They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Our Faith Must Be Tough

Scripture References: Numbers 11:1-3, Hebrews 11:32-40, 12:1-3, Phillipians 4:11-13, Romans 4:11-13, John 16:33

As I was listening to a message recently by Dr. Dobson from Focus on the Family, I was really impressed by his message that our faith must be tough. I was reminded that though life is seldom easy, God wants his people to be fighters, to hang in and be tough when the problems come. Somehow, we have gotten the idea in America that we are entitled to 75 years of easy life, with plenty of material gains and few problems and stress. We have huge over-expectations of the “good life”, and when our real circumstances don’t match up to our lofty expectations, we are depressed and discouraged. We want to bail out and go somewhere else. We Americans (and I speak for myself) are soft. We are not used to hardships and we don’t know how to hang in there when adversity strikes. This seems to be especially true in our marriages. Americans are bailing out of their marriages at an alarming rate.

In Numbers Ch. 11, God was angry when his people began to complain because of their circumstances. The Hebrew word that we translate complains is “kvetch” and is a shaking of the fist at God and griping and whining. God had provided for everything they needed in a harsh environment, yet they were not satisfied for even three days. Because of this “kvetching”, God anger burned against them. When we complain, we are saying to God that we don’t trust Him; we don’t think that he will provide and sustain us in hard times.

We need to accept the fact that we are going to go through hard times. Jesus told us this in John 16:33 when he said,” in this world you will have trouble”. All of the heroes of the faith listed in Hebrews Ch. 11 were listed there because of their endurance and perseverance in time of testing and trouble.

Paul said it best in Phillipians 4:11-13 about what our frame of mind should be. Notice Paul says, I have “learned” to be content. It wasn’t something that he was born with or got when he was saved. He had to “learn” to be content. By going through all the ups and downs of his life, and he had plenty, he learned that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. A lot of people quote that verse, but when you read it in context, it is talking about overcoming the adversities of life.

God wants and expects me to be “tough” in my approach to the circumstances of life. When life throws you a curve, and it will, we must react with perseverance (Rom 5:3-4). Suffering produces perseverance and perseverance produces character. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Let us run with perseverance the race set before us….. So we won’t grow weary and lose heart”.

These scriptures are especially pertinent for marriage and family situations and the problems associated with older age. Count on the fact that you will experience trials and tribulations and plan on hanging tough for the long haul. The Christian life is not for sissies! We don’t get to move to Hawaii when we get saved! We are going to have to tough it out here in the desert of this life. So be strong and courageous and hang on to him!

A Lesson From the “TaNaKh”

JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh

JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh

The foundation on which our New Testaments faith rests is obviously the Hebrew Bible. Christians are in the habit of calling it the Old Testament, which in a way implies that it is out of date and not relevant. We had the “old” and now we have the “New.”

The Jewish community refers to the Hebrew Bible as the Tenakh (also spelled Tanak and Tenach). What does this name mean? It refers to the threefold division of the Hebrew Bible. “T” stands for Torah ,or the Law and is the first five books of the Bible written by Moses. “N” is for Nebi im, or the Prophets and refers to most of the rest of the books of the Bible, such as Chronicles, Kings, Samuel, Judges and the prophets Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. “K” is for Ketubim, or writings and are the Books such as Psalms and Proverbs. The Jews believed that when the Messiah would come all three divisions would recognize him.

This makes the words that God spoke at the mount of Transfiguration very interesting. In Luke 9:28-36 Moses and Elijah show up and Jesus talked to them. Then God says “This is my son, whom I have chosen, listen to Him”. Now turn to Psalm 2:1 where God says “This is my son.” Psalm 2 was a prophetic Psalm and is attributed to Jesus in the N.T. in Acts 13:33 when Paul quotes this as a scripture that is fulfilled in Jesus, a son of David. So the “Ketubim” (say the N.T. writers) recognized Jesus as the Messiah.

Tanakh Diagram

Tanakh Diagram (Click to view larger image)

Now let’s look at “whom I have chosen.” Turn to Is. 42:1 and read these same words applied to the one who is to come whom God will put his spirit on. The writer of Matthew 12:18-20 recognized this as fulfillment of a messianic foundation when he said that Jesus fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah and then quotes Isa. 42:1-4. So the Nebiim according to Matthew (the prophet Isaiah) also recognized him as the Messiah.

Now look at the words “listen to him” and look at the words in Deut 18:15 – “The Lord will raise up for you a prophet… listen to him.” The New Testament writer John quotes Nathaniel, saying,” we have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom also the prophets wrote” – Jesus of Nazareth. And Jesus says in John 5:46 “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.” So the Torah or the Law of Moses definitely recognized the Messiah.

