Some Cake for Your Journey

We all have experienced moments we wished wouldn’t end. They may have been intimate scenes or silly, fun ones.

For instance, I recall an exquisite piece of carrot cake that nearly raptured me. And the time I stepped into a pâtisserie famished from trekking and getting my first taste of flan. I could have eaten a pan of it. Continue reading

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Old Testament Salvation

CC BY-SA, James Tissot, Wikimedia Commons

“Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem” by James Tissot, The Jewish Museum, New York (Domain) 

“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24)

A major purpose of the Law of Moses was to expose sin (Rom. 3:20). The law itself, however, was not evil or bad for this reason or because it resulted in condemnation and death. Rather, Paul calls it “holy” and “good” (Rom. 7:12-13) because it accomplished God’s purpose in the plan of salvation until it was completed in Christ.

An instructive, long-term secondary purpose of the law was to prepare people’s hearts for righteousness by training them in God’s requirements.

The Faith of Old Testament Believers

I find it important to stop and consider the piety of those who lived under the Law of Moses. Christians perceive Old Testament worshipers as possessing an inferior devotion than theirs because they knew nothing of Jesus. Or, we presume they didn’t understand righteousness by faith, which couldn’t be true since the cornerstone of Judaism is Abraham’s righteousness by his faith in the promise God made to him (Gen. 17) that, subsequently, has become all our faith.

Not knowing Christ or the full revelation of salvation does not dismiss their piety or render it disingenuous. These people lived by faith in God’s promise their whole lives, although they never realized it (Heb. 11:13). Yet God mercifully provided them his law by which they could discern his holiness and their own sinfulness until grace should appear in Christ (Gal. 3:15-22).

The law was a precursor to salvation—a mere bicycle for those God was preparing for motocross one day. And although one could never be justified by the law (Gal. 5:4), it was very valuable for instructing the Israelites about God’s moral character (e.g., the Decalogue).

The Promise Remains

Nevertheless, Paul says, “The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise” (Gal. 3:17). Jehovah was strongly central to Hebrew practice and his promise to Abraham was its foundation. The people’s worship and faith were never inhibited but encouraged. This is unavoidable in the Prophets.

Jesus dispels the later Pharisaical notion that God required his Chosen to meticulously subscribe to the 613 statues. How symbolic that is: God sits high in his Heaven and we must climb the rungs to reach him. Yet when we miss one or snap one off, or just tire, we plummet to our deaths. So in breaking one rule, we indeed break them all (James 2:10).   

Instead, Christ’s work achieves propitiation and righteousness for all believers, past and present, because it is based on God’s promise, not rules; it is confirmed by faith, not merit. Real devotion…genuine salvation is just that: receiving the promise by faith.

God accepted the worship of Old Testament devotees who served from their hearts in the spirit of the law. Our way of salvation and their way of salvation are the same: by grace through faith.

This Faith is Not for Wimps

CC BY, Stephen A. Wolfe, Flickr

CC BY, Stephen A. Wolfe, Flickr

I consider myself a city boy provided that you understand “city” in my history is originally Nowhereville, USA. So it’s a choice kinda thing. I enjoy studying cities and I like city life and have been privileged to visit some pretty big ones—the biggest, in fact, which is a true marvel.

Yet I feel more at home in the outdoors. I love nature. Words like rustic, sylvan, and bucolic stir me in ways the words modern, skyscraper, and metro never do.

Being sent outdoors as a kid was not a punishment. Later I would work and participate at several camps and a few jobs that were pretty hands-on. I’ve always admired the manual life, although I am regrettably not the son bitten by that bug. (My mom is a seamstress, so I could’ve been a tailor by now.) I’ve said 101 times that the person who can work with his or her hands will survive much easier should the world go belly-up tomorrow.

Compete to Win

As I’ve grown older, I’ve increasingly desired the physical, outdoorsy life. I envy those who grew up on farms, ranchers, and just the skilled laborer. I’m sure they have much to share to slap me back into my reality, still…

The physical, labor-intensive life is to me a fitting metaphor for the character of the spiritual life. Our faith certainly creates a refined product, but the nature of the tool is duly rugged.

