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Friday, March 31, 2017

What is the church? Truthful.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 41?

"Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I dreamed a dream, but there is none to interpret it. Now, I have heard concerning you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Then Joseph answered Pharaoh saying, “It is not in my power; God will answer concerning the well-being of Pharaoh.”"

"And the plan was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this in whom is the spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all of this known to you there is no one as discerning and wise as you."

Through revelation and dependence and faithfulness, the church should be a source of wisdom and truth to the whole world, an active participant and means of grace.  Whether they choose to avail themselves of it or not, our lips should always bear the fruit of the Truth to them.  We fill ourselves up with the sword of the Spirit which is the revealed Word of God, the mystery hidden until the proper time, 

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, both joints and marrow, and able to judge the reflections and thoughts of the heart. "  Hebrews 4

It is often said we should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted but that invites us to judge both the recipient and the Word of God and decide for ourselves which is necessary.  If we are telling the truth to them, God will determine which it is to their heart.  

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ, and who reveals the fragrance of the knowledge of him through us in every place. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to those on the one hand an odor from death to death, and to those on the other hand a fragrance from life to life. And who is qualified for these things?" 2 Corinthians 2 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

What is the church? Dependent on Grace...actively.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in the cupbearer?

"But remember me when it goes well with you, and please may you show kindness with respect to me, and mention me to Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house. For I was surely kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me in this pit.”"

The church, though chosen and blessed by God are not forbidden nor discouraged from using all available means before them to improve their situation.  The world is ours after all.  So when presented with a chance to gain Pharaoh's ear, Joe doesn't sit mum and think, "well, the Lord will provide."  The manna shows up miraculously every day, yes, but we still were required to go out and gather it.  With our hands.  And mix it and knead it and bake it to make bread.

In the same way, God provided the opportunity with the cupbearer and Joe avails himself of it.  And the cupbearer would actually turn out to be the means of grace to Joe... in God's timing...

"And it happened that after two full years Pharaoh dreamed...Then the chief of the cupbearers spoke with Pharaoh, saying, “I remember my sins today."

The church are those who can work with the cupbearer who forgets us and his three days with us in the pit but eventually remembers his sins before the king of Egypt, because we believe and trust in the one who dwelt with us, bore the cup of wrath for our sins though He had done nothing deserving of the pit, spent three days in the pit and then was restored to his place as King of Kings beside God's throne where he forgets our sins but never his great love for us so that in His timing, He can set us on the throne next to him!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What is the church? Dependent on revelation.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 40?

"When Joseph came to them in the morning he looked at them, and behold, they were troubled. And he asked the court officials of Pharaoh that were with him in the custody of his master’s house, “Why are your faces sad today?” And they said to him, “We each dreamed a dream, but there is no one to interpret it.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God?"

Here we see a slew of the characteristics of the church in play.  Joe's responsibility, even in jail.  Joe's compassion for his neighbors, fellow prisoners, foreigners, pagans.  His knowledge, right knowledge of God, not bumpersticker faith.  But fully convinced of the sovereignty of Yahweh, the All knowing, All powerful.  And last but not least, Joe's simple faith and trust in God's power, not his own.  

The church does not lean on its own wisdom and understanding and power.

Centuries later another prisoner and exile in a foreign land (church as alien) would have an opportunity to not just interpret dreams but know the dream outright without being told it!  And not just for servants of the king, but the king himself!  He does not lean on his own power either...

"Then Daniel went to his home, and he made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions, along with the remainder of the wise men of Babylon, would not be killed.
Then in a vision of the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel; then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.
Daniel said:
“Let his name, the name of God, be blessed throughout the ages,
    for the wisdom and the power are his.
And he changes the times and the seasons,
    and he deposes kings and he sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to wise men
    and knowledge to men who know understanding.
He reveals the deep and the hidden things;
    he knows what is in the darkness,
    and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my ancestors,
    I give thanks and I give praises,
for the wisdom and the power you gave to me,
    and now you have made known to me
what we have asked from you,
    for you have made known to us the matter of the king.”  Daniel 2

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What is the church? Stars in a dark world.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in in Joseph as we see him amidst the Egyptians?

"And his master observed that Yahweh was with him, and everything that was in his hand to do Yahweh made successful."

"And the chief of the prison put all the prisoners that were in the prison into the hand of Joseph. And everything that was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief of the prison did not worry about anything in his hand, since Yahweh was with him. And whatever he did Yahweh made it successful."

We've talked about the church being witnesses.  We've talked about the church being aliens.  We've talked about Yahweh being with His church.  So this might feel a bit redundant though i'm hoping for nuanced.  

