Monday, December 15, 2014

Identity - Part 2

As we have already seen, the very first two chapters of the New Testament are clear about Jesus' true nature. He is God – no question about it! That's what the angel told Joseph, that's what Micah prophesied about the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, and that's why the Magi fell down and worshiped him. But there's so much more support for this. The incredible truth that God became a man is the central theme – not just of the New Testament, but of the entire Bible!

The Messenger

Before Jesus began His ministry here on earth, someone had to come first. We know that man as John the Baptist. “Baptist” of course is a description of what he did – baptizing the people into repentance. His job was to turn the people's heart to God's way of doing things...and he did this by preaching repentance.
Jesus had this to say about Jon in Matthew 11:10 “For this is he of whom it is written; 'Behold I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.'” Jesus tells us that John was a fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier – by a man named Malachi.
For further clarification, let's read Malachi's prophecy in Malachi 3:1 Behold, I send My messenger and he will prepare the way before Me. When Jesus quotes this in Matthew, He tells us that God sent a messenger to prepare “Your way before You” - meaning this applied to the Messiah. And yet, when we read the original prophecy, Yahweh is sending the messenger before Himself. So just who was John preparing the world for? The next sentence in Malachi 3:1 tells us...”And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple.” John came to prepare the way of Jesus – but then Malachi says that the one coming after the messenger is the One that the temple was built for! Just Who was this One to come?
Mark gives us a little more information on the messenger, John. Let's read Mark 1:2-3 - As it is written in the prophets: “Behold I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” - “The voice of one crying in the wilderness; 'Prepare the way of Yahweh; make His paths straight.'” Now we see that there was more than one prophet that spoke of John. Mark's first quotation was what we just read from Malachi – but His second was from the prophet Isaiah. Like Malachi, Isaiah is clear that the messenger would be preparing the way for God Himself.
This is the complete passage from Isaiah 40:3-5 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Now we see that John came to prepare the way of God, and after his ministry ran its course, the glory of God Himself would be revealed to humanity. Let me ask you a question, what happened as John's ministry was winding down? Jesus began His ministry and the glory of God was revealed!
What am I saying here? That John was the messenger that was sent to prepare the way of God Himself. We learned already that Jesus was God Himself in the body of human. After John fulfilled his calling – Jesus began to reveal His glory – the glory of Yahweh – to “all flesh”.

To Clarify the Confusion

We see then that John knew who he was – the messenger of Yahweh. This also means he knew Who Jesus really was – after all, it was John who pointed Jesus out first!
Later on though, John began to have doubts. While he was in Herod's prison, it seems as if John began to feel sorry for Himself. He knew what his calling was, but now it appeared as if nothing he expected to see from Jesus was happening. So a downcast John sent two of his remaining disciples to ask Jesus point blank: “Are you the one we are expecting, or should we start our search all over again?”
In response to John's question, Jesus didn't spend any time explaining Himself or trying to reassure John's doubts. Instead, Jesus simply told the messengers to watch for a while. Later we read in Matthew 11:4-6 Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and tell John the things which you hear and see; the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.'” Jesus' reply to John was to focus his attention on the signs that He was working.
But there was more to Jesus' signs that merely observing the miraculous. Jesus was referring John to what the Jews called “the signs of the Messiah” in Isaiah 35:5-6. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing..” This list of miracles were known to be the signs of the Messiah's coming...and Jesus referred to it as a reminder of what John already knew.
But there is so much more to Isaiah's prophecy than this. Isaiah wasn't just telling us how we would recognize the Messiah, He told us the Messiah's true identity. Look at verse 4, the the previous verse, “Say to those who are fearful-hearted, 'Be strong, do not fear! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.'” You see? Jesus – the one named “Yahweh saves” - is called God in this verse! This is what Jesus was reminding John of!

On Who's Authority?

