The God of the Bible

We’re New Testament Christians – why should we read the Old Testament? What good does it do me to study old laws and rituals? Why should I learn about people so far removed from my own life? Because we don’t study the Bible to learn about laws and rituals and long-dead people – we study the Bible to learn about and draw hope from God. I am in a group that is writing through the Bible, we’ve been mired in Job for months. Lots of misery and grumbling and arguing. But by slowing down the pace and paying attention to the text, we’ve come to understand Job – and God – from a whole new perspective.

Paul said, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). He’s talking about the Old Testament. When I am discouraged, I go to the stories of God’s deliverance in Exodus. When my life has fallen apart I turn to Nehemiah where God enabled His people to rebuild the broken-down walls. When I face a frightening situation Esther is my go-to book as I remember how God rescued His people. And when the world looms dark and evil, I turn to Daniel and witness God’s sovereign control over human events.

The Old Testament is filled with evidence of God’s power, purpose, love, and faithfulness. The same power, purpose, love, and faithfulness is found in the New Testament and in my life two-thousand plus years later. In the Old Testament, I find the God who delivered Israel, rebuilt Jerusalem, and rescued the Jews. In the New Testament, I see the same God who delivered mankind, broke the bonds of sin and death, and changed the world. He is the same God I call to in this present season of struggle. I know He is able to do for me today all that He did then. I put my name in those verses of rescue and promise and the God of the Hebrew people, of Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel becomes the God of Dorcas Elizabeth. He hasn’t forgotten how to rescue and restore. His power hasn’t diminished one bit. This God is your God too if you have trusted in Jesus. Beloved, get to know the God of the whole Bible. Get to know the God of your life.

In God’s Eyes

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13).

When you looked in the mirror this morning, what did you see? Wrinkles? Gray hair? A tired expression? That’s what I saw. But God doesn’t see me the say way I see myself. All through the Bible, He tells men and women that He sees what no one else does – not even themselves.

Moses saw himself as a stuttering criminal on the lam, but God saw him as the deliverer of His people (Exodus 3:10).

Gideon saw himself as “the least in the weakest clan of Israel,” but God saw him as a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:15, 12).

David’s father Jesse saw his son as the tender of the family’s sheep, but God saw him as the shepherd-king of His people.

Where the woman with an issue of blood saw herself as ostracized and unclean, Jesus saw her as a “daughter” (Luke 8:48). Simon the Pharisee saw the woman washing Jesus’ feet as a “sinful woman,” but Jesus saw her as a model of love and forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). Mary Magdalene, whom the whole town knew as a demon-possessed woman Jesus saw as the first witness to His resurrection (John 20:10-18).

And on and on I could go.

God sees you and me far more clearly than we could ever see ourselves.  Who you are in the sight of others, or even in your own eyes, is not who you are in the sight of the God who created and redeemed you.   For those who are in Christ, He sees us as His children (1 John 3:1), with a purpose and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Where others see us through the mistakes we’ve made, God sees us with all the potential He placed in us from before we were born.  When we see ourselves through the worldly standards of beauty and success, God sees us through the beauty of His Son and His victory over death.  When we see ourselves as unworthy, hopeless, useless, and unwanted He sees us as valuable, and desired, because He sees us through eyes of love and compassion.

How do you see yourself, Beloved?  When you consider that question, always come back to this truth:  the God who created you sees you as so much more than you can ever imagine.  Ask Him to give you His perspective so you can live as the child of God that you are.

Heaven Wept

“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross. They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet. They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender. They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit. They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body. They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross. They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection. But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters. To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story. He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women? Were they numb with grief? Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones? This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief. How could this be? Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!” As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty. We know this is only the day between death and life. But they didn’t. In their world, death was final. It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

Foot-washing

He rose from his place, removed his outer garments and took the towel and basin to the pitcher of water, and poured. Imagine the shocked silence that filled the room at the sight of Jesus, their beloved Teacher, kneeling before the first man, removing his dusty sandals and touching the filthy feet before Him. Surely all that could be heard was the splashing of water as He moved around the room. Peter wanted to spare His Lord such humiliation and drew back his feet, but Jesus refused to pass him by. When the task was done, Jesus told them to take His example and live by this expression of humility and service.

Something strikes me about it this scene. John (who was the only gospel writer to record this scene) never says that anyone washed the feet of Jesus that day. Perhaps one of them did, but surely John would not leave out such an important detail.