What gives our witness power, what opens the door for more specific witness, what makes us seem alien to them, is our obedience to the Law of Love that Yahweh has laid down for us in Christ Jesus.  Love God with all you have, all you are, all you hope for and love each other as Christ loved the church and laid his life down for her.  Then, love your neighbors, those whose need God blesses you to be able to fill, serve your neighbors with respect and love as if serving Christ Himself, for you are.  For we can be aliens by just acting weird and no one will care to know the God who gave themselves up for them.  We can be servants without love and no one will trust us.  We can be at peace with our neighbors but never know them.  We can be lights under a basket.  We can be salt without saltiness.  And the world will not know that God has come to dwell with them.

"For the one at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure, is God. Do all things without grumbling and disputing, in order that you may become blameless and innocent, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine as stars in the world, holding fast to the word of life..."  Philippians 2

The church is a light which shines on Christ.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

What is the church? Not alone.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 39?

"Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, a court official of Pharaoh, commander of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the hand of the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. And Yahweh was with Joseph..."

"And he was there in prison. And Yahweh was with Joseph..."

Whether the spoiled son of a rich nomadic chief living as an alien on land promised to him or the slave of an officer of a foreign power or a prisoner unjustly incarcerated, the church is defined and known by the company it keeps.  

Yahweh is with His church.

"And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age.”"  Matthew 28 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

What is the church? Faithful servants.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 39? 

"Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, a court official of Pharaoh, commander of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the hand of the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. And Yahweh was with Joseph, and he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. And his master observed that Yahweh was with him, and everything that was in his hand to do Yahweh made successful. And Joseph found favor in his eyes and he served him. Then he appointed him over his house and all that he owned he put into his hand. And it happened that from the time he appointed him over his house and over all that he had, Yahweh blessed the house of the Egyptian on account of Joseph. And the blessing of Yahweh was upon all that he had in the house and in the field. And he left all that he had in the hand of Joseph, and he did not worry about anything except the food that he ate."

"And Joseph’s master took him and put him into prison, the place that the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in prison. And Yahweh was with Joseph, and showed loyal love to him, and gave him favor in the eyes of the chief of the prison. And the chief of the prison put all the prisoners that were in the prison into the hand of Joseph. And everything that was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief of the prison did not worry about anything in his hand, since Yahweh was with him. And whatever he did Yahweh made it successful."

Wherever the church is, whether God blessed it with the choice of careers and mission fields in which to serve or whether God is testing her with less than ideal circumstances and even suffering, one thing should mark those who know Yahweh and are known and loved by Him:

The church should endeavor to be the most loyal, the most beneficial, the most honest, the most worthy servant we can be there for as long as we are there.  Employers, employees, co-workers and customers should all be able to stand on the last day and praise God for how we treated them. 

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ, not while being watched, as people pleasers, but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart, serving with goodwill as to the Lord and not to people, because you know that each one of you, whatever good he should do, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, giving up threats, knowing that both their Lord and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with him."  Ephesians 6
For the church should not motivated by money, the praise of men, worldly ambition or laziness.  The church are those chosen to serve in the same love they have been served.

"So when he had washed their feet and taken his outer clothing and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, for I am. If then I—your Lord and Teacher—wash your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that just as I have done for you, you also do. Truly, truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you are blessed if you do them."  John 13 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What is the church? Known by its limping.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 32?

"And Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the dawn. And when he saw that he could not prevail against him, he struck his hip socket, so that Jacob’s hip socket was sprained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Then he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked and said, “Please tell me your name.” And he said, “Why do you ask this—for my name?” And he blessed him there. Then Jacob called the name of the place Peniel which means “I have seen God face to face and my life was spared.” Then the sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, and he was limping because of his hip."

Despite the appearance of a few generations of enlightened christians, the church is not white, clean and neat.  It is not shiny, happy people who have got it all together.  Got it all figured out.  It is not "good" people.  

It is people who wrestle with God.  It is people whom God has interrupted, disciplined, blessed and disputed with and instead of walking away, instead of avoiding, instead of running from or ignoring, these chosen people have struggled to understand and have had the faith not to give up.  They are people who have been led to a hard place, a wilderness place, a place of darkness and death and dying and asked the question, "Why God?  Why?"  And not always gotten satisfactory answers.  Leastways, not right away, if at all.  And God not only allows this, He most often welcomes it.  

"Cease to do evil! Learn to do good!
    Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed!
    Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!
“Come now, and let us argue,” says Yahweh.
    “Even though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white like snow;
    even though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and you are obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land.
But if you refuse and you rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword." Isaiah 1

How can God be so tolerant?  How can he be so patient?  Because the church is His children whom He dearly loves.  The church are those children who want to know why, Daddy, why?

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Friday, March 24, 2017

What is the church? Sacrificed for.

What is the church?  And what shall we liken it to on the mountain in Genesis 22?

