The Call . . .

Much about life can be impacted by a call, e.g. the doctor called with the test results; the sheriff called to say there has been an accident; and the list goes on and on.

My Bible study has moved from the Old Testament book of Exodus into Leviticus. Leviticus is an interesting book, but quite likely the last Book a Christian seeks to study today. I was surprised to learn that it is the first book that Jewish children are taught.  Why is that? Because it explains the standards God calls His people to! Leviticus is popularly called by the Hebrew name Vayikra . . . meaning “He called,” which is how Leviticus begins in chapter 1, verse 1. Leviticus is known formally as Torat Kohanim, “instructions for the priests (Mishnah Megillot 1:5).

In my study, I have discovered (at a new, deeper level) that the Bible really tells the story. Let me explain:

In Genesis, God creates the universe and everything within, including mankind, and he invites man to live in relationship with Him. But, then the enemy makes an appearance into creation and human history and introduces man to sin. Man takes the bait and sin grabs man and holds him in bondage . . . creating a great strain between Holy God and unholy man.

Then in Exodus, God calls man out of sin and bondage . . . and actually with a mighty hand, delivers man out of bondage, and reissues His gracious invitation for man to live in relationship with Him. In that experience, God speaks to man of a place He has for man to live, and begins leading man to that place.

In Leviticus, God sets His standard for man, about how he is to behave and think. In that, God provides rules, regulations, and procedures necessary for man to live in peace with God. Normally, it would not be possible for anyone to worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. The Bible says that all people are sinners (Romans 3:23). By our own efforts, we cannot please God. But God has provided a method so that we can worship him properly. For the Old Testament Jews, that method was by sacrifice. They would give to God parts of select animals that they killed. Sometimes they gave the whole animal. The priests burned the gift on the altar at the house of God. God accepted the animal’s death so that the Jews could worship him. The animal had suffered death so that the Jews could live as friends with God. The big idea and the overall message of Leviticus is sanctification. The book communicates that receiving God’s forgiveness and acceptance should be followed by holy living and spiritual growth. Now that Israel had been redeemed by God, they were to be purified into a people worthy of their God. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” says Leviticus 19:2.  In Leviticus, we learn that God loves to be approached . . . but we must do so on His terms.

In the New Testament, we learn that we must approach God through His son, Jesus (John 14:1 – 6).

Just as surely as we live and breathe, God calls people today! Actually, there are three distinct calls to each one of us. Those calls are as follows:

  1. God calls sinners to repentance in the form of “Come experience forgiveness — become my child” (John 3:16; Matthew 11:29 – 29; Revelation 3:20)
  1. Come walk with me — live in relationship with Me; (John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent”; and finally,
  2. Come up here and live with me — forever! Hebrews 9:27, And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; 1 Thessalonians 4:14 – 16; and 2 Corinthians 5:8.

I hope you have answered the first call . . .

I pray that you are responding to the second call . . .

And I trust you are prepared to answer the third call . . . it is coming and you can put that in the bank!


 

A life of Service, Meaning, Purpose, and Honor . . .

It’s Friday morning and I am thinking on the life of my friend, Robert Sweet, who passed away last evening. In the eyes of the world, Robert was a simple man, unassuming, never seeking any glory or recognition for himself. Never any effort to stand out from the crowd.

He had a long and varied work history, having worked at many trades during his life. He had worked as a bellman in an old-style hotel in his earlier years in West Texas; he had worked as a municipal employee in Washington state; he had been a cook; owned his own barbeque and catering business; worked as a foreman for a firm that built mobile homes; he had owned and operated a detail shop at which folks could have their cars made almost new; he even worked in a bank in Sweetwater!

He did these jobs to earn a living and provide for his family, while he did his main job . . . preach the Gospel. Robert was a bi-vocational preacher and his flock was scattered across West Texas. He typically would learn of a struggling small Church that could not afford a Pastor, so he would answer their call and start a meaningful work. The Lord would bless the work and after a while the Church could call a full-time Pastor. Robert often would leave home at 7 am on Sunday morning, preach in six or seven different Churches and return home at 10 pm that evening . . . the love offerings from the Churches were rarely enough to even pay for his fuel. That never caused Robert to complain or question the Lord . . . he was delighted to just tell folks about Jesus.

