Agents of Hope

Psalm 37 37

Happy Saturday!  Some of you have been walking with me on this slow and steady journey through Psalm 37.

We started reading and chewing on and praying and resting with God in these verses on Sunday.  Hopefully you have found times when you were able to delight in God.

Today we come to the final portion of this magnificent Psalm.

Once again, let us read it Lectio Divina Style: Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.

1.  Read through verses 35-40 slowly, at least 3 times.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man

flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,

36 but he soon passed away and was no more;

though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;

a future awaits those who seek peace.

38 But all sinners will be destroyed;

there will be no future for the wicked.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;

he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,

because they take refuge in him.

2.  Meditate.  Choose a word or phrase and spend some time thinking deeply about what it says and what it means.

For me, two contrasting phrases stand out and speak loudest to me.  “A future awaits those who seek peace” and “there will be no future for the wicked.”

I have spent a considerable amount of time in recent months studying the phenomena of despair and the state of depression.  Life expectancy in the United States has declined for three consecutive years.  More younger people are dying from what has been labeled “deaths of despair.”  These are deaths that result from drug addiction, alcohol related deaths and suicide.  The rate of deaths of despair is massively increasing.  Despair can kill a person.

In the story, The Inferno, Dante has the gates of hell have a sign over it that says “abandon hope all ye who enter.”  Dante wasn’t really talking about an afterlife here, but more likely a state of being.  Hell is where people find themselves when they are living without hope.  The absence of hope is despair.  When a person lives without a meaningful hope for the future it is soul destroying.  As I see it, as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be agents of hope who are called to share that hope with a world of people who are in despair.

In a world in despair and hopelessness we bring with us a message of hope and with that, the opportunity to bring people into a state of shalom or peace.  People need not live in alienation from God, from others or from themselves.  People can be reconciled to God, to others and selves.  They can be made whole.  They can experience salvation/wholeness from God which results in healing and hope.  The Psalmist rightly says “the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord.”  Only God can save us, heal us, make us whole and bring an end to our existential despair.

God, I want to continue to be one who lives life with a hopeful future.  I want to be one who seeks peace/shalom.  Jesus was probably thinking about this Psalm when he spoke in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (See Matthew 5:9).

3.  Pray.  Whatever your meditation brings up, bring that to God in prayer.  For me I pray- “God, am I living as a peacemaker?  Am I acting as an agent of your shalom/healing/wholeness/salvation in this world.  Am I living life out of the deep well of hope?  In what ways do you still want me to seek peace in my home, in my church, in my workplace, in my neighborhood and community, in my country and in this world?

4.  Rest in God.  Living as a peacemaker and an agent of hope in this divided and despair filled world can be spiritually and emotionally (as well as physically) exhausting at times.  We need to draw our strength from the deep well of God’s love and mercy.  As you prepare for whatever the day may bring you as you prepare to be a peacemaker, spend a few moments resting in God’s love.

This concludes our slow and deep reading of Psalm 37.  We have divided the 40 verse Psalm into 7 smaller sections and, within each section we have read, meditated, prayed and rested in God.  I hope that you have come to appreciate how this form of reading and praying the Bible can deeply enrich your spiritual life as you seek to serve God.  I encourage you to practice Lectio Divina prayer/scripture reading on a regular basis and note how it helps strengthen your life of prayer with God.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

[Insert Your Name] Here

Psalm 37 31.png

We continue this intentionally slow journey through Psalm 37.  I use the word “intentionally” intentionally (see what I did there?)  Why intentionally slow?

            Maybe it is just my own personal preference.  Most of the time I’m more of a plodder.  I tell people “if you ever see me running, you should run too ‘cause something really bad must be about to happen and I’m trying to get away.”  When I walk with my wife I’m forever telling her to “slow down!” She has one speed and it’s always full throttle.  Someone sent me an article one time that said science has proven that people who walk faster usually live longer than people who walk slower.  If that’s the case my wife will be around for a long time.

            Walking fast may be better for your physical health, but when it comes to your spiritual health and reading the Bible, I find it pays to slow down.  Lectio Divina* forces you to slow down.  Think of it as a fancy, 5 course meal.  Don’t rush through it.  Take your time to slowly savor and enjoy each bite.

  1.  Read Psalm 37:30-34  slowly at least 3 times…

30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak what is just.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
their feet do not slip.

32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
intent on putting them to death;
33 but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked
or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

34 Hope in the Lord
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.

  1.  Meditate- choose a word or phrase that really speaks to you and spend some time ruminating on what it says and what it means.

