A kaleidoscope

This past summer I enjoyed a 12 week Women’s Bible class in Psalm 119. We generally worked through two octaves per week, breaking them down as much as possible, verse by verse. I consider this a rich way to meditate on Scripture. Nothing is lost or skimmed over when focusing on a particular verse, pondering why the Lord (through the psalmist) penned these words. Along with studying together, our teacher provided a supplemental commentary written by Charles Spurgeon. His reflection on Psalm 119 is so dense it was made into a book titled The Golden Alphabet: An Exposition on Psalm 119. Spurgeon’s meditation on Psalm 119 led him to the analogy of a kaleidoscope. While a number of the verses seem redundant, he argues that the reader is not properly viewing the entire psalm as it should be. He writes:

This psalm is a wonderful composition. Its expressions are many as the waves, but its testimony is one as the sea. It deals all along with one subject only; but although it consists of a considerable number of verses, some of which are very similar to others, yet throughout its one hundred and seventy-six stanzas the self-same thought is not repeated: there is always a shade of difference, even when the color of the thought appears to be the same. Some have said that in it there is an absence of variety; but that is merely the observation of those who have not studied it. I have weighed each word, and looked at each syllable with lengthened meditation; and I bear witness that this sacred song has no tautology in it, but is charmingly varied from beginning to end. Its variety is that of a kaleidoscope: from a few objects innumerable permutations and combinations are produced. In the kaleidoscope you look once, and there is a strangely beautiful form: you shift the glass a little, and another shape, equally delicate and beautiful, is before your eyes. So it is here.”

Our class was encouraged to journal through each octave, so the bulk of this study was left up to us to personally reflect through Psalm 119 as the Holy Spirit illuminated His treasure trove. This is the explanation I can give you for my posts on Psalm 119 the last few weeks. I hope to share the entire psalm with you as a means of encouragement. To write these reflections out again for this blog has been a comfort to me all over again. We are always in need of remembering the truth we know. So I write these posts for my personal encouragement as much as it is an offering of love to you. My hope is you are blessed in reading snippets of what the Lord is teaching me. Which leads me to ask, what is God teaching you? I think it is wonderful to share with fellow believers how the Spirit is at work in our hearts. We don’t seem to talk this way very often. Maybe the Bible has become stale to you or you aren’t sensing the Lord’s presence near. Cling on to the encouragement trusted believers have found in God’s Word and let that sustain you until you drink deeply again from your own well. God will not let you stay thirsty. He is faithful to show Himself to those who seek Him. God is faithful to help the weary believer persevere because of His promise to never leave or forsake His own.

Grace upon grace,

April

Grow deeper: Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Isaiah 40:29-31; Isaiah 55:6

A Bloody Covenant

Exodus 29:1-30:10; Matthew 26:14-46; Hebrews 10:1-25

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” -Matthew 26:26-28

Biblical atonement is bloody. Sacrifices made to consecrate priests, yearly and daily sin offerings, left a constant reminder of death. As I was reading about the sacrificial practices in the Old Testament I kept thinking how barbaric it is. In our sanitized modern living this world seems so removed from our own. Yet this is what God instituted before Christ, foreshadowing the cross to end all sacrifices once and for all. The blood of bulls and rams did not take away the peoples’ sins but implied confession of sin, recognizing the necessity of shed blood as atonement. God accepted this offering in anticipation of the finished work of Jesus.

Our sin is barbaric. Animal sacrifices are a picture of what sin does. It kills, as the consequence for sin is death. An in-your-face daily, blood-filled, cut up animal in place of your sin is sobering. I don’t like to dwell on the horrors of sin, mine or in general. The sin of humanity causes destruction wherever it goes, diminishing us to our worst selves as base creatures. This is one of the reasons God graciously reminded Israel of their sin and need for cleansing. We are all sinful. Once we are aware of our sinfulness, only then can a person come before the Lord in need. You realize someone or something is required to take away your sin because we can’t. You need a Savior.

Praise God for sending Jesus as our Atonement. The blood of Jesus covers every believer, serving as the propitiation for our sins. Our guilt is not counted against us as we are no longer condemned (Romans 8:1). At the same time I wonder if we who live post-resurrection frequently mediate on the ugliness of sin. We see its effects all around us but how often do we stop and remember what we once were? If you are in Jesus your sins are forgiven, but by remembering how far the Lord has brought you, no, transformed you, should fill every one of us with awe-inspired worship.

