He was found

They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul. All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. They took an oath to the Lord with loud acclamation, with shouting and with trumpets and horns. All Juda rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.

2 Chronicles 15:12-15 (NIV)

I am amazed at the intensity with which Judah swore their oath to seek God. We’re not used to such excitement when it comes to commitment. Most people are consider themselves committed if they’re only five minutes late for church instead of fifteen and then are upset if someone happens to mention their perpetual tardiness. Be glad you weren’t in Judah at the time this covenant was made. You’d have been put to death.

A little much, you think? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. While the penalty for not taking the oath was great, the reward for taking it was even greater. And he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.

We have a bad habit of looking at our faith as deeply personal. It is, don’t get me wrong, but it is not just for us as individuals. Our faith and our commitment to the the Lord is also for the entire body and the entire body is to reach a lost and dying world. When Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, it was for you and it was for me. But it was also for the church—his bride. His death was meant to bind us all together like Judah’s covenant united them.

While death may not be a bit of an extreme punishment for a lack of commitment these days, we have somehow lost our connection to each other and forgotten the great importance of community and sharing a common covenant. We can all take an oath as individuals and experience a certain amount of peace, but look at the effects Judah’s nationwide oath had on the people—rest on every side. And that rest lasted as long as they kept the oath.

If the church—not just a church, but The Church—would stand up and make a serious covenant not only to seek God with all their heart and soul, but to keep each other accountable to it, imagine the effect it would have on our nation. If God is not found where we are, maybe we’re not seeking Him as eagerly as we thought. But if we would all join together as Judah did in that time of rejoicing over a renewed covenant, perhaps we’d find God along with our rest.

Read: 2 Chronicles 13-16, John 14

Sovereign

SOVEREIGN: Supreme in power; possessing supreme dominion.

I doubt many of us have anyone in our lives we’d consider to be supreme in power or possessing supreme dominion. And most of us would probably like to keep it that way. But one man, a very long time ago, recognised someone as supreme—sovereign.

What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord.

2 Samuel 7:20 (NIV)

This wasn’t the only time David referred to God as Sovereign Lord, either. Seven times in this passage, David repeats the moniker.

Maybe you’re a believer in the meaning behind numbers in the Bible, maybe you’re not. But no matter how you put it, saying something seven times over the span of eleven verses seems rather significant, and maybe more so because of the importance of the number seven.

Seven, you see, is the number of completion or spiritual perfection. We see it first in Genesis. On the seventh day, God rested because creation was complete. In the account of David, God has just announced to the king though the prophet, Nathan, that David’s kingdom will endure forever. God has made an everlasting covenant, a covenant that will never be broken. That’s some pretty weighty news for a man who was anointed king as a shepherd boy in the field.

David responds by referring to God as Sovereign Lord, acknowledging God’s supreme dominion over him. For many men, news that their lineage would last forever could have gone straight to their heads. But not David.

Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you.

2 Samuel 7:25b-26 (NIV)

Hundreds of years before Jesus arrived on the earth, God’s covenant with man was made and acknowledged to be complete by the man with whom the covenant was made. David couldn’t have known that his lineage wouldn’t sit on an earthly throne forever. Nor could he have known that God Himself would plant a seed in one of his descendants. A seed that would grow up to be known as the Son of David.

God, though, being sovereign, knew exactly what He was doing when He made such a great promise to David. He set in motion an extravagant plan to save mankind from their sinfulness. Unlike David, God knew that the man with whom He made a covenant would stumble and fall. So would his son who succeeded him on the throne. And so would countless others in the long line of King David.

Yet it wasn’t so much the obedience that God was looking for—He knew the standards He set before men were impossible to keep, but He was looking for willing humility.

For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with salvation.

Psalm 149:4 (NIV)

David’s humility earned him a crown which led to salvation for all. Like David, we can never know the far reaching effects of our willingness to set ourselves aside and acknowledge God as Sovereign Lord, supreme in power. The best that we can do is humble ourselves before the Lord, accept what He has so freely given to us, and continue to chase after his heart like David did.

