Isaiah 43:11-13

Isaiah 43:11-13. I read it and smile. Because the Old Testament always points to the New. The Bible isn’t 66 books – it’s one book pointing us to our need for the one God.

“I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.”

God said this to the Israelites some 700 years before Jesus was born.

God gave Himself in Jesus to save a people that could be saved no other way.

God gave Himself in Jesus to save you and me because we can be saved no other way (John 14:6).

“I have revealed and saved and proclaimed… You are my witnesses that I am God.”

God revealed Himself to Israel in a number of ways… burning bushes and separating seas and babies for the barren and on and on.

God reveals Himself to us in the pages of scripture and in the pulse of His Spirit keeping time with ours and in promises proved sure and on and on (2 Timothy 3:16, John 16:13).

God saved His nation from enemy after enemy – Egyptians and Canaanites and Philistines and more.

God saved you and me from the death our sins worked hard to earn us when we accepted the gift only Jesus could afford to give us. And He saves us still from living each day as if we are still hell bound (Romans 6:23, Galatians 5:1).

God proclaimed to Israel over and over – speaking it loud to messenger after messenger – “I am the Lord your God,” (Leviticus 18:4, Exodus 20:2-3).

God proclaims the same message to us – speaking it loud in book after book – “I am the Lord your God,” (John 17:3, Colossians 1:16).

Israel witnessed God’s displays – grand and subtle – of His Godness. Passover protection and morning manna and lavish land…

Do we see?

Look around at our divinely orchestrated lives within a divinely complicated creation. He still protects and provides and pours out blessings too numerous to count and too good to convey on us.

We are witnesses when we choose to be.

“No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

Not then. Not now. No one can undo what the Lord does. He has revealed and saved and proclaimed, and there will be no undoing any of it.

We can’t cover up His working. We can’t explain it away with scientific theories or paint over it with another coating of skeptical shellac.

He has revealed what He has revealed.

We can board a ship sailing away from Nineveh – we can try to flee His presence – but He goes with us. We can deny we love Him – deny we know Him – three times before the rooster crows, but He still claims us, holds us, preserves us, redeems us from ourselves.

He has saved whom He has saved.

We can say it’s all untrue – believe lies about ourselves and our God – but He still says what He says in scripture – we are His, we are forgiven, and He has good plans for us (1 John 3:1, Romans 8:1, Romans 8:28).

He proclaims what He proclaims.

Who can reverse it?

Not us.

Not any one.

Amen.

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Boundaries in Church

image via CloudTownsend.com

Years ago a book called Boundaries was released. I haven’t read it, but I hear it helps you decide when relationships are harmful and how to enact healthy limits to prevent permanent damage to your soul. There have been a bunch of spin-offs – Boundaries in Dating, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, etc.

To my knowledge, Boundaries in Church has yet to be written. But I’ve been considering the concept quite a bit lately.

I attend a large church in a Memphis suburb. Like most churches, our staff is over-worked and under-paid, and they rarely say no to meeting a need inside or outside of the church. In order to address all those needs, the staff constantly appeals to the church members for help (as they should).

I’ve heard it said that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, and I’m feeling it.

Week after week, I receive email after email with opportunities to serve inside and outside of my church. And every time I read a request, my first thought is, “How can I fit this in? How can I rearrange things to make room for more service?”

Similarly, I learn of financial needs within my small group, within my church family, within my community, and abroad on the mission field constantly. And my first thought is, “Where can we find $10 a month to contribute to this cause?”

A lot of times I’ll say yes to that service need or commit to that financial need because I want to help and because I take seriously the Bible’s commands for believers to serve others and take care of those in need.

In other words, I feel a responsibility as a follower of Christ to say yes all. the. time. Don’t get me wrong, I want to serve and help. But I am getting tired. I am getting tapped. I am starting to respond to emails requesting help with, “UGH! Why can’t others step up?” instead of, “Yes, I’d be happy to sacrifice my time and money to help the Gospel go forth once again.”

And that’s where Satan and my flesh both step in and battle each other for control of my soul.

Satan wants me to feel guilty for even considering not serving or giving this one time. “You can always find $10 more and one more hour to donate to a worthy cause…. but you don’t want to… you don’t really love Jesus… you’re a fraud.”

My flesh swells with pride and says, “You already serve in so many ways! You LIVE at that church. You already give X amount of money to the church and missionaries and other charities. That 80% of the church members that don’t do or give jack need to quit being so selfish and step up! YOU do plenty. Sit back, feel proud, and refuse to do anymore!”

