On Freedom and Forgetfulness

As we took another step this week in our summer long journey through the Big Picture story of the Bible, we witnessed God’s single greatest Old Testament act of deliverance- the rescue of His chosen people from 400+ years of slavery in the land of Egypt. Through a stunning series of miracles, culminating with the parting of the Red Sea (and subsequent swamping of His people’s Egyptian pursuers), God led His people out of the land of their oppression on the fast track toward freedom in the land He had promised to their father, Abraham, centuries earlier.

But apparently, if the story of Exodus is any indication, freedom isn’t quite that simple. Though God’s people came out of Egypt physically free, in a very real sense, they were still enslaved spiritually by their own sinful hearts. This is evidenced by their stubborn doubt of God, constant complaining against God, and gross false worship of other “gods” throughout the remainder of the book of Exodus. All of these things, occurred, mind you, in the span of a few weeks immediately following one of the greatest recorded acts of salvation in history.

It would be easy to point a finger of accusation at the Exodus Israelites if it weren’t for the striking reality that on a regular, I am just like them– and if you’re walking around wrapped in human flesh, so are you. You and I live on the back side of the salvation event which the Exodus foreshadowed- God’s eternal rescue of His people from sin and death through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us clearly that if we have trusted Jesus, we are now free in the deepest possible way. We no longer have to live as slaves of sin’s power on us. Free from the weight of condemnation which presses down on all who are without Jesus, we can now run free, putting our faith in God’s faithfulness and possessing His Spirit’s power to obey His Word.

But much like God’s Old Testament people, we are a forgetful bunch, aren’t we? On the winding road of life’s journey, amidst the twists and turns of everyday life in this broken world, we are prone to neglect God’s goodness to us and focus instead on all we feel that our lives are lacking. Here are three key areas where I believe we are persistently prone to forget…

We forget God’s provision. Much like the Israelites who groaned in the desert for food and water, we quickly doubt God’s desire and/or ability to give us what we need. Perhaps you struggle to trust God for physical provision. Or for what you need to face a relationship challenge. Or for the spiritual equipping to fulfill what you believe to be His call on your life. Whatever the case might be, it is critical that we remember that God is not under resourced, and neither is He stingy with His people. There are times when this is incredibly difficult to believe, I know. But rest in this reality- God is an able Provider.

We forget God’s purposes. As we read the Old Testament account, we see that God pulls no punches in telling His people why He has chosen them as His own possession. It is made clear time and again that He desires that they would reflect and represent Him faithfully to one another and to the world as a conduit of His blessing. As New Testament followers of Jesus, God’s purpose is much the same in our lives. Often, though, we abuse the freedom afforded us and use it as a license to indulge our desires and ignore God’s. Let’s not make the tragic error of shackling ourselves to selfishness when God has freed us for something so much better- selfless service of Him and others.

We forget God’s grace. We can give intellectual assent all day long to the reality that we are saved and freed by God’s grace in Jesus, all the while practically living as though our standing before Him is wholly dependent on our performance. Functionally, we attempt to become our own “gods,” and when we do, we forfeit the joy of our freedom and enter into what I call a “shame cycle” of attempting to behave our way into God’s favor. But as the Israelites discovered- and as we all eventually discover- this is a losing battle always. You’ve never had the ability to free yourself from your sin, and when you try to do what only God can, you ironically enslave yourself all over again.

To experience true freedom, it is essential that you make the critical choice to surrender and remember. Though it is true that we are saved by grace at an initial moment of surrender to God, we must daily- and maybe even more- surrender ourselves practically to His leadership in our lives, remembering His faithfulness and resting in it as we pursue His purposes for our lives.

What aspect of God’s faithfulness have you forgotten today?

What would it look like for you to surrender yourself afresh to Him today?

What can you do practically to more consistently remember the freedom He has afforded you in Jesus?

Faith, Failures, and Faithfulness

Does faith exist where there is no faithfulness?

