Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Atonement

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
I Peter 2:22-25


To be honest, I don't fully understand the weight of my sin. My generation makes "atonement" for our wrongs by saying "Sorry" or maybe "Please forgive me if I hurt you." We don't really comprehend the cost of our individual sins or the connection between those sins and death. For God's people who lived under the Old Testament sacrificial system the cost of sin was very personal. Today we often discuss this Old Testament practice with confused looks on our faces, even sometimes putting it down, but it really was a brilliant way for God to teach His people about sin and atonement. 

When an Old Testament Israelite sinned he couldn't just throw a half-hearted "sorry" out to God. He went out into his field and found a young animal without defect or blemish, and he took it to the temple. There he symbolically laid his hand on the animals head most likely as a sign of the transfer of his sin to the animal. Then he killed the animal with his own hands before it was burnt as an offering to the Lord to make atonement for his sin. Imagine how real the cost of sin was to him in that moment. He had looked the animal in the eye, laid his hand on its head, and killed the animal- probably by slitting its throat- with his own hand. All of this was a God-given object lesson in the seriousness of his sin. Praise God for patiently teaching His people!

I'm not saying I want to go back to this system of atonement. The truth is that the blood of animals can't atone for sin anyway. (Hebrews 10:4) The whole system was a sign, pointing out the penalty for sin and pointing forward to Christ who is the true "lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) What we have in Christ far exceeds what they had. Yet because we did not see Christ's death, it is all too easy for us to look at our sin cheaply. We are tempted to view Christ's sacrifice on the cross as universal at the expense of it being personal. In fact, it was both. Christ wasn't only the lamb who came to take away the sin of the world, but He was also the one who "bore our sins in his body on the tree." (I Peter 2:24) He bore your sin. He bore MY sin on that tree. The fact that Christ, though perfect, died to make atonement for our sins is a concept theologians call substitutionary or vicarious atonement. In other words, He took your place. He paid your penalty. His blood was applied to the dust of this earth. The very dust from which man was made, to which we will return and that also bears with us the marks of our sin from the Fall. (Romans 8:19-23)

This all has very practical import for how we live now. We dare not look at God's forgiveness as being cheaply attained. We dare not take our sin so lightly as to throw half-hearted apologies at God in our nightly prayers. Rather, we should repent of our sin with tears and mourning knowing the true cost of our atonement. That is not to say that we should fear somehow failing to atone for our own sins. We know that Christ alone has purchased our forgiveness, so we repent with confidence that we are forgiven by the blood of Christ. But knowing how precious that blood is ought to drive us to repentance that includes truly hating our sin. 

One thing more.  In a spiritual sense (but a very real sense nonetheless) because Christ died as our representative, you and I died to sin on that tree. Therefore, as I Peter 2:24 says we ought to truly die to sin and live for righteousness. Romans 6:1-14 says in part:
"How can we who died to sin still live in it?... We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin....So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Cobra Effect

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!
Isaiah 30:18 (ESV)


Life is full of problems, isn't it? Little problems, big problems, complex problems, problems! But I have learned that sometimes the solution is worse than the problem. Sometimes when you try to fix something you actually end up making it worse. This is called the Cobra Effect. 

During British rule of Colonial India, the government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi. So the government offered a bounty for every dead cobra. At first, the incentive worked. Large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. But it wasn't long until some crafty and enterprising residents began to breed cobras expressly for the purpose of turning them in for the reward. Once the government became aware of this, the bounty program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. In the end, the cobra population in Delhi actually increased as a result of the bounty program. The apparent solution to the problem actually made the situation worse.

Sometimes we see this Cobra Effect in our personal lives when we try to solve our problems by running to the world for help instead of taking our problems to God. Our Heavenly Father wants us to cry out to Him for help and wait for His deliverance. Only He can save us from our problems anyway! Only He is in control. 

Isaiah 30:18 tells us something amazing- God is waiting on you! God wants to be gracious to His people and rescue us from our problems, but He will not give up His glory. That's the most important thing to Him. While you are frantically trying to solve your problems yourself or turning to the world for help or turning to sin to cope with the pain, God is quietly waiting for you to cry out to Him for help so He can rescue. Our Father must teach us to turn to Him for help. He will not rescue us as long as we are trying to rescue ourselves or turn elsewhere for help. We must learn to look to Him first.