In Jeremiah 23, God calls out a group of false prophets – those who were prophesying without being sent by God. Using no uncertain terms, He declares in verse 16 that these false prophets were making God's people worthless! What made these prophets false? The answer is in verse 21, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” These preachers were false prophets because God didn't send them. 
In fact, throughout the book of Jeremiah, God alone had the authority to send prophets. Just look at these passages:
Jeremiah 7:25
Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them.
Jeremiah 25:4
And Yahweh has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them...
Jeremiah 26:5 heed the words of My servants the prophets whom I sent to you...
Jeremiah 29:19
...because they have not heeded My words, says Yahweh, which I sent to them by My servants the prophet. 
In the Old Testament, if anyone took it upon themselves to prophesy in God's name – without being sent by God – they were considered a false prophet and executed for their lies. The point is simple, Yahweh alone had the authority to send a prophet!
And yet, look at what Jesus claimed for Himself in Matthew 23:34: “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes...” In light of what His listeners knew about prophets, they must have been wondering “Who does this Man think He is?” Because He is God, Jesus does have the authority to send out prophets – and apostles, and evangelists, and pastor/teachers. (As a side note – even in the New Covenant, no one should dare to assume a ministry gift for himself. It is still true that God alone has the authority to send out minsters on His behalf!)
God is the ultimate authority. When He says anything, that's the end of the discussion. His Word is true, and will remain true forever. In Isaiah 40:8 we read, “ The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” His Word is the only eternal and unchangeable word – no one else's word even comes close! And yet we read twice (once in Matthew 24:35 and again in Luke 21:33) that Jesus made this claim - “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
What gave Jesus – a man – the right to take on Himself the same authority that God alone possesses? The claim to have an unchanging word, the authority to send out prophets - no mere human teacher would be right to take this on Himself. Jesus knew Who He was! What's more, He made it clear to us...Jesus is God!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Identity - Part 1

Some time ago, I wrote a post about Jesus' true nature and divine identity. My goal was to point out the simple fact that Jesus is God. He was not just a good man. He wasn't some revolutionary teacher from the past. He wasn't even just the “son of God” (in the same way that you and I are sons and daughters of God). Bethlehem wasn't the beginning of His story, because His story has no beginning. As part of the God-head, Jesus isn't simply a man who was “the son of God” - He is “God, the Son” who made Himself a man!
I thought I covered most of what scripture has to say about this in my post. But recently, the Holy Spirit walked me through the New Testament again and pointed out each reference to Who Jesus really is. I found that I didn't even scratch the surface last time.
Most believers would agree with me on this – Jesus is God. But if they were ever challenged on this point, I'm not sure they could biblically defend this faith of theirs. Why do we believe that Jesus is God? Do we believe this because it's what the church has always believed, or do we know this from Scripture? Let's walk together through the New Testament and find out why we believe what we believe.

What's in a Name?

I want to start at the beginning, the first two chapters of Matthew. Here we see the story of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, as seen from the eyes of Joseph. When Joseph learned that His fiance was pregnant – with someone else's child – he decided to do what any man would, break the whole thing off. But before he could do anything about his decision, God sent a messenger to inform him of what was really happening. Let's look at what this angel told Joseph:
Matthew 1:20-21 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
The angel told Joseph to name the boy “Jesus”, which means “Yahweh saves”. Why was Joseph told to name him “Yahweh saves”? Because this little boy would save His people from their sins. So He was going to be called “Yahweh saves”...because He was going to save! Who was this angel declaring that unborn child to be? Yahweh! And if that isn't clear enough, look at the very next verse:
Matthew 1:22-23 So all this was done that in might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Now we have another name for this yet-to-be-born child, “Immanuel”. This a powerful name in and of itself, but it also tells us why the name of Jesus is so powerful. Immanuel means “God with us”! So everything that God is, everything that He revealed Himself to be as Yahweh, is all wrapped up in the name “Yahweh saves”! Jesus is God!
Wow! Scripture doesn't hold back on this point. At the very start of the New Testament – Matthew chapter one – the Bible makes Jesus' identity clear.
Since Matthew quoted from the book of Isaiah already, I would also like to point out a passage in that book:
Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a Child is born,unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.” We hear this verse quoted every year about this time. It's usually used to show what we're celebrating on Christmas, that God sent us the gift of His only Son to save us. That's certainly true...but it's not the whole truth of this verse. Let's finish verse six:
And His name shall be called Wonderful...: This is not simply saying that Jesus is a good name. The Hebrew word for “wonderful” means “beyond understanding”. That is to say, you'll never be able to wrap your mind around the meaning of the name of Jesus - that He is actually Yahweh Himself, come to save His people from their sins!
...Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” this child that was both born (speaking of the human nature He would be born into) and given (speaking of His adoption as part of the human race) is called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father”! Who was Isaiah claiming this child was? He is God!