In Genesis 12 we meet the Abraham. He is an important part of the progressing story of God’s restorative work in the world. Abram is the beginning of a great nation, the nation of Israel. God chooses this person so he might choose for himself a people. God chose for himself a people so that he might send a person, his son Jesus Christ, into the world to redeem the world.

The Big Picture of the Bible that focuses on Jesus. Learning the Big Picture allows us to better understand the small pictures along the way. This part of the picture is an introduction to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob….the first, second, and third generation of the nation of Israel. This father, son, and grandson set such a powerful foundation of faith for their descendants that generations to come would speak of God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   What an amazing legacy.

In Genesis 12 God promises Abram that he will give him a land that he will show him and that he will make a great nation from him that all of the nations of the earth will be blessed through. Abram, in response, to this great promise and this open-ended set of instructions takes off toward a land he does not know

Go is the first step to great. No one has ever experienced greatness without taking some risk. Greatness follows obedience. The desire to make great of our great God requires obedience to go.

The blessings of God never have their complete purpose in the one who receives them.Abram is blessed by God in many ways, but the purpose of these blessings was so that the all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. We, however, miss the greatest blessings of God in our lives because we desire to be a container for them instead of a conduit of them.

In the following chapters we see how Abram and Sarai, his wife, struggle with the promises of God as they age yet have no children. Eventually Sarai gives Abraham a servant to bear children by and Ishmael is born. This does not fulfill God’s promise to Abram because this was not God’s plan, nor his promise. Instead it causes generations of hatred and war as the descendants of Ishmael (the Muslim world) and the descendants of Isaac (the Jewish people) are still enemies with one another. Patience is necessary to live and live out the promises of God.

 

We learn a great truth through the failings of Abram and his family (like when Abram lies about Sarai being his sister because he is afraid for his life). We learn that God purposefully uses imperfect people to do his perfect work.

Abraham’s long awaited son, Isaac, who was born very late in Abraham’s life, had some interesting experiences in his life. One such experience is the time that he and his father set out to make a sacrifice on a mountain. They had all they needed but the sacrifice itself so he asked his dad where was the sacrifice. Abram answered him “God will provide.” Little did young Isaac know that he was to be the sacrifice because God had commanded it of Abraham

Abraham and Isaac left their servants at the foot of the mountain with the words that they would both return. Abraham obediently bound Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice, but God stopped him and provided a ram for sacrifice. He praised Abraham for his faith and faithfulness and promised to bless him beyond measure and to bless the world through him and his descendants.

This foreshadows the great sacrifice of Christ. The difference is that God the Father had no other substitute. There were no other options for the price necessary for our redemption so in spite of his son’s plea to “remove the cup from him,” God offered his one and only son as a sacrifice for our sins.

Faith is God will provide. Our faith is in the fact that God has provided salvation in His son Jesus Christ. Do you believe he will provide?

If you do, then you will live a life of risk for God. Isaac’s son’s Esau and Jacob also had a strained relationship as Esau sold his birthright and inheritance to his tricky younger brother, Jacob, for some stew. Jacob was a selfish young man that God changed through the years. Eventually Jacob wrestled with God and God made a covenant with him and renamed him Israel. God marked Israel as his own. This marking declared that Israel, and his people, were God’s own.

Israel had 12 sons that led to the 12 tribes of Israel. A great, but imperfect, nation of people was born. God chose these people for a purpose and a plan. God purposed the redemption of their souls long before Jesus walked the earth and died on the cross.

The Big Picture invites us to be prepared for the Gospel of Jesus, to present the Gospel of Jesus, and to participate in the Gospel of Jesus. How can you live more prepared to follow Jesus this week? Who needs to hear the great big picture of the redemptive work of Jesus from you this week? How can you participate in the grace and love of the Gospel personally this week?

The work of Jesus is a Big Picture. Praise God you are invited to be a small part of it.

In The Beginning

“In the beginning God created…”- Genesis 1:1a

In any story, beginnings are incredibly significant, and the story of God- told in the living pages of the Bible- is no exception.