As an example: As I was meditating on this portion of the Psalm, I saw it on one level as a prophetic picture of Jesus.  Instead of “the righteous” I insert “Jesus”.

      The mouth of Jesus utters wisdom.

      Jesus speaks with his tongue what is just.

      The law of God is in Jesus’ heart.

      Jesus’ feet do not slip.

      The wicked lie in wait for Jesus (think of the scribes and Pharisees, and Judas).

      The wicked are intent on putting Jesus to death.

But the LORD (YWHW) will not leave Jesus in the power of the wicked (Jesus was only temporarily in the grave under the control of the wicked.  God rolled away the stone and set him free to everlasting life.)

Or let Jesus be condemned when brought to trial (Remember, Pontius Pilate said “I find no guilt in this man.” Jesus had done nothing worthy of condemnation. His death was due to the sinful hearts of others, not his own guilt.)

Jesus hoped in the LORD and kept God’s way (without sin).

He will exalt Jesus (At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord)

To inherit the land (Jesus will rule as King over all the earth).

When the wicked are destroyed Jesus will see it (In the end, Jesus rules as King, the wicked come to their final judgment).

            As I continue to meditate on how Jesus fulfills every bit of this Psalm, I’m led to think about what Jesus calls me to be and to do.  Jesus says “follow me.”  Jesus says “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”  Jesus said to Peter “get behind me.”  I want to follow the path that Jesus laid out.  To be a follower or disciple (student) of Jesus means to hear his word and do what he says.  If I do that, then that which was prophetically spoken of Jesus here in Psalm 37 will also be true of me:

            “The mouth of Jeff utters wisdom”

            “Jeff speaks with his tongue what is just”

            “The Law of God is in Jeff’s heart.”

            “Jeff’s feet do not slip.”

            “The wicked lie in wait for Jeff and are intent on putting Jeff to death”

“The LORD will not leave Jeff in the power of the wicked or let Jeff be condemned when brought to trial”

“Jeff hopes in the Lord and keeps his way”

“God will exalt Jeff to inherit the land.”

“When the wicked are destroyed Jeff will see it.”

Now, it’s your turn.  Insert your name or personalize it…

The mouth of ________________ utters wisdom (or my mouth utters wisdom)

“_____________speaks with his tongue what is just”

 “The Law of God is in _______________’s heart.”

 “__________________’s  feet do not slip.”

“The wicked lie in wait for _________________ and are intent on putting _________ to death”

“The LORD will not leave _________________ in the power of the wicked or let __________ be condemned when brought to trial”

“__________ hopes in the Lord and keeps his way”

“God will exalt ____________ to inherit the land.”

“When the wicked are destroyed _________ will see it.”

See how reading slowly and savoring it opens up all kinds of new flavors?

What emerges for you as you meditate on this part of Psalm 37?

  1.  Pray- As you go through this reading, what does it stir up within you?  Thoughts? Questions?  Concerns?  Does it make you want to raise your hands and worship God?  Does it make you want to fall on your knees and confess your sin?  Does it drive you to go to Jesus and seek his mercy?  Does it make you want to follow Jesus more closely in your daily walk?  Bring those things to God in prayer.

  1.  Rest in God.  After you have brought these things to God in pray, simply enter into his rest.  Be present to God as God is present to you.

Now go follow in Jesus’ footsteps today.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

*If you are unfamiliar with the Lectio Divina method of prayer/scripture study please refer to the Sunday, August 11th devotion.

Launching Blessings

Psalm 37 23

 

My wonderful wife is a very frugal person about many things (good thing, because I’m more of a spendthrift- God knew what he was doing when he gave me her).  This is evident in the way she handles toothpaste.  She waits until every bit of toothpaste is squeezed out of that tube before she discards it and pulls out a new tube.  Sometimes, just brushing my teeth turns into a session in strength training as I try to squeeze a blop of toothpaste onto my brush before I’m allowed to throw it away and she rewards me with a fresh and easy squeezy tube.

            Lectio Divina* helps us to squeeze every drop out of the Bible.  There is some benefit to reading quickly through the Bible.  If you read about 4 chapters a day you can read through the entire Bible in a year.  My Dad used to read the Bible straight through every year using a different translation.  I’ve done that as well and there is benefit to doing that.

