Sunday, June 25, 2017

Propitiation in Genesis 20

Genesis 20:16-18
To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.” Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

Here is another unusual story from Abraham's life recorded in Genesis.
As Abraham moved from place to place, he seemed to have a particular weakness which made him a likely target from those in power; his wife Sarah.
It is not clearly stated, but Sarah must have been unusually attractive, so much so, that people may have killed Abraham to get to her.
This is a little hard to imagine, knowing that Sarah was in her 90's. However, my only resolution of this seeming incongruous situation, is that in those relatively early days of creation, not only did people live longer, they aged more slowly. Somehow, maybe less UV rays, less chemicals, cleaner food etc,  a woman of 90 then, was able to retain much more  of the beauty of youth.
So for what seems to be self preservation, Abraham and Sarah had a pre-arranged agreement to refer to each other as brother and sister rather than husband and wife. This implied that Sarah was available for marriage, and as had happened earlier in Genesis, the ruler of that region, Abimelek immediately detained Sarah with a view to marriage.
But God visited Abimilek, and strictly warned him that he was on the verge of disaster, as Sarah was in fact, Abraham's wife.
In his defence, Abimilek stated that he was ignorant of this fact, and that he had not "touched" Sarah.
There are a number of implications which can be derived from this passage that surprisingly must hve applied at that time.
Firstly, marriage was honored strictly, even by "relative non-believers" (my terminology).
God was feared by relative non-believers.
God visited and spoke to relative non-believers.
God punished sin.
Ignorance of sin does not clear away guilt. Abimilek was not cleared of his guilt simply by declaring his ignorance.

So Abimilek was given clear instructions on how to clear himself of guilt.
Firstly he was to return Sarah to her husband, Abraham.
Secondly he was to ask Abraham, the great prophet, to pray on his behalf.

But without instruction, so it seems, Abimilek went further. Above and beyond seeking mercy and restoring his mistake, Abimilek gave gifts.


To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”

When we commit sin, apart from the economic cost, the physical damage (and some things can never be replaced), there is also the offense of that sin.

God is offended by our sin. even if we could make right what we have done wrong, that does not clear the offense of our rebellion, and restore a right relationship.

Propitiation is a gift that removes anger or offense.

Abimilek gave beyond the actual cost of his sin. This was propitiation.

Zaccheus promised to repay fourfold anyone he had wronged, once he had been befriended by Jesus.

Jesus suffering and death was not just a payment for our sin, his provision of a pure life given freely was a beautiful propitiation for our sins.
Our sins were not just paid for, the offense was also completely cleared.

We have true and lasting peace with God, through the precious propitiating  blood of Jesus.

Friday, May 26, 2017

That Special Day

I’m not expecting a medal, or a crown,
or to be remembered. I don’t deserve anything like that.
Please don’t burn me to ashes, but let me lie in the cool dark earth
sleeping peacefully as I wait for that special day.
The only place I want to go is where I can meet with the man who died for me.
So that I can shake his hand and say thank you for giving his life.
After that, I don’t mind if I sit on the back row, looking on in wonder and with deep satisfaction, as many are welcomed into his extravagant wedding reception.
Even from the outside, I will sing along, from my heart, with whatever celebration songs are led, in whatever style, and whatever language. If I don’t know the words, I’ll try to hum along, with my hand on my heart and a tear in my eye.
And if there is a job I can do, like trimming the edges, or picking up waste, I will do it gladly. And if not, I’ll stay where I’m told to stay and wait for the next job.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

A wise man once taught me; "this passage in Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive". In other words it is simply describing how the early church behaved. It does not necessarily imply that this is exactly how Christians, everywhere, at all times, should run church. Yes there have been many movements that have tried, with varying success, to reproduce the dynamics described above. I am not criticizing attempts at copying this described community. It is certainly a beautiful and blessed early church community.
Are modern church gatherings less beautiful, less loving, less sharing, less devoted?
How long did this early pattern of church behaviour last? Why did it change? Is this the “secret” to “successful” church growth?
What motivates us and why, regarding church growth?

I am not going to answer all these questions.