We have a Savior who redeemed us by becoming a Perfect Sacrifice. Jesus is the New Covenant. There is no longer the need to go through a priest, offering animals to be slaughtered on our behalf. Jesus has completed this function. He is the Great High Priest and Sacrifice. So we look back to the commands of bloody offerings, reminding us of the sorrow sin brings. We also rejoice in what Jesus has done for mankind. He paid the hefty price of my sin so I never have to. For those who place their faith in Him, the stains of sin and death have no hold on them.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Grow deeper: Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 3:3-8

Servant Priests

Exodus 28; Hebrews 9; Matthew 25:31-26:13

 

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father- to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” -Revelation 1:5-6

How we relate to people, especially in the Body, seems to be of great concern to our Lord. Spiritual unity is a theme found throughout Scripture and was important enough for Jesus to pray over before going to the cross (John 17:19-23). If God’s heart could be summed up in two sentences it would consist of our love for Him and how we love others (Mark 12:28-31). Why do our relationships matter? Can’t it just be me and God?

When we look back to the Ten Commandments, the first four commands are how man lives toward God. The last six speak of people rightly interacting with each other. God gave us a template for relationship in the Trinity. Created in the image of God, we are made to be relational. We are meant for community.

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For the most part I am typically reserved and shy, especially in large groups. It takes a lot of energy to be around people for an extended period of time. So intentional community could potentially be an introvert’s worst nightmare. Our bandwidth is limited more than the naturally outgoing person. Still, this isn’t a cop-out as we are all called to serve others, investing in relationships among the faith family. I can trust God to help me interact with people and not live selfishly to myself.

It is actually a joy to represent Jesus by ministering to someone. My Father ministers to me everyday through various acts of service. It might be a text message from a sister in Christ checking on me, a meal, a joke, prayer, or receiving childcare help. Serving the Body doesn’t have to be complicated. There are many practical ways we can bless another or perhaps be on the receiving end.

The priesthood order outlined in Exodus 28 foreshadows not only Jesus as our Great High Priest but believer-priests in the Church Age: us! Notice Aaron is given the high office (a type of Christ), but his sons are instituted as servant priests also. This is our spiritual heritage, a picture of what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ (1 Peter 2:5). Jesus says how we serve others will define whether we are His or not. This isn’t a works based salvation but a product of flourishing faith, obedience and love. Our spiritual sacrifice requires giving of ourselves with our time and resources. In this way we identify with Jesus who demonstrated the deepest kind of love through action on the cross.

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Mary of Bethany dignified Jesus in the home of Simon the Leper by pouring an expensive perfume over him. This was possibly her life savings and as the Bible does not record her having a husband to depend on financially, her act was one of reckless abandon to the Lord. Did she have an inclination of what was to come? Jesus said she was preparing Him for burial. Whatever her motivation other than overcome with worship, she ministered to Jesus. Can you imagine that privilege? Even then while Mary was in the act of honoring Christ, others around her were scorning this perfumed sacrifice.

What is more incredible than Mary radically serving Jesus is the way he humbly served His own disciples by washing their feet. Jesus also blessed lepers by touching their sores to heal them, erasing their stigma as outcasts. The Lord allowed children to sit on His lap and enjoy His presence, Jesus turned water into wine for a new bride and groom at their wedding feast. Ultimately, Jesus served all who will come to Him by going to the cross. There is no greater testimony than the life of Christ, our Great High Priest. He calls us as servant priests to follow in His steps. Serve the Church, sincerely love and honor our faith family.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Treasuring Faithfulness

Exodus 26:1-27:21;  Matthew 25:1-30

 

“Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is in front of the Testimony, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening til morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.” -Exodus 27:20-21

In reading the Exodus passage for constructing the tabernacle I’m amazed how specific it is. God orchestrated every detail in the materials used, measurements and instructions so there would be no confusion. He is the God of order not chaos. We see this reflected in how the Israelites were to worship also. Do we affirm like Israel, after Moses told them everything the Lord commanded, by responding, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (Exodus 24:7)? We’re familiar enough with the Biblical history cycle of: call to obedience, failure, judgement, repentance, and restoration. Like a worn path, this is our story too. We all share in this heritage of sin as Adam’s race. But there is hope.

