Three strikes

Three strikes and you’re out! Much to my mother’s dismay, I love baseball. I watch a lot of baseball. Because I love to watch baseball, my mother has learned to endure baseball. In my father’s absence, we had a very nearly intelligent conversation about it just the other day. She even knew what a DH was. While Mom doesn’t know nearly as many of the ins and outs of baseball as I do, she does know that three strikes means that the batter is out. Three outs and the inning is over.

One could argue that baseball is in the Bible. You know, in the big inning God created the heavens and the earth… (groan). There was one occasion, though where someone did reach the three strike count. But that didn’t mean he was out.

Jesus, while reclining at the table after sharing the Passover supper with his disciples, announced to Peter that before the rooster crowed, he would deny knowing Jesus three times. Peter was opposed to this idea. He was willing to go to prison or even to death for and with his Lord. Words are all fine and good, but that’s not how things ended up for Peter.

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:60-62 (NIV)

If life were a game of ball, Peter probably would have been out a long time before this, even if he weren’t, the third denial would have been the third strike. The umpire of life would holler from behind home plate, “You’re outta here!” But he wasn’t out. Peter had not been disqualified. In fact, Jesus made preparations for such a situation. He changed the rules.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Luke 22:32 (NIV)

Keep in mind that this is the same Peter who had cut the ear off one of the guards who had come to arrest Jesus. This is the same Peter who had the courage to step out of the boat, but began to sink into the waves. The same Peter who suggested they build shelters on the mountain of transfiguration for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. But this is also the same Peter who had the revelation of Jesus being the Son of God.

After his third strike, no one would have blamed Peter for walking away. Perhaps the other disciples would have even suggested it. But just as he remembered Jesus’ prediction of his denial, Peter would have remembered Jesus’ prayer for him as well. In that moment of decision, Peter could have turned his back on Jesus or, as was prayed, used that experience to strengthen himself. He chose the latter.

After Jesus had ascended into heaven, the believers sat waiting in the upper room for something. They weren’t sure what, but they were certain they’d know it when it came. Then came the wind and tongues of fire.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:4 (NIV)

So when the crowds heard all this noise and recognised their own native languages who went out to speak. John, the one whom Jesus loved? James? Levi, the tax collector? No, Peter, the one who had denied Jesus. And as he spoke to the crowd, maybe Jesus’ words echoed in his mind, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” That day, three thousand more souls were added to their numbers. What should have been Peter’s downfall became his starting point. He had tasted the bitterness of his own defeat, yet seen in Jesus the sweetness of victory.

Thank God that there is no umpire for life. There is no one behind us to tell us we’re out. The only way we are disqualified from the life we’ve been called to is if we step out of the batter’s box. God will never pull one of His children from the game. He is our Father, cheering us on from the sidelines. He is our coach, giving instructions from the dugout. He is the pitcher, throwing a perfect strike every time. There is no such thing as an out. We get to swing until we hit something. There is nothing we can do that will withdraw God’s call from our lives.

If Peter could stand in front of Jesus and deny ever knowing him, yet just days later, stand in front of thousands declaring him as Lord, we can go on knowing that God has our backs. And our fronts. And our sides. He has called us up to the plate, but a bat in our hands and He will never take it away.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Read: 1 Kings 1-2, Luke 22:54-71

Waiting room

Sometimes life, for all it’s hurry, seems like a long stint in a waiting room. When you’re a kid, you wait to grow up. When you grow up, you wait to find the right person to spend the rest of your life with. When you’ve found that person, you wait to start a family. And those are just the big things. We wait for bedtime. We wait for the alarm clock to ring. We wait to start work and we wait to finish work. We wait at lights and stop signs, checkouts and check-ins. And in all that waiting, what are we really doing?

Israel had waited a long time to obtain their promise. When God sent Moses to get them out of Egypt, it should have just been a few weeks at most before their arrival in the land of milk and honey. Instead, it was over forty years. And that was just to get across the river! There was a lot more waiting involved once they crossed over. By this time Joshua, a young man when he was first sent to scout out the land, was old. He’d seen a lot in his day. He’d led Israel into their promise and fought with them to take hold of it. And after all that waiting, Israel still waited.

So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?”

Joshua 18:3 (NIV)

Here Israel stood, in their promise. And they stood around waiting to take hold of it. They got exactly what God told them He would give them and still they waited.