I will point out that although this passage of Acts is truly a wonderful picture of Christians living out their faith, even within the pages of the New Testament, which was fully written within the lifetimes of those early Christians, their are many, many passages of exhortation and correction. The one that comes quickest to mind is Paul's chastisement of the Corinthian church for the way in which they shared the Lords Supper. (1Corinthians 11)
And even in the very next chapter of Acts, a husband and wife, members of the early church, die prematurely under God’s judgement when they half-give money they received from selling goods, somehow attempting to deceive the Holy Spirit. A shocking event for those of us that are honest about our own misguided/divided motives.
So the early church also struggled.

But I don’t want to concentrate on the negatives.

Looking at the passage above, certain words stand out.

“They devoted themselves”

Over the years, I have missed the beauty of this word, “devotion”.

Why is it that we can make such a word sound like hard work?

My answer is that today, our attitude of working hard at, for example, a menial task, for years on end, with a view to a goal or reward at the end, is our interpretation of devotion.
Think of the many hours of training of an athlete, or hours of voice or instrument practice for a performer, or simply those hard workers that turn up day by day at their jobs which involve physical or mental strain, slowly saving money or paying off a mortgage. This is a form of devotion. An application to a means for an end.

But this is not the devotion described above in the early church.
The early Church, did not devote themselves to prayer and fellowship and listening to long sermons, and having communion, so that their church would grow and they would be the pride of Jerusalem,  with stadium meetings spreading across the world…

What we see here is more of the devotion of a mother to a newborn child, or a love struck couple for each other, or even the devotion of a diehard music fan, who lines up on a sidewalk on a cold winters evening to wait endlessly for a chance to buy a ticket to see their idol.
This type of devotion does not feel like hard work, rather the opposite. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it would be impossible for these original believers not to pursue the tasks involved in their devotion, and that they received great joy simply in the process of practicing their devotion.

I believe it was this type of devotion, deep, heartfelt joyful devotion, that compelled these early Christians to live as described above, devoted to the Apostles teaching, prayer, breaking the bread and fellowship. In other words, It wasn’t forced, it came naturally.
Why?
Because Jesus, not only was the most amazing, powerful and morally perfect teacher of all things good and right, he had actually risen from death. Not only had he risen from death and by so doing declared and proved that he is truly the Christ, The Messiah, God’s chosen one to redeem the world and rule it. Not only had he risen from the dead, but he had appeared to the disciples. And out of all of this there was now true forgiveness of sins. All early believers cherished an understanding that they were now at peace with God, despite their past, their failing, their broken relationships, their greed and selfishness. All was forgiven in a powerful and permanent way, and the forgiver was alive, immortal, resurrected and all powerful with a guaranteed promise to appear again and to bring all of creation to it’s beautiful goal.
Because they cherished this understanding in their joyful hearts, they practiced the logical behaviour evoked by this understanding.
Devotion to hearing from the chosen eyewitnesses of Jesus, devotion to doing what Jesus told us to do to remember him, devotion to meeting with those we now love as brothers and sisters, and presenting our needs and expressing our gratitude to and through the one we know is alive powerfully at God’s right hand, the King of kings and Lord of Lords, our Lord and God, Jesus Christ.

And what of church growth?

Verse 47 says it clearly; their program of strict daily prayer, fellowship and sermons led to exponential consumer interest…

No.

God added to their number. God is the one who makes things happen, and we recognize and rejoice at His work in our lives.



Saturday, May 6, 2017

Just a Simple "Thank You Jesus"

Every day can be a mountain
Or a valley of despair;
It's so hard to face each moment
With the devil in your ear.

It's too easy to be falling
For the lies that bring us down,
And forget our loving Saviour,
Who's forgiven every failure,
Never leaves us on our own.

Just a simple "thank you Jesus"
Gives me all the strength I need,
Helps me do the things I'm meant to,
Leave behind the things that grieve.

Just a simple "thank you Jesus"
Gets me through the hardest days,
Brings me back to being grateful
For the peace he always gives.


When I'm thirsting for forgiveness
And my conscience says I'm wrong,
When I stay away on Sundays
Too ashamed to join the throng,

When I'm crying on the inside,
Hurting from the bitter past,
Even then I know he's near me,
His sweet mercy calling dearly;
"Come back home my precious child."