Why the Old Testament Still Matters

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Reading the Bible is paramount for the believer who wants to live and walk as Jesus did – after all, that is the purpose for our salvation – “to be conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:27). I’ll bet you have started trying to read through the whole Bible and found it to be more challenging than you thought. Especially in the Old Testament – especially in Leviticus! What do all those old rules and sacrifices and rituals have to do with us as New Testament believers? EVERYTHING!

The entire Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ. He fulfills every promise and completes every command. In Genesis He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan. In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage .In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice. In Deuteronomy he is the Great Prophet to come. In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of the sin. In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer. He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel. In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple. He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Rebuilder of broken walls in Nehemiah. He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs. He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon. In Isaiah He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant. In Jeremiah and Lamentations He is the Man acquainted with sorrows. In Ezekiel He brings life to dry bones. In Daniel He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of HIs people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment. In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem. In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy, the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk and in Zephaniah He is the God who is mighty to save. In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

When you read the Old Testament, always look for Jesus, He is on every page, in every verse. Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

Of Septic Tanks and God

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My son says that I can take anything and find a spiritual application to it. I suppose that’s so but it’s because I see God in everything. He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Nothing exists that He did not create with His powerful word or fashion with His divine hand. If he could somehow cease to exist, which He will not, everything in heaven and earth would also cease to exist. So yeah, I see spiritual things in everything and every situation.  

There is this spot in my yard that is especially lush and green. You city people won’t understand, but the country folk know that this is where the septic tank sits.  The “contents” of the tank become fertilizer for the soil so that the grass and bushes in the immediate vicinity are “nurtured.” How can I find a spiritual application in a septic tank?  In God’s hands, the crappiest parts of our life often become the most fruitful for the Kingdom. Ask Joseph whose horrible brothers sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt where he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. There, he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who promised to remember him to the Pharoah but promptly forgot. Until two years later when Pharoah had a dream and the ex-prisoner remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph not only told the Pharoah the meaning of his anxious dream but how to resolve the problem that the dream was prophecying. Impressed, Pharoah appointed him to the second-highest position in his kingdom and Joseph saved the lives of the Egyptians and became very wealthy in the process. He also saved the lives of his family – including the brothers who had betrayed him. And in doing so, he saved the lineage through which the Savior of all mankind would come.  Had Joseph not made it to Egypt to stand before the Pharoah – however harsh the circumstances – there would be no nation of Israel, no Jewish people, no Jesus, and no salvation for you and me.  Joseph told his brothers, “ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

Beloved, if life feels like a septic tank right now be encouraged. God has a way of taking the crappiest things and bringing unexpected good out of them.

Water in the Desert

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Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can talk about from this account. Hagar was in a place she didn’t want to be – does that ring a bell? She was there because of other people’s sin and abuse – that might resonate with someone. She saw no good end to her situation – anyone else feeling that? Her heart was broken for herself and for her child – I know many of you have been there.  A good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.

Death to Life

You may not know this, but I have a granddaughter – I know, I rarely ever speak about her. 😊 She is awesome. Funny, loving, generous, a wonderful dancer, brilliant conversationalist, and gives hugs that can cure whatever ails you. She is so very sweet and precious. Almost perfect – but not quite. At 17 months, she can be rebellious and stubborn. She knows she is not to stand on her toys. But she will do it while looking you dead in the eye. She also has a temper. I may know where that comes from. Bottom line: she has a sin nature. She got it from her parents. They got it from their parents, who got it from their parents, and on and on it goes all the way back to the original sinners, Adam and Eve.

This semester I’ve been digging deep into their story.  Uniquely made above all God’s creation, they were fashioned by His own hands out of the dust of the earth and given His own breath to bring them to life. They were also given His image to enable a relationship between the Creator and the created. They were perfect. But sin entered the picture through a chatty serpent who deceived them into doing the only thing they were forbidden to do: eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That one act condemned every human being ever born to share in their punishment – death (Romans 6:23). Not merely the ceasing of life, but death in the sense of separation from God. He alone gives life, and apart from Him, there is no life. Oh, we’re breathing and walking around in this world, but spiritually, we are dead. Dead people walking in our sin nature. Meanwhile, the image of God has been put to sleep in man.

We need to reverse that. Paul wrote, “Wake up, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14). The sin nature needs to be put to death and the image of God in man reawakened. It’s the only hope we have. I can’t do it and neither can you. But Someone did. Paul said, “Those who received God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). Through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sin nature is put to death and the image of God is awakened. It’s not just the only hope you have Beloved, it’s the only hope you need.

What if . . .?

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“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’ . . .” (Gen. 3:17).

I am working and studying a lot in Genesis 3 for school. This is the account of the sin of Adam and Eve and the fall of mankind. It’s the hinge-point of the entire human race. I’ve asked a lot of “What if . . . ? questions of these Scriptures.

What if Eve ran from the serpent?

What if Adam, as her head and protector, pulled her away?

What if they rehearsed God’s words over the serpent’s lies?

What if they refused to eat the fruit?

What if they called on the Lord to deal with the evil intruder?

So much would be different in the world. There would be no evil, no hate, no sin, no destruction, no disasters, no condemnation, no judgment, and no death. There would be peace. There would truth. There would be paradise and freedom. There would be everlasting life.

I turn those questions on myself. What if I ran away from sin?  What if I drowned out the temptations of the enemy with God’s Word? What if I refused to take the bait? What if I called on the Lord to deal with my tempter? So much would be different in my life.

