The Bible is a rare book which embraces its reader’s heart with love. It knows its reader and it receives its reader with the same knowing love Jesus had when he spoke in parables. Our heart’s deepest questions are not just answered, but they are loving accepted and left unanswered until our fears are laid to rest by the testimony of God’s faithfulness, and then we find that the answer isn’t just in the Bible, but the answer is out there seeking the questioner. The book is like its author: loving, truthful, humble, and wise. Through the book, the reader comes to know what the Author knows about the reader, and then invites and excites gratitude to the Author for how well the Author understands, searches out, and resolutely stretches out its arms and his hands to bring the willing heart into right relationship with Himself. When reading it, one wonders, is it a book or is it a person? The Bible is obviously a book of books, but the Author’s love and truth so saturate every page that the Word– the message, the thought, the meaning– of the book come alive in the heart– as alive in the heart as the Author of both the heart of the reader and of life itself. O that every student of the Bible would learn the Bible’s ways of embracing the heart of the reader with all its questions, doubts, and fears, and of showing them knowing love that invites them to be saved!
Recently, a friend of mine told me that he believed the church should prioritize Paul’s teachings over Jesus’. Another friend told him that can’t be right. After all, if Paul learned from Jesus, we should prioritize Jesus’ teachings right? I believe this is a wonderful question and I believe the answer can be found by comparing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.
In seminary I learned that the Old Testament has three sections (Torah or Law, Prophets, and Writings) but the last two of those sections are exposition or explanation of the first section. One professor put it this way. “The Old Testament is the Torah and the rest of it is exposition of the Torah.” Another way to say this is that the Torah gives us the definition, the boundaries, the seed of what is to come, and the rest of the writings (The prophets and the writings, or just “the Prophets” for short) just explain how it happened in real life. Example: In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “You are going to go into exile, and God is going to bring you back.” (Deuteronomy 29-31). Read 2 Kings 17. You’ll see why He sent them into exile, and read Nehemiah and you will see what happens when God brings them back. Again, I will say it. The Old Testament = Torah + Exposition of the Torah.
Now if this is the case, which should we prioritize in the Old Testament? My answer is this: The Old Testament is set up in such a way that you need both of them to make sense of it. If you just prioritize the Prophets, chances are you’re not going to have much guidance to understand the plot of what’s happening. Why after all, did Elijah shut up the heavens in 1 Kings 17? (The Prophets) Because in Leviticus 26:18-20, God said he would shut up the Heavens if the people disobeyed. (The Law). If however we just prioritize the Law, then we will get lost in semantics and not know how it is rightly to be applied. Example: Leviticus 25 said you should give your land rest every 7th year. (Law) but we see in the Prophets what happened to the land when the land was NOT given rest every seventh year. (The Prophets) Within the Old Testament God does not leave us in the dark but gives us not only the seed of the tree, but also what the tree looks like when it is full grown. The seed of the Tree is God reaching out to love Israel. The Tree itself is God being faithful, and the people of God being faithless. We need both of these to rightly handle the word of Truth. We also need to use both rightly so we don’t get the cart before the horse.
Now, this wonderfully simple pattern of understanding God’s word couldn’t possibly be the pattern for the New Testament could it? What major sections of the New Testament are there? The Gospels and the Writings (History, Epistles, and Prophecy) In essence, we have a repeated pattern of the New Law and Prophets.)
Does it work the same way? Is the New Testament, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament exposition on the Gospels? Yet again, we find that God’s Word in the New Testament not only gives us the seed, but also the Tree. It shows us the Teachings of Jesus in their powerful demonstration and the proof of their truth, and then we are given in the writings what those teachings applied looked like in historical and instructive ways. Paul applied the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6 during the sermon on the mount about worry when he wrote tot he Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” But Jesus’ teachings about how to treat your neighbors would not make as much sense to us who are not Jewish unless Paul and Luke expounded on them for us who are the nations outside of Israel.
So then, which do you prioritize? The teachings that directly apply to the nations (The New Testament Prophets) or Jesus’ words themselves (The New Law)? I see how I would lean personally, but once again, I must keep the whole in perspective. Just as the Torah is expounded in the Prophets, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word, so the Gospels are expounded in the Writings, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word. Both have a relationship that must be rightly kept in humble interpretation of each other.