            About 30 years ago I really ratcheted it up and spent 2 full weeks reading the Bible 8 hours a day and writing a brief summary of each chapter as I read.  I was able to read the entire Bible Genesis to Revelation in 2 weeks.  It was a great experience and showed me the “big picture” and full scope of God’s salvation plan that anticipated the coming of his Messiah and the fulfillment of his coming and the hope of his future return and the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  Just absolutely wonderful!  But as good as that way of reading the Bible can be, I want to also commend to you Lectio Divina- slow, deep reading… squeeze every drop out of a passage of scripture.

            This week we’ve been going through Psalm 37.  Let’s squeeze the tube a bit more today and see how much is still in there.  Psalm 37:23-29

            Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.

    1. Read slowly through the passage at least 3 times.  Look for a word or phrase that speaks to you.

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

25 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be a blessing.

27 Turn from evil and do good;
then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.

Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed;
the offspring of the wicked will perish.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it forever.

For me, I chose thoughts from verse 23 and 26  “the one who delights in him [God]” and “their children will be a blessing.”

  1. Spend some time meditating upon the word or phrase you choose.  For me, I recall that on Sunday I meditated on vs. 4 and what it means to delight in God.  Here the Psalmist takes up that theme again and gives a kind of cause/effect relationship.  The one who delights in God will produce children who will be a blessing.

In vs. 25 the psalmist says “I was young and now I am old…”  He has lived long enough to gain some valuable perspective as he looks back on his life.  According to my teenage children I’m also qualified as old.  I guess when you’re 15 years old 55 seems ancient.  I’m old enough to also be able to look back and gain some perspective about those things that truly matter in life.

Compared to many successful people I haven’t accomplished that much in my life.  I didn’t invent Facebook like Mark Zuckerberg.  I didn’t turn Apple into a multi-trillion dollar business like Steve Jobs.  I didn’t change the retail world like Jeff Bezos with Amazon.  I’ve never been elected president and I don’t have loads of money in the bank.  I don’t pastor a 20,000 member Church and have a tv show like Joel Osteen and I don’t fly on private jets like Kenneth Copeland.  I’ve been a youth pastor and pastored a few small churches.  I served briefly as a missionary and Church planting pastor in England and didn’t have much success.  I’ve managed to go to several colleges and gotten several academic degrees and passed the arduous process of becoming not only a pastor but a board certified chaplain and a certified spiritual director.  I’ve helped a few people over 35 years of ministry.  And every Sunday I preach and the rest of the week I visit the sick, needy and broken and share the love of Jesus with them.  I hope that I live long enough and stay healthy enough to help a lot more people.  I’ve got ideas for 3 books that I’m currently working on and getting ready to pursue a doctoral degree.  I’m not ready to hang it up yet and want to stay active into my really old age. (I’d like to put in another 40 useful years of ministry).

With all that being said, what I feel best about in my life as I look back is continuing to delight in God.  I haven’t done it perfectly to be sure, but I have managed to stay connected to God, even during dark times, even when I’ve wrestled with temptation, sin and guilt, I’ve remained connected to God and continued to delight in God.  I’ve also stayed true to my promise to love my wife “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”  Trust me, I don’t take much credit for this because at times I’ve been a huge pain in the rear end to my wonderful wife.  But even during my worst struggles, I remembered that I made a promise to God and to her and stuck with it (and to her credit, she has continued to be a loving and faithful wife, even when she didn’t like me very much because I was acting like a jerk).  So I am blessed beyond measure and now enjoy the benefits of having gone through some rough times in marriage and find myself closer and more in love with my wife than I was nearly 35 years ago.

But the thing I take the most pride in is my children.  A few of them are still home and are still works in progress, but I can say that the greatest blessing of my life and the thing I take the most joy and pride in is that I have tried as a Dad to point them toward delighting in God and following Jesus.  At times I have failed miserably to be the kind of godly example that I wanted to be or should have been, but even when I’ve blown it I’ve tried to show them that God’s grace and mercy is there for us and not to give up on God.

Now most of my children are adults, several are married, several now have children of their own. I am able to see them in their various roles- one is himself a pastor, several lead worship in their churches, some have gone on mission trips, others sing in worship or teach classes and write devotions, and now they teach my grandchildren.  All are good workers.  They have become good people and I see them in their various churches and communities blessing others.  That makes me very happy and very proud.  This year at FUEL three of my sons were on the worship team, Joel was the worship leader who did a great job and even wrote worship songs to support the theme of FUEL, JJ was playing lead guitar with great skill and Jon was killing it on the drums.  I couldn’t have been more pleased and more delighted to see them blessing others by helping lead them in worshipping and delighting in God.