And then I remember Jesus. He took all my sin on the cross. He bore my punishment and shame. He saved me from the power of sin and death. He assured me of eternal life when He rose from the grave.  Genesis  3 is not the end of the story for humanity, just as my sins and failures are not the end of my story. They are the dark backdrop for the brilliant light of God’s redeeming work. Oh, I wish Adam and Eve and not fallen into sin. I wish they had not caused me and you to have to deal with evil and temptation and sin. Wishing won’t change the reality. But Jesus can. Beloved, your story doesn’t have to end with sin and death.  It can be a story of peace and Joy and life. Jesus is the hope you need. What if you trust Him today?

Did God Really Say . . .?

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“Did God really say . . .” (Gen. 3:1)

Why do I have so much trouble driving the speed limit? The speed limit is 70 MPH – so I go 75 or 80. It’s 55 on my way to work, so I set my cruise for 62. Oh, don’t you judge me – you’re doing it too. Some of you are flying past me like we’re on a NASCAR racetrack. What makes us want to try the boundaries?

I recently wrote a paper on Genesis 3:1-7, the account of the fall of humanity. You know the story, perfectly innocent couple in a perfect garden home enjoying wondrous fruits – until a sneaky, lying snake approaches the woman. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman responded, albeit not entirely truthful and he comes back with, “You will not surely die . . .” (Gen. 3:4). There is an interesting play in the serpent’s words in verses 1 and 4. The word “really” (‘ap) is an adverb that essentially asks the question: “Is it even so that God hath said?”[1] Combined with the serpent’s rejection of the consequences of eating the fruit, it appears that in verse 1 the serpent was not asking Eve, “Did God truly speak these words?” but rather, “Do you think God meant what he said?” That’s why I push the speed limit – I don’t think they are serious about it. One can almost see the serpent wave his hand with a “Pshaw – You will not surely die!” The serpent was casting doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s truthfulness. Does He really mean it? Will He do what He claimed He would do?

That is one of the enemy’s favorite tools – causing us to doubt God’s integrity – whether it is questioning God’s willingness to punish sin or His willingness to save us, protect us, provide for us, and deliver us. And it has infiltrated the church. “No, God won’t punish this wicked desire of yours, He is all love, love, love!” Paul said we must become wise about the devil’s schemes. Beloved, In case you ever wondered – you can absolutely, 100 % trust what God says – about punishment and blessings. The devil is a liar.

[1]. “Lexicon :: Strong’s H637 – ‘aph,” Blue Letter Bible, Accessed September 19, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H637&t=NIV

Hopeless

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Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can learn from this account, and a good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.

The God who Restores

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I saw something very cool this morning as I was reading in Revelation. “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7). Do you recall the last time we saw the tree of life? It was way back in Genesis, chapter 3 to be exact. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God banished them from the Garden of Eden and said “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (3:22). Because they knew evil (notice the passage said they knew good and evil, but not good from evil) it would be a cruel thing to allow them to live forever with that burden.

Yet the Revelation verse shows that man is restored to all the good things God created for him to enjoy. The bounty of His blessing, the delight of His presence, and the promise of eternal life.

God restores. It is His nature to restore things that are broken. And not only in heaven but also here and now. I have seen broken marriages restored. Broken dreams reignited. Broke relationships knitted back together. Broken minds healed. Broken lives renewed. And broken hearts made whole. He is Elyshib – the God who restores. And He is working to restore you.

What Do You See?

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Sunday morning we dropped our granddaughter off at the nursery and headed to the sanctuary for worship. As soon as we settled in I turned my cell phone to vibrate and set it near me where I could see it in case the nursery texted me. When the pastor began his sermon I put my Bible in my lap and tucked my phone half-way under it. As I looked toward the pulpit and listened to the message, I was always conscious of my phone, keeping it in the periphery of my vision. If my girl needed me, I wanted to know it.
We tend to treat sin that way too, don’t we? We put on our best Christian clothes and sit up close to the front of the church. We post Scriptures and “Jesus sayings” on social media. We put the fish on our car and wear the t-shirt.  We have our Bible open and we come before God and repeat: “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” But we also keep our favorite sin close by. Oh, not where everyone can see it, but just where we can catch the faintest glimmer of it, so we don’t miss it when it calls.  The Bible has a word for that: “cherished sin.” David said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). The word “cherished” in the original Hebrew means “to see, look, consider, to realize, to know.” It’s doesn’t mean that we simply notice sin as we pass by it, but it means we are keeping sin in view and are always conscious of it. It also means we have failed to cut ties with it. And those are ties that bind us up and keep us from walking in the Spirit.
One more thing about this word “cherished” – I told you what I meant, but I didn’t tell you the actual word – it is “Ra’a and we first see it in Scripture in Genesis 16:13. It is the name Hagar gives to the Lord God when He finds her in the desert running from Sarai: “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 
Beloved, it’s all about where you’re looking and what you’re keeping in your line of vision.

Seeing the God Who Sees Me

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The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah – childless and old, God promised them a son, but in the waiting, they grew impatient and Abraham slept with Sarah’s maid Hagar, and she conceived. But their act of faithlessness caused tremendous grief for the Egyptian slave-girl. Twice Hagar wound up in the desert, weary, hungry and frightened. On her first excursion, Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7). The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. He set Himself right where He knew she was going because His heart was tender to her.  Hagar gained precious insight into who God is.  Realizing that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight,  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).

After the birth of Ishmael (which- by the way – means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah.  When their meager supplies of food and water ran out, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God once again came to Hagar and assured her that He was aware of their plight.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh, do you see the beauty of this passage? El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of life-giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

You may find yourself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I can assure you that you have never been out of your Heavenly Father’s sight.  There is no place you can go that God will not be.  Whether they are physical places, emotional pits, and spiritual dark caves – God has promised, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The truth is, it’s often in those hard places that we see the God who sees us. Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know Him.  I know this to be true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to put food on our table, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When I was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

Beloved, if He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will surely be faithful to you.