"And they came to the place that God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood. Then he bound Isaac his son and placed him on the altar atop the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. And the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the boy; do not do anything to him. For now I know that you are one who fears God, since you have not withheld your son, your only child, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked. And behold, a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place “Yahweh will provide,”"

God is God.  He is Holy.  Part of what that means is anyone who does not treat him as such deserves to die.  Abraham deserved to die for his sins.   The concept and practice of sacrificing an animal in our own place goes back to Genesis 3 when God gives animal skin coverings to Adam and Eve.  Our naked shame is covered by the blood of something which did not rebel against God; did not doubt Him; an innocent caught in the thicket of our sin.  We see it again in chapter four with Cain and Abel.  We see it again in the animals Noah brings on the ark and sacrifices as soon as they are safe on land again.  And we will see it all through the Bible, right up to the coming of the True Lamb of God.  All of this points ahead.  God knew what He was going to do from the beginning.  

"And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain."  Revelations 13

Just as God knew what Abraham and Isaac were going to find on the mountain.  Here God is giving Abe and the angels and us a much clearer picture of Jesus than even a fuzzy little lamb!  Here God is letting Abraham, the father of nations, act in God's own place!  For God knows what He is going to do: sacrifice His own Son!  This test wasn't to show God what was in Abe's heart, He already knew.  Abe's name is written in a book God has on his coffee table.  A book of people whom Jesus has chosen to die for.  Chosen to die in place of.  Chosen to provide for.  It is to show us what is in God's heart.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 6

The church are those who have received the gift God has provided.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What is the church? Condemned...

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to as we continue with Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22?

"And Isaac said to Abraham his father, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went together."

Isaac is a dead man walking.  He just doesn't know it yet.  Maybe being in his teens and no dummy, he begins to suspect, yet he walks on.  Abraham has known for days.  Yet he walks on.  And here's the very simple point i've tried to make before and will try again today, the church is not inherently free from sin or its penalty: death.  

"They are corrupt.
They do abominable deeds.
There is none who does good.
Yahweh looks down from heaven upon the children of humankind
to see whether there is one who has insight,
one who cares about God.
All have gone astray;
they are altogether corrupt.
There is not one who does good;
there is not even one."  Psalm 14

"Because of this, just as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned." Romans 5

There is nothing lovely in these people who have come to be known as the church in and of themselves!  They are sinners.  They are thieves and whores and liars and murderers when they are called, every last one of them.  The church are dead men walking...

but they are also prophetic.  "And Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What is the church? A Testimony.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 22 still? 

"And he said, “Take your son, your only child, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains where I will tell you.” And Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. And he took two of his servants with him, and Isaac his son. And he chopped wood for a burnt offering. And he got up and went to the place which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes..."

Those whom God calls and those who hear and obey and suffer for it and serve when and where and how they are called, will be a testimony to Christ.  Their very lives, their very suffering will point to the suffering of Christ!  This makes perfect sense.  The church are those given the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is always testifying about Christ.  How could we not?  Abraham's call to sacrifice.  Isaac's call to be the sacrifice.  Three days of thinking Isaac as good as dead.  Abraham is being invited to know God in ways we could never know him just by reading about him.  

"If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”  John 12

The church are those who's suffering, who's prosperity, who's very lives are a living testimony to Jesus Christ who's life, death and resurrection are a testimony to the Father.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What is the church? Glorified and glorifying.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 22?

" And he said, “Take your son, your only child, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains where[a] I will tell you.” And Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. And he took two of his servants with him, and Isaac his son. And he chopped wood for a burnt offering. And he got up and went to the place which God had told him."

We touched on it yesterday.  But look, what do you see?  When God told Abe he was going to destroy a wicked city or four, Abe had the temerity to argue with God.  To talk him down, to bargain for the lives of people he did not know.  When God told Abe he was going to be a father some day, Abe asked how it could be and even took matters into his own hands with one of his servants.  But here, Abe has matured enough to know that this is a time to just listen and do.  He knows this God.  He has been through deep waters with Him.  He loves and trusts and fears Him.

"And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he should be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined, these he also called, and those whom he called, these he also justified, and those whom he justified, these he also glorified."

   When we do these things, when the church hears and obeys, God always moves them into the best position to see the good He has planned, to conform us not to the pattern of this world, but Jesus Christ, the visible Glory of God.

"Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”"  John 11

Monday, March 20, 2017

What is the church? Asked to suffer.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 22?

"And he said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Take your son, your only child, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains where I will tell you.”"  

Does God, who gave you everything you have, including you, have the right to ask for it back?  Thank God, you say, that He doesn't test all of us in this way anymore!  But does He?  Many parents have had to wrestle with the question, "Is God good?"  or "Is God trustworthy?" after the loss of a child?  After something terrible has happened to their child?  God is all powerful.  Things we disdain to even put a price on matter to God.  Buy one, get one-sparrows matter to him and not one dies but by his permission.  Not one hair from your head falls without his noticing and approving the loss.  You think He didn't know a child would die?  Didn't ordain it?  Didn't bring it about?  The God who brought the universe into being and maintains it by His mere word?  Please. 