I discover this truth all through Scripture: in the agonized prayer of Hannah crying out to God for a son; in the Psalms’ tightly framed shots of human emotional investment made in worship; in the implications of scripture, like grief as a spiritual act of sowing.

I notice it in Jesus’s bold yet nimble teachings to go the extra mile and love the vilest; to “have faith” in an ardent way; to know that if the kingdom will be had, it will be found; to remember that the way up is down; and to make sure we count the high cost of serving him.

Do you see it? Do you notice how tough and gritty, coarse and earthy this life of faith is? Every Christian will surely taste his own sweat and feel the grain in his mouth.

Works in Progress

Tools for cutting and refinement are necessarily sturdy. Wood isn’t going to carve wood, is it? Clay won’t shape clay. They need a sharper and more durable tool to give them form.

The faith God has given us is definitely durable and sharp enough—in his hands and in our spiritual practice—to whittle away at our knarls, imperfections, and stony hearts until we become works of beauty, transformed by his grace. It turns Jacobs into Israels and makes Peters out of Simons.

BUT… “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). This isn’t for cowards. It takes dexterity and resolve to apprentice this carpenter.

Surefooted Faith

CC BY-NC, Mitch, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Mitch, Flickr

I grew up in the very last days of kids playing outdoors—remember that? My brother and I had terrific fun. We were rambunctious boys. We played throughout the neighborhood, up and down the street, in the front and back yards, and even on top of the house when we could get away with it. Every day we looked forward to getting out of school and playing.

We loved hanging out in a large maple tree in our backyard. We climbed that tree and out on its limbs with the ease of climbing into bed. It amazes me that we were so undaunted and never broke a bone. My grandmother’s home provided just as much fun. Her house sat right beside a shallow creek that ran beneath and perpendicular to her street through a large, dark tunnel.

Since the street was about 20 feet above the creek bed, the steep hillside and grassy adjacent lot added to our fun. Of course, that was never enough for us. We would also play on the incline directly above the tunnel, a fall from which would have landed us on the concrete streambed ten feet below. We were lucky that never happened.

The Trusting Heart of a Child

I’m sure you have similar stories. When I reflect on those times, I think about how risk-taking and trusting of ourselves we were, caution always thrown to the wind, never banking on a mishap, but always certain of the fun.

Our spiritual journey should be similar.

Jesus exhorts us to be like children at heart, although he usually refers to their humility and teachability. But a trusting and adventuresome childlike nature fittingly describes the way we should trust God, too—like a kid bounding through trees and swinging from the vines!

Say, did you unreservedly trust your parents as a child? Even if they sometimes forgot their promise or extenuating circumstances prevented it, you probably considered their word as good as done. Or maybe it was your big brother or sister’s promise that a bully would never harm you. The taunting suddenly became less fearsome.

Take God at His Word

In the army of the Lord, we march now with Christ’s victory spreading it wherever we go. But that present reality is something we will know and experience only by taking God at his word. Otherwise, we’ll live wishing to…play in the trees but too fearful of falling, killing our own joy. Yet his promises abide.

Take God at his word. Trusting him is an adventure.

I’ll end with a funny family story. Years ago we were together at our family home lounging and talking when someone heard the commode running. I asked my little niece to go and shake the toilet. We resumed chatting but then, after some minutes, wondered where she was. I found her down on her knees hugging the toilet bowl. She looked up so innocently and said, “It won’t shake.”

I get a kick out that every time! May we all like children possess trusting hearts and never second-guess God or the journey where he has us, for hesitation causes error. Instead, let us rest in the assurance that despite hard times along the way, this is far more an enjoyable adventure.

New Strength is Coming!