I don’t believe God would have me embrace feeling guilty or excessively prideful. He wants a different response from me.

But what?

As I think about priorities, I’ve been taught they should look something like this:

  1. Personal relationship with God (spending significant quality time with Him in prayer and individual study of the Scriptures daily)
  2. Family (spending significant quality time with them and making sure all their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs are sufficiently and exceptionally met daily)
  3. Occupation (accomplishing #2 requires money, and obtaining money typically requires working)
  4. Serving outside the home (inside the church, in the community, or abroad)

Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. #1 and #2 accomplish that, and #3 and #4 can also be focused on that if we so desire.

The Bible also commands Christians to use their gifts to build up the church (Romans 12:4-8), serve others (Matthew 20:26-28), take care of those who can’t take care of themselves (Matthew 25:40), and share the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ with others (Matthew 28:19-20).

Certainly, these things can be exponentially better accomplished if our #1 priority is attended to. If we have kids, the biblical commands to serve others, take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, and share the Gospel can ALL be accomplished within our immediate families as well (#2). Once our family members each enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, we’ll have to move outside of our families to fulfill the mandate to evangelize, but we don’t have to look too far: neighbors, our kids’ friends, their parents, etc.

Depending on your job, some or all of the biblical mandates can be lived out in our #3 priority.

And so our 4th priority is left as a kind of a catch-all. Whatever biblical commands we didn’t satisfy in priorities #1, #2, and #3, we can fulfill in #4. But if we’re not doing #1-3 well, maybe #4 shouldn’t be on our radar.

Maybe we shouldn’t use our time and money to serve outside of our family if we aren’t taking sufficient, no, exceptional care of our family with the time and money we have.

(Note: I am not talking about tithing in this conversation. I believe a 10% tithe is a non-negotiable no matter what state your family is in. When I talk about giving money in this article, I am only referring to giving above and beyond our tithe. (Leviticus 27:30))

All this to say, when an opportunity to serve or give comes our way, we should disregard Satan’s attempt to make us feel guilty and our flesh’s attempt to make us feel prideful and look at our priorities. Before we commit to service of our time and money, we should ask ourselves if we’re spending enough alone time with God, if our family is getting the best physical care we can give them (fast food is toxic, ahem), the best emotional support and spiritual training we can offer (this takes TIME), if our family has enough money to take care of itself (if not, consider using your extra time to get a J.O.B. before volunteering for something else).  If we can answer yes to all these things, and we still have time and money left, by all means, serve and give.

But if serving and giving means these other things suffer, even if these other things suffer because you are emotionally and physically exhausted from all the serving and the giving you’ve been doing, STOP IT! Cut back. Give yourself grace. Know that God understands. Know that God loves how much you desire to pay more attention to your relationship with Him and to take better care of your family He’s given you as a gift and responsibility.

Give yourself permission to set some limits. And give the 80% a chance to up their game 😉

Does God Care HOW We Worship Him?

image via westmainbaptist.com
image via westmainbaptist.com

There is a popular idea out there that it doesn’t matter how you choose to worship, as long as you are sincere.  Within this idea is an unspoken conclusion that, somehow, no matter which religion turns out to be right, the god(s) of that religion will honor the valiant efforts of those who believed falsely, as long as they believed with passion and commitment.

(Why a god would reward wrong is beyond me.)

It is true that God cares about the heart.  He is deeply concerned with our motivations, our intentions, and our emotions, especially in worship (Deuteronomy 10:12).

But is God also concerned with the way we worship?  Sure, we need to be sincere, but does the how also matter?

Well, the Old Testament has two entire books – Leviticus and Deuteronomy – dedicated to laying out the means by which Israel was to worship God.  God is painstakingly specific and is serious about the Israelites worshiping Him in just the right way.

Why?

To distinguish the Israelites from the idolators around them (Deuteronomy 12:31).

God wanted the surrounding nations to know that the Israelites were not worshiping just any ole god – they were worshiping the One True God.

But there came a time in Israel’s history when they lost sight of the prescribed ways they were to worship.  Frankly, they just weren’t important to them anymore.

And, as a result, “…everyone did as he saw fit,” (Judges 17:6).

Even Israel’s first king, Saul, decided it’d be okay to come worship God however he wanted to.

In 1 Samuel 15 we read that God commanded Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites and everything that belongs to them (1 Samuel 15:3-4).  But Saul says to himself, “I will kill everyone except the king, and I will kill every animal except the best ones, and then I will sacrifice those best animals to the Lord!  God loves animal sacrifices; surely, He will pleased with me!” (1 Samuel 15:15).