And where does this story begin? With creation– or, more accurately, with a Creator. As such, the five simple words that lead off the biblical narrative- “in the beginning God created”- are undoubtedly among its most important. Creation is a critical component of this story, so essential that it would be no stretch to say that the rest of the story doesn’t make sense without it.

So what’s the big deal about creation? What does this opening chapter of the story of God teach us? Here are three bedrock principles discovered here…

1- God is the beginning
God wasn’t just in the beginning; God Himself is the beginning of this story. That means that He- and He alone- is at the center of the story. He is the point of it all, ultimate over and above everyone and everything else. All things- including you and me!- exist because of Him, and exist for His purposes.

Now we can often struggle with talk like this, can’t we? Why is that? Because if we’re being completely honest, we don’t like the thought of someone else being at the center of the story, at the center of the universe; we like to reserve that space for ourselves.

But let’s be real here- If there is a God, and He has created the world in which we live, and He has created us, who else would you expect to be at the center of the story? Because God is the beginning, it is entirely right and appropriate for Him to place Himself as preeminent within it. The sooner we come to terms with that, the more we’ll be able to make sense of this story in which we’re living.

2- Because God is good, creation is good
God didn’t create the world in which we live because He got bored; He had a definite purpose in His creative work. And what was that purpose? To display, in everything and everyone, His unending and unblemished glory! Psalm 19:1 says it this way- “The heavens display the glory of God; the skies proclaim His handiwork.” Just as an artist displays his or her glory on a canvas, God proclaims His infinite greatness and goodness on the “canvas” of our world.

Now obviously God’s good creation has been wrecked by our sin, but the glimpses of His glory remain. That means behind every sin stained component of our world is a good, and God given, purpose. There are no “throwaways” in God’s world. This universal sense of divine purpose means that God has every right to demand that His creation do what is was designed and intended to do- glorify Him over and above all. Which leads us to our third bedrock principle…

3- Because God is personal, creation is accountable
To say that “creation” is accountable is a pretty broad statement, in that I’m not sure God can really hold a tree, a bird, or a body of water personally accountable to Himself. That means that within God’s good creation, there had to be something- or someone- unique, something that could relate to Him personally just as He created personally.

That’s where you and I come in. Genesis 1:26 tells us that God has deliberately created every human being “in His image, after His likeness.” What does this mean? It means that we have been made distinctively and purposefully to reflect God, relate to God, and represent God in this world. It also means that we are uniquely accountable to Him for the way in which we live out that created purpose. The implications of this divine assignment are broad and staggering, but at the most basic level, we must answer to God for the way in which we view and relate to Him, and the way in which we view and relate to our fellow “image bearers” in this world.

But we have a big problem, don’t we? None of us in history has ever lived out our created purpose anywhere close to perfection. On our own, we’re not even capable of it. And if we’re as accountable to God as I’m claiming we are, that means we have all failed the test, and in line to receive the just consequence of that failure.

That is, unless the Creator intervened somehow. And in the person of Jesus Christ, intervene He did.

In Jesus, the Creator entered His creation, “moving into the neighborhood” to do what none of us could ever do. John 1:14 says it this way- “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son coming from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus perfectly reflected God, related to God, and represented God in this world on our behalf, becoming our substitute and making a way for the sin tarnished image of God to be restored in all who would trust and follow Him. While this process can’t and won’t be completed in full until the other side of this life in heaven, it is a process that can begin now as God daily transforms and “re-creates” His people from their old selves into their new selves in Jesus. Through Jesus- and Jesus alone- we can worship and glorify God as He created us to do in the first place, bringing deep pleasure to His Creator heart. Make no mistake- He is our only hope to stand righteous before our Creator…but in Him, we have the only hope we will ever need.

 

Some questions for you to consider as you reflect on the powerful reality of creation…

1- How do you view and relate to God? Do you see Him as the ultimate object of worship in your life, or have you traded Him in for other, lesser “gods”?