Without a Beginning

Matthew's account of Jesus birth goes on, and we find a group of rich and powerful men traveling to see the newborn Ruler of God's people. When they arrived in Israel, they went to the place where you would expect to find a king – the capital. As they traveled through the streets of Jerusalem, they announced that they were there to see the young king. Understandably, the people were alarmed. King Herod didn't have a baby, yet these men seemed to be informed by God Himself that there was a new king. That could only mean one thing, that the long-awaited Messiah had been born! He was the one who was to bring deliverance and freedom to Israel.
Herod, being appointed as king by the Roman empire, did not want the kind of deliverance that the people thought the Messiah was bringing. So he called the scribes together to try and locate the newborn Messiah. When King Herod demanded to know where the Messiah was supposed to be born, the scribes of Jerusalem said this:
Matthew 2:5-6 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”
Now let me show you where these scribes were quoting from:
Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
Do you see that? Micah just told us that the birth in Bethlehem wasn't the beginning of this child's story. This young Ruler – the one who would shepherd God's people – came from the everlasting! He may have been born in Bethlehem, but He had no beginning! Now Who does that sound like to you?

The Object of Worship

When the wise men found the boy's house, they came in and saw Him with his family. Then they did something that must have been shocking to Mary and Joseph:
Matthew 2:11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him...
These rich and powerful men dropped to their knees and worshiped a little boy!
In Acts 8:25, we see Cornelius mistakenly worshiping the apostle Peter, as if he were more than just a man. In response, Peter corrects the commander's misguided reverence. In Acts 14, the Lycaonians began to worship Paul and Barnabas. Again we see these two men begging the crowd of worshippers to stop. Twice in Revelation (19:10 and 22:8), the apostle John was rebuked for falling down to worship an angel.
This correction is only right. We find in Deuteronomy 6:13 that Yahweh alone must be the focus of our worship. And yet, here we see a group of men that worshiped young Jesus, and were never corrected for it. But this one incident isn't the only time this happened:
Matthew 8:2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him...
Matthew 9:18 While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him...
Matthew 28:17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him...
Mark 5:6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him...
Luke 24:52 And they worshiped Him...
John 9:38 Then he said, “Lord I believe!” And he worshiped Him...
Jesus knew what Deuteronomy 6:13 said – He quoted it Himself in Matthew 4. But not one time did Jesus ever stand these people up and correct them for worshiping Him. Not once do we ever see that their worship was misguided. In fact, in a few of these stories it was their worship that moved Jesus into action! Who did Jesus think He was to allow people to worship Him like that?
Worshiping Jesus is only right if He is God. The worship of any man – no matter how great he was – is idolatry; and to teach the worship of a man is heresy. But look at what the Father Himself commands in Hebrews:
Hebrews 1:6 But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
The heavenly hosts of angels are commanded to worship the Son – the One that was born in Bethlehem, the One who was called “God with us” and “Yahweh saves”, the One that never had a beginning, and the One Who is referred to as “Mighty God”!
There is so much more in the New Testament that we haven't gotten to yet. We've only looked at the first two chapters of Matthew! And yet we see very clearly that Jesus was not just a prophet, not some revolutionary leader, and not simply a good teacher. He was, is and always has been – God Himself!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

You Work Your Whole Life, Have Something To Show For It!