But still there is one more layer to peel back, which I find rather wonderful and sobering
Now that we have a canon of Scripture, the Church is interpreting the Scriptures to the World in every culture, tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We have, in both Testaments, the pattern of the house, and now we are responsible to enforce, to explain, to bring into reality God’s Word as it is revealed through both Testaments. The question left to us is how is this Scriptural revelation of God going to brought to full expression in the world. Or to put it in another way:
What is the Kingdom of God today? Our blueprints are established, and the writings of the Prophets both old and new have shown God’s way of bringing His word to fruition. It is the power and leading of His Holy Spirit that brings God’s kingdom here on earth among his people. And this Kingdom is going to be the final testament to the nature and character of the God we serve before He comes again.
What a tremendous privilege and responsibility!
To show it visibly, I came up with this Analogy of the Testaments. Can you solve the analogy?
The rule of humor is you give two similar things one after the other, and then the third, you bend slightly to get a laugh. May the church not make God’s Kingdom the biggest cosmic joke that will make those watching to mock our God! Instead, may we be led and empowered by the Spirit to make of the church what the Spirit seeks to make of the Kingdom of God.
Hebrews 11:7–By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
This hard lesson from Noah gets to the grittiness of a stark reality depicted in both Covenants: some will not be saved. Faith is more than a spiritual exercise: it is the vitality of obedience that prepares us for the day of God’s judgment.
Who was Noah anyway? His name meant “rest” and he was named by his father with a hope that “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.” (Genesis 5:29) So he was a child born with destiny, but this is not why God warned him. God warned him because “Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9). God is a good friend. He doesn’t keep from sharing his secrets with those who walk with him. (See the previous post.)
God warned Noah by sharing with him what He saw (the corruption of the world) and what he was going to do about it. (flood the whole earth). He let Noah, who could only see with his two eyes, what God saw in the unseen. This warning is privileged to one who is seeking to know the Unseen God.
Noah’s internal response to God’s wrathful declaration, is not depicted as sarcasm, terror, doubt, or some vain imagination. Reverence is the word that Hebrews’ author uses. Reverence is submission of the heart to the obedience of God. Reverence is worship of God as the one who is worthy when your world is not yet but soon will be very literally falling apart around you. Obedience is the material offspring of a Reverent heart. As total as one is so total is the other. Obedience is only 100% if Reverence is 100%. And what are we told of Noah in Genesis 6:22: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.”
The implications for the believer today are staggering. Anything that draws the heart away from total reverence of God is also drawing the person’s body away from total obedience to God.
This is the life of Faith: Walking with God doing what He gives you to do.
“By which he condemned the world.” This is not vindictive as a way of saying, “Noah was looking down with grim satisfaction at all the sinners floating away.” No. This means Noah’s obedient actions were Noah’s proof that the world needed to be judged. Another way of saying it, because he did right, by the same rule everyone else had done wrong. Obedience is the sword that swings both saving those with faith, and condemning those without it.
This is the burden of Faith. Faith is 100% for God, and brings salvation, and is the just condemnation of the world who refuses to be whole-heartedly for One whom they cannot see. The tragedy was world-wide in Noah’s day, and one day again the tragedy will be world-wide once again.
- Cultivate healthy reverence for God by examining your thoughts and affections toward him, and let every thing that is important to you be laid down on the altar of faith.
- Walk with God. Let your relationship with God be the basis for all else in your life.
- Obey him 100% in whatever he calls you to do. It is your salvation.
- Be real with believers and unbelievers about God: there is no middle road: there is only fully obedient and saved, and not fully obedient and condemned.
- Pray for those who are weak or lacking in faith that they may have a heart to trust in Him who is unseen.
- Establish relationships of trust with others and let them see your own faith in action.
We will talk more about “the righteousness which is according to faith” as we talk about Abraham.
Now that I am exiting another stage of life, Time has locked into high gear for me. Days are an afterthought. Weeks gone in a blink. In a flash the months are past. I anticipate time will only continue to accelerate.
I know time hasn’t budged. It continues to grind at the same pace it has with a few variations of years being seconds longer or shorter. I know the change is within me. What has caused me to feel time has sped up?
I believe I have found the brake pedal and the gas pedal for time. Why do children feel like every day is an eternity, and most adults feel like it is a blur? This equation helped me find the answer:
Requirements speed up time
Retirements slow it down
Ask any retired person, their days crawl by just like a child’s does. When in the working world however, our time is being poured out into the mold of those who require things of us. Our present is thinned to a narrow strip between what just happened and what is needing to happen in the next minutes.