So if it's not a question of authority or power then it comes down to Eve's question.  Is God good?  Is God good in this?  Job asked it.  Anyone who suffers has to ask it.  If God asks you to do something hard, to give up something crucial, something treasured, something we think we can't live without, our lives, to follow him somewhere painful, will you obey then?  If so, why?  i sense we'll be camped out here for a few days but for today...

The church are those who hear the voice of God and obey it, because they know Him and trust Him.

"Whenever he sends out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And they will never follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What is the church? Aliens.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 21?

"And the two of them made a covenant. Then Abraham set off seven ewe-lambs of the flock by themselves. And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe-lambs that you have set off by themselves?” And he said, “You shall take the seven ewe-lambs from my hand as proof on my behalf that I dug this well.” Therefore that place is called Beersheba, because there the two of them swore an oath. And they made a covenant at Beersheba. And Abimelech, and Phicol his army commander stood and returned to the land of the Philistines. And he planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of Yahweh, the everlasting God. And Abraham dwelled as an alien in the land of the Philistines many days."

The church doesn't really belong.  It doesn't fit in with the "ruler of this world," and his agenda.  We live here as the exiles did in Babylon.  Under authorities who don't honor our Lord or recognize His authority over them.  We do not share their values, their culture (though we should be a beneficial contributor), we live humbly as strangers and immigrants in peace and for the peace of the land which God has promised to us.  Still doing the work we were made to do, be fruitful, multiply, steward the land, Love our God and King and our neighbors.  The meek, shall indeed inherit the earth.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

What is the church? Children of the promise.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 21?

"And Yahweh visited Sarah as he had said. And Yahweh did to Sarah as he had promised. And she conceived, and Sarah bore to Abraham a son in his old age at the appointed time that God had told him."  

"And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne Abraham, mocking. Then she said to Abraham, “Drive out this slave woman and her son, for the son of this slave woman will not be heir with my son, with Isaac.” And the matter displeased Abraham very much on account of his son. Then God said to Abraham, “Do not be displeased on account of the boy and on account of the slave woman. Listen to everything that Sarah said to you, for through Isaac your offspring will be named...."

"Then Jesus said to those Jews who had believed him, “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They replied to him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have not been enslaved to anyone at any time. How do you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus replied to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, that everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the household forever; the son remains forever. So if the son sets you free, you will be truly free."  John 8

"Tell me, you who are wanting to be under the law, do you not understand the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the female slave and one by the free woman. But the one by the female slave was born according to human descent, and the one by the free woman through the promise, which things are spoken allegorically, for these women are two covenants, one from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery, who is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is a slave with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our mother. For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren woman, who does not give birth to children;
    burst out and shout, you who do not have birth pains,
because many are the children of the desolate woman,
    even more than those of the one who has a husband.”
But you, brothers, are children of the promise, just as Isaac. But just as at that time the child born according to human descent persecuted the child born according to the Spirit, so also now. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the female slave and her son, for the son of the female slave will never inherit with the son” of the free woman. Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the female slave but of the free woman."  Gal 4

Friday, March 17, 2017

What is the church? Taking a walk.

What is the church?  And what can we continue to liken it to in Genesis 18?

"Then Yahweh said, “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am going to do? Abraham will surely become a great and strong nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed on account of him. For I have chosen him..."

Yahweh God reveals himself to his chosen.  He opens his mind and his heart to his children.  And not just so they can obey with blind faith, but so they can hear and think and respond!  Abraham responds to God's plans and not necessarily in the affirmative!  He pleads for mercy on what he must know to be wicked towns for even he is not sure there are fifty, forty, thirty, or even twenty righteous people there deserving of being spared God's just wrath, but he argues him down to ten.  Of which four are his own flesh and blood.  

And God is pleased to walk with Abraham alone and speak with him like this!  God, who knows what He's going to find in Sodom and Gomorrah and Zeboiim and Admah.  God is not argued into changing His mind.  He is delighting in the compassion He sees in His child!  The maturity.  As any parent who has had one of their first "adult" conversations with their son or daughter does.  It could be about anything, from life itself to their favorite band but it gives us joy to hear not just their opinions but the way they present them, the consideration and budding wisdom in them, the heart behind them being conformed into the heart of our savior, Jesus Christ.

The church are those in whom God delights.
"When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
When I called them, they went from my face.
    They sacrificed to the Baals, and they sacrificed to idols.
And I myself taught Ephraim to walk;
    I took them in my arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with human ties,
    with the bands of love."  Hosea 11

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What is the church? Keepers of the Way.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 18?

"Abraham will surely become a great and strong nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed on account of him. For I have chosen him, that he will command his children and his household after him that they will keep the way of Yahweh, to do righteousness and justice, so that Yahweh may bring upon Abraham that which he said to him.”"