So as I meditate upon this portion of Psalm 37, that’s what comes to mind for me.  Even though I’m deeply flawed and have failed to do so much of what I may have hoped or dreamed I might do, I have given myself to delighting in God and I have been blessed by God with children who are now blessing others.  If I accomplish nothing else in my life, I can know that I along with my wonderful wife who has done 99% of the hard work, have launched some tremendous blessings into the world.

That’s what emerged for me as I meditated upon this part of Psalm 37.  What comes up for you as you chew on it?

  1. Spend some time in prayer.  What questions do you have to bring to God that emerged from your meditation?  Is there something you need to confess to God?  Is there something you want to change in your life as a result of what you have read and meditated upon?  Ask God what he wants you to know or do.
  2. Rest in God.  After you speak to and listen to God, spend some time resting in God’s love and presence.  Delight in God, God delights in you.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

*If you are unfamiliar with the Lectio Divina method of prayer/scripture study please refer back to the Sunday, August 11th devotion.

Be Still

psalm 37 7a (2)

Happy Monday!

This week we are focusing on only 1 chapter, Psalm 37.  We are reading a few verses each day and we are using a Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading) format.  If you are unfamiliar with Lectio Divina go back and read Sunday’s devotion which gives the explanation.  Go ahead… I’ll wait!

Remember:

  1. Read
  2. Meditate
  3. Pray
  4. Rest in God

(Note, this does not lend itself to being on the go.  It is better when you have a few minutes to sit and quietly read, reflect and pray).

Psalm 37:5-11

5 Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in him and he will do this:

6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,

your vindication like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the Lord

and wait patiently for him;

do not fret when people succeed in their ways,

when they carry out their wicked schemes.

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;

do not fret—it leads only to evil.

9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,

but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;

though you look for them, they will not be found.

11 But the meek will inherit the land

and enjoy peace and prosperity.

  1. Read through this slowly, several times. (at least 3)
  2. Choose a word or phrase that especially speaks to you.  Spend some time chewing over that word or phrase.  I chose “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”  What does it mean for me to “be still before the Lord?”  Is this talking about my body?  My mind?  My heart?  Is there any area of my life about which I’m feeling restless or disturbed?  What is causing that restlessness?  Am I having trouble being patient about something?  Can I name what that is?  Why might I be having trouble being patient about this particular issue?  Am I habitually impatient or is this unusual for me? Wait!  I’m still not being still.  Breathe.  Let go of my thoughts and simply “be still.”
  3. Pray.  Bring whatever has arisen to God in prayer.  Have a conversation with God as you would with any other good friend or loved one.  Trust that whatever you bring to God, God will hear and will understand.
  4. Rest in God.  After you pray, simply release whatever has caused you to be “un-still” and rest in God’s love for you.

(Note: verse 11 is one that Jesus himself quoted in his Sermon on the Mt.  You might want to reflect on this verse.  What does it mean to be meek?  What does it mean to inherit the land, or earth as Jesus phrased it in Matthew 5:5?  What does your understanding of your future inheritance look like?  Here it seems that we are promised earth or land as inheritance as opposed to heaven.  How does a future eternity on earth sound as a hoped for reward?)

There are many fruitful issues that could emerge with each verse.  Can you see how Lectio Divina as a way of reading the Bible can really open up a Bible verse and immerse you in the text and bring you into conversation with God?  If you practice these skills every day this week you will have in your spiritual toolbox a great resource for growing in your relationship with God.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Out with the Old, In with the New

2 Corinthians 3

2 Corinthians 3 9

This short chapter packs a punch while explaining the differences between the Old and New Covenants.  Any visual learners out there?  I like to SEE things; it helps me make connections better than just listening or reading. So here’s a little chart comparing the Old and New Covenants as taught by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, verses 6-18.

Old Covenant

New Covenant

Verse

·      Of the letter (law)

·      Letter kills

·      Of the Spirit

·      Spirit gives life

Vs. 6
·      Brought death

·      Engraved in letters on stone

·      Came with glory

·      Israelites couldn’t look at the face of Moses (because he had been with God)

  Vs. 7
  ·      Even more glorious Vs. 8
·      Condemns men

·      Glorious

·      Much more glorious

·      Brings righteousness

Vs. 9
·      Was glorious

·      No glory now in comparison with (new) surpassing glory

  Vs. 10
·      Fading away

·      Came with glory

·      Much greater glory

·      Lasts

Vs. 11
  ·      We have hope

·      We are very bold

Vs. 12
·      Moses put a veil over his face to keep Israelites from gazing at it (radiance of being with God) ·      We are not like Moses Vs. 13
·      Their minds were made dull