Robert always lived in a modest home, generally drove a used automobile, and from all appearances just barely eeked out a living. As I have reflected on his life, my thoughts turned to 1 Corinthians 13:12 – 13, where the Apostle Paul wrote about the Christian life . . . and the most important things . . . chief of which is love. He wrote about this life and said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  And now faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

What was it that Paul meant?  The ‘glass’ of which he spoke was actually a mirror . . . the mirror of the ancient world.  Those mirrors were of polished metal, in many cases they were of brass and they required constant polishing, so that a sponge with pounded pumice-stone was generally attached to it. This was the mirror of which the apostle Paul who wrote this famous passage in his letter to the church in Corinth, which City was famous for the manufacture of these kinds of mirrors. The images reflected in those old brass mirrors were indistinct in comparison to our modern mirrors of today.

In that ancient mirror, the revelation appeared indistinctly, imperfectly. Paul is telling us that this is the state of our knowledge of divine things–imperfect and incomplete. “Now I know in part,” Paul mourns.  There were limitations upon the knowledge even of Paul; only a part was seen. But wonderfully, it will not always be so. One glorious moment in the future every single human being on earth will suddenly face Him — Jesus – without a veil, without obscurity . . . but face to face!  That is what happened for my friend Robert!

 

The Presence of God . . . continued

In my previous post, I wrote about God’s presence with the people of Israel as they journeyed from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land; that place they now call home some 4,000 years later. They had been slaves for 400 years . . . living under constant orders. They got up in the morning when they were told to get up; they ate when they were told to eat; they ate what they were given to eat; they worked where, when, and how they were told to work. They had no self-defense skills . . . they totally depended on their brutal task masters for their protection, and that of their families. Suddenly, they become free people, but had no real grasp of how they might use that freedom. God saw their helpless estate, and made Himself known to them. He chose to make Himself known to them and He chose how to manifest His presence to them. The people clearly understood that God was with them . . . and were able to overcome their natural fears and apprehension as they were warmed by His presence with them.

God manifest His presence with them in a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. He was always there and they knew it by seeing it! As they crossed the brutal desert, the cloud provide them with protection from the brutal sun, but it also provided protection from potential enemies. As they moved forward, that cloud served as visible testimony of God’s presence and protection of His people. It gets rather cool at night in the desert . . . they were warmed by the fire of His presence.

Both the cloud and the pillar of fire displayed the Glory of the Lord . . . which was both awesome and frightening. The visible evidence of His presence demonstrated that God had come to dwell amongst His people.

I believe that God continues to dwell amongst His people today, but in a much more profound way. I believe that historical events from the Old Testament serve as a picture of a New Testament reality. Just as God was said to dwell in that tabernacle made by human hands, I believe that the physical body of a Believer serves as the new tabernacle and the Believer’s heart becomes His throne. The Apostle Paul wrote of this truth in 1 Corinthians 3:17 & 17.

If we are to have some understanding of our great Creator, there are a few things we must first understand. Today, I want to record what I believe is foremost for us to know about God . . . and that is that God is immanent because He is transcendent! Wow . . . what exactly does that mean? Simply, that God drawing near to His creation stems from His being distinct from creation. There is a goofy new teaching today that we as humans in some peculiar way completes God. That is error . . . God does not come to us needy and wanting, but rather He comes to revive the spirit of the lowly and the heart of the contrite.

The new teaching is error and exactly 180-degrees off of the mark. The truth is that God completes man. Since the fall, man has been dead in trespasses and sin . . . dead spiritually.  Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. Jesus came to pay a debt that He did not owe and that we could not pay. And as a confessing sinner comes to Him asking for redemption, He reconciles that sinner to God the Father.

Amazingly, God reveals Himself to creation and then uses Himself to draw men to Him and then redeems them . . . one heart at a time. In some miraculous way through this marvelous process, God completes that confessing sinner and empowers him to stand in God’s presence . . . complete, holy, and forgiven . . . transformed!

Now, you can be certain that all of that takes a miracle!

The Presence of God . ..

I am currently studying and teaching the Old Testament book of Exodus . . .

What a terrific story . . . what a rich history . . . what a picture of God reaching through time and space and inserting Himself into human history and calling out a group of sinners for whom He delivered redemption . . . not because they deserve it, but because of who He is.