As we said from the beginning, God has chosen to bless certain folk in order that they may bless the world.  God works through agents.  His Ministry of Silly Blessings, as it were.  But they are more than just agents.  They are family.  The children of Abraham.  Each generation teaching the next to 'keep the way of Yahweh, to do righteousness (worship, good, love) and justice (charity, generosity, peacemaking)."   

The church is a single family blessed and devoted and dedicated to keep the Way of Yahweh.
"Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How are we able to know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."  John 14

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What is the church? Circumcised.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 17?

"And God said to Abraham, “Now as for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you, throughout their generations. This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you, and also with your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you."

A sign of the covenant.  A sign no one except your wife may see.  Not much of a sign.  A cutting.  Bloody.  Male.  A removal of something unnecessary between a man and his wife.  Personal.  Intimate.  Yet it was there to distinguish God's chosen people from the rest of the world. 

And as most signs back then, had nothing to do with the flesh which was actually cut.  It points ahead, it points inward, a change of heart which can only be recognized by our actions; it points outward, forward, toward the Bridegroom who shed his blood for obedience, for his Bride: the Church...

"And now, Israel, what is Yahweh your God asking from you, except to revere Yahweh your God, to go in all his ways and to love him and to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of Yahweh and his statutes that I am commanding you today for your own good. Look! For to Yahweh your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet to your ancestors Yahweh was very attached, so as to love them, and so he chose their offspring after them, namely you, from all the peoples, as it is today. So you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn."  Deut 10

"For the Jew is not one outwardly, nor is circumcision outwardly, in the flesh. But the Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, whose praise is not from people but from God." Romans 2 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What is the Church? Righteous.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 15?

"And he (Abram) believed in Yahweh, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness."

God has made all the promises.  God has done all the heavy lifting.  Literally, He has lifted all the heavy things.  Your Sin.  Your death.  Your punishment.  Your obligation to worship Him as God.  Your righteous life which you should lead before a loving Creator Father God.  Your obedience.  All of these things were lifted up upon a wooden cross.  All of these things were bled for.  All of these things were despised and cut off.  All of these things bore the full wrath of the Justice of God.  

They are paid for.  It is finished.

The church are those who believe this.  The church are those who are affected by this and effected by this and changed by this belief.  The church are those who attempt to live according to this belief.  

You see, i must say 'attempt' for on this side of death, none but Jesus did it completely or correctly but because he did 'it is credited to (us) as (if it were our) righteousness.'

Monday, March 13, 2017

What is the church? Heirs of Abram.

What is the church?  And what can we continue to liken it to in Genesis 15? 

"And he said to him, “Take for me a three-year-old heifer, and a three-year-old female goat, and a three-year-old ram, and a turtledove and a young pigeon.” And he took for him all these and cut them in pieces down the middle. And he put each piece opposite the other, but the birds he did not cut."
"And after the sun had gone down and it was dusk, behold, a smoking firepot and a flaming torch passed between those half pieces. On that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram..."

All through the Word, from In the Beginning to In the Last Days, God is making promises to us, to man, to men.  To Adam and Eve He says, 'This is all yours, I'm giving you everything you need.  Just don't eat this one thing off this one tree.'  To Cain He says, "If you do what is right, will i not accept you?"  To Noah He says, 'Do this and I will save you,' and 'Look, I have saved you, all this is yours, I'm not going to wipe it all out like this again.'  To Abram He says, "...I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great. And you will be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse. And all families of the earth will be blessed in you.” And so on down the line through the Mosaic covenant and the Davidic covenant and finally to a covenant that is only hinted at here.  All saying essentially the same thing, "I AM your God.  Obey me and I will bless you."

You see, covenants are not sworn, they are cut.  They are literally sealed with blood.  "Thus shall I do and let me be as these if I should break this covenant!"  Says anyone who passes between the carcasses of the animals.  And who does Abram see passing between the halves of sacrificial animals?  Who is making this promise?  "...behold, a smoking firepot and a flaming torch,"!  Light and Light hidden in a clay vessel!  The one which shall keep the promise and the one which, though he keeps the covenant, shall be cut off for those not keeping it!  And thereby save those whom God has every right to judge.  The one, the seed of Abram who shall bless "all the families of the earth."

The church are the heirs of Abram.  The heirs of the promise of God.  The heirs of the covenant.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What is the church? In Covenant.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 15?

"And he said to him, “Take for me a three-year-old heifer, and a three-year-old female goat, and a three-year-old ram, and a turtledove and a young pigeon.” And he took for him all these and cut them in pieces down the middle. And he put each piece opposite the other, but the birds he did not cut. And the birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. And it happened, as the sun went down, then a deep sleep fell upon Abram and, behold, a great terrifying darkness fell upon him." 
And after the sun had gone down and it was dusk, behold, a smoking firepot and a flaming torch passed between those half pieces. On that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram..."

God promises.  God swears by himself for there is no higher authority to swear by.  God, who's yes is yes and no is no and has no reason to swear by anything, makes vows to us, his people.  Why?