Present time is the greatest gift we have: and the celebration of that present gift is rest. Responsibly rejecting the requirements of a person for a time, and enjoying the gift of doing nothing of required consequence allows a person to be real with themselves, and most importantly with God. This is what makes rest an act of worship which just happens to be prescribed in the Ten Commandments.
Think about it: Why do you work? Why do you do anything? Is it not a reflection of your belief about the God who you worship? If you believe God is always working, then you will never give yourself a break. If however, your design is patterned after a God who rests occasionally, should that not inform your decisions concerning your own rest?
Genesis 2:2–“On the seventh day God rested.”
The Lord has made us after the pattern of His likeness with eternity in our hearts. It is Eternity that we step into whenever we rest from our labor. The silence, the stillness, the sweet release of tension– These are the gift of God to a body worn down by time’s millstone march.
This Christmas season, take time to rest. Enjoy the gift of eternity that God has given you, and see what your heart is just waiting to release as part of the tension you have built up over time.
This post was a result of resting.
Such a special discussion of intimacy with God must acknowledge its effect on the world. Much more is at stake in a relationship of this type than a person’s spiritual satisfaction.
Babylon (Genesis 1-11)
The “real world” as many adults posit it to many young people is one messed up pile of diarrhea. It’s been that way since Adam’s sin manifested in the Tower of Babel. All of humanity gathered together for one purpose:
“Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
The world has historically been united before, and “world peace” once meant something godless long ago. And God scattered every nation across the world with different languages. Humanity had risen up as the spawn of Adam’s fallen humanity, and they were determined that they did not need God. No intimacy, no seeking to know God, only a seeking to be known by a name they themselves made. This is the way of the world, so I don’t pray for world peace anymore, at least not without God.
They wanted a great name for themselves, but God showed one man the path to making his name great: intimacy with God. Friendship with God.
Abraham: Genesis 12-25
What was the promise? part of it Genesis 12:2– “I will make you a great you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and so you shall be a blessing.” The Principle here is this: Trustworthiness with God is the path to one’s name being great for the purpose of blessing the world. Without this friendship, it is not going to happen. But if it does happen, there is no telling how amazing the promises of God will unfold in a person’s life.
The best part of this relationship of intimacy with God is God himself. And with such a closeness with Him, the world will be touched by the blessing of this relationship leading to salvation for all who will accept it.
Isaac and Israel: Genesis 24-35, Old Testament
One of the benefits of Abraham’s journey with God, is that his son carried the spiritual heritage even further! The last act of Abraham was finding a bride for Isaac, and Isaac’s death came only after his son Jacob had wrestled with God and been given his new name Israel, after beholding a face of God.
The pattern was set by his father, and the family became Israel, the nation which would be priests to God. They would show the world the way back to a relationship with the Father, but they did a poor job of it until Jesus came, as the glory of Israel.
The Church: Romans 1:5, and 16:26
And one such son of Israel of the tribe of Benjamin shared the goal of his ministry in the beginning and the end of his letter to the Romans.
“Through Jesus we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the [Nations] for His name’s sake.” ~Romans 1:5
This is God’s design: to let the blessing of a relationship with Him come forth in all that the church does to bless the world. This is the only way there will be any blessing from the church. Without the aroma, the presence, the facial expressions, the words, the actions, the character of God himself evident in all our actions, the world will not be able to see Him. Such a reflection of God is not born in academia, or in the realm of moralism, or political maneuvers, or even social programs. The glory of God is seen face to face with Him, and face to face with each other.
And so I close with Jesus’ own question in Luke 18:8 “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?”
In the famous The Tortoise and the Hare story, children are taught that slow and steady wins the race. I wish ministers were taught that fast and steady brings the burnout.
One sign that God’s servants are hooked up to a finite power source such as coffee, food, screen time, entertainment, hobbies, relationships, or the praise of men is burnout.
The Almighty power of God will never burnout, and its power outlet is found on the side of the wooden beams of Jesus’ own cross.
If you’re not carrying His cross, you are powerless. If you are not deriving your every sustainence from the Word of God, you have only pseudo-power. E. M. Bounds was right, prayer is where the power is, but that’s just because prayer brings a person into contact with the Almighty power of God. Only the humble will actually be strengthened by it though.
God is a Father, Lord, Friend, Priest, and the One who has borne everything you have carried; He knows. The guilt from burnout needs to be kept in the presence of God. It is mere pride which drives a man away from God out of guilt. Humble guilt runs to God, not from Him. If you can’t hear Him, then for His goodness sake run to Him. Leave every net behind!