It is a story of rescue, redemption, rebellion, of both war and peace, of wandering and discovery. It is a story of need and provision; it is a story of both defeat and victory. It is a story of love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and kindness in a fallen world in which there was not much kindness to be found below the clouds.

The story begins with an enslaved people living a harsh, brutal existence and under an order of genocide from the king. Yet, two mid-wives defy that order and permit a baby boy to live. After a brief time, the baby’s mother puts the baby boy in a basket and places the basket in the bull-rushes of the Nile River. The mother instructs her teenage daughter to look after the baby from a safe distance. As fate would have it, the king’s daughter and her attendants come down to the river to bathe and heard the baby cry out. The king’s childless daughter has the baby brought to her and claims him as her very own. The baby’s sister approaches and volunteers to find a wet-nurse for the baby. The king’s daughter accepts the kind offer, and presto the mother and baby are back together. In this, one can see that sometimes in life one must let something go . . . in order to get it back . . . and get it back on a much better basis!

That baby was raised, educated, and protected by the very man who had ordered his death. Spared from genocide, rescued from homicide, he would become identified as the grandson of the great king!

That baby boy would grow to become the very man by whom God would rescue the enslaved people and take them to the Promised Land. God would provide them comfort by His presence on their journey. He manifested His presence to them in the form of a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Later, He instructed them to prepare the tabernacle . . . referred to as the tent of meeting. Once it was completed, God’s presence so completely filled (enveloped) the tabernacle in the form of a cloud that the people could not even see the tent. They knew that God was with them, and was watching over them.

Question: Have you ever had an overwhelming sense of the presence of The Lord in your life? I did . . . just last week. Since Hurricane Harvey, we have been on a half dozen lists for volunteer help. Yesterday morning a group from First Baptist Church, Boerne, showed up at our house and went to work. Think about that for a minute . . . three husbands and wives and three young sons spent their weekend helping others . . . folks they didn’t even know. In order for them to do that, they had to get up about 5:00 am, drive over 200 miles, work like pack-mules, eat lunch from a box, and then sleep on the floor in a church. As I watched them labor for me and my family, I saw Jesus in them . . . and I saw Jesus’ love in what they did. For the next few days I will use this space to discuss this great topic of ‘The Presence of The Lord.’

What I Believe . . .

Succinctly stated . . . I Believe . . .

. . . Believe what, you ask? Well, actually, I believe:

. . . that life is a mixed bag . . . it can be wonderful . . . but it can also be quite confusing and painful.

. . . that the world is a pretty big mess . . . and I believe that humans are totally responsible for said mess.

. . . in God . . . I mean that I have a deep and abiding belief that He is the Creator . . . and as such is the very author and giver of life.

. . . that the Holy Bible is God’s Word to us . . . and for us. I believe it is true and it says what it means and means what it says. Moreover, I believe God inspired the writing of it and that He was most certainly capable of ensuring that it was His message . . . exactly the way He wanted us to have it.

. . . what it says about God . . . and what it says about man . .. and what it says about The Lord Jesus Christ.

. . . that Jesus came to save us.

. . . that the Bible tells us how God wants us to live . . . Jesus enables and empowers His followers to live accordingly.

. . . and above all, I believe that Jesus is coming back to get us . . . and He will take us to live . . . forever . . . in that place He has prepared for us!

What do you believe? It is actually a very important matter . . . and impacts both your life . . . and your future.

 

 

Have We Come Full Circle?

In the early 20th Century, most Americans lived in rural communities. At that time, most folks’ simple ambition was to own a large enough parcel of land to enable the family to provide for its needs without anyone having to go to town and work for wages. Then, big changes came about . . . the industrial revolution that had begun in the early 1800’s was jump-started by the creation of the assembly line. Henry Ford was the driving force behind moving goods from one work station up the line to other work stations . . . and this new approach created jobs in great numbers, which increased as other industries followed suit. Folks by the thousands left the rural south and headed to northern and mid-western cities to fill those jobs. The cities offered opportunities for many.

Then, in the later part of the 20th Century, those jobs went south under a program known as The North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), where Canada, the US, and Mexico would approach business as if there were no borders. By most accounts, Mexico enjoyed considerably more success under NAFTA than did Canada or the US, as American companies moved operation to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor. The sad truth was that the trade unions had driven prices out of sight. Cities like Detroit that had once thrived, were left in poverty, and basically became slums.