"For people swear by what is greater than themselves, and the oath for confirmation is the end of all dispute for them. In the same way God, because he wanted to show even more to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of his resolve, guaranteed it with an oath, in order that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge may have powerful encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us, which we have like an anchor of the soul, both firm and steadfast..." (Heb 6)

Okay, so what does God promise?  What has God vowed to His church?  Never mind that, just yet.  Bask, meditate, reel from the staggering fact that He does! 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

What is the church? Thankful.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 8?

"So Noah went out, with his sons and his wife, and the wives of his sons with him. Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, and everything that moves upon the earth, according to its families, went out from the ark. And Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and he took from all the clean animals and from all the clean birds, and offered burnt offerings on the altar."

The church is saved and not just it but as we said before, God delights to have His church participate with him in His saving grace.  To extend it even to the beasts and birds.   The church is God's preferred agency upon the earth.  Here we see the grace He gives to his people purposely extended to creation itself.  But that is not my main point today.  

The first thing we see Noah do with his feet once again upon dry dirt is to gather stones together and make an altar.  To worship the God who saved him.  To respond to the God who called him.  To THANK the God who loved him despite the fact that "the inclination of the heart of humankind is evil from his youth."  God's words, not mine.  And this fledgling church of Noah's will prove it before they we are done with them.  But that is another day.  Today they show us that the church are those whom despite their natural bent, God has chosen, made his agents, saved and now...

are purposefully and worshipfully Thankful.

"And it happened that while traveling toward Jerusalem, he was passing through the region between Samaria and Galilee. And as he was entering into a certain village, ten men met him—lepers, who stood at a distance. And they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And when he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And it happened that as they were going, they were cleansed. But one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. And he fell on his face at his feet, giving thanks to him. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were not ten cleansed? And where are the nine? Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.”"  Luke 17

Friday, March 10, 2017

What is the church? In the ark.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 7?

"And every living thing that moved on the earth perished—the birds, and the domesticated animals, and the wild animals, and everything that swarmed on the earth, and all humankind. Everything in whose nostrils was the breath of life, among all that was on dry land, died. And he blotted out every living thing upon the surface of the ground, from humankind, to animals, to creeping things, and to the birds of heaven; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained."

God is holy.  Holy.  HOLY.

You may not understand what holy means but here is one way to think of it: a goodness and righteousness as pure as the Sun is hot.  Nothing impure, nothing unholy, nothing tainted with sin can stand in God's presence.  It just simply can't.   It will be burned.  

Or perhaps it will make more sense to think of it this way: God's justice is perfect.  Perfect fairness.  Perfect exact and proportional punishment for any and all offense.  Nothing missed.  Nothing overlooked.  Nothing ever swept under the carpet and forgotten.  Everyone has perfect justice waiting for them before this King's throne.  Now it is widely accepted that the measure of an offense greatly depends upon who has been sinned against.  Lie to a child and no one cares.  Lie to your boss and perhaps you will be fired.  Lie to a judge and you will be fined and possibly imprisoned.  Lie to a King... Do not pay your brother back a loan and be ignored at reunions.  Do not pay your car loan and they will take back your car.  Do not pay your taxes and you will be fined and possibly imprisoned.  Do not pay the King what is His rightful due...

It is not unjust that God judges mankind.  He gave you life, a world to live in and literally everything you have including the ability to think about it.  He is due.  All these things are not gifts as much as loans.  They still belong to Him.  It is not unkind that God takes back what is His.  It is Amazing Grace that He ever gives it in the first place knowing before hand what you were going to do with it!  It is not unloving that God condemns some to hell for their sins against each other and Him.  It is staggeringly loving that He ever provided a way for anyone of us to be saved at all!  And such a way!  He gave His Beloved Son for us!  Jesus voluntarily becomes our ark; our means of grace with this Perfectly Just Creator King and Judge who has every right over us!  How much more angry should He be with us if we scorn or demean that gift!?!?

The church, therefore, are those IN the ark.  You cannot be saved otherwise.  God has only provided this one way.  No one outside the ark survived.  No one will be "good enough' on their own merit.  You simply cannot tread water that long.  One hundred and fifty days in a limitless ocean will be an afternoon swim at the pool next to eternity in the presence of Righteous God who no longer veils His presence to protect us from Himself.  

Thanks be to God that He has provided a Way of Truth for Life. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

What is the church? ...response.

What is the church?  And what can we continue to liken it to in Genesis 6?

"And Noah did according to all that God commanded him; thus he did."

If God had called and Noah had said, "mmmm, no thanks.  That sounds dumb," the Bible would have only been seven chapters long, and the soggy pages of chapter seven would have read, "and Noah didn't float long enough to regret that decision."  Or maybe Chapter 8 would read, "And God sighed, rolled up His sleeves and brought forth Dave from the earth..."  Only God knows.  But He gave grace enough to Noah for Noah to believe Him.  