·      Veil remains when old covenant read

·      Veil has not been removed

·      Only in Christ is veil taken away Vs. 14
·      Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.   (Don’t see Jesus)   Vs. 15
  ·      Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, veil is taken away Vs. 16
  ·      The Lord is the Spirit

·      Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom

Vs. 17
  ·      We have unveiled faces

·      All reflect the Lord’s glory

·      Being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit

Vs. 18

I am reminded of a great free theme week of devotions this year by Jay Laurent on the Presence of God from February 3-9, 2019 (the New Covenant comes on the scene on February 7 https://grow16biblereading.wordpress.com/2019/02/page/2/).  Throughout the week Jay showed how God was revealing a plan to bring His presence to the people.  And, his plan grew and grew in greatness and glory.  From the very beginning, with creation, his plan was good (and even “very good”).  But it didn’t stop there!  God gave the law – the Old Covenant – to show people what was required to draw close to Him.  Only trouble is, humanity couldn’t get it right.  Everyone was guilty as a lawbreaker and deserved death.  Problem – because in death they were not drawn to God, but they were dead.  Solution – something or someone to remove the sin and show the power of resurrection.   Enter – Jesus!   The New Covenant!  The opportunity for sins to be erased.  Righteousness was in reach – and with it restoration with the Father.  And, that’s not all – Jesus would also bring the opportunity for resurrection and eternal life with God in the Coming Kingdom.  This is the miracle of God’s plan of life with Him that just keeps growing more and more glorious!

 

Thankful for the New!  Looking forward to the Newest!
Marcia Railton

 

 

 

God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

God’s Presence and You and Me

Text: Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2 22.png

We’ve been talking about the presence of God, temples, places where God dwells, and the intersection of heaven and earth. We’ve made stops at creation, the garden, the tabernacle, and the exile. Yesterday we talked about Jesus and how he was the new and improved temple.

 

This Jesus character, as it turns out, is pivotal in the biblical narrative. He changes everything. He turned the world upside-down and left everyone trying to put the pieces together and figure out what it all means. Ever had one of those moments when you learn some new information that forces you to rethink much of what you know? Everybody at the time was sorting out the reality that Christ died and was resurrected.

 

As you can imagine, Jesus is a pretty big deal when it comes to our topic of the presence of God. He changed that too. Not only was he the new and improved temple, but he was ushering in a new age of the temple. I am not sure what version of the temple we are on now, but this one is bigger. You can’t really have a better temple than Jesus himself, but you can make it bigger and distributed more widely.

 

Mark 15:38 mentions that as Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. This veil was like a barrier before you can get into the holy of holies in the temple. It was like a layer between us and the presence of God. The veil being torn symbolizes that God’s presence is no longer contained in a special room. Jesus, being our high priest, paid an offering of blood once and for all, for all of our sins. There no longer needs to be a separation between us and God’s presence. Because of what he did, we are all acceptable in God’s presence. Hebrews 9 is a great chapter talking about Jesus being our high priest and making this sacrifice for us.

 

Yesterday I left you with a prediction from John the baptizer (yeah, because saying “baptist” sounds even weirder) that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The most dramatic fulfillment of this happens in Acts 2. There’s a sound of a violent rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on people, people being filled with the Holy Spirit, and speaking languages they don’t even know. People are left trying to make sense of it, even supposing they were all drunk, until Peter stands up and explains. What is happening is a fulfillment of what is written by the prophet Joel. God is pouring out his Spirit on everyone. Peter drives it home with this statement in Acts 2:36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” This hurt to hear. Peter follows up by telling them to repent and be baptized, and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

With this strange event and Peter’s speech, God has started a new kind of temple. It’s me and it’s you. Now with the barrier of sin being dealt with, God can live in each of us as his temple. We are now his temple, individually (1 Co 3:16-17, 6:19) and collectively (Eph 2). His presence has been made highly accessible to us, through what we call the Holy Spirit, or the power of God, living in us.

 

Brothers and sisters, we are the church, and we are called to work together using the different natural abilities and talents we have, and using the special abilities God gives us through his Holy Spirit. Paul says to the Ephesians in Eph 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

 

So this is where we are. I feel that passage is more about bringing the gentiles and Jews of the time into the same fold together, but it has a beautiful application for the church today. We are being fit together and built into a temple where God dwells. How privileged we are, and how amazing it is! Praise God that he has made the tent big enough to include all of us in his presence.