If the shell that the body of Christ is wearing now–the exoskeleton of denominational Christianity which is only affordable in a pluralistic, materialistic, and person-centered culture like America–is tiring out the very soldiers who live to sustain it to the point where they are morally, spiritually, and societally compromised, then we either need better leaders or a better exoskeleton. I’ve got a feeling that God wants both.
The more we feed on corruptible things
The more our bodies are broken down by it.
The more we feed on eternal things
The more our bodies are renewed by it.
I came to understand this, bless the Lord who is merciful and just, after a week where He gave me a specific directive, “No chocolate.” It wasn’t even words. It was merely a feeling deep within my spirit, as He was inviting me to follow his leading in a deeper non-verbal way. I thought of chocolate, and knew I was not to eat it. But what was weird was, I could eat it, and He said it was okay. The first day of school–Monday, I turned down a chocolate cupcake that was apparently “divine” according to all my other friends. The entire day, I ate no chocolate, no coffee, just ordinary food. And to celebrate the blessing of Monday, I ate chocolate. The next day, my hand and my arm were scraped up from a nasty fall, and I had one of the most chaotic chorus teaching days in my career. I ate a bit of chocolate each day for the next four days, and the week ended with a class of discouragement, and lethargy and longing for the weekend, and feeling dismal about my work.
I have been reading The Refiner’s Fire with my wife at night, and as we read last night, T. Austin-Sparks wrote:
“Dependency on the Lord is a governing and an abiding law of true spiritual power.”
Examples of this in practice involve feasting upon eternity at the cost of the material. Fasting serves this purpose. Silence, waiting, giving, sacrifice, all of these things exercise the heart to lay hold of what really matters, to avoid the snare of the empty corruptible resources of this world.
In common terms, have we not even seen that foods that are natural are full of nutrients, but the more they are processed by the devices of men, they are stripped of their nourishment? The life is the same way. If you feast on God, you will not only be satisfied, but even your hungry times will be hopeful. If you feast on the devices of man, you ingest the woeful product of man’s corruptibility, which more often than not works for a temporal and fleeting end, rather than a spiritual and eternal one.
Even now, on this day of rest, as I write this work, my body reels for more caffeine, but my heart is growing strong in its absence. Not because chocolate is any evil thing. It is merely temporal, but God has bound up eternity in the heart of humanity. This is why it is so true that, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is the breath and thought and person of God which sustains our souls for life.
The reason I feel I must publish this, is I see more and more the T-shirts with the cute slogan which helps us laugh at our Christianity translated through American Culture. “I can do all things with Christ . . . and Coffee.” I would laugh, but the matter is too grievous. I do not judge the practice of eating or drinking. I do not have that right. What I do judge is the proud display of Jesus + something else, as the basis for our life. To lean on anything at all beyond just Jesus, is the very spirit of idolatry which breathes corruption into our daily lives.
Do you not know the flesh wars against the spirit,
And that the spirit wars against the flesh?
What provision do you make for the flesh that you may fulfill it’s desires?
Do you caffeinate your body so it can function in a society based on too much work, noise, and business?
Isn’t the church called to more than that?
One of the hindrances to power in the church today, is that we do not know how to be utterly dependent on God.
We are afraid of what from ourselves or our possessions that would cost us.
Christ + Coffee is a house divided against itself. It cannot stand.
Do not be so simple as to think I’m really talking about Coffee as being an inherent evil. If you think so, I think you are looking for fault in what I say in order to preserve your own affection or dependence. And yet, why is it that the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Do not be drunk with wine, which is dissipation, but be filled by the spirit.” I think we could have a modern translation of that, “Don’t live on coffee, which is dissipation, but be filled by the spirit!” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” If you are not feeling liberty in your life, I would suggest you are walking in something less than God’s spirit.
I have written this for myself. I sit here in a quiet place, waiting on the Lord. I step out on faith that the energy I do not have is supplied by God for what I need. And if I look to Coffee, it will let me down. If I look to chocolate, it will let me down. Time is too short, to live a dis-empowered spiritual life, because you have substituted holy joy for entertainment, and spiritual power for caffeinated power. Both will be tried by fire, and there will not be enough coffee to put out that fire. It is an all consuming fire. All that remains is what is of eternity. When your life is burned up before the presence of a Holy God who judges the living and the dead, how much will be burned up because it was based on coffee, and how much of it will survive the trial because it was based on nothing but Christ Himself?
Don’t start talking beside the flower
Discussing its hue and classification.
That is description!
