaoh to behave himself and things work out well for Abraham.  He returns after the famine to his own land a very wealthy man.  Here's the catch for me.  It seems that Abraham is learning a lesson that goes something like this.  I will follow God but when it gets right down to it I will find food and shelter and security in the things of this world.  It is one thing to use common sense and go where it seems prudent to get help.  I would always recommend when you are sick to go to a doctor and let him or her help you recover health.  It is quite another to replace our trust and obedience to God with an assurance that the doctor is the answer.  There is a reckoning for this type of thinking for us and there certainly is a reckoning for Abraham.

In the greatest "test" of obedience I can imagine, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac his "son of the promise".  It is through Isaac that God will give Abraham the descendants and blessing that are promised in the covenant.  Does Abraham trust God enough to surrender what seemed in this world to be the obvious answer to his very real world problem?  The problem was how was Abraham to be blessed with all these generations of children who were to come after him if he couldn't even have one child with Sarah.  God did give him the one child.  Could Abraham now turn around and give that child back to God?  The Test.  Do you trust God or do you trust what the world can give you?  Of course we read that Abraham did not hold even his only son from God and we learn at the same time that God would never even consider asking that of His children.

The issue becomes that this is a back and forth struggle for Abraham and his descendants.  Famine in the land..."run to Egypt".  Isaac is going to have the same challenge and it is going to turn out the same as it did for Abraham.  Here is the catch.  By the time we get to Jacob (who has trouble trusting God himself) we see a resolution.  At the end of Jacob's life he has just been told that Joseph who he thought had been killed years before was still alive.  But we have a problem!  Joseph is living in Egypt and is actually a powerful man being second only to Pharaoh himself.  To top it all off you might guess...there is a famine once again in the land God has given to Jacob as a descendent of Abraham.  Jacob by the time he is an old man has learned his lesson.  Egypt is not the answer.  You no longer move to Egypt if there is a famine you simply send money and trade with Egypt until the famine is ended.  But...if he wants to see his son Joseph he is going to have to go to Egypt.  What are you going to do now?  In his excitement to see his son he begins the journey but in Beersheba he seems to have second thoughts.  He stops and offers sacrifice to God.  In modern day terms, He stops to pray.  He stops and says...what am I thinking.  What does God want?  This has never worked out well for us.  I'm not sure I should be going to Egypt.  Now that is faith.  Hard earned wisdom.  Is this really what God wants me to do.  Jacob is rewarded!!  In Genesis 46:2 God speaks to Jacob.

"I am God, the God of your father.  Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.  I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again."


If I can leave you with one word of encouragement this week, let it be this.  It may take a lot of trial and error to figure out the things and places of the world that we tend to trust more than Christ, but the battle to learn is worth the pain of the fight.  I pray that we like Jacob will all reach a point, even as we begin that journey to Egypt or we begin that process of looking to the world for answers, that we stop and in prayer to turn our hearts to Christ.  Why?  Not because we are so wise and faithful but rather because we have witnessed time and again in our lives the difference it makes when Christ is with us on the journey.  The difference between the faithfulness of Abraham and the faithfulness of Jacob is that Abraham learns no matter where he goes Christ will show up and Jacob learns it is much better to have Christ with you where you are going.  Never forget that the expression of God that Abraham encountered is no less than Christ before He became incarnate in this world.  The same God in Christ that walked with Jacob is the same God in Jesus Christ that walks with us.

Yol Bolsun,