Just as the actions of Israel illustrate every human heart, the components of God’s tabernacle were pointing to an even greater Temple in His Son. We are prone to wander, in need of a powerful and merciful Savior Who is capable and willing to rescue a damned people. God provided Jesus as the way to Himself. Now, as His Beloved Bride the Church, we pursue faithfulness to Christ alone. He is our treasured Bridegroom.

We are to make ourselves ready for Him by staying faithful in the work He has given us to do until His return or until we die. A faithful heart to the Lord creates the desire to walk in wisdom, please our Master, and share in His happiness. Have you ever thought about obedience as a means to be happy?

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Following Christ is not easy. It certainly cannot be done in our own strength, yet those who abide in Jesus, choosing to trust His ways and obey, will discover a deep-seated joy that gets lovelier over time. Its like finding a priceless treasure buried in the dirt. After persistently rubbing off the grime it begins to gleam. The treasure becomes even more precious to you as its beauty is uncovered. This is what its like to know and obey the Lord. He simply calls us to follow Him, to stay true to our Bridegroom.

Jesus laid the pattern for us to walk in, going before us. We know the way, so we walk by faith. And if  when we stumble, His Hand is right there to pick us up because Jesus’ grace toward His children is boundless. Through His Spirit we have access to God and transformed hearts that are now always tied to our King. Jesus’ blood makes standing in His holy presence possible.

The Lord tells us to keep the light of His Spirit burning in our hearts, letting it shine for others to see (Matthew 5:14-16). We are to be faithful and unashamed. Our faces will shine with the light He has placed inside our hearts, one that never goes out. This is our worship. In this way, we actively wait for God, anticipating His coming again.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

The Living Temple

Exodus 23:14-25:40; Psalm 30; Matthew 24:29-51

“You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever.” -Psalm 30:11-12

 

God’s redemption makes the impossible possible. We can have a peace-filled fellowship, a love relationship, with the King of the Universe. How amazing is that?! In the Exodus reading portion we read of the types of Christ under the law. The institution of a priesthood, sacrifices, and tabernacle foreshadow Jesus fulfilling these roles once and for all as our Great High Priest and Perfect Sacrifice, the Lamb of God. Through Him we are cleansed, forgiven, and restored as God’s own sons and daughters. It is because of Jesus that we are free to worship anywhere. His Presence is no longer confined to a portable tabernacle or man-made temple. Jesus is the Temple (John 2:18-22).

The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer thus making up Jesus’ Church from a patchwork of languages, nations, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile all have Christ in common. We, His Bride, become where Jesus’ temple resides (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This truth has enormous impact, ministering to us as we realize God has not left us alone. He has given Himself to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

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Even when the curtain of human history comes to a close, if we are still here, we can have courage as our faith assures us of the outcome. Our Father literally wrote out the ending for us (Isaiah 35: Revelation 21-22). The time of judgment will be cut short for the sake of His people (Matthew 24:21-22). God will shake the Earth of wickedness then redeem it, creating a New Earth where Heaven and Earth meet. For now the wheat and tares live together but one day God will separate them. It is His grace and long-suffering mercy which causes God to be slow to anger, abounding in love, not wishing any should perish to eternal Hell.

Christian, you can rest secure in Christ because Jesus lives, and He lives in you, His living temple. God destroyed the Temple in Jesus on the cross so that you and I will never be destroyed. We carry His sacred temple within us. Just as Christ was resurrected we too are not overcome by death, but will taste resurrection for ourselves. When we pass from this Earth to our eternal Home we will see Jesus our Lord, the Living Temple, face to face. This is our heritage, this is our glory.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Judgment to Restoration

Exodus 21:22-23:13; Psalm 29; Proverbs 7:6-23; Matthew 24:1-28

 

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” -Romans 8:22-23

Along with the Ten Commandments, God instituted a standard of living among the Israelites. Like today, we’ve been given commands for how to act with integrity toward each other and abstain from spiritual adultery. “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips” (Exodus 23:13). God alone is to be worshipped.

It’s interesting to observe the contrast in God’s will for us versus the natural bent we have toward sin. Moses wrote down the Lord’s system of order and peace. In the end, a life outside His will leads not only to our own destruction but the breakdown of society. Where moral corruption exists, divine judgement follows. Deception of false Christs, blind leaders, wars, famine, abortion, earthquakes, open hostility and persecution are the norm- for now. Jesus Christ rules and will judge everything.