Don’t just let the smell be nosed
And tell people how fragrant it is.
That is reporting!
Don’t just finger its petals and thorns
And explain the touch of soft and sharp
That is informing!
You are not yet small enough
To know the flower properly yet
You are still outside.
Like the bee, lowly and industrious
Drawn by the sight, smell, and feel
You are in need.
Wanting life for heart and home,
You sink beneath the pedal’s crown
You seek the source.
The hidden warmth, the ever-present aroma
Of the sweetest secret nectar of Life
Now, you are before Him.
If you have seen Him, please tell me about Him.
You already know about Him. You have already heard much about Him. You do not need me to tell you about Him. What you need is to see Him for yourself. I can describe the effect of seeing Him, on my heart what’s left of it. I can point to the scars on my body where I have been branded for the Lord’s service. I can point out to you the truths and glimpses of Him that you can see if only you had the heart, but as it stands now, your heart is like heavy lidded eyes. And you would not see Him, even if He stood before you. It is not those who see who have the heart, it is those who have the heart who see.
Fine, so describe him.
More familiar than anyone or anything.
Utterly overpoweringly enormous.
In his presence, all life within me surges to my breaking point.
I die, and come back only if He brings me, but remolded in fire.
Words are like clumsy children.
Trying to grasp with hands what’s too big.
He is good and kind.
Is that all?
It is an honest and true drop from the ocean for you.
How about another “drop”?
There will be not even one drop for the tongue to cool you where you are going.
Come now, if this God should wish to reveal Himself to me, He should come and show Himself.
Your judgments are like the reasoning of a small child telling his parent why he should get a bigger allowance. What have you done with the little of what God has given you? You do not value one drop, why should you be given more? You aim only to cast off and ridicule your Maker and your King because your proud heart has not submitted to His rule.
You claim to know a lot about me. Did “God” tell you this, or are you just speculating?
The fool has said in his heart “There is no God.” I do address you, as I address myself, because I too in my folly wish to say there is no God. I do not claim power or understanding, only acquaintance with the One who is more worthy than I to wield the power.
You’re stalling. I want you to show me God right now.
Do you not see?
No, I don’t see Him.
See? You can’t show me God. You claim to have seen God, but you can’t even prove that he’s real.
For whose judgment?
What do you mean?
You want me to show God so that God can be subject to your scrutiny. God does not submit to human scrutiny when the heart is proud. He is the one sitting in the judgment seat. You are being warned by one who has seen Him. HE is judge. He is going to condemn all sinners, except those who turn back to serve Him.
You are claiming a reality that has no basis in our reality. All you say is conjecture.
You can judge whatever you wish, but your judgment will be confined to a temporary life and a limited consciousness. There is a Judge who rules over all, and will repay everyone according to their deeds.
Thanks for the warning. I’ll believe it when I see it.
The sight of God will do one of two things to people: It will either utterly consume them so that they perish if there is only wickedness in their heart, or it will shatter them and all that will remain is what belongs to Him.
Interesting thoughts. I don’t care to live my life any differently.
By your own judgment, you either approve or condemn your own life. I could resort to the ways of the world to show you have fallacious your judgment is, but that will only point out the error in your logic, and the fruitlessness of your reasoning. Remember then this final thing, “God stands against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” May God save you from your own pride, or there will be no one to save you when He comes to requisition you.
The problem isn’t God’s willingness to teach
It’s our willingness to learn.
No one wants a course in suffering.
No one wants a diet of hunger.
No one wants a hard road of obedience.
No one wants the hill of difficulty
No one wants the splintery cross on their back
Only to be suffocated when you have carried it long enough.
No one wants to learn humility or compassion
The fear of the Lord or the depravity of his own soul.
No one would be utterly dependent on God
Knowing that God is not subject to our fleshly wants.
No one wants to give up everything to have nothing but God.
No one wants to leave behind their job,
Their home, their family, their hobbies,
Their possessions, their favorite things,
So that all they have is a heart to know God alone.
No one wants to pay the price to know God.
No one wants to forgo opportunity for the necessity of waiting.
No one wants to cease from their work
Until God Himself arises to work through them.
How endless, yet how tireless His search
For just one with a heart to know him!
The one to whom the Son wishes to show Him.
Mark the man of mean estate
Who holds for sin that powerful hate
And bears the scars of loss and shame
So not in vain He can bear His name.
For such a price, God can be known,
For such a cost, Christ’s pain is shown.
And only to the fire-purged heart
Will God His glorious life impart.