I started working in full-time ministry when I was 16 years old. For twelve years, I didn't know anything else except for working to make our church better. Then things happened and I had to begin work out in the secular world. I eventually found employment in an aluminum press as a Quality Assistant. It was a drastic change from what I was used to!
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a shock for me to have to do “real” work. I have never had problems with manual labor, and the work load here was not what I had a problem with. My problem was simply an issue of significance. You see, I often found myself thinking things like, “My work used to change lives – now I just inspect parts for office furniture!” I had lost my sense of purpose...and I needed to understand why I was where I was.
For the next few months, God dealt with me about a believer's role in their secular workplace. He took me through Scripture and pointed out why He had me there and what my goals should really be. As I learned from Him, I began to realize that not many Christians in the workplace knew these things or had the right attitude about their employment.
Why should we as believers work for someone else – someone who is probably not a believer, and who may not even be a decent person? When we ask this, it's a question of motive. We're not really asking about how we should work; that's something that will be taken care of when we learn about why we're working. At the risk of giving away the is the least of your reasons!
So what are we in the workplace for?
#1 - Proverbs 25:13 Trustworthy messengers refresh like snow in summer. They revive the spirit of their employer.” Bosses throughout this country are having a drought of trustworthy employees. They can't seem to find anyone who understands that they're being paid to work. They're being burned out by workers that don't work, or who work half-heartedly, or who constantly complain about the work they have to do. Christian, don't be that person! Work to refresh your employer!
Your primary goal at your job is to benefit your boss and your company. Of all their employees, you should be the one who has their best interests in mind. You should want your boss to succeed! You should want your company to prosper! You should be praying for the peace of your employers. You need to have the same attitude towards your place of work that God told His people to have in Jeremiah 29:7 - “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” When you work – your first priority is to help your company succeed!
#2 – Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses...” Another goal to have in your workplace is to “do the work of an evangelist.” (2 Timothy 4:5) If we're called to preach the Gospel to the world, why would you complain about being around worldly people all day? Use your place of work and your relationships with your coworkers as springboards to reach the lost!
Keep in mind, this should never be at the expense of your own workload. If you can talk about Jesus while you're working – go for it. But if it's going to affect your quality of work, then wait for lunch time! We already said this once, but your primary goal there is to refresh the spirit of your boss by being faithful to your responsibilities. If you should get a reputation of ignoring what you're supposed to be doing to talk about Jesus, then people will simply shut you off.
One thing I made sure of when I started my job was to get a reputation as a worker first – before I told anyone that I was a believer. Do you know what happened? As people saw me working – before I had told anyone about who I was – I had people coming to me to ask things like “where do you go to church?” If you live the life you're supposed to live at work, you won't surprise people when you tell them about your faith!
#3 – Proverbs 27:2 Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth...” I used to shy away from praise for a job well done. Not anymore! I have gotten to the place where I welcome it! Why? Is it to feed my ego or inflate my self-esteem? Not at all!
I know why I have always worked harder than I need to. I know why I've always been motivated to improve my workplace. And I know why I've caught the attention of my bosses...and it's not my fault! It's God's grace that gives the power and ability that produces things from my work! 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.It's not me that's gaining this praise, it's the grace of God working in me!
I work to get praised. Does that sound conceited to you? Let me explain myself then. Anytime someone tells me how impressed they are by what I do, anytime someone says “good job!”, and anytime I catch my bosses eye – I have more praise to give My Heavenly Father! I take that praise, that acclamation, that promotion, and that recognition and lay it down at His feet. As I do this, I proclaim “Look at what Your grace has done!” This is what Ephesians 1:6 calls “the praise of the glory of His grace.”
#4 – Colossians 3:22-24 “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. 23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” We may have an earthly boss – but that's not the one that we're working for! True, we're there to minister to them and refresh them – but we do this because our real Boss told us to! We work to serve Jesus, and our real reward will come from Him!
Ephesians 6:5-8 “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.”
We will stand before the throne of Jesus to receive rewards for what we do here on earth...including how we handled our employment. In light of this, does it really matter how much they're paying you to do your job? In light of eternal rewards, what does the difference between $10 and $20 per hour matter? Jesus will one day look at how I do my job and hand out His reward...that's the payday that I'm working for!
#5 – Ephesians 4:28Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
Speaking of payday – we do have a responsibility with our money! It's the least of our motives, but we do work for money. But it's not about earning money to store up for ourselves. We work for money in the same way we work for praise – so that we have it to give! Pay raises come naturally as a reward for diligent work. But that money comes in so you can give it out.
Our goal with our paycheck is to earn more so we can give more. Whether it's in the form of the tithe to your church, supporting a ministry that's doing a great work, or helping families in need – God blesses generous people!
Our goals in the workplace are simple:
#1 – We are there to refresh our employer
#2 – We are there to be a witness to a captive audience
#3 – We are there to earn praise that we turn back to God's grace
#4 – We work to obtain an eternal reward from our real boss – Jesus!
#5 – We earn a paycheck so we can have something to give
As believers, let's not get caught up in the attitude of the world concerning our job. You're there because God picked you to be there. Let's keep our eyes on what really matters!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dear Jenn...