Now it's very common for people to say they believe.  And it is very common for that belief to appear to be nothing more than cognitive assent.  Yes, i think that's true.  Yes, i think God is good and trustworthy.  Yet is that what saved Noah and his family?  Simply believing God when he said, I'm going to flood the earth?  That kind of belief would have had him paddling the backstroke thinking, "Yep, knew it, God was right."  Belief not only demands action, it dictates the action.  If you really believe God, it will change everything.  What you are doing.  What your values are.  That year that Noah spent preparing and building the ark, he reaped his fields and gardens but i guarantee you he didn't bother sowing next year's crop.  He didn't waste the time.  He probably didn't put that addition on the house or buy a new car.  Wasn't much point in remodeling the kitchen.  Probably drained the bank account and bought grain and oats.  A fat wallet wasn't going to feed him on the other side.  His priorities fit the belief he had.  The truth he believed.  Anything that didn't add to fitting and kitting the ark was a distraction and a waste of resources.  The church responds with belief and appropriate action.  We might say, it trusts and obeys.

There's so much more to be said about this but tomorrow's another day... if it comes.  "What is the benefit, my brothers, if someone says that he has faith but does not have works? That faith is not able to save him, is it?"  James 2

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

What is the church? Called.

What is the church?  What shall we liken it to in Genesis 6?

"And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth was filled with violence because of them. Now, look, I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make for yourself an ark of cypress wood..."

i'm always telling my kids in the Sunday school class i teach, 'Don't skip over that!  Don't read, "And God said to Noah," as if it were, 'Once upon a time,'!  In some ways, it is the most important and improbable words in the Bible!  That God, The God, Yahweh, the Great I AM, spoke TO us!  That's why we know anything!  That alone sets up the church!  God called us!  Jesus, God in the flesh, called us, "Come, put down what you're doing and follow me.  Put down what you presently consider your life, take up your cross, the life I will give to you of service and sacrifice, and follow me.  God calls people as they are, yes; God formed you in the womb and knows you through and through and loves you as He made you, but what we do with that on our own is very rarely what He has for us to do!  Otherwise stories like this one with Noah would read more like, "And God came to Noah who was building a boat and said to him, "Nice boat.  I spoke to the animals, they should be arriving sometime after Thursday."  And Noah spake unto him, "Cool."  And God merrily went upon his way.

"When Israel (which means, 'wrestles with God') was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt (slavery to sin)  I called my son."  (Hosea 11)


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

What is the church? Favored.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 6?

"And Yahweh saw that the evil of humankind was great upon the earth, and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was always only evil. And Yahweh regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart. And Yahweh said, “I will destroy humankind whom I created from upon the face of the earth, from humankind, to animals, to creeping things, and to the birds of heaven, for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of Yahweh."

The line of Adam had failed.  No one is said to be walking inherently with God since Enosh was yoinked up by his suspenders.  The church of God as it was known then is for all extents and purposes, indistinguishable from the world, from the sons of Cain.  The church is not inherently better than the world.  There is nothing in us that made God love us.  We are evil and every inclination of our hearts is always only bent on loving ourselves.  Which brings us to our defining characteristic today.  

The church is those on whom God's favor rests.  "And those whom he predestined, these he also called, and those whom he called, these he also justified, and those whom he justified, these he also glorified."  Romans 8

Monday, March 06, 2017

What is the church? Pursued and persecuted.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to in Genesis 4?

"And Yahweh said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your face fallen? If you do well will I not accept you? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. And its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

If you were looking for the protagonist of this chapter, it would not be Abel.  It's Cain.  Cain and Abel are of the same family, they are brothers, they both bring offerings to Yahweh.  For all extents and purposes, they, with their parents, are the church.  Cain does not bring his offering to God in love however.  He resents God.  He brings the fruit of his own labor, possibly not even his best.  Just something to appease the God who runs my life.  Or perhaps he truly does want to be accepted by God, but for what he is.  For what Cain has done.  Look at me!  Am I not worthy?  Are you not proud of me?  Am I not good enough for you?  

No.  Frankly.  You are not.  But if you do what is good, what I've instructed you to do, won't I accept you anyway, God says.  God pursues Cain even though God knows what is in Cain's heart and what he will do.  God lets Abel be martyred.  Like his father the devil, Cain hates God but he cannot hurt God so he will touch who he can.  Cain reveals what is in his heart as we all do eventually.  Cain only cares for himself.  Cain is driven out to protect the church.  But he still carries the image of God.  He still carries the same common grace as the church.  He creates, he makes.  He makes a church of his own, names it after his own and we see through the generations how, despite its industriousness, or maybe because of it, that church becomes arrogant and proud and cruel.  The church of self.  

At one time or another, we all belong to this church of Self.  We all worship ourselves.  Christ comes and either calls us out of it and to himself, or calls us out, calls us what we are.  And just like our father Cain, we killed him for it.  But God...