 

As good as this all is (and it truly is!), it gets even better. Paul calls the Spirit in us a down payment or a deposit for what is yet to come (Eph 1:4, 2Co 5:5). Just an appetizer. What God is working on is going to exceed all of our expectations of what our future with him looks like. All of them.

-Jay Laurent

God’s Presence and Jesus

 

Text: John 1

John 1 9

We’ve been studying the presence of God this week. We’ve seen how God made the heavens and earth, especially the Garden, to be a temple, i.e. where God’s presence rests or where heaven (God’s realm or dimension) and earth are connected. We saw how we lost the full access pass to the presence of God when we were exiled from the Garden. We saw how God worked through Moses to provide a new way to access God’s presence, the Tabernacle, which acted almost like a portable Eden amidst the Israelite people. We saw how God’s people were exiled because they kept breaking their covenant with God, but how God remained present among his faithful while they were in exile. And we saw that even after the return from exile there was still something amiss. The Old Testament ends with a longing for something better to come along.

 

As usual, God is up to things that are much bigger than expected. Yesterday I teased that there is a new temple, but it isn’t like any temple we have seen yet.

 

Today I want us to look at John 1. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have similar ways of giving us the story of the appearance of Jesus. We usually read these accounts around Christmastime. Well, John does his own thing and doesn’t follow the same pattern as the other guys. He doesn’t do it with genealogies, mangers, or wise men or John the Baptist. John hits us right away with something called the Word, or the Logos (the greek word used).

 

Who or what is the Logos? In the context of this passage, it seems like something highly conceptual and lofty. It’s a spoken word, or a thought, or a concept. You might think of it as God’s will, or outward expression, or his wisdom or reason. It is hard to pin down. I like to think it is connected to Genesis 1, when God creates by speaking his divine purpose, function, and order into the world. The Logos is something belonging to God, like an extension of his nature. We’re only scratching the surface of the meaning, but this gets us started.

 

With our working definition(s) of what the Logos is, it starts to make sense that in verse 1, we learn that it is there in the beginning, and that it’s with God, and that it is God. It’s God’s nature to express himself, and we see that even from the beginning, we can’t separate this nature from God. It’s just who he is. In verse 3, we learn that everything was made through the Logos, and in verse 4, it is described as being the light of all mankind.

 

Leading up to verse 14, this concept of the Logos starts to sound more and more like someone we know. Verse 14 explains that this Logos has been made “flesh” and dwells among us (it has tabernacled among us). This sounds strange, right? What it means is that this concept of the Logos has been made a physical reality with us here, in Jesus. To be clear, this isn’t to say that Jesus existed at the beginning of time with God, or that he created the world, or that he is God. It means that when we look at Jesus, we see a perfect representation and expression of who God is. He is the fruition of God’s will, wisdom, and expression among us. He is called “Immanuel”, or “God with us” (see Mat 1:23). Jesus is like God’s best idea fleshed out, the perfect embodiment of his will.

 

Jesus, being the representation of God walking among us, is the newer and better version of the temple. After he was baptized, the Spirit of God came down and rested on him in the form of a dove (see verse 32). This is imagery that reminds us of how God filled the tabernacle with his presence at its completion. In John 2:18-22, Jesus explains that a sign for his authority is that if they destroy this temple, he will raise it up again in three days, referring to his body being crucified and risen. Col 1:19 says that “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”

 

Jesus says in John 14:9 that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father. As Christians, we want to understand the heart of God and follow his will for our lives. Sometimes that can seem like a difficult task. What’s God really like? How do I know what his will is for my life? Thankfully, we can look at his son to get a better idea. Jesus was a human. He had struggles and temptations like you or I have (Heb 4:15). We’re able to read about the things he said, the miracles he performed, and what he thought was important. By figuring out what Jesus was all about, we get a much clearer picture of who his Father is.

 

We’re seeing this week that scripture gives us a long narrative of God’s attempts to be with us, to bring us closer to Him. He started by occupying a garden with two people and has gradually expanded out the circle to include tribes and nations as his children. Making the Logos near to us by giving us Jesus was the next step in continuing that process. Being the temple, Jesus carried around with him the presence of God, so that when people encountered him, they were also encountering the Father.

 

But God didn’t stop here. He’s relentless, wanting to be closer yet. In Mat 3:11, John the baptizer says of Christ, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

 

I’ll leave you with that as a teaser for what comes next.