CC BY-NC, theothernate, Flickr

CC BY-NC, theothernate, Flickr

Isaiah begins his 40th chapter with prophetic words of comfort detailing the deliverance of God’s people from impending captivity. “The Sovereign Lord is coming in power,” he says; then he transitions into a marvelous exposition on God’s omnipotence.

Starting with nature, he compares the greatness of God and the weakness of humans—“Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?” (v. 12, NLT). “Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?” (v. 14).

The nations are nothing to God, for he can lift the earth like a grain of sand. His worth is incalculable: “All the wood in Lebanon’s forests and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough to make a burnt offering worthy of our God” (v. 16).

Idols are laughable and only speak to the foolishness of human hearts—“at least choose wood that won’t decay and a skilled craftsman to carve an image that won’t fall down!” (v. 20).

For the Lord sits atop the earth as upon a throne, the King of every king.

A Sobering Indictment

After this illustrious oration, Isaiah directs a pointed question to God’s people: “O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?”

It is the prophet bringing correction: “You’ve stood in awe of this boundless God, but you have not understood him.”

Do we not act the same way when our cares have us submitted and down for the count? We feel the Lord doesn’t see. In our dark moments we miss God’s intentions with our trials and sometimes forget that he is for us. But he never forgets us.

Strength to Run

What comes next is truly grand:

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (vs. 28-40, NKJV).

Isn’t this moving?

We get excited about the “they that wait” part. But the really exciting truth is why those who wait renew their strength—ever stop to consider that? Is it merely because they…wait? We find it at the start of the passage: “Did you not hear or know that the Lord doesn’t faint or get weary?” When I finally saw this—WHAM!

Our strength can be renewed because his strength never fails.

I realized how I could wait on God through trials completely confident of his onrushing aid.

The visual is easy: if you and a friend are holding candles and yours goes out, you will relight your candle with the one that still burns. Well God’s fire never goes out! There’s no good or logical comparison for God—match-to-Sun?—but you get the picture.

Perhaps you’re waiting on God right now with every ounce of your strength. You’re fainting or have fallen to a knee; your flame has gone out. I want to assure you that your renewed strength is guaranteed and imminent because the One you trust never loses his strength.

Put another way—God’s coming to light your fire!

More on this topic: God of the Process and God, You’re Killing Me!

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

CC BY-NC, sofi01, Flickr

CC BY-NC, sofi01, Flickr

What endears most of us to Mary is her acceptance of the will of God—“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Hers really is a hallmark example of faith in God’s promise.

What’s peculiar to me, however, is how the scripture seems to commend Mary and her faith. If you’ll recall, after Gabriel leaves her, she packs up and makes haste to see Elizabeth, whose husband, Zechariah, Gabriel had already visited. Elizabeth herself was now six-months pregnant. After hearing Mary’s news, she exclaims, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (v. 45). Now that’s good.

I Believe!

I love the implications. Elizabeth’s words have some real meaning in them. The odd thing about her life at this moment is that back home Zechariah communicates with her by writing. Did you forget that? Gabriel had struck him mute for disbelieving the promise of God.

Should I ever encounter the angel of God, he’ll have no trouble with me believing!

I wonder how many times Zechariah repented for his disbelief; did Elizabeth ever ridicule him—the priest—for being audacious…with an angel, after all! “Hon, let me get this right: you were scared silly by this messenger, and then you doubted him!” “(Scribble)” Fiction doesn’t get any better than this.

Now can you see why Elizabeth’s words are interesting? And what about Mary? She is newly pregnant and spends the first three months of her pregnancy in Judea with Elizabeth until her ninth. Did Mary leave Nazareth to avoid questions and her community’s disdain? Did God’s holy child become a burden for her to bear once she returned and everyone could infer a possible reason for her absence?

The Light of Promise

One of my favorite preachers, the late Southern Baptist pastor Adrian Rogers, had a good saying he often used: “Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” Now an angel radiating the glory of God is certainly enough reason to trust and never doubt again, for most of us at least. But circumstance has a way of making us second-guess our faith.

