What if we really believed what God says?

Christianity, freedom in Christ, love, new creation, religion

Have you believed and confessed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? That He died for your sins and mine, that He was raised from the dead, conquering death and sin? If so, we can walk in a glorious reality. So often we don’t, though. Do you find yourself just shuffling through life, or maybe racing through it? Same old stuff, different day…it shouldn’t be so!

What if we really believed what God says? What if we not only believed it, but knew it, deep down in our soul?

If you and I believed and knew God’s lavish love for us, then we would act and feel differently.

What if we really knew and believed that we are made new when we are in Christ; how would we think and what would we spend our time doing?

What if we were truly free from caring about what others think, and only concerned ourselves with what God thinks about us?

Maybe our lives would be more compelling and maybe we’d walk in the freedom and abundant life that Jesus promised us.

The apostle Paul illustrates this in a tangible way that is challenging. Remember that before he was Paul, he was Saul of Tarsus, murderer and zealous persecutor of Christians. Imagine that there must have been times that he would reflect on some of the horrible deaths that he had been party to. Surely that would invoke guilt or shame from anyone. Instead, Paul had a radical change of heart and behavior. He went on to be a missionary and wrote a large portion of the New Testament, including many letters to other believers. What’s really mind-blowing is the way Paul describes himself in the introductions that he gives in these letters. I think if I were Paul, I probably would have started my letters awkwardly, something like this: You probably remember me, I used to be a murderer. But don’t worry, I’m not gonna try to kill you or anything, I just want to talk to you about Jesus.

Instead, it seems like Paul was able to grasp the reality that God had made him into a completely new and different person. Paul didn’t define himself by his past, as significant as it was. Check out the first few verses of Romans and how it seems that Paul knew and believed God.

Here is how Paul describes himself:

a servant of Christ Jesus,

called to be an apostle and

set apart for the gospel of God—

He goes on to describe Jesus in his introduction:

who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David

who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

Don’t you love that Paul is firm in his belief of who he is in this introduction, and then he introduces Jesus? Powerful! So I want to believe and walk in this truth, that I am a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God. If you are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, may you believe it too!

God, help me believe you. Help me know you more.

Treasure hunting

Jesus, Pentateuch, religion, spirituality

This morning I went on a great treasure hunt! Still groggy-eyed, I was about to settle into my favorite morning chair with a cup of coffee to read the Bible. I’m not a morning person. This means that I don’t want to be greeted before I’ve had at least one cup of coffee, I don’t want eye contact, and I find it especially annoying when perky people talk to me and I’m not awake yet. However, this morning, before I sat down with my mug, Herschel said, “Hey, I’ve got something interesting for you to look for this morning as you read the Bible. Do you know where in Scripture it says that the High Priest has a rope tied around his ankle when entering the Holy of Holies once a year?” For years we have heard pastors teach that on Yom Kippur the Jewish High Priest had a rope tied to his leg so that, if he died, he could be dragged out, since no one else could enter!

Illustration of High Priest by Zely Smeckhov

I remember hearing this taught several times through the years. In Torah, the book of Leviticus prescribes that once a year, there would be the Day of Atonement, the most holy day  of the year for the Jewish people. The Jewish High Priest was to wear specific sacred garments and enter the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle to confess and make atonement for his sin and the sin of all the people.  We see the utter Holiness of God in this passage as Moses records God’s explicit instructions for entering the Holy of Holies. Any person who would enter this Most Holy Place at an unauthorized time or manner would die. (read more in Lev. 16) This is where Herschel’s question came into play. I was certain that I could find the answer if I searched the Bible deeply enough.

I frantically searched through Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy looking for clues. My pulse raced. I get giddy with a challenge to find random facts or passages in the Bible.

After a search through Torah that was fruitless, I went to Google. It turns out that this idea is a myth. The legend of the rope tied to the High Priest’s ankle is not found in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the writings of Josephus, or the Midrashic commentaries of the rabbis.

I found that the myth originally came from a Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism) commentary, but where it may have gained popularity is from evangelical commentator John Gill, who published it in one of his books, and it’s been told ever since. Interesting….

Here’s what I learned from this: Check my sources. The most well-meaning Bible teacher or pastor (or me!) may state something as fact that is not found in Scripture. It’s a fresh reminder to search and know God’s word well for myself. I am reminded that the Bible is the ultimate truth and my thoughts, beliefs, and actions need to be measured by it.

Proverbs 1 says: My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.

If you’re curious to check out more on this, see sources below.

http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2009/01/that-rope-around-high-priests-ankle.html  This one explains that it would probably be a violation of Lev. 16:3-4, because God very specifically describes garments that the High Priest is to wear.

Something’s not right here…

religion

It started at Christmas-time. One of our pastors emailed a plan to youth leaders, challenging us to read the entire New Testament of the Bible for the month of December. I thought, “That’s a nice idea, we can read about Jesus and try not to get sucked in to the normal American commercialism of Christmas.” I had a lot more than that coming!

As I read through the Gospels, I was reminded from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that Jesus doesn’t want me to live the way I’m living. It’s not okay to go throughout my day like I have been: Wake up early and have a “quiet time” reading through Scripture and praying, live a normal, cushy, suburban life of excess, then end the day with a family Bible reading time and prayer, go to bed, repeat. Kind of living my life, plus a little Jesus tacked on.

Last night I saw myself with startling clarity as I looked at the tabs I had open on my computer: several blogs of missionaries we know, alongside a lighthearted online place that has recipes, decorating ideas, crafts, and more. I suddenly saw that these tabs represented my heart. Don’t get me wrong, surfing for recipes and decorating is really fun, and I don’t have a moral objection to it. But it stirred me to ask myself: How is it that I can cry as I read and be challenged by missionaries sacrificing all their comforts, by believers around the world risking their very lives to follow Jesus, meanwhile the tab next to those indulges my materialism and want for more stuff so I can impress people? What I saw is that I have a heart that is very drawn to material things and temporary pleasures of this world, while it is also drawn to Jesus.

Jesus requires so much more than I have been giving from anyone who would follow Him. I was blown away to be reminded again that Jesus wants this from me:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Kind of radical. Not the life I have been living.)

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Again, I asked myself, why isn’t this me? Why does it seem that I have been grasping at comfort and safety for dear life?)

The tension that I’m feeling is trying to reconcile the life that I’m currently living with the life that Jesus is clearly calling all of His followers to. Eight years ago, our family felt the certain instruction from God to leave our home, sell everything, and move to Africa as missionaries. This was the most difficult and most wonderful thing I’ve done as a Christian. My white-knuckle death grip onto the stuff that I had accumulated through the years was in direct opposition to my joy and desire to let go of everything and follow God to a land and culture I knew nothing about.

After coming back to the States five years ago, I can’t help but wonder how I have slowly begun to feel more at home. It kind of scares me that I have gotten so comfortable and so okay with living the American dream. The dream that is completely out of line with Jesus’ instruction to anyone who would follow Him. It is a struggle, but I am glad to be feeling the struggle and tension, to feel my heart being tugged by the One who denied Himself, giving everything He had, so that I could live.