Read: 2 Samuel 7-9, Luke 19:1-28

Do you believe?

I have a special corner of my house that I use almost exclusively for reading my Bible. There’s a comfy couch, pillows, and a blanket from Mexico. Surrounding said couch is books. Lots of books: Bibles in at least five translations and two languages, dictionaries, concordances, sermon references, and commentaries. I love reading through other’s thoughts on what I’ve read. Sometimes theses books confirm my own ideas. Sometimes they open up a new way of thinking. And sometimes, like today, they are downright disappointing and even disturbing.

I read this today in a popular commentary:

The signs authenticated the faith the early believers proclaimed, not the personal faith that any one of them exercised. In light of this and historical evidence it is reasonable to conclude that these authenticating signs were normative only for the apostolic era.

To what signs is the writer referring?

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:15-18 (NIV)

Nothing in Jesus’ commission to his disciples indicates that signs would only follow for a few decades. There is no time frame or limit in this passage. Jesus simply stated that signs will follow believers. Period.

So what happened? Why do we Westerners see so few signs, wonders, and miracles? Ask yourself this question:

Do you believe?

If a well-respected commentary can state that miracles were only for the early apostolic period, imagine what is being taught in our churches all over the world.

Allow me to break this down logically.

Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news. What good news was that? That Jesus had come to save them, to offer a new covenant through his blood rather than the blood of a sacrificial animal. This new covenant would bring eternal life to the spirit of any who accepted it.

Jesus told the disciples to baptize the new believers. Why? Baptism is an outward confirmation of an inward decision. You don’t need to be baptized to be saved, but it is a physical affirmation of a spiritual awakening.

Jesus told the disciples that miraculous signs would follow them.

Observe what power the apostles should be endued with, for confirming the doctrine they were to preach. These were miracles to confirm the truth of the gospel, and means of spreading the gospel among the nations that had not heard it.

Matthew Henry

Here’s my question: If signs and wonders aren’t for today, how is our message supposed to be confirmed? Why did Jesus go around healing people and teaching his disciples how to do the same if he didn’t mean for that practice to carry on? If miracles weren’t needed, why did Jesus bother at all? If the message is supposed to be enough, why is our message getting lost?

I believe in miracles. I have seen them firsthand. I have seen broken bones mend. I have seen stunted limbs grow. I have seen life when there should have been death. And I have seen people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of those things. Miracles aren’t a sign for believers. They are a benefit to us because we believe, but they are a sign to the unbeliever that there is power in the blood that washes away our sins.

At the risk of reducing the Word to a new low, let me put it simply. You’re watching television late at night and a loud Australian appears on the screen with an incredible new product. He spends ten minutes yelling at you, touting the near-miraculous qualities of the product he’s trying to sell. You stay tuned because you’re moderately interested and oddly enthralled. Then he puts the product to use. You’re sold. You dial the 1-800 number before the five minutes runs out and, for just the added shipping and handling, you will receive a second item for free! It wasn’t his words that sold you, it was the product in action.

The Word of God draws people in. And for some, that’s all they need. But others need that extra confirmation. They need to see the product in action. They need to see what it can actually do. And if the world can’t see our “product” actually do anything, what are we really trying to sell?

God didn’t fill His Word with the miraculous only to stop once Jesus left the stage. His Word is filled with wonders because He is a God of wonders. We do Him (and ourselves) a great disservice by setting the miraculous aside when it was a miracle that brought us where we are in the first place.

So I will ask again, do you believe?

Read: Deuteronomy 29-30, Mark 16

In and out

I’m scheduled to leave for a short missionary trip to Mexico in just a few days. This morning I received a phone call from the mechanic (where I managed to push my car after it broke down in the middle of the road yesterday) saying I needed a new fuel pump. It’s not a cheap fix. Cheaper than needing a new car, but not cheap.