There will come a day – sooner or perhaps later – when I will see Him face to glorious face. When I bow before Him in grateful adoration, I want to wash my Jesus’ feet. I want to hold those beautiful feet in my hands. I want to splash water from the River of Life (Rev. 22:1) on His feet. Yes, Mary washed Jesus’ feet. But the feet she washed did not bear the scars from the cross. Those precious marks would come after His act of holy love. I want to touch the imprints left by the nails and kiss the scars that bought my redemption. I want to show Him “the full extent of my love” (Jn 13:1 NIV). I want to wash my Savior’s feet. The feet that kicked against the swaddling clothes in the manger. The feet that carried the Teacher to the shores of Galilee. The feet that walked the dusty road of the Via Dolorosa. The feet that bore the weight of His body and the weight of my sin on the cross. I want to wash those beautiful, glorious nail-scarred feet that speak of this sinner who has been set free.

Love much

 “First Day in Heaven” by Kerolos Safwat.

Jesus is a dinner guest at the home of a man named Simon. Simon is a Pharisee – that means he is very important in the religious community and very well respected. He is also very arrogant and looks down on people who are not as “holy” as he thinks himself to be. While Jesus sits around the finely decorated table, a woman enters the house. This woman was well known in the community as a “sinful woman.” She has earned a living among men and is an outcast among the ”good” people.  The house has fallen silent as she moves among the crowd with an alabaster jar in her hands. Every eye is on her but her eyes are fixed on one person – Jesus.

As she kneels at His feet she is weeping and her tears make tracks in the dust that clings to Him until His feet have been washed clean. She reaches up and pulls away her head covering and gently wipes His feet dry with her long, cascading hair, then kisses them. Finally, she breaks open the alabaster jar and pours the costly perfume out on those clean feet.

Simon, like all who are gathered there, is shocked that Jesus has permitted such a sinful woman to touch Him. But listen! Jesus is telling Simon a story about a good man who forgave the debts that others owed him.

“Who will love him more?” He asks.

“The one who had the biggest debt canceled,” Simon answers.

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus says.

Then he turns away from Simon to look at the woman. Do you see the love in His eyes? “She had done something very beautiful for me,” He says. “She loves much because she has been forgiven much.”  Then Jesus blesses her and says, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

This story is your story. You have a sinful past just as she had, but Jesus has forgiven all your sins – just as he forgave hers. You love Him much because you have been forgiven much. Listen carefully to Jesus as He looks at you with love in His eyes and tells you, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Go and fulfill the things that God is calling you to do. You have been washed in the precious blood of Jesus, Beloved. You can leave your past behind and go forward in peace.

Hebrews: Cheerful Courage

As I was studying Hebrews 10:19-25, the next Hebrews passage, one word caught my attention.  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . .” (Heb 10:19). This passage has a lot to say to us, far more than just one word, but when the Holy Spirit draws my focus with a divine highlighter, I’ve learned to pay attention.   The word is “confidence,” and no, the writer isn’t talking about “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities” (Google’s definition). The word he used in this context means “boldness, freedom in speaking.”  It always brings the story of Esther to mind.

Esther was a Jewish girl living in Susa, a province of Persia. The king of Susa had fallen in love with Esther and taken her to be his queen, but she hid her Jewish identity, as her people were not very popular in the region. In fact, they were so disliked that one of the king’s aides decided all the Jews in Susa should be killed in a mass extermination. The king put his “stamp of approval” on this heinous plan. Esther’s uncle begged with her to go to the king and plead for the lives of her people. But she knew that any person who approached the king in his inner court will be put to death unless the king extends his scepter as a sign of acceptance. Even his wife. Esther swallowed her fear and, dressed in her finest, walked across the palace’s marble floors and into the king’s presence. As God would have it, the king accepted Esther and she was (eventually) able to make her request.

There wasn’t anything in Esther that made her bold and confident, it was the God whose mission she had accepted, which brings me to the other definition for the word confidence: “cheerful courage.” Now I have had to do some very hard things that required a lot of courage and I pressed on into it, but it was “suck-it-up” courage and my knees were knocking. There was nothing cheerful about it. So how can I – as a sinful woman – have cheerful confidence to enter into the very dwelling place of God? Only by the blood of Jesus.

As we sang in worship yesterday, “There to my heart was the blood applied – glory to His name!”