 

Jay Laurent

God’s Presence and the Exile

 

Text: Ezekiel 11

Ezekiel 11 19

This week so far, we’ve talked about creation, the garden, and the tabernacle, exploring how they fit into the theme and story of God’s presence. Today I want to talk about exile, or that feeling you get when you know you aren’t home, and things aren’t right. It’s an ongoing theme for the Israelites. We see it when Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, we see it when the Israelites are held captive in Egypt, and now we’re going to see it again as Israel and Judah are given into the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

 

Let’s do a quick fly-by to bring us to this point from where we left off in history. Moses and the Israelites wander around in the desert for a while and eventually reach their promised land in Canaan. The Israelites capture the land under the leadership of Joshua. After Joshua, Israel is led by a series of Judges, people who get Israel out of a bind after they have been stupid over and over (and over) again. After that, Israel is brought together under the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon. David, like Moses, receives plans for a temple from God, and his son, Solomon completes them, the difference being that Solomon’s temple was much more grand and permanent than Moses’s tent. Moving on, after Solomon’s death, the people divide into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms.

 

God’s people at this point have an ongoing problem. They aren’t following their covenant with God. They prostitute themselves to other gods. Even under dire warnings (Dt 29 and Jer 25, among many others), they continue to make their own way. They aren’t even getting along with each other, hence the divided kingdom. They simply do not get the point, and as a result, God, even while being slow to anger (Exo 34:6), has reached a point where he has to serve justice. And by that, I mean allow Assyrians and Babylonians to come clean house on them.

 

And clean house they do. Israel is pummeled and scattered by the Assyrians. Judah is taken by the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar sieges Jerusalem in about 598 BC and 587 BC, taking the people of Judah into captivity. The second time, the temple of Solomon is destroyed, too. You can find a particularly devastating account of this siege in Jeremiah 52. It’s great bedtime reading for all the kids.

 

What. In. The. World. At this point, it would sure seem like God’s people are done for. They had a pretty good run, but this must be the end.

 

But not all is lost. In Ezekiel 11:16-20, God shows Ezekiel a glimmer of hope, and has him relay the message to the others who are in exile. Even though they are scattered and captive, God is still their sanctuary (or their temple, if you will). He is going to give them back their land, and turn their hearts of stone soft. They’re going to be his people, and he’s going to be their God. Yet, in verses 22 and 23, God shows Ezekiel that his presence is leaving the temple, in the form of a strange cherubim-driven chariot. So God’s not even in his temple anymore, but he’s still with a few of his faithful people who are in exile, sustaining them.

 

Through Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, among others, we see God making some pretty big promises about coming out of exile, a new temple, a messianic king, and a renewed rule (kingdom) of God, for starters. But for the time being, exile is the reality for God’s people.

 

The Persians eventually conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC, and Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites in exile to go home if they want. Only a small portion go back. Maybe now things will get better, back to the good old days. We can get a new king, build the temple again, and God will be with us. We’ll have rest from our enemies.

 

And they do rebuild the temple (see Ezra and Nehemiah about all of this), but it isn’t anything near what it used to be (Hag 2:3), and there is no indication that God’s presence ever fills it like the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. Something is still not right. God’s people are back to their land, but it doesn’t really feel like home. They are struggling to find their identity again. They’re still not following God’s covenant. Where’s God? What is going on? It’s like the exile never really ended. And perhaps it still hasn’t ended. It has, at best, been replaced by new exiles into new Babylons over the centuries, and that’ll likely be what we continue to see until everything is restored.

 

If this whole thing makes you feel a little bummed, that’s just a taste of the exile feeling. The exile was massively painful for God’s people, and so much of scripture is dedicated to wrestling with the questions and emotions brought up by it. According to many, the narrative of scripture is shaped around it. And exile isn’t just the experience of Israel, it is a reality we share in, as well. While we give Caesar his due, really we are citizens of God’s dimension, heaven (Phil 3:20). So we remain faithful to our God, and hold on to a hope that there is something better just around the corner.

 

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” -Malachi 4:2

 

I hope that verse made you smile as it made me smile. There’s hope and a new day. There is indeed a new temple for the Israelites, with the presence of God, even. But it’s not the kind they’re expecting. More on this tomorrow.

 

-Jay Laurent

God’s Presence and the Tabernacle

Exodus 40 16 17

Text: Exodus 40

 

As we leave the Garden, the state of God’s relationship with his creation is strained. Adam and Eve have been kicked out of the garden because of their defiance, and no longer have access to God’s presence like they had before. They are effectively exiled.