President Donald Trump has had surprising success as he has promoted American business and the American worker. Under his leadership, the financial community has demonstrated great confidence in his agenda of tax cuts and elimination of regulations that have been choking business. Recently, the Demographics Research Group at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service in the University of Virginia quantifies a stunning demographic and economic transformation of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas over the past quarter century. That group reports that high paying jobs for young, well-educated Americans is on the rise . . . and that many are moving in to accept those positions. An increasing number of American firms have announced plans to return operations back to the States.

It Seems to me . . . that electing a successful businessman as President was a smart thing to have done. Heaven knows that our economy did not do well under a community organizer, disbarred lawyers, and those whose greatest success came from birth in a well-to-do family.

An Old Feud that Won’t be Resolved Anytime Soon . . .

As one reads the Old Testament, it is shocking to read of the warring factions that opposed the Jewish people, fueled by jealousy and hatred of the nation of Israel.  However, pick up the newspaper—pretty much any day—and you can read of the same thing all these years later.

I read this morning of threats being issued by Iran concerning Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by saying that Iran was strengthening its foothold in Syria and that Israel would “do whatever it takes” to protect its security.

Tensions have increased this year between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel, which have avoided a major conflict since 2006.

This week, the Israeli military said it attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft battery that had fired at its planes over Lebanon. But the Syrian army said it hit an Israeli warplane after it breached its airspace at the Syria-Lebanon border.

The weapons are more sophisticated and lethal today . . . but the hatred is the same. It is certain this battle will continue until the promised day when ‘the lion and lamb will lie together.’

Do you know that modern-day Iran is the Persia (the 127 Provinces that stretched from India to Cush) in the story of Queen Esther?

I don’t know how one can comprehend such long-term hatred and perpetual ignorance over thousands of years . . . except to view it as the people of God being opposed by the enemy of God . . . and his using and energizing ignorant people in his quest.

One interesting twist in it all is that the Persians have never been kin to or particularly close to the Arabs, yet come alongside them in their shared hatred of and opposition to Israel . . . just as is the case of Iran and Syria today.

Psalms 122:6 instructs, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you be secure.” Of course, this is not ‘a prosper’ in the sense of material gain, but in the sense of rest and peace of the prayer’s soul . . . which is the rest and peace for which the holy city of Jerusalem yearns to experience.

History . . .

There is a great push to remove 100-year-old statues, and rewrite our history as a nation. Frankly, some of our history is embarrassing, but it is our history and sanitizing it won’t change it . . . it will only serve to blind future generations. It seems to me that looking back on embarrassing history helps prevent the same errors in the future.

The truth is that in writing the Holy Bible, God did not sanitize human history . . . He just recorded it as it was. Think about that . . . God called David ‘a man after my own heart,’ yet He included David’s adultery and murder in his story. Moses was called ‘the Man of God,’ yet God told his full story . . . warts and all. Abraham was called the ‘Friend of God,’ yet God told his story to include his cowardly behavior in identifying his wife as his sister and his adultery with an Egyptian handmaiden and the bastard son that produced. God did not sanitize Noah’s drunkenness or Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughter. God did not sanitize Peter’s weakness and denial of Jesus!

Why did God tell those folk’s full story? How about because it was all true and it reveals that God is able to forgive transgressions and restore a confessing sinner? How about because those folk’s stories and their transgressions serve as a warning for us today of the chains, pains, stains, and consequences that sin can have in our lives?

It seems to me . . . that God knows all things and He determined it was profitable for mankind to know the truth about those who have gone before us. Therefore, we as a people ought to follow suit and let our story be told for those who will follow.  I agree that part of our story is certainly ugly, but it is what it is. As we survey the landscape of our history, it causes some pain, anguish, and regret, but we can’t change it . . . it is what it is! I fear we err to a few shallow people to permit it . . . that does not change it . . . it simply confuses our descendants!

I say, “Let it be . . . we are who we are, we have made many errors, and created tragedy . . . but it is all part of our story!”

The Golden Calf . . .