2- Are you still seeking to fulfill your God given created purpose through your own efforts, or have you trusted who Jesus is and what He accomplished on your behalf?

2- If you have trusted and followed Jesus, how well are you reflecting the “image of God” on an everyday basis? What is your next step in the process of reflecting God, relating to God, and representing God in this world as He created you to do?

The Common Condition

Storytelling is an art form. There are skilled, novice, and outlandish artists. Each storyteller must decide where and how to start the story. The most common form of storytelling is purely chronological – from beginning to end. The Bible is basically chronological. The grand Storyteller, the Lord God himself, inspired authors across millennia to write out the story one piece at a time. This summer we are teaching a series called The Big Picture. We are going through the entire Bible in 10 weeks. Our goal is to help people understand the big picture of the story found in Scripture. The big picture of the Bible focuses on Jesus. Everything in the Bible is preparation for, proclamation of, or participation in the Gospel of Jesus. (Dave Harvey) The Bible is telling the good story, the good news, of Jesus Christ. From its beginning to its end, the focus of the Bible is Jesus.   We chose to start, not with the beginning in Creation, but instead with the common condition we all know – brokenness. The Fall of Man recorded in Genesis 3 begins the reign of a common condition for every human, and therefore, the world itself.   Brokenness is obvious and out of control. The broken nature of our world, it’s sinful choices and selfish actions, are both obvious to even those who are doing them and, most certainly, out of control towards those they are being acted upon. In Genesis 3 and 4 we see the fast progression of brokenness. A broken world is filled with broken people living in broken relationships with God and one another. Adam and Eve no longer savor the moments in the cool of the day when the Lord God walks in the Garden, instead they hide from him. Adam immediately blames Eve for the situation. Cain, in only the second generation of humanity, kills his brother because Abel gave a pure and holy sacrifice to God while Cain did not. Cain’s relationship was broken with God already because he was unwilling to give God his best and his first. His relationship with Able was obviously broken by murder. Sin is obvious and out of control in our world because it is obvious and out of control in each of our own individual lives. We see how quickly this escalates in Genesis 6 through the life of Noah. God says that he “was sorry he made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Yet Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation and he found favor in the eyes of the Lord. God spared humanity because he spared a righteous, yet imperfect man. The problem was that humanity had evil intention in all his thoughts. The essence of sin is rebellion against God and replacement of God. The story continues at the Tower of Babel where people decide to make their own way to Heaven and to make their own name great. God scatters humanity around the world and confuses their language so they might not attempt such an endeavor again. What do all these stories teach us? We are broken because we are in rebellion against God desiring to replace him with ourselves. The crafty serpent offers that place to Eve. He says if you eat of the fruit “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Unfortunately that was true. We are like God in that we now know good and evil, but knowing evil means, for us, doing evil. In sin, we attempt to take God’s place…and the result is brokenness. On the Cross, Jesus did take our place…and the result is reconciliation. The reconciling and restoring nature of God is seen in every story. As Adam and Eve leave the Garden, God covers their nakedness and shame with the skin of a slain animal. He shed blood so their sin and shame might be covered. After Cain killed Abel and was banished from connection with others, God marked him so no one would take vengeance upon him. This marking is often mislabeled as a mark of sin. It is actually a mark of grace. It is God’s ongoing protection of Cain. After Noah leaves the Ark with scarce resources needed to repopulate the planet, he takes some of the clean animals and sacrifices them. He offers a pleasing sacrifice to God and God gives humanity a promise of not flooding the world again with a rainbow. At the Tower of Babel God disperses humanity not out of pride but out of grace. He desires what is best for them and he realizes that they will not seek that together. They will choose to seek self instead of Him, and he is best for them. God has always been gracious, yet he has also always been just. Jesus offers his life as one sacrifice for the sanctification of all for all time. He took our place. He replaced us with Himself. Brokenness is a condition we all share, but restoration is a promise we are all given.