We all know what it’s like to receive the promise of God and, in that moment, feel like we can trust him for anything. Standing in the light of promise gives us a seeming invincibility to doubt, for the promise is as good as possessed. Then, the clouds close and shut out the light. We never knew that daytime could literally turn black as night.

I don’t imagine Mary’s pregnancy and the next few years of her life being the easiest. We cannot know. Sadly, I’m a little more persuaded they were difficult because the devoutest folk can be mean or dispiriting and given to chatter. And how do you convince someone that your child is the long-awaited Messiah? That YHWH is his father, not Joseph, your unwed husband. Maybe strange occurrences swayed a few, but carrying Jesus probably cost Mary some grief.

I firmly believe “Be it unto me” remained her attitude toward God, but it couldn’t have been easy. And before you doubt me on this, going to the cross wasn’t easy for Jesus, although he too was resigned to the will of God.

But Paul calls him the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4); and I’m sure he allowed the clouds to part from time-to-time to let Mary know…to reassure us that his promise abides. We must know that the darkness is not to be feared and trust that the clouds, although stormy and destructive at times, won’t kill us and cannot possibly extinguish the light of promise.

The Diagnosis

Paul writes, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead…yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (1 Cor. 4:18-21; cf. v. 17).

I look at this verse and see an X-ray of Zechariah and Mary’s conditions. Zechariah doubts God by limiting him to the impotence of his body; but Mary trusts God by telling him, “You have the power to give life where there is none.”

We serve a God whose promises for us are enduring. He wants you and me to simply accept them as true and trust him. You may be in a dark period now hoping for the clouds to part for once; know that the promise still shines. Despite the pain, you will possess everything God has promised you.

“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Mel Wild

CC BY-NC, alkimista85, Flickr

CC BY-NC, alkimista85, Flickr

This post is the fifth and final one in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Mel Wild, writer of In My Father’s House, reflects on the following quote by American pastor A.W. Tozer.

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”

A.W. Tozer is hitting on something profound here: What should faith really look like in our lives? What determines our thankfulness to God? The implication is we generally prefer to live by a substandard faith—according to what we can see, hear, touch, taste, or feel in our current experience—and praise God only for realized blessings.

But if our faith is what is already realized tangibly, is it really faith anymore?

True faith simply believes what God says about things, even when it seems untrue or contradicts our current experience. It’s not a blind faith either; instead, it’s aligning our thoughts with the concrete reality of what God believes. This requires trust in the One who is doing the promising.

God seems to think that all of his promises to us are “yes” and “amen” (2 Cor. 1:20), whether we’ve realized these blessings or not.

The Eyes of Faith

Purer faith is seeing things through heaven’s eyes rather than from the ground view of our circumstances. This is why Paul is always reminding us to set our minds on “things above” where our real selves reside—with Christ seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1-3). True praise that really pleases God is based in this kind of faith (Heb.11:6); in fact, there really is no other kind.

We tend to default to our earthbound thinking, which is subject to all kinds of not-so-good things. In our spiritual ignorance, we erroneously call that the real world. But if we’re going to let the tail wag the dog on faith, so to speak, putting our experience before believing God’s promises, then we will never live a consistently thankful life, let alone a faith-filled one. It will be a life driven by circumstantial winds and waves, possibly ending up shipwrecked on the rocks of what we have interpreted to be unfortunate happenstance.

Receiving God’s Promises

Here are some points that will help us stay in faith for those unrealized promises.

  • First, consider that believing always precedes receiving. New territory in the Spirit must be accessed by faith. There is no other way to grow into areas we currently have no grid for. The forward motion our life needs is propelled by our faith.
  • Second, remember that whatever we focus on gets bigger. We all focus on something, good or bad. So where is your focus this thanks-giving season? Are you focusing on God’s goodness or your experience?
  • Third, God’s timing is oftentimes not our timing. So always remember that “he who has begun a good work in you is faithful to complete it” (Ph. 1:6).
  • Fourth, ask yourself if your unmet expectations are God’s expectations. Realign your thoughts with his thoughts and lay all your burdens on him. Feel his smile and open your heart to the warm embrace of the Father’s heart.
  • Finally, remember that a thankful heart is a joyful heart at rest in God, content wherever it may find itself (Ph. 4:11). It’s always time to praise God for his goodness. Don’t let the enemy dis-appoint you from your fruit-bearing destiny as a co-heir with Christ. Look up! You are seated with him far above all the things that weigh you down. You’re an eagle, not a turkey!