We see in this statement that God makes about his Son on the Mt. of Transfiguration that the Law, the Prophets and the writings all point to Jesus as the Messiah.” This is my son, whom I have chosen, listen to Him”. Also it might be why Peter pitched 3 tents, 1 for the Torah (Moses) 1 for the Prophets (Elijah) and one for the son of David.

This little lesson just points to how valuable the Hebrew Bible is to our understanding of the New Testament. The Old Testament is the parent of the New Testament and the Old Testament is the cradle from which Christianity came. For some reason, we have been led to believe that the Old Testament is irrelevant and out of date and Christians have become studiers of the New Testament only. We must get back to studying the Hebrew Bible, for it is the source for our Christian heritage. These are the Holy Scriptures that the disciples and early Christians knew by heart.

Blueprint for Messiah: Found in Exodus

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ”
— Exodus 6:6-8

The more I study and learn about the Old Testament, the more I see Jesus and God’s plan of salvation in it. The saying that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed is definitely a great saying. For example, if you will look at Exodus 6 you will see that God laid out the blueprint for our Messiah, Jesus, in the Exodus of God’s people from Egypt. This is what God says in Ch. 6 to the Israelites before the Exodus:

  1. I will bring you out- from under yoke of slavery and bondage
  2. I will set you free from slavery – what would you have given if God had showed up and set you free and sin no longer had control?
  3. I will Redeem you
  4. I will bring you to myself – take you as my own, I will be your God

From the earliest of times, Jews have celebrated these 4 statements in Exodus 6 during Passover. They set out 4 cups of wine with each representing one of these statements by God. At various points in the liturgy, participants are reminded of what God said on each one and the cup is taken to remember these 4 things.

Applying the Blood

Applying the Blood

Now picture Jesus with his disciples as they celebrated Passover the night before he was to die and become our Passover Lamb. We now call this the Lord’s Supper, but it was a Passover meal that Jesus made an unbelievable claim at. Let’s look at what would have happened.

You can read the accounts of the Passover meal in Matthew 26:17-30 and parallel passages in Mark 14:17-25 and Luke 22:7-13. As their leader, Jesus would have recounted the Passover story as he held up and passed around the 1st cup – “God took us out of the land of bondage.” Then the 2nd cup would have been raised as Jesus reminded them that God set us free from sin, we are no longer slaves to it. Then Jesus did something strange to his hearers as he lifted the 3rd cup (cup of Redemption) which symbolizes that God redeemed us. Jesus said this cup (3rd one) is a new covenant in my blood .I am going to be the avenue of redemption for all people. He varied from the Passover liturgy to offer them a striking new concept; his blood would be shed for us for our redemption. This is how God will clean us up and redeem us.

When it came time for the 4th cup, which symbolizes God saying I will bring you to myself ,I will protect you (called cup of protection), Jesus said I won’t drink again. He left without taking cup of protection. He left himself open.

When the Passover celebration ended Jews left their homes and went to the Temple to spend the rest of the night watching and praying and singing hymns. This was to remember the “night of watching” at the Red Sea described in Exodus Ch. 14 He asked his disciples to “watch with me”, but he had no help or protection from them. As Jesus turned, he saw his equivalent of the Egyptians (Romans) coming to get him.

Bread and Chalice

Bread and Chalice

There was also a 5th cup set at each Passover – Elijah’s cup. In Malachi 4:5-7, it was prophesied that before the Messiah would come Elijah would come back. If you read Jeremiah 25:15-38, when the Lord does come back, he will come in judgment and this cup will be poured out on all who are sinners and the unrighteous nations. Jesus realized that Elijah’s cup, the cup of damnation, would be poured out on him. He would be damned for all of us. He willingly takes it and says,” My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”, why have you abandoned me? The 5th cup is empty today; it has already been poured out.

To realize that God had continually made a blueprint of salvation through his son in the stories of the OT is a great confidence to me. The plan was worked out in exact detail from the time of Abraham and God’s covenant with him and it shows itself continually through the people of Israel. God has brought us out and set us free from sin and has redeemed us and brought us to himself through the sending of his Son, the Passover Lamb, as a payment for our sins. I stand amazed in his presence and awed by his awesome plan and design for me.

“Teach us to number our days”

  “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end
     and the number of my days;
     let me know how fleeting is my life.

  You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
    Each man’s life is but a breath.

  Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
    He bustles about, but only in vain;
    he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

  “But now, Lord, what do I look for?
    My hope is in you.
— Psalm 39:4-7

  The length of our days is seventy years –
    or eighty, if we have the strength;
    yet their span [a] is but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

  Who knows the power of your anger?
    For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

  Teach us to number our days aright,
   that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
— Psalm 39:4-7

These two verses have been more and more important to me as I realize just how short life is. At 59 years of age, I’m seeing more and more trouble, more and more disease and death. I realized I don’t have an infinite amount of time, and the thought of wasting a day is unacceptable to me, now. I want to make the rest of my days count.

The Hebrew word for “number” is much bigger than just “to count”. It means to give an accounting, to account for – you have to show that you made a profit, or used what you were given well.

Stones in a Jar

Stones in a Jar

Twice now I’ve heard the illustration of the stones in the jar and it has stuck with me. I even saved a big jar from mom, Dorothy’s’ stuff to use for the purpose. The story goes like this: the Rabbi collected enough small stones in a jar to represent one for each day of the rest of what he thought his lifespan might be, 70 years or so. Every morning he would reach in the jar and take a stone and put it in his pocket, where he could feel it. At the end of each day, he would pull the stone out of his pocket and talk to God and discuss how he used the day. Then he would throw away the stone. Day after day, he could see the amount of stones in the jar being reduced. It was a great reminder to the rabbi that he had a limited amount of time and that he must use them the best way possible.

I know I have a limited number of stones. The jar is going down very quickly. I must use each day wisely. Father, forgive me when I waste a day and I don’t use it in a productive way for your kingdom. When you are young, you think there is an endless supply. Now I am being reminded each day that there is a finite number of time that we have. Teach me to number my days.

How Beautiful

How beautiful, the hands that served. The wine and the bread, and the sons of the earth.

How beautiful, the feet that walked. The long dusty roads, and the hill to the cross.

How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful, is the body of Christ.

How beautiful, the heart that bled. That took all my sin and bore it instead.

How beautiful, the tender eyes. That choose to forgive and never despise.

How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful, is the body of Christ.

And as He laid down His life. We offer this sacrifice. That we will live, just as He died.

Willing to pay – to pay the price. Willing to pay the price.

How beautiful, the radiant bride. Who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes.

How beautiful, when humble hearts give. The fruit of pure lives so that others may live.

How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful, is the body of Christ.

How beautiful, the feet that bring. The sound of good news, and the love of the King.

How beautiful, the hands that serve. The wine and the bread, and the sons of the earth.

How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful, is the body of Christ.

— Twila Paris

The Acacia Tree

Sinai Acacia

Sinai Acacia

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article on the broom tree and talked about how it fit into several Bible stories.  Being in the tree business, I naturally wanted to carry this theme as far as I could.

Another tree that has some wonderful Biblical metaphors attached to it is the Acacia. This is the tree described in Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17. The Acacia is a pretty prominent landmark in the desert. They are by far the biggest tree or plant that grows in the desert. Slow-growing and long-lived, it is said that God planted them knowing that we would need shade.

The Acacia is the Bedouin’s best friend because it does so much for him. Besides providing the best shade in the desert, it also is the best and really only firewood.

Bedouin & Acacia

Bedouin & Acacia

The camels love to eat its leaves, and also eat its pods that grow seasonally. The Bedouins boil the pods for the camels to eat. Also, they boil the sap and it is used for both camels and people as a medicine for stomach trouble and cuts and scrapes. The Acacia is also used by the Bedouin to locate a water source, because where there is a good Acacia growing there must be some underground source of water. This is also the tree that the Ark of the Covenant was made of. As you can imagine, the metaphors are huge.

This Psalm 1 tree is a picture of someone deeply rooted in something that provides all sorts of things for people; food, shelter, shade, water, medicine. How do we become that tree? Psalm 1 has the answer, we must be in the word and meditate (“Hagah”, remember? wrestle, growl,chew) on it day and night. You can’t skip the hard work that called you to be an Acacia, and it takes some time to grow. The words are literally to always be in our mouth — we are chewing on them. When you are a good Acacia tree you are literally your community’s best friend, you do all kinds of things that bless others. You dig in and do the hard work, and then when the time comes you help out.

An interesting phenomenon with an Acacia is that almost never do you see any water around the tree, yet you know it is getting water, because of its leaves and fruit. You know there is water there because of the tree. If God is living water and we are the tree, they will know we are getting living water by the fruit we produce. It’s how much water that we get that determines how well we do in the desert.

Obviously, we need more Acacia trees. Are you willing to do the work to become one?