I then got to thinking. This isn’t the first time something really crappy has happened right before I’ve left for a missions trip:

  • Just days before I left on my first trip to Peru, my great-grandmother passed away, almost a year to the day since my grandfather passed away—my grandfather was supposed to accompany me on that trip.
  • Again, just days before leaving for Costa Rica, I broke a toe. It may seem insignificant, but is quite significant when you can’t put on proper shoes to walk through a squatter village.
  • Upon returning from another trip to Peru, I came home to learn that my employer had filled my position in my absence—an absence I had scheduled and made arrangements to be covered until my return.

In addition to these points, I’ve dealt many times with lost or delayed luggage, differences in opinion with leadership, and a plethora of other small issues that, when I think about it, really add up.

Does this mean I’m destined to deal with garbage every time I go on the mission field? Possibly. Does it discourage me? When I look at the bill for my car, maybe. Will all this stop me from future missionary work? No. Because I have a list of promises from the Bible—both in the Old and New Testaments—that say I can expect more.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord you God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessing will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

Deuteronomy 28:1-6 (NIV)

This is an Old Covenant blessing, but I don’t believe that the New Covenant completely voids it. I don’t believe that God withdraws His blessings, He adds to them.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Ephesians 1:3-6 (NIV)

My inheritance in Christ doesn’t included broken down cars, broken toes, or lost jobs. My inheritance includes every spiritual blessing in Christ. According to Ephesians 1:18-19 it also includes the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Just because we may deal with junk in life doesn’t mean that we can’t also expect good things from a good Father. In Deuteronomy, the blessings of the obedient Israelites were to serve as a sign to the nations that they belonged to God. In Ephesians, we were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Bad things happen. It is the nature of a fallen world. But it is our response in those situations that will either push us ahead or drag us down. I choose to believe that every attack I have encountered before a missions trip is yet another sign that I am on the right track. The enemy won’t waste his time on people who have no intention of accomplishing anything for the Kingdom. I choose to believe that God has a plan for me and that His plan is a good one.

I choose to believe that, even in the trial, I will be blessed when I come in and blessed when I go out.

Read: Deuteronomy 28, Mark 15:27-47

The second crow

Read: Deuteronomy 23-25, Mark 14:51-72

On one of my missionary trips to Peru, there was a young man who preferred to sleep past dawn. Most people prefer it, really. But it was not to be. We were on a boat on a tributary of the Amazon River on our way to a pastoral conference. At that conference, we would be providing much of the food, including the meat. The best way to keep meat fresh on the Amazon is to keep it alive until you’re ready to eat it. So there was a rooster on the boat. Every morning, just as the sun began to peek over the horizon, that rooster would let us all know what time it was. The day we had chicken for dinner, the aforementioned young man celebrated. We would no longer be wakened by said rooster.

When the conference ended and we had all boarded the boat to return to the city, one last crate needed to be loaded. A thank you gift. A rooster. Even once we were back in the city, we had nature’s alarm clock. A reminder of dawn.

Back in the Gospel of Mark, another rooster served as a reminder. By the time it had crowed twice, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Mark 14:72 (NIV)

Most people would hear this story and shake their heads at Peter’s betrayal. I look at it as a story of a new beginning.

Peter knew in the moment, that to associate himself with Jesus would likely put him in a similar position—imprisoned. So, in the presence of his enemies, Peter denied his teacher, his leader, his friend.

But it is in the presence of our enemies that God makes provision.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.

Psalm 23:5a (NIV)

Before Jesus had even been arrested, he knew exactly what Peter would do and say. He even told Peter so. Yet Jesus never cast Peter aside. He never scolded him or scorned him. He simply made the statement. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, yet offered him the bread and the cup of covenant anyway.

Jesus didn’t accept the cross for the righteous, but for those like Peter, who in the moment would either, in faith, step out of the boat on to the waves or, in fear, deny he ever knew Jesus. Jesus went to the cross for those of us who struggle with our faith, going from the mountaintop to the valley and everything in between.