This week, Major League Baseball begins a new season. My team is the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ve followed the team all through the off season and have watched as many spring training games as have been aired on television. I know that there were some pretty major trades since the fall. I know some players got healthy, while others will begin the season on the disabled list. I also know that, through the spring, the coaches and trainers have worked with all of the players to make sure that they’re in the best shape they can be, that they know their roles on the team, and know the plan for the team in the season ahead. They’re prepared.

Let’s say that opening day arrives and the Blue Jays take the field at Rogers Centre. Pitcher J. Happ takes the mound and the first Yankee in the lineup steps up to the plate. The Jays stand in the middle of the field as though they have no idea what’s going on.

Joshua must have felt like the manager of such a team. All that time, preparation, and waiting led them to where they were and then they waited while all that time, they could have been taking possession of a fruitful land!

I bet God feels that way with us sometimes. He’s given us everything we need to succeed. We have what we need to see His many promises come to pass. But most of us sit waiting for something to magically happen.

I understand that some people may be waiting for a word from the Lord regarding a specific situation, but that’s no excuse to put everything else on hold. The Bible is our rulebook, playbook, and instruction manual all in one. It has guidelines on how we should live, methods on how we can do it, and practical examples of how others were able to accomplish it.

We can add to all of the waiting we must already endure or we can take Jesus’ lead and go out and take hold of God’s promises for us. The Blue Jays are going to do everything they can to win the World Series this year. They’re not going to wait for it to come to them, because it won’t. It takes hard work, endurance, and determination. The same went for Israel as they took the Promised Land. And the same goes for us if we want to see God move on our behalf.

Read: Joshua 116-18, Luke 5:1-16

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)

 

Come alive

Read: Deuteronomy 5-7, Mark 12:1-27

Have you ever heard an unbeliever say, “Why should I believe in God? What has He ever done for me?” Well, first of all, if you’re questioning what He has or hasn’t done for you, the first question is moot because there must be a measure of belief in someone in order to question their motives. Second, aside from offering a plan of salvation that leads to eternal life, He hasn’t done anything for you. Why should He? He’s not your God.

Before you get all that’s heresy! on me, let me explain.

Mark 12-27.jpg

This was Jesus’ response to the Sadducees question regarding eternal life. It’s like someone who doesn’t believe in God asking why God hasn’t done anything for them. The Sadducees said there was no resurrection. No such thing as eternal life. Yet they put Jesus on the spot with a question about life after death.

So what then did Jesus mean when he said that His Father was the God of the living, not of the dead?

Then he said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3:6 (NIV)

The Bible Knowledge Commentary says this:

God implied that the patriarchs were still alive and that He had a continuing relationship with them as their covenant-keeping God, even though they had died long before… He is still the patriarchs’ God which would not be true had they ceased to exist at death, that is, if death ends it all. And His covenant faithfulness implicitly guarantees their bodily resurrection.

Jesus was not talking about physical death, but of spiritual death. No matter how good you think you may be, we are all born spiritually dead, and there is only one way to overcome that death—to be born again.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

John 3:5-6 (NIV)

I cannot make my point better than the character of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman:

‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking
Thinking that’s your only option
But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day
Sun is up and the color’s blinding
Take the world and redefine it
Leave behind your narrow mind
You’ll never be the same

Come alive, come alive
Go and ride your light
Let it burn so bright
Reaching up to the sky
And it’s open wide
You’re electrified

Come Alive, words and music by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek

The dead cannot have the same experience as those who are alive. It’s impossible. There are certain things that God has reserved solely for His children—those made alive in Christ through the rebirth. Anyone who has not accepted salvation through Jesus cannot experience those things—those who remain spiritually dead having either not yet received Christ or having rejected him altogether. Again, it’s impossible.

If you want God to do something for you, you must first do something for Him. Accept Him. Believe in Him. Trust that His Word is true and that all of His promises are guaranteed because of His covenant with His children.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7 (NIV)

 

Rebellion or revival

Read: Numbers 16-17, Mark 6:33-56

In today’s reading, we see two very different accounts. Israel has just recently made the decision to not go into the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve scouts that were sent to scope out the land came back saying it’s good, but we can’t overpower the people already living there. We’re better off where we are. So they decide to stay in the desert and are then upset about it! They don’t like the food. They don’t like the dirt. They don’t like their leaders. They don’t like much about their situation, even though they’re in it because of the choices they made.

The Israelites said to Moses, “We will all die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we all going to die?”