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One day His final judgment will undo the tangled knot of sorrow. Sin does not triumph. The world and the relationships God had in mind for us in Eden will be made true again. Jesus has already conquered death, yet we wait in the “already and not yet” season as God fulfills future promises. In the meantime, the Bible speaks of our weariness and groaning, along with creation, for everything to be made right because deep down we know it isn’t supposed to be this way. We see the devastation sin has done to the world and our lives. Take heart because this is not the end of our Story. Believers look forward to the most wonderful Day when we receive our resurrected bodies no longer tainted by sickness, sin or death. As we live in the middle of the Fall, between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21, God promises to “[give] strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). Jesus will restore, making all things new, but first God must refine, judging the dross. If you are in Christ, the Lord is on your side. Who can be against you?

 

Grace upon grace,

April

God’s Way

Exodus 19:16-21:21; Psalm 28; Proverbs 7:1-5; Matthew 23:13-39

 

“What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come […] So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” -Galatians 3:19; 24

 

There has to be a reason I repeatedly teach my 9 year old not to whine or argue. One, I just don’t like hearing it. But more importantly, I’m parenting for obedience. The lessons I lay out for him now will hopefully change into a habitual behavior. My hope is one day he will want to walk in obedience on his own without me reminding him! I can only assist in modifying actions I know please God, but He has to transform the heart.

In a similar way, God gave us His law not to go through the motions but to promote heart change. Through the law God demonstrates His standard of holiness and how we always fall short because of our sin nature (Romans 3:23). Following the law cannot save us but reveals our need for the Savior. God’s commands are right and good. They keep us from grievous sins against Himself and others. Even the cultural laws for Israel were beneficial to the people as they learned to operate as a set apart nation governed by God.

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When we reduce the Lord’s decrees to playing church on Sunday we are no better than the outwardly pious legalists Jesus condemned during His earthly ministry. God says He desires mercy, not sacrifice. So what does that mean? Jesus cares more about the motivation of our hearts than how we appear before others. Is our focus to look “holy” with lengthy superficial prayers, checking the church box, or visible acts of service? Or are we more concerned with what the God of this Universe thinks? Our Father inspects the fruit of the heart.

The Israelites trembled before the Lord in reverence and wonder. They couldn’t bear to have God speak directly to them in all His Glory.  In Psalm 28, David cries out for God to hear his prayer and deliver him from those who defy God’s ways. Our response should be a combination of these two reactions.

As God’s beloved sons and daughters we have the family privilege to boldly approach His  throne of grace. We can cry out to Him in our need, in our thanksgiving, even asking Him to defend us, and He will hear you. Yet this is done with a heart of humility and reverence toward the One who created you. I’m always awe-struck with fear when a storm blows through the area I live in, known for it’s tornadoes. There is such power in the wind and lightning. God is the source of this fierceness. Do you know this kind of God?

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When the Lord comes again He will meet us not only as our Shepherd, but as the Great Warrior He is. He will come to end the final war that has raged since the Fall (Genesis 3). His Name is Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11-16). This should bring us to our knees and worship. One day, all will bow the knee before King Jesus and confess Him as Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

As we seek God, He will fashion our hearts after His own. Over time our desire will be to obey Him more and more as our love for the Lord grows deeper. We won’t be as concerned with what the world thinks of us. We are either being fit for heaven or fit for hell through our obedience or rebellion. Knowing Christ is the one solid anchor we have to hold onto- everything else is shifting sand.

Follow God’s perfect way today. When you realize this isn’t possible to do on your own, go to the One who made our righteousness possible. Jesus fulfilled God’s ways because we never could. Walk with Jesus.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Wholly Loved

Exodus 19:1-15; Psalm 27:7-14; Matthew 22:34-23:12

 

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

God calls His Bride, the Church, to be set apart, as a holy people. We are to “conduct [ourselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). How can we live perfectly holy before an Awesome God? Well, we can’t. This is actually good news for us. It is exactly why Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to make a way for wayward people like you and me. We cannot clean ourselves up or ever be good enough- there’s a hole in our holiness. Even if we reform the outside, our hearts are dead apart from God. We are no more than a whitewashed tomb.

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In our Exodus passage, God commands Moses to tell the people of Israel to prepare themselves before entering the Lord’s presence. They were to wash their clothes and consecrate themselves so by the third day they would be ready. Under the New Covenant we have Christ’s Presence always with us as His children. He did the work of making us righteous and presentable before a Holy God.