I think that Peter’s denial of Jesus only strengthened his resolve to follow. Imagine how he felt when that second rooster crowed and he realised what he had done. When he remembered what Jesus had told him. I suspect that, once the heat of shame subsided, he was filled with wonder and gratitude at the magnitude of Jesus’ actions.

In both stories here, the second rooster was a gift. For Peter, had he never heard that second crow, he would have stood by his denial. But instead, it was a reminder of the grace Jesus had extended to him, to the table already prepared for him in the presence of his enemies. Again, Peter found grace in the midst of a storm.

Yea or nay

Read: Deuteronomy 17-19, Mark 14:1-25

I have a nephew starting tenth grade next year. He’s already had to select his courses for the fall. He has options. Lots of options. In a course guide of over seventy pages, he is already expected to know what he wants to do with the rest of his life so that he can choose the right classes that will properly set him on his life path. But choices are good. It means that he has opportunity. He can get ahead in life. He’s smart. He can take university level classes before he’s even out of high school, gain early admission, and apply for just about any scholarship he wants.

In secondary education, choices are great. Lots of options means nearly limitless career paths. Choices are also great when it comes to things like electronic devices, insurance, clothing, and a plethora of other things in life where we want something that suits us as individuals.

But this becomes an issue when we expect to have the same infinite choices in our faith.

While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.

Mark 14:22-24 (NIV)

Jesus made one offer. He held the cup before his disciples and gave them the choice to drink it or leave it.

The word [covenant] refers not to an agreement between to equals but rather to an arrangement established by one party, in this case God. The other party—man—cannot alter it; he can only accept it or reject it.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary

Like checking out the list of options stuck to the window of a new car, we want to look at Christianity and pick the path that ticks most or all of the boxes on our list. But there is no list. Just two boxes. Yea or nay. Take it or leave it.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6 (NIV)

Whereas my nephew struggled to choose which options he would take to set him on the right path, we have no such struggle. It is simply a matter of yes or no. Will we accept the cup Jesus has offered and walk the path to the Father with him? Or will we deny the cup and stray from the path altogether?

When God set Israel on the path to the Promised Land, He set before them life and death, blessings and curses. Then he told them to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). How simple is that? God offers us two choices and then he tells us which one to choose—the one that leads to life.

The Lord your God

Read: Deuteronomy 8-10, Marik 12:28-44

On the eve of Israel’s move to the Promised Land, Moses takes a few moments to set some reminders for his people.

But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

Deuteronomy 8:18 (NIV)

Israel had a terrible habit of forgetting about God and the covenant they had with Him. In the morning they’d be picking up manna and by the afternoon, they’d be complaining that God brought them out of Egypt only to kill them in the wilderness. Moses knew he’d been leading a stubborn group of people. They only existed because of his intercession on their behalf. After all the trouble he’d gone through, he wanted to be sure they got things right once he was gone.

Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

Deuteronomy 9:6 (NIV)

The Promised Land was not a reward for good behavior. If God were to reward His people according to what they deserved, He’d have to send them back to Egypt. But because of His covenant and Moses’ prayers, Israel would take possession of the land promised to their forefathers.

This possession was not without its trials. God had already let the people know that they would have to fight. And it would be a long fight. The land would only be cleared of its inhabitants as Israel was prepared to occupy it. God would fight for them, but they still had to go into battle. God would make them prosper, but they would still have to do the work.

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to you forefathers.

Deuteronomy 8:1 (NIV)

The promise to possess did not come without conditions. God wanted the obedience of Israel and He wanted their love.

When asked which was the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus replied:

Mark 12-30-31.jpg

I believe that we, too, need the reminder, like Israel did, that the Lord is our God. And, if the Lord is our God, we should love and obey Him. Twenty-four times, Moses used the words the Lord your God in Deuteronomy 8 through 10. It must have been important. Important enough for Jesus to used the very same words when speaking of the greatest commandment.

If Israel remembered the Lord their God, loved Him, and obeyed Him, all would go well for them. The very same goes for us.

And we know that in all thing God works for the good of those who love him. He appointed them to be saved in keeping with his purpose.

Romans 8:28 (NIV)