Dear Jennifer, 

I wish I could spend more time with you than we have together right now...just the two of us. If you would let me, I would spend each moment telling you what I love and admire about you. I know you would just stop me (and that's actually one of the things I love about you, you're selfless!), so I thought I'd spend what time I have today telling you what it is about you that keeps me head over heels in love!

Let me start with the smallest reason I love you....because you're absolutely beautiful! Every part of you amazes me. To steal Solomon's expression, you're "altogether lovely." Your eyes hold me prisoner. Your smile brightens my entire day and gives me the strength to push through anything that may happen. Your hair frames your face better than the finest gold or silver. Your skin is like a magnet for my hands! Your body is put together so perfectly that I just find myself staring sometimes...The rest of this very personal paragraph has been edited for family reading. :)

Whew! You see how fast that heated up? That's what a minor thing like your physical appearance does to me! But that's just the beginning...

I love the way your sense of humor works. True, we may not always laugh at the same things or at the same time - usually because your humor is a little more sophisticated than mine. But when what we think is funny overlaps, and we start laughing together, it's priceless! I love those time when we can't stop laughing. I love it when we finally gain control over ourselves...only to lose it all over again when we look at each other! There isn't another person in the world that I laugh like that with! 

I love how you care for me. It's obvious to me that there's no one else you'd rather be around more than me. You always say the right things. You always have what I need taken care of. In fact, as I'm writing this, I can't think of the last time I had to ask you for anything! You always seem to know what I need and have it done before I know I need it!

That's not just true for me. The way you constantly care for our kids is yet one more reason I love you. You watch over them, love on them, teach them, and provide for them. True, the money may come from my paycheck, but if it were left to me....I wouldn't have a clue what to get for them or what they needed. You keep them in nice outfits, feed them the best meals, and give them the best stuff! These kids are so blessed to have a mom like you! More than anything I want for our kids...I want them to become just like you! 
I love your voice! When you sing, I forget about everything else... all I want to do is stop and listen. As awesome as it is to hear you leading praise and worship at church, it's just as good to hear you beside me. And it's not just singing! No other voice on earth moves me like yours! When you're talking to me, you never lose my attention. When you're excited about something, I can't help but be happy with you. When you're feeling down, your voice breaks my heart. No one else can affect me like this - with something as simple as the sound of your voice! 

These are just a few of the many things that I love about you. There has never been a time that you didn’t deserve every ounce of love I could give you – and I don’t anticipate any time in the future! However, I don’t love you just because you’re so loveable. If (and this is a huge IF!) you stopped every one of these things today…I would still love you. Do you know why? Because I’m following a model of unconditional love – Jesus Himself! He loves us whether we’ve done anything to deserve it or not. And that is exactly the kind of love I want to show you, Sweetie.

You're perfect for me, Jennifer. I know it was God Who brought you to me. And I always pay that I would be the husband you've always deserved. All I want to do is love you like Jesus loves us - to be so totally devoted to you that I lose track of my own life!

I know you've heard all this before. I wish I could come up with new things to say. But words just don't do justice to how you make me feel! Maybe fifty years from now, when I'm older and smarter, I'll have something more to say about how much I love you. Then again, that's fifty more years to come to love you more - so I'm probably going to be in this same predicament! 

I love you and always!
Your husband

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Loving God Because...

John 21:16 “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?

Churchgoers are always so quick to acclaim their love for Jesus. It’s the subject of countless of their songs. It makes up the content of millions of their prayers. And it is the sole focus of many (many) sermons all over the country on any given Sunday. We’ve made it into a creed in Christendom – an almost mindless repetition during our worship services; “I love You, Jesus!” But do these people who claim love for their Savior really understand what they’re saying?

Our love for God isn’t all that spectacular. It was never the focus of either the Old or New Testament. True, we are commanded to love our God with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength – but this is far from being the theme of the Bible! The Bible doesn’t focus on our love for God, instead it focuses on His love for us!

(As a side note: loving God is not a feeling! It’s not a fondness toward Him or an emotional high during a church service. Jesus was very clear what it meant to love Him – “If you love Me, you will obey My commands.” You cannot claim to love Jesus and ignore what He has told you in His Word!)