Numbers 18:12-13 (NIV)

Flash forward to Mark. Jesus has been working with his disciples for some time now. They’ve already been out on missions trips. Crowds find and follow them wherever they go. Even though they’ve seen miracles and have been a part of working miracles, these twelve guys still don’t have it all together. They don’t understand everything that’s happening, but they seem pretty keen on being a part of it. They may question some of Jesus’ methods, but they work, so in the end the go along with him. They’re seeing sick and lame healed, dead raised, and people set free. And they’re in it because of the choices they made.

And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Mark 6:56 (NIV)

Israel lived in fear while Jesus’ followers lived in awe. Israel refused over and over again to obey, yet they still expected the fulfillment of God’s promises. The crowds that followed Jesus chased after him and experienced miracles. Do you see the connection?

Rebellion will never lead to revival.

Israel was a giant flock of lost sheep. God had given them a shepherd, but they didn’t like him. They didn’t want to follow all of the rules. They wanted to have their own way. Instead of walking straight from bondage into bounty, they wandered and they died. Only two men who stepped out of Egypt walked into the promise—because they saw beyond the problem.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Mark 6:34 (NIV)

Here’s another group of lost sheep. But these sheep chose to trust their shepherd and they were greatly rewarded for it.

Rebellion leads to restlessness, while following leads to freedom.

Grunt before glory

Read: Exodus 39-40, Matthew 24:1-22

Who doesn’t want to see God’s glory? You’d have to be crazy not to. For many in the church, it is (or maybe should be) our primary pursuit.

Exodus 40-34

We all want the cloud to descend so we can bask in the presence of God. But, for as many of us who pursue the glory, nearly as many never see the fullness of it. Why?

Moses did everything just as the Lord commanded him.

Exodus 40:16 (NIV)

This verse is followed by seven more that state, as the Lord commanded him. Seven. the number of completion and perfection.

And so Moses finished the work.

Exodus 40:33b (NIV)

He did everything the Lord commanded him. Then he finished the work. And only then did the glory of the Lord fill the tabernacle.

Well, I’m just waiting on the Lord. It is to our detriment that we use the word wait. To wait on the Lord has absolutely nothing to do with sitting in silence and everything to do with getting off our blessed assurance and working toward the high calling that God has set before us.

WAIT: To attend to; to perform. To be ready to serve; to obey.

Moses waited on the Lord by doing exactly as he had been commanded. Not only did God give a long list of very specific instructions, but He also sent His Spirit to empower the craftsman to do their work.

We all want the glory, but very few want to do the grunt work required to prepare ourselves and the place for the Lord’s presence. Christianity is not the easy way out, but the narrow road in. We are called to live a life set apart and that life requires work. Lots of work. Hard work.

We have a whole book of commands that we carry around to make us feel good about ourselves, but carrying the book is the most work many are willing to do. If we would only put into practice all the instruction we’ve been given, perhaps we’d see a lot more of that glory we’ve been looking for. A little grunt may go a long way toward the glory.

Heart not head

Read: Exodus 25-26, Matthew 21:1-22

Once Israel had been set free from the Egyptians, it was time for them to seek God in earnest. All other gods and worship had to be cast aside. God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was to be worshiped. Set apart because He had set Israel apart. A place, a tabernacle, needed to be assembled as a place for the presence of God to rest.

This wasn’t to be any old tent. God had given Moses a lot of very specific instructions that needed to be met exactly. Materials were required. Israel didn’t have a building fund. They didn’t have time to set up a donation campaign. No fundraising events were held.

Exodus 25:2

A freewill offering was taken up and work began to fulfill the specifications for the tabernacle. Nowhere in the text do we find a scenario where the supplies were not enough and a second offering had to be received. The people gave according to the prompting of their hearts.

What does it mean to be prompted by ones heart? Does it mean that we give when we feel like it? Are we generous only when we have the means to do so? Or is it simply a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit?

I believe it is the latter. Webster’s 1828 dictionary says that the heart is the seat of affections and passions. Israel had just been freed from centuries of slavery. It’s probably safe to say that they were passionate about their freedom and the One who had brought it about. Their generous offerings were a part of their worship.

Giving is worship. Worship should be inspired not by how we feel or what we have, but by whom we worship.

The only way [we can] worship in spirit and in truth [is] to know the One whom [we are] seeking to worship.

Kevin J. Navarro, The Complete Worship Leader

The more we know God, the more we will be in tune with His Spirit and the more we will be prompted to give generously. Giving is the only area in which God actually asks us to test him.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

Malachi 3:10 (NIV)

In any sort of worship—from song to giving—we must be dependent on our hearts, the seat of our affections, for direction. We must listen closely to that part of us which is joined with God. Our heads will always lead us away from generous worship, but our hearts will always lead us toward it.