Sunday, March 05, 2017

What is the church? Afraid because we are naked.

What is the church?  And what can we liken it to?

"But the serpent said to the woman, “You shall not surely die. For God knows that on the day you both eat from it, then your eyes will be opened and you both shall be like gods, knowing good and evil.”

The church is made up of sinners.  Even in perfection we were tempted to hate God and want to be rid of Him and our need of Him.  We coveted power.  We coveted independence.  And to do that we doubted that God was good.  We doubted that God loved us.  We doubted that God knew what He was doing.  We ceased to trust.  We ceased to obey.  We ceased to believe that God was what God is.  This is the church that did this.  God's chosen, handmade children.  God who can do no wrong and is perfectly just and fair made the two most perfect specimens of human that have ever existed to give us the best shot, our champions, our apex humans, our alphas, had we been there we would have thrown parades for them, lauded them, watched them on the talk shows, voted for them unanimously and figured the game was in the bag.  Bet the freakin' farm on them.

And lost.  They failed.  God gave them a single choice, just as he gives us.  Will you trust me?  Will you love me enough to obey me?  Will you doubt that I AM good and know what's best for you?  All you have to do is... not eat this.  A test is not a fiery trial that you either pass or fail, a hurdle you have to jump, a race you have to win to move on, it is a mirror, designed by God who knows you and loves you to show you what you refuse to see, yourself.  That's what naked means: exposed.

A couple of bites later the church went from those children of God in perfect relationship with him and each other to those miserable sinners hiding from Him and each other, trying not to be naked anymore, trying not to let anyone see what we really are.  And for the next four to six thousand years or so, the church was defined as those TRYING to be in relationship with God... and failing.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

What is the Church? Naked and unashamed...

What is the church?  And what can i liken it to?

It is like when, Yahweh God said, “it is not good that the man is alone. I will make for him a helper as his counterpart."

Despite present day thought and structure, you cannot be the church by yourself.  You are literally not in the church.  You are deliberately cutting yourself off from the church.  You don't ALWAYS need the church around you, Jesus got off by himself to pray but even to do the work of the church, Jesus never divided his boys up in groups of less than two.  Even, as we pointed out yesterday, God refers to himself in the plural.  

The church is relationship.  Defined by a group of people in relationship with God through Jesus Christ who made it possible.  But it doesn't end there.  The first commandment is Love God.  Relationship with God.  The first four commandments of the ten were vertical.  Love God, don't love some other god which is not a god.  Don't make gods for yourself.  Don't abuse or malign God's reputation.  Set apart a day to remember that you are not God and who is.  

But the next major commandment, the next six of the ten are all horizontal.  They deal with us being naked, known, vulnerable with each other and unashamed, not fearful, not defensive, in truth.  This is why we must have the first relationship.  You cannot be naked with everyone.  i hope i don't have to explain why.  But even in the church it is dangerous and excruciatingly difficult.  It is easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a camel than for two people to be in true relationship and love with each other under the best of conditions in this world.  But that's the job and only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we do it and we'd better, because it's how the church will be known and therefore, how those who don't yet know God will know him.“A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another—just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”   John 13

Friday, March 03, 2017

What is the church? In the beginning...

What is the church?  What can i liken it to? 

After my last post, someone asked me to define the church.  Not because they didn't think they knew the answer but so that they could find out how i defined the church.  That seemed fair enough except for one thing.

i don't care how i define the church.

It literally doesn't matter what i think.  It only matters what God thinks the church is.  And that is a subject not only too lengthy for a blog post but far too weighty for me to even ponder at length in one sitting.  It's one of those subjects, like God himself, the more i stare into it, the more i see.  So what i've decided to do, because i do feel this is an important subject which merits discussion, is to see what i can see God says about His church in Scripture for the rest of Lent.  i'm not giving up anything for Lent.  i'm taking up something.  

But where to start?  Well, where does God start?  In the beginning.  Genesis one. 

"And God said, “Let us make humankind in our image and according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of heaven, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every moving thing that moves upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the likeness of God he created him, male and female he created them. And God blessed them..."

The first thing i see, is God, referring to His glorious self in the plural, creating the church and blessing it for a set purpose.  It is his agency for change upon the earth, the earth is good, yet God orders his people to subdue it, submit it, change it for a purpose.  The church is his agent, his servant, his viceroy, his governor.  Its work is blessed, not a curse.  As Keller puts it, Genesis is less about HOW God made everything but WHY.  

A second thing i see, is God making them diverse from the start.  Male and Female.  Forget races, creeds and tribes, you want diversity?  Have both women and men in the group.  And every creed, tribe and nation has both male and female.  Built in difference in desire, methodology and value.  And BOTH made in the image of God.  God cannot be expressed in only one gender.  

The Church is created, diverse, blessed and purpose built.