Like I said, our love for Him isn’t all that amazing. Take a look at 1 John 4:10 – “In this is (real) love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Do you see that? Our love for God isn’t a big deal! It’s not worth all the songs, sermons and repetitions that it’s been made into. It’s God’s love for us that should be understood!

The man who wrote this verse, John, had an excellent understanding of love. He is often referred to as the “apostle of love.” He’s the one who penned these amazing passages:
Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
Perfect love has cast out fear…”
By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
God is love…”

And yet, for all his focus on love, John never once spoke of his own love for Jesus! Instead, he referred to himself simply as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” When it came to how much John loved Jesus – he never thought it was worth mentioning! John understood that his love for Jesus was nothing compared to Jesus’ love for Him!

And herein lies a truth that many Christian misunderstand. On several occasions I have heard well-meaning believers claim to love Jesus “no matter what!” As if there was ever going to be a time when Jesus didn’t deserve their love? Our love for God is not unconditional! He deserves every ounce of love that we can give Him (and so much more!) There has never been a moment in history when He didn’t deserve the love of mankind! Drawing again from the apostle of love – let’s look at the first phrase of 1 John 4:19 “We love Him because” There you have it – we love Jesus because! We only love Him because we have a good reason to!

And what is this reason? Let’s finish verse 19 – “We love Him because He first loved us.” Our love for God may not be unconditional (He deserves every bit of it), but His love for us is completely unconditional and undeserved. It is because of His unconditional love towards us that he deserves our love! Verse 9 of the same chapter elaborates on the amazing, unconditional love of God: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.

We were sinners – He was righteous. We were worthless – He was worthy! We deserved nothing, but He gave us everything! Can you see how we’ve missed it by insisting on our love for Him while essentially ignoring His love for us? We need to keep a firm focus on how much God loves us. With this understanding - knowing just how much He loves us - it becomes almost effortless for our heart to respond “I love You, Jesus!”

Monday, February 24, 2014

In The Beginning, Chapter Ten - Day Six, Part Three

The Garden Of Eden

Genesis 2:8-15The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush.14 The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”
As we continue to read on in Genesis chapter two, we see a continuation of what happened on day 6. The next thing we see is a garden - Eden.

Planted, Not Created

Genesis 2:8The Lord God planted a garden…

Read this account (from Genesis 1:11-12) of what happened on day three: “Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Do you see the difference? On day three, God created the plants - they just sprang up from the earth. But here, on day six, God planted the trees and plants in the garden! This means that God took the seeds from the trees and plants that He created, buried them in the ground, and then brought them up to maturity. Why would God take the time to do it this way? Why didn’t He just pull the trees up out of nothing - like He did on day three? The answer, I believe, is in the timing of events on day 6.
Remember what’s happened so far on this day. First, God created all the different kinds of land animals. After that, He formed the first man out of the dust and breathed His own nature into him. And then, He planted a garden. Now that we can see the order of things, we can infer that Adam was standing right there as God started the process of seedtime and harvest.
Here was God demonstrating to Adam the most powerful law in the earth - the law of sowing and reaping. This principle is found throughout the scripture! It is impartial and unchangeable. But what’s more, this natural law is an illustration for a more powerful spiritual law!
The law of sowing and reaping is the reason that Abraham was blessed with descendants as numerous as the stars - because he gave up his natural family when he and Sarah left them behind. This law is the reason Abraham’s descendants still have possession of the promise land today - because he let go of his own homeland.
This law is the reason that millions are still faithful to King David, considering him to be the best king Israel has ever had - because he sowed faithfulness into King Saul.
This law is the reason Israel was punished in Babylon - because they sowed the seeds of rebellion.
This law is what opened the way for Jesus to come and die for us - because Abraham was willing to offer his own son, Isaac. And this law is the very reason for the believer’s new nature - because Jesus sowed His life to replicate it in ours!
And this process all started when God stood beside Adam and planted a garden!
It is interesting to notice that God would not break His own law, once it was in place. God created every plant with “its seed in itself” - each of them designed to reproduce after itself. So when God was ready to plant the Garden, He didn’t violate this process by creating anything new. Instead, He operated within His own law by taking seeds from the plants that He had already created and planting them. This is how important seedtime and harvest is in God’s eyes!