What is the biggest problem you are facing today? What's keeping you awake at night? And what have you done to try to fix this problem? Have you cried out to God for help and waited to see what he will do? Carry your problems to the throne of God today. Ask for help, and see what He will do!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Treading Water

For I too was a son to my father, still tender, and cherished by my mother. Then he taught me, and he said to me, “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:3-7


I'm not a very good swimmer. In fact, I don't know much about swimming at all, but I have been to a number of swim meets and I've even watched Olympic swim events on TV. I've seen people compete in the backstroke, the breaststroke, the butterfly, freestyle and many other events. But you know what I have never seen? I've never seen a water treading competition. I even Googled it earlier this week and I can't find a single, major water treading competition. Why?

It's no secret that treading water doesn't get you anywhere. Apart from its use as a survival technique, it's kind of pointless. Plus, it's boring! You aren't moving forward or backward, you are simply maintaining...keeping the status quo...keeping your head above water. Who wants to watch that competition?

This pretty well sums up what many of us do in our day-to-day lives though doesn't it? We aren't really improving ourselves or increasing in knowledge or wisdom, we're just keeping our head above water. We work hard enough to pay the bills and have a little left over for fun and that's all we really want out of life. But the book of Proverbs challenges us over and over again to push for more, not in a materialistic sense, but rather for more knowledge of God, more wisdom and understanding by which we might direct our lives for His glory. This world is a tricky place to live. Jesus calls our enemy the Father of Lies for good reason (John 8:44). The Deceiver is cunning and skilled at leading us into confusion. We need God's wisdom and understanding to live life the way we were intended to and thus to enjoy our lives to the fullest! 

Proverbs 8:10-11 says,
Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Think of the great gold rushes of the past in the United States. Men picked up, left their homes, and traveled clear across the country in search of riches. Imagine if we expended even half that effort in our studies of God's Word and His world! Proverbs 4:7 tells us to "Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding."

Assess your life. Have you grown complacent? Are you merely treading water? Heed God's advice and seek after wisdom with eagerness and urgency. Turn first to the fountain of wisdom: His Word. Pour over God's written Word in Scripture and meditate on God's revealed Word in Jesus Christ. Second seek out godly men and women who can help you understand the mysteries of God's Word and creation. Be sure not to underestimate the gift of your parents in this regard or the gift that you can be to your children. I know that some of us had parents who were flawed at best, parents who excelled at exampling what not to do. But remember God gave you those parents for a reason and we never outgrow the lessons our parents teach us, positive or negative. Rather use those lessons to guide your life, and focus your energy on instructing your children in the way of wisdom and understanding. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why the Old Testament was Written

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
I Corinthians 10:11


When was the last time you read from the Old Testament? Did you dive into II Kings in your personal quiet time this morning? Is Lamentations your favorite book of the Bible? Probably not. But consider this, of the 66 books in the Bible, 39 or almost 60% are in the Old Testament. It covers nearly 2,000 years of God's dealings with His people while the New Testament covers less than 100. Not enough to convince you? How about this: the Old Testament is the only written Scripture that Jesus or His contemporaries had, yet we largely ignore it.

Most of us, when we do find time to pick up the Bible, tend to stay in the relatively familiar New Testament. It's less confusing and more accessible. Jesus is in it, and it's just... easier. But when we ignore the Old Testament altogether (either in our personal Bible study or in the church) we rob ourselves of an important gift God has given us.

In I Corinthians Paul reminds his readers of several Old Testament stories then tells them that these things took place as an example for us. The stories in the Old Testament are living illustrations. They show us how we ought to live and how we ought not to live. Moreover, Paul says that God saw fit to make sure these stories were written down for our instruction. We need all the help we can get to think rightly and make good decisions in this world. We simply can't afford to miss out on God's instruction for our lives. While there's no denying that the New Testament is at the heart of Christianity and that it probably even deserves to be read more than the Old Testament; when we ignore the Old Testament altogether and treat it as a lesser class of Scripture, then we doom ourselves to be ignorant of important lessons God has for us. 

So pick up your Bible and read from the Old Testament today. As you do, here are two pointers to guide your interpretation.
  1. Context- Because the Old Testament covers a time span of roughly 2,000 years, it's important to have some idea of the context surrounding what you're reading. A good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible will have introductions to each book to help you out with this.
  2. Literary Type- Pay attention to what type of literature you're reading. For example, books like Genesis are historical writings. In these books the authors' primary concern is recording what happened in a factual manner without commenting on the morality of specific actions. Be careful here! Just because the Bible faithfully records that something did happen, doesn't mean that God approves of the actions the men and women took in that story. Look for the times when God or the author breaks into the story to give their opinion. These asides help you to rightly understand the stories where no commentary is given.