Let’s determine this Thanksgiving season that we’re going to believe God and cultivate a lifestyle of faith with gratitude for all that God has done and is going to do, even if he decides to do it in a way we don’t expect. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Read more by Mel on his blog In My Father’s House.

My Mind Stayed on You

CC BY-NC-ND, Martin Gommel, Foter

CC BY-NC-ND, Martin Gommel, Foter

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” (Lam. 3:21-22)

One of my favorite websites is YouTube. I love that I can have an array of clips and video, movies and documentaries, or my favorite TV commercials at my fingertips, not to mention all the other quackish, non-essential stuff that can be eye-opening.

Oh yeah, it’s free, too.

I’m still a young guy but not so young that I don’t remember TV in black-n-white with just a few channels and it being a rap when the national anthem played after the late evening news. So secondary viewing by computer is pretty neat to me.

Sometimes I wish I had the facility of displaying my dreams on a player format like YouTube. We shouldn’t think it too strange these days since science is already producing mind-controlled devices; how much more would it take to display our thoughts? I have the wildest and most fantastical dreams sometimes, the kind so exciting that I get peeved if I should wake too soon!

When I start thinking this way, I begin wondering if in Heaven God will give us the opportunity to view certain parts of salvation history; and more than having my dreams on display, I think it would be a most awesome thing if we could see God’s agency for us individually. I’m talking about the drama of angels and demons, God’s meticulous planning for us, how our prayers worked, miracles we never knew of…the whole shebang. Now that would be something worth every second beholding!

Calling It to Mind

Right now, however, we have to be satisfied with our human minds for recalling the Lord’s faithfulness, which makes deliberate recollection an act of our will. We must remind ourselves not simply that God is good, but also that he has already been good to us in countless direct ways.

The Bible, in so many places, especially the Old Testament, commands us to remember the Lord’s goodness: “Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth” (1 Chron. 16:12). Peter understood the importance of recall, electing to continue reminding his hearers about the truth of scripture, although he was assured that they already understood it (2 Peter 1:12-12). It’s worth noting how remembering God’s faithfulness benefits us.

  • It reminds us of God’s ability. It’s what is meant when we speak of God being magnified—let him be greater than anything concerning us. Our perspective will change when we understand that all Heaven is backing us.
  • It causes us to understand God’s affection for us. He is for us, never against us. Whenever there is a question in my mind on this point, I ask myself aloud, “Can God do it? (Yes.) Will God do it? (Probably.) Will he do it for you? (I believe so.)” God desires our maturity and success.
  • It builds our faith. Who can reflect on God’s past dealing in their life and not feel that their next battle is good-as-won? It was this that prompted David to write, “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (Ps. 18:29). It won’t make the waiting any easier, but it will retard depressive vices and place God above one’s feelings.

A Way of Life

Recollection is easily enjoined with many of the spiritual habits—solitude, meditation, journaling, fellowship, contemplation, centering. Also, if there is a certain atmosphere that bridges you to God, like a cathedral or beach, by all means go there. Nature lifts my soul to God, so prayer at my favorite park works well for me. Some people may discover this habit easier done in the fellowship of Christian friends; others might find the quiet of the early morning best while lying in bed.

The Lord has done marvelous things for you. It may not look that way in areas of your life right now. But instead of escaping in your mind to bygone days when things were good, retreat to those times when you knew beyond all doubt that the Lord acted on your behalf. Consider those victories that astonished you and all who knew your story. Your heart will quickly brighten again. 

Read More: God’s Proven Track Record