Where Was (Is) It?

There has been a lot of discussion and controversy over the location of the Garden of Eden. It’s been the object of countless searches throughout history. This is primarily because many believe that the Tree of Life is still there,  and so finding the garden would be the key to immortality.  Many people - even well-versed Christians - believe that the garden must still exist somewhere in the Middle East, because we still have rivers named Hiddekel (that is the Tigris) and Euphrates. It is sad to think that the second chapter of God’s Word has become nothing more than a treasure map for many believers!
To their credit, most Christians who believe that the Garden still exists somewhere haven’t wasted their time searching for it or supporting those who are. Most Christians believe that the Garden is still in the Middle East somewhere, but that we could never find it. They take Genesis 3:24 (“So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”) to explain why something like the Garden of Eden could exist in the most well-known area of the globe without being discovered. They claim that the cherubim are still there, guarding the way into the Garden.
Personally, I don’t believe that the Garden of Eden still exists on earth.You see, seekers of the Garden forget one important detail: The entire world was destroyed by Noah’s flood! Everything, including the Garden of Eden, was wiped out and buried by the flood waters. Not only does the Garden not exist today - but there is no Biblical way for us to know where it was!
At this point, some people would be quick to point out that the Hiddekel (or Tigris) and Euphrates rivers mentioned in Genesis 2 still exist in the Middle East. From what verses 10-14, you can see that the Garden was located at the place where the Tigris, Euphrates and two other rivers meet. So if you could find the place where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet, you’ll find the Garden of Eden, right?
Not exactly. A simple look at a map of the Middle East will show you a problem with this idea - the two rivers never meet! The only time they ever come within 20 miles of each other is near Baghdad, Iraq. At their sources - where they should meet, according to Genesis 2 - The Tigris and Euphrates are nearly 50 miles apart! And don’t forget, there are two other rivers that are mentioned in this passage that don’t even exist in our current world!
Does this mean that the Bible is giving us faulty geography? Not at all! Remember, the whole face of the earth was ripped up and destroyed by water during Noah’s day! We wouldn’t expect to see anything left of the pre-flood world - including these four rivers!
Someone may ask,”then why do the Tigris and Euphrates still exist?” I would suggest that they aren’t the same rivers as what flowed through the Garden. As Noah and his family entered the post-flood world, they would have carried the old names of the pre-flood landmarks with them. I believe that the Tigris and Euphrates in the Middle East were named after the original rivers that flowed out of Eden, but that’s where the relation stops!
We see the same thing in America – New England, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire – All of these places were named after locations in the Old World. The old names were brought to the New World by European explorers. This undoubtedly happened as Noah and his family began to explore the new and strange world after the flood.
So does the Bible say where the Garden was? I’m not so sure. Genesis 2:8 does say, “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden…” That’s it. That’s all the information we have about where this Garden was. In this flood-scarred world, it’s impossible to know where the land of Eden was...and really, it doesn’t matter! All we need to know was that it was in the land of Eden!
It’s possible though, that this phrase may not be referring to a geographic location at all!
In Hebrew, the word that we read as “eastward” is qedem. It’s the adverb that describes God planting this Garden. It’s true that qedem can mean “eastward” - as in “going east” or “doing something in the east”. But qedem can also mean “of old” or “anciently” - as in something that was done in ancient times. It is very possible that this is the meaning of qedem in Genesis 2:8 - after all, you would be hard-pressed to find an event more ancient than this!
The word Eden itself may not even be a location. It’s the Hebrew word for pleasure! So what has traditionally been translated as “planted a garden eastward in Eden”, may actually be saying, “In an ancient time, the Lord God planted a garden of pleasure.” That’s a little different meaning, isn’t it?
Now though, Eden has come to refer to the Garden of Eden - an actual place. This was the case in Ezekiel 28, 31, and 36 - all of which are referring to the actual Garden. In fact, every time there is a place called Eden in the Bible, it’s the Garden in Genesis. Other than this, there is no “land of Eden” ever mentioned.

What about the Tree of Life?