Jesus does not denounce our lack, weaknesses, or limitations. He tenderly tells those who belong to Him they are condemned no more. The indwelling Holy Spirit patiently teaches us how to live in holiness, as we learn to operate out of God’s power and not our flesh. Our Father promises to not give up on what He’s started in you and me, to make us more like Christ (Philippians 1:6). We can be confident we will see Jesus face to face one day in the land of those who’ve really lived. You are His treasure, holy and loved, wholly loved.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Long-suffering Mercy

Exodus 15:19-17:7; Matthew 22:1-33

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” -2 Peter 3:8-9
How do we handle the sins of others against us? When we’ve been deceived, betrayed, lied about, or mistreated? How does God deal with sin? How has He dealt with my sin?
We are all unrighteous before the Lord yet He freely offers grace for those who recognize their need for Him. Jesus has prepared a place for such people. Some respond to the invitation of the Gospel with apathy, others openly rebel in opposition to God’s gift. The kingdom of Heaven is not for them. So the Lord chooses an array of people from every nation, tribe, and language to serve His Name, delighting in His feast. He is mercifully long-suffering.
Moses cried out to God when the Israelites complained of hunger and thirst. The Lord heard him and miraculously provided in the desert, meeting their physical needs. Water from a rock, meat in the evening and manna in the morning- for forty years! He is mercifully long-suffering.
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In His earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus addressed the religious leaders intent on destroying His reputation and credibility. Jesus knew their hearts better than they did. He responds to the attacks to trap Him with patient wisdom, demonstrating His authoritative knowledge over the ways of men and Scripture. He is mercifully longsuffering.
Sometimes the word ‘long-suffering’ seem to fit better than ‘patient’. Long-suffering gives an image of endurance, perseverance, love bearing all things. This is exactly what Jesus did and does for you and me. In any of these examples God could have annihilated anyone questioning His provision, goodness or authority. But He didn’t. The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love not wishing any should eternally perish. Think of His response during the mock trials, insults, beatings, and ultimately, His crucifixion (Isaiah 53:7-11). He is mercifully long-suffering. Jesus has invested His life in all the elect, knowing we would not walk perfectly, knowing there would be days you and I completely fail.
But His mercies are new each day.
In light of how the Good Savior treats us, eventually sacrificing Himself for our eternal good, we can respond with mercy and patience when we are sinned against. Because I hope someone would extend the same grace to me when I sin against them. Cry out to God when you feel wronged, be sober-minded with self-control, quick to forgive, slow to anger. Because this is what Jesus did for you. This is what God loves.
Grace upon grace,
April

The Great Deliverer

Exodus 13:17-15:18; Psalm 26; Proverbs 6:16-19; Matthew 21:23-46

 

“In Your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed. In Your strength You will guide them to Your holy dwelling.” -Exodus 15:13

 

The character traits outlined in our Proverbs passage describe what God hates: pride, liars, murder, deceitfulness, divisiveness, and hatred. Examples of this nature are seen in Pharaoh and his army as well as the Pharisees who challenge Jesus’ authority. The nature of man apart from God does not change. How the Lord addresses our sin may vary. Meaning, the Egyptians experienced immediate consequences as they were drowned in the Red Sea. Their wickedness brought about their own ruin, but God’s glory.

On the other hand, the Pharisees’ rebellion against Jesus does not receive prompt judgment. It looks like they’ve won as Jesus is crucified and they triumph over His death. But this isn’t where the Story ends. Death did not hold Christ. The One murdered on the cross will judge the hearts of men at the end of Time. Like the Pharisees, all who remain unrepentant in their sins will be held accountable on Judgement Day. This is the worst consequence of all.

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The righteous pray for God’s salvation over them. As David does in Psalm 26, we can seek the Lord without fear as He no longer sees our former nature. We boldly come before His Throne and appeal to the Lord. He has covered us in the righteousness of Jesus and our sins no longer condemn us (Romans 8:1). Our love for the Father grows and deepens hope. The desire to live in holiness is His gift to us and the mark of genuine faith.

El Shaddai delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. Then in His perfect wisdom and time, the Lord came in the person of Jesus Christ to be our Great Deliverer. Rest in God’s wisdom today. He will watch over you and be your Help for those who know their need of Him and seek His Face.

 

Grace upon grace,

April