What is Saul doing?  He is justifying disobedience.  He is worshiping God the way he wants to, not the way God told him to.  And he is mistaken that God doesn’t care about how people worship.

As a result, Saul loses the kingdom (1 Samuel 15:23).

And Saul is not the only Israelite to ever lose sight of the importance of the proper way to worship God.

In Numbers 3:4 two of Aaron’s sons – ordained priests – “…fell dead before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him…”

Aaron’s sons knew what the Law said.  They knew the proper way to approach the Lord.  That was their job.  But they made the same mistake Saul did – the same mistake you and I make – and decided to worship on their own terms.  And they paid for that choice with their lives.

What does this mean for us Christians?

God is the same today as He was in Old Testament times.  God cares how we worship Him.  He cares that we call Him Jesus and not any other name (Acts 4:12).  He cares that we believe He is the only God (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4).  He cares that we worship Him only and not any other “gods” (Luke 4:8).  He cares that we worship in truth – not falsehoods – no matter how sincere we might be (John 4:24).

It simply isn’t true that we can worship any god in any way and earn eternal salvation on account of our sincerity.  God has a certain way He wants us to worship, and only that way will do.

What Leviticus Teaches Us

Leviticus.

That’s possibly the book I care least about in the Bible.

Is it heretical to say that?  I’m sure there are some legalists sharpening their pitchforks somewhere…

Either way, the truth is the book of Leviticus is a snooze fest for me.  God lays out His laws for the Jews to follow in an unbelievably detailed, repetitive manner.

(Side note: there is a 2 yr old wearing skinny jeans in Starbucks right now, and she is SO CUTE.  Keep in mind that I hate skinny jeans.  I think they are one of the worst fashion trends out there.  And given my stellar wardrobe, I am sure you are going to plan your entire winter clothes shopping around my opinion :))

Back to a more boring topic – LEVITICUS.  I am halfway through it.  So far there is a lot of talk about exactly, and I do mean EXACTLY, how the Israelites are to make their sacrifices to God.  Given that Christ has set me free from these laws, they are of no importance to me.

But they are clearly important to God.  He included them in the Bible He knew Christians would be reading thousands of years after Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled the law.

Why?

What does He want you and me to “get” out of this book?

So far I’ve come up with one idea.  Actually, two.  But today I am just talking about the one.

Leviticus is full of passages like this:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses: “Command Aaron and his sons, ‘This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering is to remain on the hearth on the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar must be kept burning on it. Then the priest must put on his linen robe and must put linen leggings over his bare flesh, and he must take up the fatty ashes of the burnt offering that the fire consumed on the altar, and he must place them beside the altar. Then he must take off his clothes and put on other clothes, and he must bring the fatty ashes outside the camp to a ceremonially clean place, but the fire which is on the altar must be kept burning on it. It must not be extinguished. So the priest must kindle wood on it morning by morning, and he must arrange the burnt offering on it and offer the fat of the peace offering up in smoke on it. A continual fire must be kept burning on the altar. It must not be extinguished.'”  Leviticus 6:8-13

Riveting, no?

And this is a SHORT passage!

So what gives?  Why does God want you and me to read this stuff?  It has nothing to do with us.

Except that it communicates how detail-oriented God is.

God is in the details.  He cared about every last ounce of oil, every drip of animal fat, every article of clothing that was worn.  And if He cared about the details back then, He certainly cares about our details today.  He does not change.

I’ve heard people say that God doesn’t care about what you eat for breakfast or whether or not your football team wins this weekend (Go Dawgs).

But I don’t think that’s true.  I think He cares very much that you are putting something nutritious in your body and that you root for Georgia.  HE WANTS THAT FOR YOU.

All joking aside, everything we do, no matter how insignificant, affects everything else.  The little things add up to make big things.

If we couple this idea that God cares about our details with an idea I recently wrote a lot about – Spirit-led living – then we start to understand that God wants us to rely on the Spirit in all things.  Yes, God wants us to ask His opinion before we take a new job or when we’re considering marriage.  But He also wants us to ask Him who to sit next to at church, whether or not we should speak to them, and what words we should say if we are impressed upon to speak.  He loves to use these little details to divinely orchestrate HUGE things – like that person’s salvation, for example.

God wants to be in the details of our lives.  Are we looking for Him there?  Are we working with Him or against Him?

When we work with Him, the Christian life is never boring.  When we ignore Him, the Christian life is never fulfilling.