If the Garden was destroyed by the water of Noah’s flood, what happened to the tree of life? Was it destroyed too, buried in some unknown rock layer? Actually, no. The Bible tells us where it is. Believe it or not, the Tree of Life is not on earth anymore. After Genesis 3, we don’t see it again until the book of Revelation.
Revelation 2:7 shows us where the tree is now - He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” That’s as clear as could be! The tree of life isn’t somewhere on earth - it’s in Heaven!
One day though, the tree will be brought down to the new earth with the New Jerusalem. That’s what Revelation 22:2 tells us,  “In the middle of its [the New Jerusalem’s] street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.” Apparently, there is more than one now! This makes’s had 6,000 years to reproduce!

A Mountaintop Meeting Place

Eden was on a mountain - this is certain. First of all, we can see four rivers flowing out of Eden, but none coming in. Since water flows downhill, Eden was most certainly elevated. Even today, all of our rivers originate in the mountain ranges around the world. Where else could you have a river flowing out, but none flowing in?
But the strongest case for a mountain-top garden is found in Ezekiel 28:13-14. In this passage, we see Lucifer (Satan, before he fell) was “in Eden, the Garden of God . . . the Holy Mountain of God.” So Eden wasn’t just any was the Holy Mountain.
Eden was so much more than just a Garden as we know them today. Certainly, it would’ve been the site of some beautiful greenery and amazing sights. But there was more to this place than simply having some natural beauty. This was the place that God chose to meet with his favorite creation!
This statement may rub some religious hair the wrong way: But I challenge you to try and find out where the scriptures say that Adam and Eve lived in the Garden! You won’t find it! Certainly, they had responsibilities in the garden. Certainly they spent a considerable amount of time there. But nowhere does the Scripture say that this was their home! In fact, the language and wording of Genesis 2:15 hint at the idea that they only visited the Garden!
Genesis 2:15 “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” The Hebrew word for the phrase “and put him” is yanach. This word is a verb that means “to rest.” It doesn’t implicitly carry the idea of permanence. It simply means “to give rest to, to cause to rest, or to make quiet.” This is what God did with the man He had just made - He gave him rest in the Garden. Connect this to verses two and three of the same chapter, where God instituted the seventh day as a day of rest. Now you’re starting to see a whole new picture, aren’t you?
As long as we’re challenging sacred dogma, here’s another challenge: Try finding where the Bible says that the serpent was in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when he was talking to Eve. You won’t see it anywhere in Genesis chapter three. In fact, if you look at the way that the serpent and Eve are both referring to the “all of the trees in the Garden”, you can see that this conversation probably took place outside of Eden!
We have been so tied into a certain story, that we haven’t been able to see anything else going on in Genesis chapters two and three. We’ve assumed that Adam and Eve lived in this natural paradise called Eden, and that God would come to their garden home from time to time to visit with them. We’ve seen Eve having a conversation with a snake that’s hanging out in the Tree of Knowledge. And we’ve seen them kicked out of their garden home when they sinned. But what if this wasn’t what happened?
We know that God has always had a meeting place with His people. With Jacob it was Bethel. With the Israelites, it was the Tabernacle. After the Tabernacle, it was the Tabernacle of David. After the Tabernacle of David, it was the Temple. And when His people were in exile, they still prayed facing the place where they used to meet with God
Even in the New Testament, we see that God has houses where He meets with His gathered people - just look at 1 Timothy 3:14-15. “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Even in the future, God will never abandon this concept of a meeting place. In the Millennial Reign of Jesus, the nations will be coming to Jerusalem once a year to meet with God. In the New Earth, the nations will be flowing into and out of the New Jerusalem, worshipping and bringing offerings.
God always had - and always will have - a place to come and meet with His people. I believe that this is what happened in the Garden of Eden. God, in all His glory and majesty, stepped out of Heaven into the Garden to meet with Adam and Eve. At the same time, Adam and Eve left the place where they lived to meet with Him in the Garden!
We’ll see this in much more detail in a later chapter, but I hope you’re seeing this Garden as more than a natural beauty! This was the place where Heaven met Earth! It has even been suggested that the river that flowed through the Garden was water flowing down from Heaven itself! The water that formed four rivers may have been coming out the the throne of God - as described in Revelation 22:1 - “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
Absolutely amazing! The Garden of Eden - mankind’s first meeting place with God!