When I was a 14-year-old kid, a duo known as Simon & Garfunkel released a song entitled ‘The Sounds of Silence.’  It was a catchy tune and the lyrics reflected the confused thinking of a culture that would result in God being expelled from the school house.

The lyrics are:

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices would never share

And no one dared

To disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you

But my words, like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made,

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written

On the subway walls

And in the tenement halls

And whispered in the sound of silence.

It seems to me the song speaks to a spiritual condition much like that of the Israelites who had been delivered from hundreds of years of Egyptian bondage. After having seen the hand of God time and time again . . . making provision for them and protecting them during a vicious attack by an evil army . . . delivering them safely to the foot of the mountain. Led by the cloud by day, and the fire by night . . . at the foot of the mountain they could observe and sense what was obviously God’s presence on the mountain top.

Yet, they became weary in waiting on their leader Moses to return, so they ordered a golden calf made. Why the golden calf? I suppose they had been so accustomed to seeing the various Egyptian gods displayed, they felt the need for a god they could look upon . . . and perhaps wanted a god that required nothing of them . . . a god they could move around at their pleasure . . . as opposed to a god who moved them about.

Amazingly, they traded the one true God for “a god” of their own creation, and they knelt and prayed. One would think that was surely a shallow experience.

As I study the Bible book of Exodus, I am continually reminded how very ignorant the mob can behave and how little is needed to spur that ignorant behavior into action.

 

Harvey Aftermath . . .

Sandy and I returned to the Coast for the weekend of October 15th. We went for several reasons. Chris was going to be in Fort Worth with Ali and Abi and we could stay in his condo . . . our Church was going to begin having Sunday school for the first time since Harvey . . . and we had serious decisions to make and material to order for the house repairs. 

We drove from Burnet on Thursday and arrived at the house late afternoon. After our walk through and discussion with the workers, we invited Billy and Tammy to dinner. They really like the Fisherman’s Daughter (formerly the Big Fisherman), which has opened just outside of Ingleside. Sandy and Tammy went in the Audi and Billy and I went in my car (my back seats were full so no room for the girls). It was just getting dusk. 

As we arrived at the HEB food store in Ingleside I realized that I had driven past the restaurant, so I made a U-turn and drove back as I wondered what was the matter with me. After a nice dinner with our friends, I dropped Billy off at the house and drove to Rockport . . . via the by-pass, headed to the condo in the Country Club area. As I drove along in the dark, it occurred to me that I had missed the exit for Pearl Street. I drove on into the night and looped back around to 35 Business and entered from the front. As I drove along, I soon realized that I simply didn’t remember the route . . . everything looked so different. I have driven this area for over 30 years and knew it well . . . I actually drive the route seven days a week during the Winter months as I go to the Community pool to work out.  Yet, I was completely lost . . . and unable to locate the condo. I pushed the OnStar button and when the nice lady came on I explained my dilemma. I gave her the address and she downloaded direction to my navigation system. As we talked, she asked about the extent of the damage. I told her that the entire area looks totally different. As we talked, it occurred to me that while I had lost my way . . . many others have lost everything: home . . . car . . . personal belongings . . . jobs . . . so very much!  I told the OnStar lady that she could help with my problem . . . but for many only the Lord could help with their problems . . . I told her that I really wanted to help Him in all of that. 

My SS lesson this first Sunday back comes from Exodus . . . and focuses on the recently freed slave’s inclination to lose their way (spiritually) and to wander away from God. In my lesson, I had to try and catch the class up with the rest of the Baptists. I chuckled and told my folks that Baptist churches across America started the study of Exodus on September 1, just after we had made an exodus of our own (mandatory evacuation as Harvey approached). 

I brought the lesson up to Moses’ announcement that God had determined that because of their inclination to stay away and sin, He would not accompany them any further on their journey. Instead God would send an angel in His place. I reminded the class that that could not ever be our predicament . . . Angels are terrific and all, but certainly not a good replacement for the Lord on our journey. I reminded the group that we are indwelled by the very Spirit of God . . . and we simply cannot go anywhere without Him! 

We talked about Romans 8:28 wherein Paul assures us that ALL things work together for good . . . while things seem a bit confusing at the moment, we can be sure there will be plenty of good to come out of this situation. Human history recalls that humans tend to rise up and be their best in the worst of times.