 

Let’s jump ahead to Moses. Now, there is much that happened between the garden and the introduction of Moses, and it is important stuff to know, but I want to race ahead to our topic of God’s presence.

 

As you probably know, Moses was a man chosen by God to lead God’s people (the Israelites) out of captivity in Egypt. It’s quite the epic story, and it is crucial to the Israelites. It reminds them how God chose them as his people and was faithful to them, bringing them out of captivity.

 

So now the Israelites, under the leadership of Moses and the miraculous deliverance of God himself, have escaped the clutches of Pharaoh. While they are in the middle of nowhere, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God begins to form a deeper relationship with them. He begins by giving them some basic guidelines of being his people, part of which is what we know as the Ten Commandments.

 

In Exodus 25, God begins giving Moses some very specific (exhaustive!) guidelines for building a tent structure called the tabernacle. It is important to ask why, just like how we asked why God would create us in the first place. And I think the answer to why he created and the answer to why he wanted a tabernacle built are the same answer: In 25:8, God says, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.”

 

Simple enough. But God has been interacting with his people all along. We can see how he worked in Noah, Abraham, and Joseph, just as a few examples. And now he has entered into a very special relationship with Moses, and by extension, to the rest of the Israelites. So if God is working among them and has a relationship with them, why do they need a tent thing?

 

I don’t know why God chose a tent specifically, but there is something special about it. God wanted to use it to dwell among his people, in a way that was closer to how he dwelt in the Garden. It was a much more intense dwelling and presence than he had been able to have among his people for a long time, since the Garden. Mankind lost special access to God’s presence after the Garden was off limits, but with the tabernacle, God was providing them with a new way to access his presence again. God is in the business of restoring.

 

God’s intentions and vision for this tabernacle are made more clear by the frequent callbacks to creation. In chapters 25-31, there are seven sections that begin, “the LORD spoke to Moses…” followed by detailed tabernacle plans. This is a reference back to the seven days of creation, when God commanded the cosmos into order. The sixth speech mentions craftsmen and priesthood, where day six of creation features mankind created in his image. The seventh speech is a reminder to the Israelites about the importance of the Sabbath, while day seven of creation is when God rests.

 

The tabernacle and creation accounts are further connected in structure with key phrases: Gen 1:31 vs Ex 39:43 (seeing what was done), Gen 2:1 vs Ex 39:32 (completing), Gen 2:2 vs Ex 40:33 (finishing work), Gen 2:3 vs Ex 39:43 (blessing), and Gen 2:3 vs Ex 40:9 (sanctifying).

 

Additionally, there are several symbols in the tabernacle that are connections back to Eden. The lampstand in 31:8 is a symbol of the tree of life, and the ark may symbolize the tree of knowledge (it contains the law, and you die if you touch it). There are images of cherubim in the tabernacle, reminding us that cherubim guarded the entrance to the garden. Gold and precious stones may also be symbols that tie the tabernacle back to Eden.

 

Similar connections to creation and the garden exist when looking at Solomon’s Temple, but I’ll leave that unexplored to return to our regularly scheduled program.

 

What is the purpose of all these references to creation and the garden? I believe God wanted his people to recognize the symbolism as his attempt to bring the garden back to them, in a way. God wanted to commit to his people and assure them that they could again have access to his presence. God wanted them to know that dwelling with them was his plan from the very beginning, and he will restore it. And we know that God’s intent is to dwell with us too, in ways that far surpass the tabernacle among the Israelites, and in ways that far surpass even the garden.

 

What? Yes! We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Now to Exodus 40 before I get too excited. When everything for the tabernacle was done according to God’s instructions to Moses, God’s presence rested in it:

 

Ex 40:34-38 (NASB): “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

 

If you are Moses, then this is a fairly anti-climactic way of ending Exodus. He didn’t even get to go in! There is still apparently a problem with sin. If you go into the holy of holies and are not clean enough, you die. Only the high priest can go in, once a year, offering blood to cover for the sins of him and the people (Hebrews 9:7). Looking back at the garden, and how sin and the presence of God are incompatible, maybe kicking Adam and Eve out of the Garden could have been more of an act of mercy than a harsh punishment.

 

But here is God, dwelling among his people again, restoring and guiding them. My prayer for you today and every day is that you will seek to be where God is, by following that cloud. That you will linger when the cloud lingers and that you will set out when the cloud is taken up. That God will show you where and how he is moving and invite you in on the action.

 

Jay Laurent